Q: I am in a wonderful relationship (finally) with the man I’ve always known I was meant to be with. We have known each other for almost seven years, and have been inseparable (and platonic) best friends for five years. Neither of us has ever been happier, or in a relationship that felt more right, with anyone else. We are completely in synch regarding where we are and where we want to be in our lives; I am about to start grad school, and he is dealing with some medical issues so that he can rejoin the workforce. Currently, we live separately with our respective parents, and see each other roughly four days per week. There is no doubt in either of our minds that we will get married and have a family together one day. In spite of all this, few people are as happy as we are about it. You see, H. and I got together about four months ago… just after I decided to divorce my husband.
Yep. I know that most people believe H. is a rebound for me, because the idea of dating after divorce brings up a lot of contentious issues. Rest assured: my ex and I have no children, no marital property, and no feelings between us; I went to the altar wishing I was marrying H., and only went through with the whole marriage thing because “Good Girls Marry Their Firsts… Even If They Cheat and Lie.” The divorce won’t be final for almost a year, and, for myriad reasons, I don’t have many people at all to talk to about the problem I am having. So it’s going to take the Internet (or at least one sweet blog) to help me with it.
You see, I feel as if, by marrying my ex, I squandered both H.’s and my chances of having a fantastic married life together. If I had not stayed with my ex, if I had left earlier, H. and I would probably be married by now. But, as it stands, we have to wait almost a year on my divorce, and then who knows how long after? I feel as if he deserves this gorgeous wedding and beautiful family, and I’m somehow tarnished or pockmarked because, even though I will be his first wife, he will never be my first husband. I know that these feelings are only mine: I have talked to him, and, in his mind, everything is for the best that we took so long to get together. But I can’t help this sense of guilt, like I ruined out fairytale.
How should I deal?
—Happy And Guilty
A: Dear HAG,
I know that feeling of “time wasted” all too well. If we had just _____ sooner, we’d have so many extra years of happiness and togetherness under our belts! Although it feels that way, waiting time is rarely wasted, and usually valuable. Regretting the past, though? That’s a real waste of time.
Not all of us have been in multiple marriages, but most of us have been in multiple relationships. I can say for a fact that I was a pretty crappy girlfriend for quite a few of mine. I learned a lot from meeting people, dating people, and ugh, yes, even crying to Dashboard Confessional over people. Those experiences shaped me into the stellar wife that I am now (and also really, really help me to appreciate what a stellar husband I have). I might’ve saved myself a lot of heartache if I’d just skipped over those dummies, but probably not. It’s more likely that those relationships helped to pave the way for an excellent marriage, with quite a bit of learning out of the way.
You can look at the past as baggage, as something that mars you or taints you. Or, you can see it as the path that led you where you are now. If you hadn’t ever been in that first relationship, would you necessarily be with H. now? Maybe not. Would you value him in the same ways you do now? Perhaps no.
We all know it’s the fairytale, not reality, that’s pockmarked. Running off with dashing prince charming on love at first sight sounds nice enough I guess, but also sort of problematic and creepy. Real life is more complicated, and as a result, more interesting and personal and yeah, beautiful. Your story maybe doesn’t follow a nice neat little rom-com format, but that also makes it your story.
But you know, I haven’t been there. So I reached out to Ms. Manya, she of the wedding she should’ve called off, and asked her for some words of wisdom and experience. Here’s what she had for you:
In my experience, no matter how ready you were, how alone you felt during your marriage, and how few the ties that bound, a divorce represents a major life shift. Even when you know you have made the right decision, there is a lot to process during a divorce—including your deeply held beliefs about what it is to be a “good girl” and the stories you tell yourself about what it means to live happily ever after (and how to do that). The problem with fairytales is that they imply a singular and linear path to happiness. But life is tangled and messy and snotty-crying ugly a whole lot of the time—even when things are going great! Lasting happiness, in life or marriage, isn’t guaranteed by following some sort of formula (research proves it!), getting the approval of your community, or by following a storyline that has worked for other people.
In my experience sometimes our worry about what “most people” think, is a proxy for our own inner doubts. I can admit now that when I was first dating my now-husband (“too soon” after deciding to divorce my ex-husband) I was secretly worried that he was a rebound, or even worse, that he was a bridge to the freedom I was not courageous enough to claim on my own. I was extremely happy with him, but I also didn’t trust myself—after all, I was the girl who had married the wrong man once before. Honestly, the only remedy for that was time. As I settled into my divorced life/self, got more comfortable with Brian, blossomed into true independence, and grew more trusting of my inner voice, the opinions of the people around me—and the stories about what life “should” look like—became less interesting to me. And when the people who truly care about me saw those changes and my enduring happiness with Brian, they got on board with our relationship. In the grand scheme of an entire messy “ever after” (which included a gorgeous wedding and a beautiful blended family), the so-called dubious beginnings of our relationship have faded into irrelevancy.
Team Practical, how do you view your current relationship in light of the past?