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From Divorce (And Back)

After our recent discussions about the ‘till death do us part‘ aspect of marriage, Sarah, who writes over at San Francisco Budget Wedding, wanted to write a post about surviving divorce, and what it took for her to get married again. I’d like to write a long intro for you, but I don’t think I need to. Her wise and experanced words stand on their own.

I am not just a Wedding Dropout, I am a Marriage Dropout. It’s not that I’m divorced, but I was the one who walked away from my first marriage. Throughout my separation and divorce, I spent a lot of time exploring the whys and wherefores, trying to understand exactly why I stayed married as long as I did and why I couldn’t stay married to my ex husband any longer, and also working to make sure that I am getting married to my fiance (I am not getting remarried; they are different people and these are two very different relationships. There is no “re” here) for the right reasons — and trying to identify what those right reasons are. When I kept reading so many questions from commenters asking, “How do you know if you should call off the wedding?”, I felt compelled to offer my story.

Two Weddings That Never Should Have Been

A few weeks ago, Liz commented, “I know someone getting married. and our friend asked her, ‘when did you know when you were in love?’ and she replied, ‘that’s not how it works. we’ve just been together for a long time, and he’s still hanging around, and this is kind of the next step. right, Liz?'”  When my fiance proposed to his ex wife, this was how it happened. They had been dating for a few years, and she started making noises that it was time to go the “next step,” so he figured that was what he was supposed to do. Not surprisingly, the marriage did not work out. I cannot stress enough that no one should ask, and no one should say yes, just because you’ve spent a lot of time together. If you can’t come up with a better reason to get married, don’t.

I, too, married for wrong, but different, reasons. I knew that there was something missing from the beginning. We lacked … electricity. But we were good friends, and after two bad breakups, I mistakenly believed that passion fades over time, but friendship will always remain. What I was too young to understand is that the passion may come and go, but it also sustains a relationship over rough patches that strain a friendship to the breaking point. There were times during the engagement that I came close to calling it off. I was uncomfortable with how, and how often, we fought. I missed sparks. I should have listened to my instincts, but I was afraid to call off the wedding. My parents were on a very tight budget at the time, and they had already put down deposits on the church, the reception venue, the band, the flowers, the cake, favors, decorations, wedding party attire and gifts, etc., etc.. My dress was bought and paid for; the rings were purchased. The wedding train was chugging along at a fast clip, and I was afraid to jump off the moving train. If I had been engaged when I was older, or perhaps at a time when I was not as vulnerable from past hurts that were still healing, maybe I would have had the nerve to call off my first wedding. But I didn’t.

If calling off an engagement is painful, calling off a marriage is like breaking an engagement on steroids. Lots of steroids. I often compare getting divorced to exploding a bomb into the middle of your existence. The worst part is that you can never be fully prepared for a divorce. It does not matter if you are the one who wants it. I was shocked at how difficult it was to separate myself emotionally from a relationship that I thought long dead. If this was something I yearned for, why was it so painful? I lost family and friends I loved. I disappointed and embarassed them. I hurt my ex more than I will ever understand. My divorce — a divorce I asked for and insisted on — broke me emotionally. This wasn’t your average crying for weeks after a breakup emotional breakdown. I shut down. I would go to work and stare at my computer. Frozen. I couldn’t read. The words would jump around on the page; nothing made sense.

If calling off a wedding seems expensive, divorce is exponentially so. Unhappy couples often accumulate significant consumer debt. Before the separation, we attempted to fill in the voids in our lives with stuff. Stuff is expensive, and you usually can’t give it back. After the separation, I suddenly had the cost of two households on half the income. I needed to pay off joint debts, mediators and lawyers. I still had all of our regular child care costs of daycare, books, clothing and extracurricular expenses. I still needed to eat and pay my other monthly bills. I was lucky. I only went through foreclosure. I didn’t have to file bankruptcy. I am still paying off marital debt.

In the face of all that, it’s hard to remember why I was worried about calling off a wedding just because we had spent a couple thousand dollars on dresses, deposits and wedding favors.

On Remarriage and Trusting My Instincts

I would not be here as a Wedding Undergraduate if my fiance was any other person. I would not be dating at all. But I am a rare lucky person. Tony was my first boyfriend and my first love. I met him when I was 14 and he was 17. We broke up two weeks before my 16th birthday, and I didn’t see him again until almost 21 years later. The first time we saw each other again, we hugged and held hands. I felt like I had finally found home.

The feeling that this is the right relationship for us both is impossible to describe. Meg recently wrote that when a relationship gets easy, that’s when you know it is right. Our relationship is easy. We still have our disagreements, and he hates it when I get psychoanalytical, but there is never a question that we love one another and that we’re committed to one another. We have weathered very difficult times. Tony has had to adjust to instant parenthood; he was out of work for several months; my job has suffered because of the strain of my divorce. We have each had panic attacks about how we will survive. But we always manage to reach out to one another during these times. Tony is my life raft, and I am his. My instincts this time tell me that I’m doing the right thing. That I am with the person I want to be next to for the rest of my life. I didn’t listen to my instincts the first time, and I should have. As difficult as my divorce was, I believe in marriage, and I believe in Tony. Which is why I am getting married for the second time.

If you are asking “how do I know whether I should call off the wedding?”, the answer is probably that you already know you should call off the wedding or at least postpone it. The question everyone who is contemplating getting married should be asking themselves (and know the answer to) is not whether it should be called off, but:  “Why do I want to marry this person?” If the first, number one, most obvious answer doesn’t immediately spring to your tongue:  “Because I love this person from head to toe and I want this person by my side for the rest of my life forever and ever,” then you should not be getting married to that person. No matter how well-meaning your promises are, if you don’t start with that foundation of love — not friendship, love, by marrying this person you doing a serious unkindness to everyone involved.

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