Can My Independence Survive My Second Marriage?

I want to choose my husband, not lose myself

On the eve of my second marriage, what I wanted to feel was elated, jubilant, radiantly fluttering with a barely-contained beaming smile. I wanted to glow with the confidence of my decision, for others to express how calm and happy I appeared. But as the day approached, I was dismayed to find that what I felt instead was overwhelming fear, grief, and uncertainty―not about my partner or my choice, but about the stage of life I was leaving behind, and about the instant, irreversible transition to a new one.

I’d had these fears since our engagement, but had briefly placated them by scrapping our initial, extravagant wedding plans for a sweet, private ceremony at our home. My fiancx and I had worked for months to make it everything we’d long envisioned; I had a simple, elegant dress, and would carry a bouquet of lavender like the sprays he’d once cut me from his garden. He had a beautiful made-to-measure suit, with his own vows slipped into the breast pocket.

Our décor consisted of soft pink tulle and locally-grown arrangements―dahlias, zinnias, and roses in blush and peach hues, that looked fresh off the set of an English period drama. And our cake was two layers of chocolate and lemon that had been fondant-covered and painted to appear like some of my favorite novels― a surprise my fiancx and best friend had sneakily prepared for me a few days earlier. We’d also ruthlessly cut down our original guest list to include only the kindest, closest, and most supportive people in our circle, both to ensure we wouldn’t exceed the space limits of our townhouse and to leave everyone with room to talk, drink, and dance―to create gaps for the sounds and scents of the day to move around as well. There would be good food, and plenty of wine, and most importantly I’d get to marry that wonderful, sweet, incredibly sexy, and hardworking man I’d loved in my bones for years, despite constant attempts not to, and for far longer than I was ever supposed to.

The Woman I Fear Leaving Behind

But regardless of all this, in the week leading up to our wedding I was overcome with anxiety. I was worried that afterwards everything would change, worried that I’d fail again, worried that I’d break my children’s hearts as well as my own. And I was sad to be leaving some single version of myself in the past too, as that single Sydney had survived― had found her strength in struggle and deeply valued it. The woman I’d become during and after the dissolution of my first marriage had been a woman certainly in pain, a woman grieving, but not a woman broken. Indeed, she’d found herself to be much less breakable than she’d ever realized. And I feared that in marrying again I was abandoning her, or dismissing her as some coping mechanism I only needed when I was down, when in truth she’d been my favorite and most authentic version of myself. I was terrified that in gaining a husband I was going to lose her, or lose myself, just like I had the first time.

They say that a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and a body at rest tends to stay at rest. I’d been at rest in my first marriage; indeed, for much of it I’d been asleep, numbing myself with unconsciousness to block out the fact that it wasn’t working. Finally deciding to leave that union had required enormous momentum in every aspect of my life, and that momentum had propelled me to discover the richest parts of myself, to trust myself as a woman and an adult with real responsibilities and possibilities in a way that I never before had.

How could I get married but still hold on to that empowered identity that I’d so closely aligned with non-commitment? How, as a wife, and in a generally comfortable and happy domestic partnership, would I relate to that woman who had run a household alone with two young children because she’d left her partner and needed to prove that she could? How, in my new, cushy life, could I connect with the twenty-six year old whose divorce had coincided with the 2016 election in the United States, and who had been so angry as a result of this combination that she’d lost control of her attitude and mouth entirely then, particularly when confronted by pushy, arrogant white men (and had found that freedom gratifying)?

At that time I’d worked to become my own best friend rather than relying on a husband, and had formed stronger bonds with my girlfriends too, valuing their honesty and strength and unique female energy. I’d finally begun to see them the way I had before marriage―not as accessories to a busy domestic life, but as necessary core pieces of a complete human existence. But would I or could I still feel that way after committing fully to a marriage? Would I still make time for them, prioritize them as I had in the moments I’d most acutely relied on their support? I feared a gradual marital co-dependence, one that would distance me from my friends like the first one had, and in the process create a gradual distance from my innate, individual needs too.

Staying True…To Myself

And on the eve of my second marriage, I wondered how I could prevent that loss; how I could continue to need, honor, and value that high-calibre version of myself so that she’d always feel welcome to stick around. In my anxious state I questioned everything, worried that each and every fear meant something more significant; I scoured pages about “cold feet”, terrified that I was going to hurt everyone again, blindly lost in my own apprehensions without once considering that no empty article held the answers I needed because I was not a statistic. In truth, Cosmopolitan could never explain or validate the complex emotions that come with undertaking a second marriage (particularly as a child of divorce); of bringing a step-parent into the lives and hearts of young children after leaving their father; of type-A perfectionism, and an overwhelming fear of failure; of declaring, “till death do us part” and meaning it for the second time in your life, while your former partner still lives.

Moving Forward

I believe that when a person experiences something traumatic, something life-altering or world-shattering, their existence never goes back to “normal”―there is no set point, or chemical equilibrium we eventually calm down and settle into. I think with every scratch, or every scar, we take on a new layer―or perhaps simply shed one we no longer need. Either way, we can never return to that old form; we can’t unlearn what’s been engraved on our flesh.

And on the day of my second marriage, I knew that the only way out was through. As I walked down the aisle in our backyard towards my soon-to-be husband, I saw myself reflected in his welling eyes and suddenly understood with ringing clarity that I no longer bore any resemblance to that nervous young girl who’d made uncertain vows at twenty-two. Back then, entering marriage had been a way of sliding into sleep, of deliberately choosing rest over motion and safety over freedom because I was terrified of embracing my ultimate aloneness; I hadn’t trusted myself to move untethered through the world without someone beside me making the decisions. This time, however, I was fully within myself, a woman with clearer goals and thicker skin, willfully exercising my autonomy, and faith in my own decisions.

Most of all, I’d picked a partner who loved me as the most emboldened version of myself, who pushed me and inspired me and encouraged me to spread my wings. How could I have ever thought marrying him would slow me down? This wasn’t a “second wedding”; it was a conscious decision between two consenting and self-actualized adults to shape a life together―and while that may seem like a small distinction, it’s like driving the car rather than simply being a passenger in it.

Later that night, our house covered in cards, flower petals, paper plates, wine glasses, and balloons, the party and my doubts had finally fallen silent. We were married. I slipped my gown off my shoulders and let my new husband take me in his arms with a grown woman’s appetite. And I knew then that nothing had changed; I was still in motion, we were still in motion, and everything was going to be just fine.

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