I never thought this would be my story, but I can tell you with confidence and experience that marriage isn’t the end-all, be-all that people want to believe it is.
I wish I knew that both times I said yes to the proposals that came my way.
If I can forgive myself for two divorces, I can also learn to be grateful for the lessons they brought me. Here’s what I know after having been divorced twice:
- You don’t have to say yes just because someone “needs” you.
- You can be happy and excited and sexually attracted to someone who isn’t right for you.
- The way you were raised—especially if it’s got anything to do with religion—can be a powerful influence in your decision making. And it might not be what you really want.
- Women do what they don’t want very frequently.
- Not everyone you love is going to be a permanent love.
- It’s okay to never get married. That’s an option.
- If you have that nagging feeling in your stomach when they tell you they want forever, listen to it, it never lies.
- Just because someone has “that something extra”, it doesn’t mean they’re your person.
- Your friends, family, and ex will get over it—they will heal.
You see, my parents openly encouraged me not to be in a rush to get married the first time at 19, but what they didn’t realize was that there were also many conflicting and unspoken requirements that were causing me angst. I didn’t feel that saying no was even an option for me.
Because I wanted to have sex.
We were raised in the church and while my Mom was beautifully rebellious in her faith, she still made it abundantly clear that she didn’t want her past for our future. She also deeply wanted us to live in the moral ways of the bible, though she didn’t apply it with a militant force. I loved her and admired her so much that I deeply wanted to make her happy, I deeply wanted to believe what she believed and live life in the way she hoped for me.
I was a late bloomer sexually. While I had boyfriends, I wasn’t interested in making out, let alone sex, at least not until I met the guy I would end up marrying. I was 17 when we met and by the time I turned 19, I was feeling those desires very strongly. I had love for him—he was so intelligent and funny and saw life in a wholly different way than all the other people I knew. I was drawn to him deeply, but even then I was aware that I didn’t think our love was supposed to be eternal. However, he cared so much about me and I could sense there was almost a lifeline connection between us that he needed. I couldn’t say no when he proposed. I also had no real context for how to navigate this—and I deeply did not want to admit the truth to my parents—because I also wanted to have sex! But I couldn’t have sex when I wasn’t married.
It makes me sad now to think of that.
Fortunately, my ex and I are friends to this day and our exit from that relationship after 7.5 years was so incredibly healthy. We have been divorced for 14 years and I’d like to say I learned more about doing what I truly want, trusting my instincts, rather than doing things for the sake of others.
But I had one more lesson to learn.
I dated around, never really feeling a strong connection to most, but I enjoyed their company. I became confident that I’d gotten better at this whole “trusting myself” thing. Then I met a guy. A loving, intelligent, scientific, attractive, older man. Something about him lured me in. I was convinced that because he was 10 years older, he was probably much more mature, confident, established in who he was. And he was established—just not in a way that matched me. I spent the last 3 years of our marriage making sure there was no possible way to work through it, but ultimately recognized we both deserved to be happy living the lives that filled us with joy. Those lives were just completely different.
I recognize now that just because someone is special, it doesn’t mean they’re your person.
I tend to gravitate toward “special” people. Those who think outside the box. Those who see life in a little different way. Those who think for themselves and are comfortable with the fact that we continually change and grow and evolve in life. Those people are my tribe. And I recognized the theme in my life with love that I would be drawn to those people, but it wasn’t always easy for me to end relationships even when I felt the draw of it not being permanent, because those kinds of people are so hard to find. And I’ve noticed that when a special man feels a strong connection because of that same trait in me, it’s almost intoxicating to be in this dance of complete reverie; to ignore all the warning signs that it’s not permanent. The details around why my second husband and I broke up aren’t as important as the fact that I can see that I knew from the beginning that we weren’t “right”.
It was so painful and difficult for me to recognize that I was likely going to have another failed marriage. I didn’t want this to be my story to begin with, but now two divorces? What about how hard I worked at knowing myself and being intentional with life—I felt I was going to lose all credibility “out there” and with myself. I really despised being seen as a flippant or casual-about-love type of person. Because I’m so not. Neither choice for divorce was made with any haste and certainly not without a ton of heartache. But that wasn’t the issue; the issue was that I wasn’t equipped to feel I had a right to choose what I really wanted. I unconsciously bent toward another person’s need and will and desire. My conditioning made what I wanted nearly impossible. But at least I know now. And I can forgive myself finally for having had two divorces.
You see, people don’t treat you the same when you experience a divorce as when you experience a break up. With a break up, you’re still undamaged goods. With divorce, it’s like you have a scarlet letter burned on your forehead. I don’t think that’s fair and I hope that changes. Because that unspoken judgement that WE ALL DO with divorced people affects the divorcee, too. It leaves you a little paralyzed and distrusting in your own ability for finding true love.
All this to say, I left my second marriage with the thought that I’m never getting married again. It wasn’t a requirement and I admitted that to myself because I’m not wanting to have children—why had I been seeking marriage if I wasn’t seeking motherhood? It felt like another conditioning from my upbringing that marriage was a goal—just like the shame of sex outside of marriage was. Plus, maybe I was a little jaded, a little scarred and believing I couldn’t possibly pick the right partner.
Coming out of two divorces, what I know now is that while I don’t necessarily believe in “The One” or that there’s only one person you can have forever with—what I do believe is that you can always tell who you shouldn’t be with, we just ignore that much more easily. Let me explain, if you find yourself saying things like “right person, wrong timing” you’re denying the more honest truth, which is that it’s just they’re the wrong person. There is no such thing as a right time with people. I think it’s more accurate to say that some relationships are for a season and some are for a lifetime. We like to romanticize this notion of soulmates and we comfort ourselves when someone breaks up with us by saying it was the wrong timing. Accepting this truth has released so much in me.
And now I’m with someone who I have confidence that I will journey with for the rest of our lives. Having two failed marriages made me very clear on what I don’t want. And it made it very easy for me to end dating relationships when I knew they weren’t right. I’d never felt that level of confidence and belief in myself or in love before. It’s kind of a big deal.
Finding my new husband—yes, I married a third time, get over it—has felt wholly different than the first two. I think that’s because I was finally ready to pay attention to what could and would work out or not in the beginning instead of doing what they needed and figuring it out later. We got married 1 year after knowing each other (which I’ve never done before) and I have never had so much emotional symbiosis and mental, spiritual, physical connection with another man. I’m happier than I’ve ever been and I haven’t had that guttural feeling that something is wrong. And trust me, I usually had that feeling much sooner than 1 year. I’m proud of myself that I trusted myself and married him.
You know what is right for you. Don’t stop doing what you know is right for you. Even if it looks messy or confusing to everyone else. At some point you’re going to stop giving a fuck about that so that the real you can step out and be free. If you pay attention to how it feels when you think about being free, you might feel a tightness in your throat, in your heart, in your stomach. Take a deep breath and loosen that knot inside, friend. Because eventually, I promise, you’ll recognize that we’re all our own version of a messy, delusional, disastrous, beautiful, precious being. And it is in the differences which make us who we are that are the most beautiful things to explore. There is no right or wrong way to do it—but you should always try to be true to yourself. If you’re still figuring out what that looks like, get messier. Just don’t stop digging. ❤