What a Wedding Means After the Divorce is Final

The marriage is over, but the wedding day? It stands alone.


Throughout the course of the very limited conversations we had about our marriage ending, my ex made it quite clear to me that our wedding was a mistake. If not a mistake, a distraction. While it makes sense that, in the end, it may have been an unnecessary use of resources, I have really wrestled with believing that it was an unnecessary use of my heart and an unnecessary reflection of the love I felt for and shared with my ex. To have it be such a fresh memory—seven months ago—only compounds the clashing feelings of joy and loss. I’ve just been trying to figure out how I truly feel about it all.

The biggest impediments to just pretending it never happened are the physical, tangible artifacts of the day itself. In my possession I have every note, every sample, every plan, and multiple copies of almost every component from my wedding day. I have photos, online and on hand. I have gifts from our registries and handmade things from my family and friends to celebrate our love. I have the cards, the soundtrack to our day, my ring. And every single love note or card my ex ever gave to me, including daily notes from the month before our wedding day.

I have the blanket one of my closest friends hand-knitted for us draped across my bed. The beautiful gold frame my brother gave us for Christmas, with a photo of my family at our wedding, sits on my windowsill, repurposed. The platters I had hoped to serve delicious meals on to our families on holidays and at special celebrations are tucked away in a closet. My wedding dress is balled up and shoved into a basket with copies of my wedding program, our guestbook, and the hand-calligraphy print our stationer made especially for us. I could throw all of these things into a giant fire pit and turn the memories of them into ash, but I don’t want to do that. Because they were given with love and with the intention of becoming part of memories. Good memories. And I deserve to keep them.

There are these memories of the process and the day to hold close to my heart, but there are also the archives of the connections I share with everyone there. Archives that continue to be filled, despite my marriage ending. To erase these images and these memories seems unnecessary. And to be honest, it seems mean.

My best friends in the whole world, by my side through everything.

My dear friend and incredible spiritual guide, Bishop David Flaherty, who wrote one of the most moving and personalized wedding ceremonies that could ever be written for two people he believed in without fail and without hesitation.

Katherine seeing me in my dress for the first time, her face reflecting the love she has held in her heart for me for twenty-eight-plus years.

Angela and me looking at each other adoringly, and then collapsing into a fit of giggles. This is not unique to the day, this is unique to us.

My brother and me, voguing in the driveway between photos.

My family. Oh, my incredible family.

And my sisters-by-choice, who have been there for me since before we knew what friendship and sisterhood even meant. They have held me up, loved me, comforted me, and saved me from myself forever.

My brother giving one of the best wedding toasts in the history of wedding toasts.

My aunt and uncle, who flew in from Switzerland, dancing.

Pang, my sweetest friend and photographer, and her boyfriend leaving me a love note in the middle of our picture files.

My extended family coming together from all corners of the country. Dancing and laughing and being loud and being so supremely wonderful. For us and for me.

These photographs contain memories and connections that are timeless, and they exist not just because of my relationship, but in spite of it, too. I refuse to have contempt for anyone when looking back on the day I crafted as a reflection of my enduring love for someone who decided to not love me back. Every tear, every laugh, every moment where we were deeply moved is to be treasured.

No matter how much I seethe with hate or weep with despair, I cannot seem to convince myself that forgetting October 13, 2012, is in my best interest. On that day we were surrounded by sixty of the most important people in the world to us, as individuals and as a couple. These were people who had demonstrated, in either word or deed, that they were committed to our union as much as we were, that they would be there through good times and bad, and should we ever need sanctuary or space, that they would hold our burdens and our hearts for us until we were strong enough to take them on again. In fact, these commitments were made by us to them in our vows, and they made those commitments to us in return. Everyone I brought into my marriage through familial connection or friendship has been there for me, from the moment my marriage began to the moment it ended to the place I’m in now—this weird, new, exciting, and strange transition space. They’re all there. With pom-poms. And love. And sometimes more hope than I’m capable of generating on my own. The vows I made to them, and that they made to me, have survived.

The past month in therapy has been really challenging and wonderful. There are days and weeks and years where I couldn’t see—literally anything. But my wedding was a perfect reflection of the genuine, and (hypothetically) never-ending, love I felt for my ex. My marriage was going to be more of the same—cautious deliberation, meticulous planning, joy, confusion, frustration, celebration, love, and chaos. My marriage ending means I lose people, of course. But the fact that I get to take such an incredible collection of people and things and memories with me after the six-and-a-half-year chapter of my relationship ends is a true gift. The book of my life is still being written, and how lucky am I to keep the best characters from chapter to chapter!

So no, my marriage didn’t survive. But this day—this beautiful, perfect, love-filled day—it’s mine. And it stands alone.

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  • Francis

    Wow. Just wow.
    You made me tear up completely and am absolutely in awe of your bravery, of your strength and of the love for and from your people that shines through these lines.
    Keep on – for all I can tell you’re wonderful.

  • I am seriously in awe of you and your strength. You are an amazing woman and your outlook is maybe the most perfect way of looking at this situation. I wish you all the best but I also feel so certain you will get the best – because who you are shines so beautifully through your words. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  • I’m crying on the train. This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read about weddings. I wish you many, many blessings.

  • Bravo for your strength and self-awareness and for this beautiful post. I also refuse to fully cut out the details (and for that matter, the people) of my past relationships. They are all an important part of my life story and helped me get where I am. If there was something good enough to cause these relationships, I do not believe that they automatically become irrelevant and fully bad when they end. That approach is painful immediately after a relationship ends, but it has always helped me make peace with things so much more quickly and forgive any hurt. I wish the same for you, but it sounds like you’re already on the path toward healing.

  • Margi

    Wow. Just wow. I wish one day to be as strong and brave as you are without my bitterness and anger. This needed an intro if only to say NSFW – tears warning!!!

  • This so perfectly illustrates the idea of a wedding being about community. Such amazing strength to still be owning your wedding as a day you loved.

  • This. This. This.

    This is the exact sentiment I have been struggling with since my partner ended our marriage. As a person I felt hurt and sad at the loss of such a wonderful day of love. As an event planner I felt disgusted that I had executed the *perfect* (for me) wedding for a marriage that didn’t last.

    And yet. And yet. And yet.

    Here you are, writing what I most needed to hear. That there are others out there who want to keep the wedding for what it was, what it meant, and with whom we shared it. Together we can be proof that things that end are not always mistakes, and that the past need not be erased for the future to be embraced.

    Thank you.

    • p.

      “the past need not be erased for the future to be embraced” – beautifully put!

      I really needed this post, too. My sister’s marriage ended about six months after her (absolutely beautiful) wedding, and I’ve had such a hard time reconciling the perfection of their wedding with the ending of their marriage.

  • Shiri

    “But my wedding was a perfect reflection of the genuine, and (hypothetically) never-ending, love I felt for my ex.”

    Oof. That’s a gut punch right there, of truth and pain and the hope we all have going into our weddings. You are amazing, and your writing is spectacular. So true, so strong, so beautiful.

    I want to wish you well and hope that you come out of this better than you went in, but it’s clear you don’t need those wishes. You have shown us that you are getting through this and you will come out of it with both your self and your life intact.

    • “That’s a gut punch right there…”

      Exactly. The sadness and truth and strength of this post take my breath away.

  • Martha

    This so beautiful, I can’t even articulate how much.

  • Nicole Marie

    This is so beautiful. You are so brave and strong and I am sending lots of internet hugs your way today.

  • Paw

    Wow. How can I find words for what this post brings up? It resonates with strength and determination: “I will not let anyone take my happiness and my memories of happiness.” This post is incredibly inspirational, and it was so brave of you to show us your journey and your heart! Thank you!

  • Frances

    Fantastic. Lovely. True. Brave.

  • Hannah K

    Way to have your priorities straight. I really admire this and I’ll be coming back to it, I’m sure.

  • Sarah

    This post is a perfect example of why I love APW. Thank you for allowing us all to talk about the things that really matter when it comes to love, weddings, and marriage, and for providing a platform for people at every stage of the game to express important ideas. It allows us to digest all of these complex feelings that arise and I think it makes all of us feel a little less alone.

  • Desaray

    So if your post is about all the beautiful things you will continue to treasure, can mine be about the shit I fuckin’ demolished? Just kidding. I only destroyed one thing. Here’s to both of us.

  • Jennie

    What a beautiful and inspirational piece Meaghan. As someone about to be married and working with my partner on writing our wedding ceremony, we have been struggling to find the words we want to use to describe the role we hope all of our guests will play in our marriage, but I think I found it this morning when you said:

    “These were people who had demonstrated, in either word or deed, that they were committed to our union as much as we were, that they would be there through good times and bad, and should we ever need sanctuary or space, that they would hold our burdens and our hearts for us until we were strong enough to take them on again.”

    So beautiful; so perfect.

  • Tamara Williams Van Horn

    Thank you.

  • Amy

    Your wedding was beautiful. I’m smiling after seeing all those photos and reading your descriptions of them. (Especially the ones with your family and the one where it looks like your bishop is raising the roof.) Thanks for sharing this with us, and hell yes to all that you wrote. I’m thinking even now of all the non-wedding ways your philosophy applies to my life.

  • js

    Your wedding day may stand alone but, clearly, you do not. Your attitude is so balanced and healthy, it makes me angry on your behalf. I would punch him in the face and spit in his eye, but I lack your grace and dignity. This post is fabulous and so are you.

    • Karen

      I believe there was no “him” involved. But I do understand the sentiment.

  • Thank you.

    One of my greatest fears while preparing to get married (and, who am I kidding, in the years before this relationship when I feared relationships in general!) was that it would end, and that the wedding would have been a mistake. A monument to my delusion. A day to look back upon and wince.

    It never occurred to me that it could be a day that stands alone, one that is filled with “Good memories. And I deserve to keep them.” For me, it’s always been black and white, in a dysfunctional way. I am very grateful for this healing, balanced perspective, although I am sorry for the pain and loss that brought you to this place. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability in sharing this with us. It can’t have been easy.

    • KB

      I’m the same way – with past relationships, I’ve taken the attitude that I need to completely excise them from my life, like a cancerous mole. Some people might say it’s not healthy but, for me, it’s a way to preserve the memories so that, in time, I can look back on them and reexamine things with distance, maybe even think fondly of them. I can’t help but think that certain memories are “stained” or at least seen through a different light once any relationship ends.

      But this beautiful, brave statement makes me realize that sometimes you don’t need to set everything on fire or lock it away in order to appreciate its preciousness – as the ubiquitous “they” say, “it is what it is.”

  • SarahT

    There aren’t words to express how awed I am by your strength and courage. I wish this was a regular wedding graduate post where we would ooh and ahh about your dress-because it’s fantastic-and the way all the pictures show a beautiful you but also a beautiful life-full of close friends and family. Let me just say I love the hankies and all the cardigans and the pure joy on everyone’s face. That beautiful, amazing day stands alone-and you are allowed to treasure all of it.

  • Anon

    “I could throw all of these things into a giant fire pit and turn the memories of them into ash, but I don’t want to do that. Because they were given with love and with the intention of becoming part of memories. Good memories. And I deserve to keep them.”

    This means SO MUCH to me. I’m currently packing up my stuff and getting out of the apartment that I shared with my (soon to be ex) husband. I’ve left many of the gifts he gave me, thinking that I never want to see them again, but I think I’ll pack them now. I can always change my mind later.

    Ending a marriage is tough business. Thank you for writing about it.

  • Thank you for sharing. I am in complete awe of your strength & bravery. May many, many good things come your way~

  • anon for this

    Thanks, I really needed this this morning. My marriage (and five year relationship) is ending a little less than a year after our wedding. So, empathy and virtual hugs to you. Your day was beautiful. You are beautiful. Keep on keepin’ on.

  • Carla

    Every so often, I’ll see an APW post in my news feed and decide to read it despite the fact that I got married two and a half years ago and split up a year almost to a day after that. Posts like this are the reason I still keep this place on my internet radar.

    Thank you for this. This is an issue I have struggled with off and on for the last year and a half, and I feel like I’ve come to a similar conclusion. It’s really comforting knowing that I’m not the only one, cliché though that may be. I can’t bring myself to regret the day, even if the marriage didn’t go the way that day seemed to say it would.

  • HalfPint1011

    This. THIS. On so many levels.

    I struggle daily with whether to untag or remove wedding photos from Facebook. I find myself getting really excited about other people’s weddings and finding ways to relate my wedding to theirs, then feeling a bit embarassed because mine is now defunct.

    It was a beautiful, wonderful and fantastic day … that I often wish never had happened but I’m glad it did because of the people I was surrounded by and the fun that was had. It’ll be forever bittersweet.

  • Elaine

    This post IS the reason I continue to read APW long after my own wedding. Ah-mazing! Meaghan, I am so in awe of your incredibly mature, thoughtful perspective.

  • Rebecca

    Thank you so much for your bravery! Do you know the book “Daring Greatly,” by Brene Brown? You have just dared SO greatly. Thank you, thank you.

  • This is such a wonderful, thoughtful, beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your experience and your profound wisdom. Your perspective and attitude are incredible, and as heart-wrenching and challenging as this time must be for you, I feel like you will move through it and from it gracefully and into new experiences that reflect your generosity of spirit. Best wishes to you.

  • Claire

    Stunningly beautiful. Thanks for sharing your bittersweet perspective and your incredibly graceful and powerful attitude. Wishing you all the best.

  • KINA

    Thanks for this beautiful post, Meaghan!

    I also want to say to all the ladies that have shared stories about their marriages ending here before, either through posts or comments – thank you. I’m not married (yet?) but I think there’s so much to learn about marriage and that perhaps some of the best information on the subject comes from people who have had a marriage that hasn’t lasted. This post is just one shining example.

  • Chelsea

    This one hit me like a ton of bricks. I was married two and half years ago, legally divorced about a month ago. I read APW during my entire engagement and marriage, and still hear from friends and family that mine was the most beautiful and fun wedding they’d ever attended. We really got the party planning right. Unfortunately, what mattered most was wrong. Now, I look back on our wedding – and the photos and a few of the mementos I’ve saved – as an acknowledgment and celebration of the years we spent together, a bittersweet memorial to a good but not good enough relationship. It’s almost like we had to pass through the wedding to get to the real truth that we wouldn’t ever work.

  • Sarah

    Just wonderful.


    This is the sort of holistic, honest narrative that needs to be wrapped around divorce like a length of burlap around a briar bush. The thrones of the experience may still stick through, but this attitude makes bearing that prickly burden a bit less uncomfortable.

    Especially touching were your remarks on all the wedding paraphenelia. My marriage after a little more than a year and, while I was quick to hide or be rid of things given to me by my ex, I held on to various bits of our wedding for years. All the fond memories, the words and deeds that radiated with love on that day from our friends and family, didn’t deserve to be tossed aside or destroyed. Bravo to you for your self-awareness and fully embracing the good with the not-so-good.

    Hugs! I know you’ve probably heard it a bajillion times, but it does get easier and you won’t regret keeping the good of that day with you.

  • This. It’s just so BRAVE.

  • Emma

    beautiful. thanks for sharing.

  • Thank you for this. My sister got divorced this year, also after a very short marriage. It is so relieving to be reminded that it’s okay to mention the wedding as an event in family history, because even if the marriage ended, *it was real.* What happened and existed on that day was real. It’s comforting to remember that, in the face of loss.

  • Really brings to forefront how weddings are about more than those two people marrying eachother. Incredible to have the strength and perspective to write this.

  • Dorie

    Thanks so much for sharing your story! A few years ago, once I got engaged to R, my now-husband, I had no idea what to do with the artifacts and especially the photos I had from my first wedding and that marriage.With the exception of one picture that was in a local newspaper (long story), pictures that were only of me and my ex-husband, I tossed. I gave my veil to my stepdaughter and don’t remember what I did with the cards and other paraphernalia. Photos that included friends and/or family (from the wedding, from parties, from, well, the whole time we were married) I kept. However, when I got married to R last summer, I wondered if I should have just tossed it all to start w/ a clean slate. But as you so eloquently point out, previous marriages are part of who we are and those tangible reminders signify not only the marriage, but the relationships we had/have with so many other people. Your post further validates the decision that several people, , warned me against making, but I’m so glad I have not thrown out those reminders of that part of my life.

  • Helen S

    This is an awesomely brainy perspective, and one that I’ve only JUST coming to now – I’ve been broken up for nearly three years. Now that all the hurt has died down I love looking back on the fun day me and my ex had. I still wear the wedding ring on my right hand (it’s so pretty!) and look yearningly at my engagement ring (because I don’t feel right about wearing it). Still not sure what do with the framed photo though, so it’ll probably just stay in a box until my great grandkids have to go through my estate. These things are now artifacts. They represent who I was all those years ago and who he was and the actually really lovely relationship we had.

  • You are a beautiful writer and your story made me cry. You are a beautiful person and you will love again. Thank you for sharing your story.