When The Vows Aren’t True

This week we wanted to explore the idea of unexpected outcomessome good, some difficult. In the end, what is wedding planning (and hell, marriage) other than one giant practice in letting go of the idea that we have perfect control? Today’s post from Jacki Souza about very young marriage, very early divorce, and figuring out who you really are is, for me, the most perfect sum-up that there is. This was the story of so many of my close friends growing up (our big burst of friend weddings came between nineteen and twenty-four). For me, the process of finding yourself, even through divorce and hardship, is always a story of great hope.

I cry at weddings. Start saying things like “For better or for worse… for as long as you both shall live,” and I need waterproof mascara.

Something about listening in as two people make a binding oath of love and loyalty in front of their family, friends, and deity just gets me, because it reminds me of just how beautiful I think the whole idea is—lifelong partnership. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with your chosen mate through whatever life throws at you.

I didn’t cry at my wedding.

Instead, I cried the night before. My dad and I were making last-minute changes to the iTunes playlist I made for the reception, and I found myself squeezed into the chair next to him, weeping on his shoulder, unable to articulate the nagging doubts I felt about the next day’s events. How I had been doubting my decision for months. How I feared that my role in the marriage would be more parent than partner. How I was too ashamed of the failure and the wasted money and too afraid of starting over to back out. How I felt like, even though I hadn’t yet made the vows, hadn’t signed the license, it was already too late.

And I cried the night after. Alone in the honeymoon suite with my new husband, I unzipped my gown and began pulling hairpins from my elaborate updo, and as I watched them piling up, I began to cry. Because now it really was too late.

The planning was over; my distractions were gone. For months I had been focused on the party. I scored an Amsale sample sale gown that fit me perfectly for 50% off; I found the exact shade of green I wanted my bridesmaids to wear and negotiated discounts for them; I found a local florist who could recreate the Avi Adler bouquet I wanted using seasonal, affordable flowers. And all day I had been “on,” putting my party face on and executing the plan. But that night, I crumpled.

Back then I couldn’t have told you what “cultural narrative” was or identified how it was driving my decisions, but when I met the man I married, I was a nineteen-year-old sophomore at a small denominational university, and I already knew, by watching my friends, classmates, and the people I’d known my whole life, how my life was supposed to go: go to college, meet a good Christian guy, date exclusively throughout college, get engaged as an upperclassman, get married shortly after graduation, live happily ever after. (Throw in strong undertones of “if you don’t meet a good Christian spouse now, you probably never will” for good measure.)

My parents never pressured me to find a husband, and I know if I’d chosen to break my engagement they would have been my biggest supporters. (My mom broke an engagement, once, before marrying my dad—and their story deserves its own post!) But the message our church, my school, and my own low self-esteem were sending was, “Snag a spouse while you’re here. It’s going to get really hard to find one once you leave.”

And I wanted to get married someday. As a young girl I’d admired my parents, happily married since 1980. They had what I wanted for my future. They were partners, teammates. They had that whole “we’re in this together no matter what” thing going on, and they had a really happy life to show for it.

At nineteen, I was painfully shy, afraid to approach guys, and was rarely approached by them. This only compounded the internal pressure I felt to find someone. So when a friend introduced me to her older brother and we hit it off, I latched on—fast. He was in graduate school a few states away. Six years my senior, fun-loving and kind, he was more laid-back about life than I knew how to be, but I was drawn to his playful personality, and after ten months of whirlwind long-distance dating, we were engaged.

In retrospect I see many things clearly. While we had a lot of fun together, especially in those early days, there were signs all along that we weren’t a very good fit. And it was me who glossed them over—especially when my focus turned from the excitement of a new relationship to the excitement (and stress!) of planning a wedding in my home state from eleven-hundred miles away in Tennessee, while working full time and taking a full course load my final year of college.

Even with the example set by my parents, I had a pretty deficient understanding of marriage. Naïvely, I thought it was enough to pick a person you cared for and say the vows—that saying them made them true. And I did care for him; our happy moments always pulled me back just before walking away. I convinced myself that once we were married, things would get better. The vows would find us jobs and an affordable home; resuscitate our ailing sex life and make our personalities more compatible, would give me the conversation and intellectual connection I craved. The vows would make him see how desperately afraid I was of his staggering, ever-growing mountain of debt and convince him to stop accruing more (no amount of begging, pleading or crying on my part had worked so far).

The vows would change us into people worthy of being married to each other and make our marriage strong.

It didn’t work that way. We said the vows, but… they weren’t true. And I think deep down I knew that, even as we said them. I think I didn’t cry because I didn’t fully believe what we were saying. We didn’t honor and cherish one another. We weren’t shoulder-to-shoulder against life’s struggles. Instead, being married to each other became the struggle.

During the eighteen months between us saying “I do” and me saying “I can’t do this anymore,” we both became the worst versions of ourselves. He struggled to find—then keep—a job, and dabbled in pyramid schemes while unemployed. I took the first full-time job I could find and spent the next year seething with resentment. I was constantly on the defensive, refusing to combine finances or co-sign the new lines of credit he wanted to open for expensive purchases like a flat screen TV. I sank into a deep depression, self-medicating with food and gaining thirty pounds in one year. First our emotional, then our physical relationship withered, and one night, eighteen months to the day after the night I cried over my hairpins in our honeymoon suite, I told him it was over.

In the years since our separation and eventual divorce, I’ve laid a lot of blame at his feet for what happened. I’ve hypothesized that we could’ve overcome the personality stuff if not for the financial stuff, but I’m not sure that’s true. When I started writing this post I was still blaming him, but as I wrote, the post kept changing as I discovered just how deeply at fault I was in the mess our marriage became—and in the fact that we went through with it in the first place. It’s easy to look back and feel ashamed of myself, to wonder how I could have been so willfully blind, but the woman I am today is not the woman I was five years ago when I asked for a divorce, or six years ago when we got married, or eight years ago when we met. Those younger versions of myself didn’t, in many ways, know any better. I didn’t realize how much my actions would hurt—him, me, our families.

At twenty-four, I was starting over, single and not so sure anymore that I really cared about finding a spouse from the same church, or finding a spouse anytime soon at all. It turns out that starting over—while emotionally and financially messy—isn’t as scary as I once thought. It gave me the opportunity to learn who I really am and what kind of life I really want to have… and eventually, to find a partner to share it with. A partner whose values I share, whose judgment I trust. He’s divorced, too, and we both understand now that it isn’t simply saying the vows that makes them true. You have to mean them and live them—even before you say them in public for friends and family and deity to hear. The vows should already be true when you make them.

I want to get married again, and now I know what to do differently. It may be soon or it may be… not so soon. But I can tell you this: the vows are going to be true before we ever set a wedding date. And I’m gonna need waterproof mascara.

Photo by: David Murray from Jacki’s personal collection

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  • Anya

    So beautiful and true! Thank you! I wish I could “Exactly!” this whole post.

    My fiance and I spent a long time discussing what our vows should be – what it was important to emphasize and what we wanted to strive towards in our lives together. I think that was very, very useful. I think that we constantly discuss how we will live into our shared goals (which basically are our vows) is a crucial part of our relationship.

    The act of getting married is so distracting, and that distraction is one of the most harmful elements of our current cultural narrative – whether it’s wedding industrial complex, Pinterest, or the sanctity of marriage political yuck. It’s not about GETTING married. It’s about BEING married – before, after, and during your wedding day.

  • Claire

    Wow. This blows me over with its truth and wisdom. Thank you for sharing this story so honestly and eloquently.

  • PA

    I cried on the bus while reading the first part of your story–that sort of loneliness, wondering if you’re the only one who has felt this way, and not being sure of how to work your way out of things, is so painful.

    It sounds, however, as if you worked through that into a stronger, healthier place, one that might have taken you decades to reach if things had gone “well” by more conventional standards.

    Thanks for sharing, Jacki! And…I hope you cry at your wedding :)

  • Pingback: When the Vows Aren’t True [...at A Practical Wedding] | by Jacki()

  • Wow, does this ring true on a number of levels. As someone who divorced young I can’t thank APW enough for speaking to this topic, as there’s definitely still something of a stigma out there.

    Major props lady for A) composing this post and B) having the guts to pull the trigger and walk away from that situation. As PA says, and I concur with, the turbulence that accompanies divorce, while definitely unpleasant, can often be the instigator for profound and wonderful change, introspection, and personal growth.

    I’m sure if and when you do marry again, you’ll need not only waterproof mascara, but extra lipstick since you’ll be grinning like there’s no tomorrow.

  • Fermi

    I too was married and divorced, and like you placed blame on my young, irresponsible husband, but realized like you, that I had fault in the relationship as well. When you said, ” I didn’t realize how much my actions would hurt—him, me, our families.” it hit straight to home with me. I too have found someone new, and this time am not rushing it. 6 years after the divorce I’ve learned that taking it slow is a good thing too.

  • I’ve been reading APW for over a year and this post speaks more to me than any other. I married at 22. Divorced at 24. And couldn’t be a more different woman today than I was those years ago. And honestly, couldn’t be more happy that I am so different. But wow, what an awful, lonely and debilitating experience enduring that can be. I’m so glad that you too, have come out brighter and better on the other side.

    I didn’t cry at my first wedding. I put on the face too. But in five days, I’m saying vows to an amazing man and I’m also going to need waterproof mascara…and maybe a box of tissues.

  • Shiri

    You are so brave to write this. Thank you, and good luck.

    One of the things I love most about APW is part of what you say above. Having the conversation – writing this piece – changed your understanding of your own life. That is incredibly powerful.

  • Shar

    You wrote my story, but it took me 25 years to stand up and call it “over.” Luckily, I came out of the marriage with two amazing children who wouldn’t be in my life if not for their father. We have a good divorce, we continue to parent (our adult children) together. The first few years of divorce weren’t easy, but they were better than the most of the years of marriage. We work together better at being divorced and parents than we ever did at being married and a couple.
    My ex is happily married. I like his wife a lot and would gravitate towards her at a party (although not her husband). She has no children and they won’t have any together. We share the joy of ours together.
    I have an amazing partner now. After being divorced for a few years I realized my best friend was someone I wanted by my side and I could not, did not want to, live without. When the stars aligned we had a magical moment. He is truly my friend and now my partner, through thick and thin. I don’t know if we’ll ever marry, but we are wed to each other. We are family.
    I adore his kids; he adores mine. They all know each other since they were kids and they all like each other, too.
    And I have a great deal of respect and admiration for his ex. If not for her, I would not have these wonderful “bonus” children as part of my life.
    I believe that every step we take gets us to where we are today. And while the path may have been placed before us, when there are forks in the road, we are the ones who choose how to continue. My road may have had it’s potholes, but I am better for every step taken; when I stumbled, I got back up.

    • I would love to hear a post about the relationship of divorce! I think you articulate it really well and this could be a great theme. Divorce is not just an act, it’s a relationship (just as getting married isn’t just one day, marriage is a relationship) and it takes work and skill. “We have a good divorce” seems like a great topic. Incredible post today and excellent comment.

  • Class of 1980

    “We weren’t shoulder-to-shoulder against life’s struggles. Instead, being married to each other became the struggle.”

    That sentence said it all in a nutshell.

    You’ve figured it all out beautifully. Your ex-husband wasn’t mature enough for grownup life, much less married life. That’s for him to figure out.

    Your only failure was not recognizing the signs. Then again you were only 19. I did the same thing in my thirties. I saw the warnings, hoped time would change things and got married anyway. What was my excuse?

    Congratulate yourself for learning earlier than I did.

    • One thing my current partner and I have said to each other a few times in relation to our pasts and how we both made such wildly inappropriate choices in our first spouses is that “you do what you do while you’re doing it.” It’s so easy to get on a track and think you need to stay on it and ignore signs and warnings, or feel like things will change, and only see it clearly in hindsight. I don’t think we can punish ourselves for that, no matter what age it happens at, as long as we learn from it, you know? (Of course, that doesn’t stop me from sometimes thinking “what was wrong with me?” so I can totally understand looking back and berating oneself a bit.)

  • Holly

    Wow, thank you. Beautifully written, beautifully expressed. My own story has many parallels – marrying the first “good Christian guy” who I dated (at 24), ignoring my doubts because it was just inconceivable to me that somehow I wouldn’t be able, with someone who shared my faith, to build the good solid marriage my parents had modeled for me. But getting married didn’t make everything better, and things got much much worse right afterwards. I’m in awe of your strength for getting out after only 18 months…I imagine in your community deciding to get divorced was extremely difficult. It took me 4 years, and I’m from mainline denomination which doesn’t have strong anti-divorce language, but I still felt like such a failed Christian. (It was my pastor who ultimately helped me work through things and see that marriage is intended to be a force for good and growth, but can also sadly sometimes be destructive, soul crushing). Marriage was the first thing I’d ever failed at. The whole experience left me braver, more willing to take risks in life, and much more trusting of my intuition. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • You didn’t fail at marriage. You had the wherewithall to refuse to continue down a road that would lead you to heartache and dispair. That’s a pretty great lesson to learn- some people never do.

      All marriages end. Just because it didn’t end when one of you passed away doesn’t make it a failure. I’m sorry. I just get super upset when we use “forever” as a measure of marriage success. We don’t require anything else to be forever in order to be not a failure, why marriage?

      ::gets down from soapbox::

    • Class of 1980

      Just think. If you had children, your struggle would have become their struggle. That ought to put into perspective any talk of “failure”.

      • Holly

        Addie and Class, thanks for your wise words. I should have elaborated – at the time it indeed felt like a huge failure. Now it feels like the best decision I ever made! And not wanting him to yell at my children the way he yelled at me was huge motivation for getting out of there. Making that decision was terrible, but things got better as soon as it was made. ” You had the wherewithall to refuse to continue down a road that would lead you to heartache and despair” – this is beautiful, I’ll remember this=)

    • Another Meg

      “Marriage was the first thing I’d ever failed at. The whole experience left me braver, more willing to take risks in life, and much more trusting of my intuition.”
      This is completely me! I know up in my head that I am not a failure because my first marriage didn’t work out, but I feel like I failed. It’s a really difficult thing to move past/shake off. I married at 22 and divorced at 24, and now I’m engaged to a man who is my partner in every way. Completely different relationship than before, and a completely different me. In the best way- I’m so much more like the me I left behind when I went off to college. The fearless, adventurous me who says yes to anything she can. I lost her when I went to undergrad, and she completely disappeared for a while when I was married before. VERY glad to see her again. I’m not sure I would have made this change back to the best version of me if I hadn’t had that first failed marriage.

      I’m okay with calling it a failure. I’m not going to succeed at everything I try, and it doesn’t take away from the experience.

  • It turns out that starting over—while emotionally and financially messy—isn’t as scary as I once thought. It gave me the opportunity to learn who I really am and what kind of life I really want to have… and eventually, to find a partner to share it with. A partner whose values I share, whose judgment I trust.

    THIS. The whole post, really, but as someone who isn’t necessarily so young, but who has recently decided to walk away from the epic struggle of our relationship, to discover myself and what I’m capable of, your story nailed it. Even the way you opened, because that was something I realized right before I left my husband. I visited a city for a friend’s wedding in June and cried so hard when I saw her in her dress, when they said their vows, during their first dance … none of which elicited any tears during my own nuptials. And it was that realization that made me take a good, hard look at my marriage, at my happiness and my life as a whole. So I talked to my husband, and I moved.

    I’ve been in my new location just over a month now. And it’s scary, sure, but not that scary. I’m living completely on my own for the first time ever. I’m focusing on the job that I’ve wanted to focus on for years — work-from-home freelance — and I’m slowly learning who I really am and what I can be truly capable of.

    So, thank you for this. Sometimes a woman just needs to know she isn’t alone in a certain battle, and you’ve just reassured me of such.

  • As someone whose first marriage also ended after only two-ish years, I can understand all of the emotions you experienced then and I applaud you for your growth and maturity. I loved your post and I am so thankful that you were willing to share your story!

  • Emily

    I’m obsessed with this thought: “You have to mean them and live them—even before you say them in public for friends and family and deity to hear. The vows should already true when you make them.”

    Yes yes yes.

    • KB

      Ditto!! I think this is a beautiful thought – and well-timed, too, because my fiance and I were just talking about writing our own vows maybe. If we do, I think I want to make this idea central to them because I’m marrying him not only because he’s a good man but because I believe that he WILL be a good man, too.

      I do have to say, though, that I’m worried about the not-crying thing. I cry at weddings, TV commercials, songs – yet I did not cry when he proposed to me because I think I was shocked and then chagrined that he managed to surprise me, ha. I don’t think I’ll cry at my wedding either and I wonder if it’s a sign or something. Although my mom didn’t cry at her’s either and when I asked her why, she said, “Why would I cry when I was happy and excited? That makes no sense…” :-)

      • R

        One of my co-workers -giggled- through her entire wedding. You could tell that she was barely restraining herself from jumping up and down and clapping her hands together in glee, she was so excited to be getting married to her guy. It was basically the best thing ever.

    • 39bride

      Absolutely! That was an expected thing my husband and I discovered in the weeks leading up to the wedding. We realized that the wedding was saying aloud in public what our hearts had been saying to each other for a very long time. The joy was not so much in saying those words to each other, but in sharing those words with family and friends; in announcing to the world what was already true.

  • KC

    I don’t think this post says “if you don’t/didn’t cry at your wedding, your marriage is doomed” or “if you have doubts, your marriage is doomed”, but in case anyone takes it that way:

    Just a note to not-crying brides from someone who historically didn’t cry at any weddings (except the one where I was very solidly convinced that my friend was making a horrible, horrible mistake) that it’s also okay and not necessarily dooming to not cry at your own wedding (although I’m pretty sure I cried beforehand when I felt sooo physically sick from wedding-detail-induced total stress and lack of sleep). If the pileup of emotion and hooray! and so-many-people-I-love-all-in-the-one-room! and I-get-to-actually-marry-this guy! leads more to a gleeful adrenaline rush than a mascara-running moment, that’s okay, too, for some people. I’m eight years in and things are and have been good. :-)

    Unarticulated nagging doubts can definitely be a warning sign, depending on who you are (do you have nagging doubts about *every* decision, no matter how good of a decision it is? then, hm, maybe you will have doubts about this one…). So can crying or not crying, whichever way you tend to go on that one. But neither necessarily spells DOOM. :-)

    Know yourself; don’t have too-specific expectations for how you must respond to a surreal/life-changing/permanent/emotional/wedding-detail-stress/everyone’s-here/pretty-dress/vows/sleep-deprived situation (although, absolutely, only wear waterproof mascara!). And, of course, for goodness’ sake, back out if it’s a bad idea and hang the investment/embarrassment!

    • It definitely doesn’t mean to say if you don’t cry, you made a mistake!! And I hope no one takes it that way. Crying was just my personal symbolic “thing” – for me, it was another flag that something was off.

      • KB

        Totally – like I said above, I cry at sentimental commercials and movies, but in my own life, I only cry when I’m really frustrated or unable to articulate what I mean (usually at work or in a fight – neither is a good situation :-p). While it would be nice to shed a few delicate, angelic tears (*sniff, sniff*), I will probably get the giggles or do an ugly-cry in front of God and everyone…

        • KB, don’t worry about the giggles or the ugly cry, whatever reaction you have in the moment is perfect. I did such an ugly, snotty cry that while trying to compose myself to say my vows, I definitely snorted *super* loudly. Everybody cracked up and it diffused the tension a lot. It’s actually one of my favorite memories of the ceremony, b/c I just let myself be so present and joyous.

          • KB

            Ha, the only thing I’m worried about with the ugly-cry is that it would be HIGHLY unexpected because I’m not anticipating crying at all – so if it happens, it’ll probably be so bad that I won’t be able to get out my vows and everyone will be like, “Uh oh, is she about to bolt???”

            Maybe I’ll just have to remember to snort :-) That sounds like an adorable moment.

          • Copper

            Does anybody else get headaches after they cry? Make sure to keep some ibuprofin around just in case.

        • 39bride


          Don’t assume you won’t cry. I was sure I wouldn’t. 100% sure. In private situations I can cry at the drop of a hat, but I’ve got years of performing/speaking in front of people and I figured I would just “flip the switch” into performance mode for the wedding and I’d be fine. I didn’t cry when I bought my dress, when I put it on that day, when I saw tears welling in my mother’s eyes, when I lined up with the attendants and the musician in me counted off the form in the pieces…

          And then I got far enough down the aisle to see every face at our smallish wedding turned to me in expectation and happiness… and the tidal wave of raw joy that rolled off them and down the aisle nearly brought me to my knees. I haven’t seen the pics yet, but I’m sure I was headed to an ugly cry before I yelled at myself internally. But the tears still slipped out of my eyes, I sniffled through most of the service, and so did half the people behind me–only one of which I ever would’ve bet would cry at my wedding. And I’m tearing up just writing this. :P

          Not saying everyone does, or that it’s a stamp of authenticity/rightness. Just saying, you never know until it happens.

      • meg

        PSA: I cry ALL THE TIME AT EVERYTHING, and I sob at everyone’s wedding. I basically didn’t cry at my own (I cried maybe four tears at the very end because a friend cried during her reading, but not during the vows or anything… lots of grinning however, the pictures show).

        It was just too intense to cry.

        • KTH

          Me too! Which can be really embarrassing when, say, you’re watching something like Dangerous Minds with your non-cryer friends…

        • Rachel

          I’m so glad this came up! I’m in the exact same boat. EVERYTHING makes me cry. Slightly sentimental commercial? Bawling. Somebody near me is sad? So many tears. Somebody cries in a movie? Grab the kleenex. I went into my wedding day fully expecting to cry at every opportunity, but in reality, I shed maybe two tears in the early morning when I was fastening the locket with a photo of my late grandfather to my bouquet. I didn’t cry once for the rest of the day, not during the incredibly meaningful vows, not during the beautiful, sentimental speeches, not at all. I think like Meg said, it was too intense and powerful to cry (for me, different for everyone!). My husband on the other hand, has cried three times in the past 10 years (literally, not exaggerating). Once when his grandad died when he was 16, once when his gran died when he was 18, and once when the doctors told me I was going to die of lung disease (false alarm!) about 3 years ago. On our wedding day, he cried 3 times. During our vows, during his speech, and after the wedding when we were back in our room at the B&B. He was completely shocked that he was that emotional, he didn’t expect it at all – not because he didn’t think it was a huge, emotional day, but because that’s not his usual way of expressing emotion. It’s so hard to guess how you’re going to react on a day like your wedding day, because it’s so far outside your typical frame of reference.

        • Louise

          I didn’t cry either! I totally expected to during the ceremony, but nope. I agree– it was too intense. I cried later that night (many glasses of champagne later), with my husband, reflecting on the day and how much fucking love we felt from our people, but not during the ceremony. And I’m a total cry baby at other people’s weddings.

    • Marie

      Hey, I just wanted to thank you for this. I’m a pretty obsessive worrier in all parts of my life (work, family, money, etc.) but every time I think something like “wow, forever is terrifying,” I’m convinced that because I had one doubtful thought, we’re definitely getting divorced. There is no middle ground in my head: we’re either completely happy or completely miserable.

      Posts like today’s can make that worse, by swinging me one way or the other. “Oh no, I don’t cry at weddings, what if that means I just hate the idea of marriage and we’re doomed?” Yes, it’s a silly thought process, and yes, I’m working on it, but it still happens.

      Your comment helped me calm down a little, even before I was aware that I was getting uptight again. Thanks for watching out for me, even if you didn’t know it.

      • Alexandra

        Just want to Exactly Marie here, and thank KC for the reminder that one or two doubts doesn’t spell the end of the world as I know it. I do always worry about everything (I haven’t talked to my parents in a month… Oh no, what if they went for a walk and got hit by a car and forgot their ID and no one’s told me they’re dead because they just don’t know yet!?!!) so it’s not really crazy that I’d worry about marriage… But well, I do.

        APW, while amazing, lately is just making me worry. Sometimes, it’s stories about how amazing someone’s partner is, and other times it’s stories about how something didn’t work out. But unfortunately, too many stories about amazing partners tends to blend into one, super magical awesome person who is the most understanding person in the world, always tidy, always knows just what to say, is spontaneous and funny and has impeccable fashion taste and great at planning weddings and… Is clearly not real, nor the person I’m marrying. Perhaps this is a sign that I really need to take a break from wedding websites. XD

        • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

          Please take that break. I have to do the same thing with my friend’s blogs and facebook pages. I know my life is just as amazing as their’s (at least usually), but reading about that many highs (and that few lows) convinces me that everything must be super-amazing-all-the-time-or-else-you-are-failing-hence-i’ma-total-failure. Bogus. But that feeling. Ugh.

          • Yes! Facebook is slowly killing me, I’m sure of it. Wedding pictures, baby pictures, and horrible jealousy stabbing me every time I scroll through them.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            Seriously, if Facebook is making you sad, rework your lists and/or un-friend people. Facebook does not help all your relationships. I have friends I can happily talk to in person or in other electronic formats, but on Facebook, it always ended with hurt feelings. My grandfather has a Facebook account but doesn’t know how to use it; communicating with him through Facebook kind of hurts his feelings because he feels he doesn’t get it. Interact with people in healthier ways.

        • This is me. You are me 2-5 months ago. You are just fine! (I too will worry about my parents’ meeting an untimely demise and somehow not being notified, on a regular basis)

          While WIC websites make so many women here freak out about their weddings not being perfect enough, APW was making me freak out that my relationship, my marriage wasn’t perfect enough. We’ve never gone through really hard times together (so, so fortunate) so I’ve never seen him rally around me and lift me up in the way some APW partners have lifted and protected their Persons. We don’t have those all night, deeply intimate conversations where we lay bare our hearts and souls and feel raw, but whole afterwards. When we look at each other, we don’t hear the angel choir or bone-deep gongs that signal “soul mates”.

          And while I know the women here don’t necessarily say those things in particular, it really is the impression one can get of what a healthy, “long term” marriage and relationship is supposed to be, and it can leave those of us with shallower emotional pools feel wrong, and lacking.

          That said, I’m one month married, and both our wedding and relationship were/are wonderful :) Things aren’t picture-perfect, but they’re perfect enough for us.

          I do HIGHLY recommend this APW post for you to read, though, before you take that blog break, or even if you don’t. It brought me comfort in so many ways, so many times.


          • Alexandra

            Thank you, that was a great post, and I’m not sure I’d seen that one before. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one crazy enough to worry that somehow people close to me have died and no one remembered to tell me. XD Or for that matter, crazy enough to see so many people’s highs and suddenly worry that I must be failing because life isn’t always perfect.

            I’m not quite certain that I’ll completely stop reading APW, but I’m slowly becoming more picky about what I read.

      • Diane

        Just wanted to put a little plug in for considering therapy on this one. Tendency to worry is certainly something that varies a lot from person to person but if every doubt that strays from a ringing endorsement of “perfect” is leading to a huge amount of anxiety and you feel unable to find a middle ground, it might be worth spending some time either digging deep and trying to find where that’s coming from or even a more cognitive approach that would help you train yourself to slow that train down. Good for you, though, for having your finger on your own pulse and recognizing that this is causing you anxiety. I’d honestly be a little worried about anyone who could go through engagement and marriage without ever going “woah, forever is pretty intense!” ( preferably spoken in the voice of the turtles from Finding Nemo).

  • Granola

    This was really hard to read, and I was scared to do so for fear it would undermine my faith in my own impending marriage. Happily, I don’t think that I’m in the same situation as you were, but I’m so grateful that you were willing to share your experience.

    I hope your future is full of love and joy.

  • So beautiful. There is always hope for the future.

  • I almost feel a little weird joining in the comments but I have to say how much I love this community and how wonderful and humbling it is to know how many of us have shared similar experiences, no matter how different our situations, choices and eventual paths have gone. Thank you for letting me be part of the conversation here.

  • Taylor B

    This was such a brave post! I married at 22 and ended the marriage after 18 months. It was immediately crystal clear that it was the right decision, and everything that you and others have written about finding our true selves and new partners has been true for me. But I’m still, 8 years later, so embarrassed by the mistake I made. The signs I ignored, the pressure I felt from his family, the money I wasted. Thank you for writing so articulately, so beautifully, and so honestly. I think I often sound like I’ve made peace with my divorce when I (rarely) discuss it, but it sounds like you actually have. Thank you for sharing that peace. Thank you for standing up to that stigma that still remains.

  • Lisa

    “You have to mean them and live them—even before you say them in public for friends and family and deity to hear. The vows should already true when you make them.”

    What a beautiful way to say it. I was also married young, 22, to a good guy who, after 4 years, had an emotional & personality breakdown to which I became collateral damage. Even though it was clear that the downward spiral of the relationship was due to his personal struggles, I completely felt like a failure because I could not live up to the expectation I had set for myself… that I could carry the relationship, that I could fix it, be his be-all, end-all. Now, I am 8 months from marrying the Man. Of. My. Dreams. and we have lived those vows and made them true for the last 2 years. It’s made me realize that, while I thought the vows at my first wedding were true, it turns out my first husband was emotionally unable to live them.

    I’ve carried this quote with me for a very long time before I ever realized how much it would describe me:

    “We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.” -Anaïs Nin

    Thank you for writing this post.

    • That quote is going up on my bulletin board immediately. Thanks for sharing; I needed that today.

    • I NEEDED that quote today, Lisa. Thank you so much for posting it! Yesterday was a challenging one in my current relationship, and I needed him to understand that me learning to parent a young child is not linear – nor is the three of us becoming a family a completely clean and uncomplicated process – and it was just a really tough conversation. This is something I’ll be a) sharing with him and b) tucking away to read again (and again)!

  • KTH

    What a beautiful post, and what a perfect example of why the cultural narrative and pressure that pushes people — both men and women — into marriage can be so damaging.

  • Elena

    What a beautiful post! Thank you.
    I’m about to say my vows in just a couple of moths too. And we DO live them every day. He’s been married before, tried to make it work for almost a decade, thinking about a divorce as a personal failure. But after it was over, it really helped him understand what he needs in a partner.
    At 19, I had similar expectations as described in the post. Luckily I never ended up marrying any of the guys I dated before my present fiance. But I probably would, had they asked, because I truly believed that marriage would fix all of the problems we had. Plus the pressure from parents – “you’re not getting any younger”.
    Now, 10 years later, I know that the wedding will be a couple of month planning, plus a day of excitement, and a new last name, nothing more. After that the life will go on the same way it’s going right now. And knowing that right now I’m very happy with the man I’m engaged to is the thing that matters way more than the vows we’re going to say to each other.

    • KB

      Definitely – I actually, physically shudder when I remember that it was a real possibility that I could have married any of the guys I was seriously dating up until my fiance came along. Like, in a close-call, carwreck, “there but for the grace of God go I” sort of way. It just goes to show how sometimes the person that you end up with does not physically or metaphorically look AT ALL like the person you thought you’d get married to – and that’s a good thing!

      • Airplane Rachel

        Definitely is definitely right.

        I for sure would have married my serious boyfriends had they asked. Looking back I can see the signs all over the place that the relationships weren’t what they should be, not the relationship that deep down I can feel is written in my soul. Maybe I only realize this because the relationship I am in now is more than everything I somehow always knew I wanted and needed.

        “The vows should already true when you make them.” Through all of our engagement and marriage conversations I realize and completely appreciate this for our engagement.

  • This is such a POWERFUL post. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • October12

    This is so very similar to my own story. Married at 19 because the relationship was broken and somehow we both got it in our heads that getting married would fix it. We decided to get married after the revelation that he had been cheating on me, hello sign. Divorced at 22, though he was the one who told me he couldn’t do it any more. I was bound and determined to see it though to the death rattles, I had made promises and was not one to break them. The vows were true for me, but not for him. The financial stuff was the worst, he had mountains of debt that he kept adding to, and was hiding it all from me. I gave up my identity and personhood for this man, and when I attempted to get it back, he played the victim.

    I met my now husband 28 days after the divorce was final. We took things slow, I had the space I needed to figure things out. I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned.

    I should have listened to my gut the first time, knew something wasn’t quite right when I coudn’t recall anything specific about my first wedding day the day after. I cried buckets at the second wedding, squeaky voiced through my vows, and hold tight to the haloed memories of that day.

    Thanks for helping me realize that we lived the vows before, that’s made all the difference.

  • Thank you for this post. I know exactly what you mean about that pressure to find someone young, that it will be too late by the time you leave college. I also used to think that if you just find someone with some good qualities, you can make a marriage and it doesn’t matter if you have nothing in common or different world views, etc.

    I tried hard to force my college boyfriend to marry me. And I’m so very lucky that he didn’t.

    But I still struggle with feeling like I screwed things up because I didn’t find a husband in college. I wanted a young family and many wedding anniversaries just like my parents, but I haven’t gotten that yet. And it’s hard not to feel like a failure because of it.

    But then I remember how lucky I am that I didn’t end up trapped in a marriage that was wrong for me.

  • 39bride

    Wonderfully honest and brave post! Sometimes I read people talking about divorce and remarrying, and I say to myself, “Here comes another divorce.” But when I read this, I thought, “Here comes an amazing woman who learned from her mistake and is going to be a wonderful partner to a great man. (and is going to find a wonderful man who is going to be a great partner to her).

    And in an aside, I got the same messages you did, but for many other reasons (mostly very negative) didn’t fall to the pressure. But as someone else from a small denomination, I DID find an amazing man (who now shares my religion) about 20 years after I left college. And had we known each other way back then, we wouldn’t have been interested in each other in the least. Funny how life works. I’m sure it’s not going to take you 20 years, though. Truly.

    Congratulations on taking the hard road and growing so much!

  • MMS

    “You have to mean them and live them—even before you say them in public for friends and family and deity to hear. The vows should already true when you make them.”
    And this is why I have called off my engagement after only a few months. We’d been together over 3 years, but a few months into being engaged and a few months into living with him, I realized – the magical ‘shift’ is never going to happen. Moving in did not make us partners, getting engaged did not make us partners, getting married will not make us partners. Having kids MIGHT (in this man’s particular case) change certain things, but I ain’t a gamblin’ woman (particularly not with happiness of my [hypothetical] children).
    Someone is your partner or they aren’t. Big life changes – weddings, moving in, babies, etc.- can cement a partnership, but it can’t create a partnership.
    And I absolutely agree about the whole “blaming him” revelation. I found that when I stopped thinking about it in terms of “Why won’t he do X, I need him to do X, how can I get through to him to get him to do X?” and started thinking of “I need X in my life. This man, while wonderful, can probably never give me X. I’ve asked for it, it ain’t working, let’s be honest with ourselves,” …the whole thing just became simpler and more blame-free in my mind. If anything I started feeling more guilty myself (Why didn’t I realize this earlier??) But the fact is I realized it. And now we both have a shot at finding a real partner.

    Thanks for writing this post. It’s really comforting to see that a lot of APW ladies made the same mistakes I have. It turned out ok for them, so I just might figure it all out myself, right? ;)

    • Elena


  • Ingrid

    I’ve just cancelled what was to be my first wedding one month prior to the date (and we split up). The embarrassment, shame and anxiety still sit fresh with me. I’m 39, so the fear I feel about my future is maybe a bit different from a very young person with a short marriage behind her (for example, I definitely know how to live alone, and I think I know myself well, but I feel quite a bit of older-single-woman despair thinking about all the wasted time behind me and fewer number of years ahead of me). However, it’s posts like these that have truly helped me and so many others to make hard choices under so much pressure. Thank you for your bravery (so good you ended it so quickly!) and resilience. To APW, maybe it’s a wee bit grim, but the more dropout posts the better! So informative and inspiring for anyone looking for experiences to relate to or check their doubts against. This is my first ever comment here, so I’ll also add a BIG, general thank you to you all. This site has meant the world to me.

    • LM

      Hi Ingrid! Thank YOU for YOUR bravery and comment. You take good care of yourself.

  • My goodness, I’m going to print this post and keep it forever and make sure that I review it before my (far into the future) marriage.
    As a 22 year-old within a Christian community, I am also under the sometimes unbearable (and irritating) pressure of finding a mate. Meanwhile, I have seen so many of my friends enter into marriages half-heartedly as a result of caving into the pressure to marry young. Several of these marriages are, as we speak, in the process of ending right now leaving both parties quite bruised in the process.
    I admire you for sharing your story as a cautionary tale of what happens when one enters into a marriage with their eyes closed. You have reminded me that everything will happen in its proper time and you have strengthened my resolve to not allow culture (even if it’s well-meaning) to dictate when I’m ready to marry. My prayer for you is that you find a spouse that will be able to promise you forever without reservations (and vice-versa, of course).

  • Beth

    Thank you for writing this!

    “How I felt like, even though I hadn’t yet made the vows, hadn’t signed the license, it was already too late.”

    This summarized my feelings so perfectly. I have been previously engaged twice, now on my third and a little more than a week to go on my wedding. My first two engagements felt like how you describe. Like the vows wouldn’t have been true. Like they were forced. Fortunately I did back out on both of them, but it felt like I was letting everyone down (even though they were all supportive)

    This time I can’t seem to stop writing vows and our families will have to sit through half a book! It’s good to know that even though it was hard to end those previous engagements it really was the right thing to do in the long run. This article really nailed that for me. I finally feel like I can close the book on those lingering feelings of disappointment from my first two engagements and be thankful they lead me here.

  • This post really hit home for me. I grew up in a religious culture where it was the norm for girls to get married at 18-20 and guys at 21-23. My mom and dad never pressured us to get married. My mom was “old” at 26 when she finally got married and always told us not to rush and do things we wanted to always do because when you get married there are more considerations and may not be able to do some things later on.

    Despite that, I fell in “love” my first year in college. He was my first ever boyfriend and first kiss (I was a bit of a nerd in high school). Being at a religious college also added to the fever. Engagements and marriage where encouraged and at times it did seem the school was just a big matrimony market. I got engaged at 19 despite knowing some not so good things about the future spouse. Once we were engaged, he started to change to let himself relax. The anger issues started to emerge and we had a horrible engagement. I also started to become this easily offended person and tended to say things I shouldn’t have. Thankfully we decided to end the engagement while he could work on his demons and months later I finally decided that the relationship wasn’t good for either of us. And thankfully I had supportive parents on both sides (his parents also voiced that things weren’t good and that deserved better).

    Mending from this relationship took years. I became an “old maid” and then many more years passed. Had some horrible relationships and some pretty good ones. Learned a lot about myself and others. Now I am in my 30’s and am engaged again. Honestly was not looking for a relationship and was enjoying time with friends/family. After that first engagement and other failed relationships, I learned that I can be alone that I didn’t need to have a relationship to be accepted by those that loved me and that it was never too late to get out of a bad relationship. During my prior engagement, my mom even told me at one time that being engaged didn’t mean being married and that it was better to leave then than to deal with breaking up a marriage later. (Wise lady). With my fiance now, it already feels like we are married in our hearts (my parents call us the old married couple) and that everything we do for each other each day says more than any vow we will speak next month. Not to be mushy but I did finally meet that person that I want to be old with, even the times when he drives me crazy or we argue. And there’s no doubts about the wedding (no cold feet, etc). There have been times where I just wanted to go to the registrar to make it legally finally because to both of us, we’re already bound to each other. Vows don’t make the marriage, it’s how both of you are together that makes the relationship work or not work!

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  • cerenatee

    Thank you for writing this. I’m married to a man that I never should have married. He has a good heart and he loves me dearly but it’s based on neediness and low self-esteem and an extreme self-centeredness. He doesn’t know me and really isn’t too interested in getting to know me. Everything – every conversation, every feeling, every thought – is about him. He is constitutionally incapable of seeing me or others as separate individuals of importance. The sad thing is, I knew all of this – the extreme self-centeredness, the lack of emotional support, the lack of intellectual capability, the barely-controlled alcoholism – when I married him. I naively assumed he would change with my love and support and the help of others in his 12-step program. When I read “the vows are going to be true before we ever set a wedding
    date,” it felt like my heart would explode. My vows weren’t true when I
    wrote them or when we said them, and they’re not true now. What I’ve learned is that I am not God and people live – and change – based on their own goals, values, and beliefs, not mine. Eventually I’ll extract myself from this marriage because staying is just not an option I can live with. For the first time in my life I’ll put myself first in a relationship but the pain and drama it’s going to cause could have been avoided if I had just heeded the red flags and walked away.

    • KH_Tas

      Hey, hope you’re doing ok

    • Jacki

      Hey cerenatee, I just saw your comment from a couple months ago, and I really hope you and your spouse are doing well, whatever decisions you have made or are still making since then. It sounds like you have a strong sense of what you need to do, but it’s a hard situation nonetheless. Thinking of you!