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Posted on Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 5 a.m.

Is it cold feet or the wrong person for marriage?

By Carolyn Hax

Adapted from a recent online discussion. Hi, Carolyn:

How do you tell the difference between cold feet and possibly marrying the wrong person? I'm not engaged, but every time the topic comes up with my boyfriend, I feel something akin to dread and change the subject. He's not abusive or a bad guy at all. The relationship is good in general. I've just never felt that "this is it for me" feeling. Is this something I should examine more, or should I stop being so picky? Thanks.

-- Cold Feet

Yikes. Examine more, and do it deeply, honestly and soon. You just spelled out the recipe for becoming miserable and stuck -- all you have to do is add a wedding and about five more years.

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Re: Cold Feet:

Does your advice to "Cold Feet" change at all depending on her age? Since the expectations of your partner will change from yours 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond, is there ever a point where not being so picky becomes a logical act when you are hoping to couple up and the dating pool is much smaller?

-- Single and In Your 30s

No. I can't think of any argument in favor of "not being so picky." As people get older, their priorities change, and it's totally appropriate to make choices based on your new priorities. For example, if you cared in your 20s about finding a man who makes a lot of money or has a full head of hair, then act on (heck, celebrate) your new openness to bald men who accept lower pay in exchange for doing what they love -- as long as you feel loving and loved with them. I could argue you're being even more selective, by using wiser criteria.

But I don't think it's ever a good idea to stop being "picky" about things you value. Marry someone you are confident you will be happy to wake up to every morning for the rest of your life. Anything less is unfair to both of you.

Note I used the standard of confidence, not certainty, which doesn't exist.

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Re: Cold Feet:

I dated a man for several years, but when one day he mentioned marriage seriously, I thought I was going to throw up. Before that I had always presumed I would marry him. We broke up shortly after this.

When the conversation came up with my now-husband, I felt much better than with my previous relationship. I have never been a decisive person, and I certainly never "just knew," but I do believe my sense of dread with my previous relationship was the closest I could ever get to my gut telling me not to proceed.

I am really happily married now, and I thank God I listened to myself because I didn't realize how much better I could interact with another person. The first guy wasn't a bad person; we just weren't right for each other. Good luck.

-- Anonymous

Thanks -- that's actually a useful alternative to "you just know," which confuses as often as it informs. What you describe is respecting your feelings even if you're not sure yet what they mean.

Email Carolyn at tellme(at), follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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