What happens when "to love and to cherish" becomes more like an uneasy "for better or for worse?" A new self-help book describes a disturbing new trend: Women who are rushing into marriage for all the wrong reasons -- and deep down, they know it.
Co-authors Anne Milford, who canceled her own wedding five months before the big day and Jennifer Gauvain, a clinical social worker whose work focuses on couples and families, interviewed hundreds of divorced women for their book, "How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy."
Through their research, they said they found that a shocking 30 percent of divorcees said they knew they were marrying the wrong man on their wedding day.
"They are walking down that aisle, they are going, 'Oh my gosh, what am I doing?'" Gauvain said.
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When talking about this subject, it's hard not to think of Kim Kardashian and her monster "fairy tale" wedding last summer.
The E! Entertainment special drew 10 million viewers, cost a reported $10 million and Kardashian, 31, and her now ex-husband Kris Humpries, 26, made an estimated $17 million off their nuptials. But the math all added up to two unhappy people and a fizzled fairy tale that lasted only 72 days. Kardashian filed for divorce on Oct. 31, citing irreconcilable differences.
While rumors flew that the whole wedding had been a huge media stunt, Kardashian told fans on her blog that she "married for love."
"I want a family and babies and a real life so badly that maybe I rushed into something too soon. I believed in love and the dream of what I wanted so badly," she said.
In Milford's opinion, Kardashian was feeling the internal pressure of a timeline and got caught up in a fairy tale fantasy.
"She was more in love with the idea of getting married rather than who the groom was," she said. "She ignored her gut feelings."
Gauvain added, "She got very caught up in the party."
Just because Kardashian is a famous face, doesn't mean she was the only one who married Mr. Wrong. Short-lived marriages are nothing new in Hollywood -- Demi Moore just confirmed that she is ending her six-year marriage to Ashton Kutcher -- but with the national U.S. divorce rate at 51 percent, marriage regret has become a mainstream problem.
"What a lot of women will say is 'if it doesn't work out I can always get a divorce,'" Milford said. "They underestimate how painful an experience divorce is, even if you're the one who serves the divorce papers."
Studies have found that divorce can have negative effects on a person's health, including extreme stress and depression. Ohio State researchers also found in a 2006 study that divorce proceedings reduce a person's wealth by roughly 77 percent. Milford opened up about her own decision to call off her wedding years ago and avert the divorce disaster.
"I put on the dress and I looked in the mirror, and I felt like I was in a costume," she said. "I thought that was a big red flag. I just knew it wasn't going to work, and that this was not going to end well and that I needed to call it off."
Milford said her and Gauvain's goal has been to uncover why more women don't have the courage to jump on the proverbial horse like Julia Roberts did in the 1999 movie "Runaway Bride." What they found were common stories among women who didn't listen to their nagging intuition before slipping into the big white dress.
So why do so many women say "I Do" when they mean "I don't"? CLICK HERE to read some of Milford and Gauvain's insights and advice, including warning signs they say no woman should ignore.
Christine Zika said she knowingly married the wrong man in 2002. At the time, Zika said she was 31, going on 32, and felt the pressure to tie the knot as soon as possible, so she ignored the signs and took the vows of marriage.
"I loved him because he was there and because he was going to be able to give me the things I wanted at the time," she said. "If you look at the photographs, yeah there are some where we are smiling, but more of them look really odd, like, 'yeah we're getting through this.'"
Within seven months, Zika said she and her husband were separated and within two years, they were divorced.
"It was bad. It was all the reasons why I knew I shouldn't have married him in the first place, all of those things that I knew, that I had ignored," she said. "I had allowed myself this idea that I had to be married, that I had to have a family, and it has to be done in such a period of time, that I allowed myself to marry someone that was completely wrong for me."
Zika's advice to other women now -- "run away!"
"The truth of the matter is that I knew," she said. "I covered it up, I went along because I had an expectation of what my life was supposed to be."
For other women, it's not so much the fear of not being married so much as it is the allure of the glamorous event. The wedding industry rakes in more than $40 billion annually when the whole fairy tale is factored in: elaborate proposals, over-the-top flower arrangements, the invitations. Of course, reality TV shows such as "The Bachelorette" and "Say Yes to the Dress" and televised royal weddings add to the wedding fantasy.
For 31-year-old Christine Bereitschaft, it was almost all of those things.
"I was blinded by the cake, by the limo, by the white dress, by everything that came with the wedding and I wasn't seeing the big picture," she said. "We weren't connected. We didn't have a lot of similarities. We were very different."
By the time she realized her relationship had gone sour, Bereitschaft said she felt that canceling the wedding would be too overwhelming and disappointing to others. She said she hoped the relationship would improve after they were married, but within 4½ months, she filed for divorce.
"I realized this wasn't what I wanted, this wasn't the husband that I had pictured in my fairy tale," Bereitschaft said.
But it's not just women who haven't trusted their gut feelings. Milford and Gauvain say its men too.
"'I don't want to disappoint this woman, I don't want to disappoint her family,'" Gauvain said of men who marry Ms. Wrong. "It is equally as hard for them as it is for women to back down."
The authors say their best advice for brides and grooms who are starting to get cold feet is to listen to their inner voices, and even consult with a close friend or family member they trust. Milford eventually found Mr. Right, and the couple have been married for 18 years now. Bereitschaft and Zika also remarried and both said they were very happy in their second marriages.
"You might as well save yourself a lot of headache and heartache and trouble and money and call it off beforehand," Milford said. "Don't say 'I do,' when what you want to say is 'I don't.'"