I Knew My Marriage Would Fail Before It Even Started (and It Did)

Because it's way than calling off a marriage.


In the pictures everybody appears to be smiling. But if you look closely, my eyes are red-rimmed and they don’t have those telltale “authenticity crinkles” around them. I’m clutching a Kleenex in my hand, as well as my bouquet. There’s one where my parents are in a huddle with our pastor, being consoled. My dad—nothing if not a  sport—allows himself to be wrapped in a West African King’s attire (a huge drape of Kente cloth); his shoulders are tensed to his ears. There’s a painful snapshot where the family dog is parked on my train licking her crotch. It would probably be funny if I didn’t already know as we were taking those pictures that I was making a mistake. It might be a real lark if it wasn’t colored by the endless days of darkness that characterized our divorce.

The living room of my parents’ house was truly beautiful that night, and had I felt differently deep down in my gut (where it counts), this could have been a truly fabulous wedding grad post. It would have been about an intimate, romantic and affordable living-room winter wedding between a winsome West African man and an idealistic young woman so in love they would beat all the odds. I pretended it was just nausea from my two-month long pregnancy, but the bile I fought to swallow as I waited to walk down the stairs to the song that didn’t quite fit us, was a rising sense of panic. My body had been trying to tell me all week not to go ahead with it all: it started with a galloping case of cold sores, then progressed to a heinous sinus infection, and  because I was two months pregnant I couldn’t take any medicine. I got sicker and sicker as the day approached.

Finally it was the big day: New Year’s Eve. The spa where I had planned to spend a day of bonding with my sister refused to touch my viral, pregnant self. There was the requisite comic interlude with my bouquet: it looked more like “Miami Vice” than “Winter Fairyland” and it ended with my best friend pounding down the door of a farmers’ market and scraping together a $9 bouquet that was absolutely perfect.

I had bought tons of creamy candles on post-Christmas clearance. They were cradled in different crystal votives and balanced on mismatched crystal candlesticks. A few bare branches and pine boughs rolled in fairy glitter gleamed over the fireplace, and the big window that framed us as we exchanged vows revealed a chrome-crisp Maine winter night bright with stars. I remember the theme of our address was “Crazy Love.” Our wise pastor warned us of our love being tested beyond what we ever anticipated. My throat ached. Afterward my new husband played the tam tams, we sipped champagne left over from my sister’s wedding earlier that year, and snacked on appetizers ordered from a restaurant in town.

After the ceremony we headed downtown to Portland’s most fabulous restaurant (Street & Co.) where I ended up hyperventilating and passing out in the bathroom. My sister found me there, slushy grime streaking my skirt as I leaned on the toilet hot tears seeping out of my eyes, fever flushing my cheeks. She took off my corset bra so I could breathe, hid it under her shawl, and told the waiter we’d be having this reception (and cake) to go, thank you very much.  We all ended up eating cake in our PJs and laughing. On our wedding night, my husband cooled my fever with a wet rag, and lovingly rubbed my feet. He was so thoroughly happy and I thought: “This will be ok.”

Three years later, Eat, Pray, Love-Style, I was again weeping on the floor of a bathroom, as I decided to leave my husband. Over the years, many people have asked me: What were you THINKING? The edge of judgment barely concealed. My uncle asked me the same question gently, with a tone of respect… the way he asked it let me know he assumed I was thinking something logical and smart, because that’s the kind of woman I am… thoughtful. Here’s what I told him:

Well… there was a civil war, a little girl, and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. There was a strong family mythology around marriage: meet young, struggle and grow up together, and love is work, by the way.

I met my ex-husband when I was a volunteer in the Peace Corps in Cote d’Ivoire. He was charismatic, sharp as all hell, gorgeous, and special. He was an attentive single father of a little girl whose mom was too young to care for her. He showed me how to cook, took care of me when I was sick, and taught me most everything I knew about negotiating that place. He more than made up for his lack of formal education with curiosity, resourcefulness and street-smarts. The guy played the tam tams like a dream, charmed snakes, and spoke six languages. I fell in love with him in lamplight, and yearned for him sleeping just on the other side of the mosquito net he had put up for me (to keep me safe, of course). We started “dating” and I just knew that if he ever had the opportunities I had been born into, he would be going places. After Peace Corps I got a job in Abidjan with an international NGO—I wanted to see where our relationship would go without the pressure of our time together having an expiration date. His baby daughter moved in with me. Then he did. And we were happy enough.

Then a coup happened, and that escalated into a war. All hopes of him working evaporated. We evacuated to a neighboring country, where I began working as a country director for the same NGO. I could have broken it off then, which would have meant leaving him and my stepdaughter, then 4, in the direst kind of poverty, in the worst slum, to die in the crossfire. I felt I had promised him more. I just couldn’t do it to either of them. I loved them.

Five years went by, one foot in front of the other. Things were good. We talked more about getting married. He really wanted to. It would be so much easier for him to be on my health insurance, for my step-daughter’s school to be covered by my benefits package. The unofficial status of my “family” began to be an issue with my company, we couldn’t be evacuated together if this country fell apart. Because of visa issues, it was getting harder and harder to travel as the family we actually were. Why not just put one foot in front of the other and make what was already fact official?

My sister got married; there was leftover champagne. We decided to do it over Christmas vacation, in the living room. We would only invite four people outside of my immediate family. The fact that I didn’t want to shout our marriage from the rooftops should have been suspect (given I was a lifetime bridal-porn junkie) but I rationalized that it was all very practical. I felt proud of my uncharacteristic lack of extravagance, mistaking a desire to hide my lie for maturity. I got pregnant (mostly) accidentally and was happy about it. He was over the moon. One foot in front of the other, and we would continue the long journey of marriage that we had already begun.

I was thinking other things too:

What is marriage after all, if not a day-to-day negotiation with someone who you decide to make a life with? When my mom had heard I was going into the Peace Corps she had said: “But you’re not the kind of girl who does the Peace Corps!” (I was a swank women’s magazine editor living in NYC at the time).  I remember retorting that we are the people we decide to be, and if I decided to do the Peace Corps then I was, by God, the type of person who does Peace Corps—(plus, lipstick travels!). Marriage is a decision every day, every minute. Love is work, everybody knows that. Fairy tale soul mates are just that—fairy tales. Real love is deciding to be together over and over, even when it is hard, and we do love each other. Commitment is an act of will. I can WILL soul-mate-hood into existence. I can WILL us into the peaceful kind of happiness others smugly pretend to have.

There were nagging doubts I repressed about our differences—many of them voiced by my parents. I was defiant and defensive—I knew what everybody was thinking, and I just knew that they couldn’t see past their American biases and fundamental belief that he was a gold-digging-visa-seeker. I knew different. I was not going to be racist and classist like them.  Plus I am feminist, thus I was fine with role reversals and being the sole breadwinner. His lack of ambition was actually a relief (I reasoned)—it allowed me to pursue my dreams without having to accommodate a competing career. He was an artist, a free spirit. He would be the at-home parent.

A lot of this was honest and true.

But in my rebellious, self-righteous haze, I was also dishonest about our fundamental compatibility on life rhythm stuff. Like how much music we like and how loud, how many people we like to have over, how much we drink, how we spend money, how we feel about financial dependency, how important formal education is, how to deal when the kids have problems in school. The tone of voice we used to talk to each other deteriorated. We both signaled we were hurting and needed more, but those signals crossed in space. These were the issues that killed us. As the years went on, our power differential widened. He didn’t pursue more education but didn’t want the jobs he was qualified for (they were beneath him). His self-esteem plummeted as I won the bread for our family. He could feel my respect for him slipping away and countered harshly, with attacks and a growing sense of entitlement. He spent us into debt with endless retail therapy and diversions.  I became more and more independent, needed him less and less to negotiate Africa and my job. I was flying, hauling up my own star (to use Meg’s fabulous term).  I ceased needing him at all. He grew jealous and resentful—afraid he would lose me. I, in turn was hurt by his jealously, confused by his malaise, but bound by the kids and terrified of losing my step-daughter. He got more and more controlling, drank more and became increasingly verbally abusive. It went downhill from there. One day I was hiding in the pantry, crying silently and my step-daughter found me. “Mama,” she said, “Why is Daddy so mean to you?” I found myself holding her tight and whispering vehemently: “Never let a man treat you like this.” Then I remembered: I’m someone’s daughter too.

Months after I knew I was done, years after that candle-lit New Years’ Eve, I finally screwed up the courage to tell him it was over. The excuse was something small and stupid. Hearts broke over and over as we slogged through the milestones of divorce: endless spirals of grief as we circled the drain, violence, despair, panic attacks, him moving out, meeting other people, picking up the pieces with the kids, custody battles, money negotiations…

I learned you have no idea who a person is until you divorce them. I learned ripping apart the web of arteries and veins that is a marriage can make you both almost bleed to death. Divorce is viscerally terrifying. It is the suspension of reason. If children are involved it takes you to primal, reptilian places in your psyche. I learned divorce is never an escape hatch. It is not an option. It is the deepest and darkest last resort when you look at the 50 years stretching in front of you and know that if you have to continue your soul will die. It is never about what is fair, only what you are willing to do to be done. It was a salvation I was so grateful to have, but I was so wrong when I comforted myself on our wedding night that I would always have an out, that we could always get a divorce.

Several years later this story does have a happy ending. I hope to have the chance to tell in another post—after all, I am reading this blog because I am planning a wedding with the love of my life. My two girls, who stayed with me, are my maids of honor. My fiancé is my soul mate. Fairy tales do exist. I am overwhelmed with excitement and cannot wait to share our day with everyone we love. I also am so sure. Our fete is elaborate and detailed because that was the wedding I always dreamed of (and should have known keeping it low key was a sign something was wrong).

Because I know what divorce is, and so does my fiancé, we did serious due diligence on this thing. We checked and cross checked every element: attraction, sex, respect, financial beliefs, political beliefs, habits, dreams, parenting style, conflict resolution style, life rhythms…. We both know, from experience, that divorce is not an option.

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  • That was a heartbreaking read..

    I admire your courage and the hard-won wisdom. I love your idealism and the careful consideration that came next. Your determination to make things work and your willingness to then believe in it all a second time.. it’s beautiful.

    Thank you for writing this. I wish you, your girls and your fiance the best of futures.

    • Manya

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I was really nervous about seeing this out there today. One of the vestiges of divorce is that you second-guess yourself and your judgment. Thank you for seeing wisdom in my foolishness.

  • This post knocked my socks off. Beautiful.

    And, yes, this is completely unrelated, but as the oh-so-very white wife of a Kenyan, I have worried and worried about whether or not I will look like a mother to my own children. That photo of you with your girls… seriously, what was I even thinking? Of course I’ll look like their mother, the same way that no one looking at that photograph could deny that you are the mother of those two beautiful girls.

    • Manya

      Yeah, I remember those fears. Plus, in our case, every person in our family has a different name!

      But I promise all of you worrying about this: the ferocity of the love between a mother and her child weaves a silvery web of magical stuff that is actually visible in a certain light.

      When people study our family out of the corners of their curious eyes, my fiance puts them out of their misery: “I’m adopted,” he says…

      • kyley

        I love your fiance’s response! So charming and sweet.

      • “the ferocity of the love between a mother and her child weaves a silvery web of magical stuff that is actually visible in a certain light. ”

        That is just beautiful. You are so brave, and I’m thrilled that after all you’ve been through you’ve found happiness again.

        My fiance is “adopted” too. ;)

      • Kinzie Kangaroo

        the ferocity of the love between a mother and her child weaves a silvery web of magical stuff that is actually visible in a certain light.

        I may never before have read words as beautiful and true as these.

    • Maria

      Being of a similar perceived race isn’t the only thing that can make people look similar, so I’m unclear as to why you would worry!

      My mother is mexican and my father is black and anyone with at least one partially functioning eye can tell I am my mother’s daughter, despite that I am racialized as Black while she is racialized as Latina.

      You shouldn’t worry. =)

  • Shawna

    Wow. One of the best posts I’ve ever read. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • fleda

    This is exceptionally true and powerful writing about divorce. Thank you.

  • lor

    “It is the deepest and darkest last resort when you look at the 50 years stretching in front of you and know that if you have to continue your soul will die.”

    You said what I felt and was unable to express when I went through my divorce…oh how I wish I had those words when I was telling my family.

    • Agreed. It’s what I often tried to say, but failed miserably at doing so.

    • That’s the line I wish I had when I went through mine. I told my mom that I could’ve stayed married. If I was willing to put hope in a box, seal it up tight, chuck it off a boat, and never look for it again. I wasn’t. She sort of got it after that.

    • I called off an engagement for that reason. It was either soul death, occasional thoughts of suicide, or leave. Leaving, clearly, was the only option.

      • Class of 1980

        I actually did tell people that if I stayed married MY SOUL WOULD DIE.

        Needless to say, I totally get it.

        • rose

          that line was the most profound in her whole post. it makes you understand the gut-wrenching decision that tears your heart but is unavoidable. brilliant.

  • This is an amazing post, and so so beautifully written. Thank you so much for sharing this with us, and I am so happy for you and your new husband. And your girls – what beautiful girls! x

  • “Then I remembered: I’m someone’s daughter too.”

    This. Wow. Its so much easier to see things clearly for the good of others sometimes.

    I wish you and your gorgeous girls all the best for the future!

    • A close friend actually told me this after my daughter was born. It was a huge turning point for me in that marriage. I thanked her profusely over drinks after I came home because without that catalyst, I don’t know how long it would have taken for me to finally leave.

  • Vicky

    Absolutely breathtaking….

    When you said that fairytales doesn’t exist – I told myself, she doesn’t know what true love is then…

    When you are in love, and it’s like a fairytale; at that point you know that it’s meant to be!

    • Manya

      Now I know how true this is! When it’s Your Person it really is magical. Sappy as this sounds, the first time I kissed my fiance I felt like I was being brought back to life. He smelled like cinnamon and my knees went week and I thought, “Oh, yeah. THIS is what it’s supposed to be like.” It was like: Duh. Sure, love is work, but it doesn’t have to be TOIL!

      • Anon

        Read the poem, The Cinnamon Peeler’s Wife by Michael Ondaatje.

        And I agree, the real thing really is a fairytale. I’ve lived both, and realized that ‘relationships take work’ is not what you think it means when you’re in the wrong relationship.

        This was a beautiful post and I’m glad you are so happy now.

        • Manya

          Oh my… just read that poem. Gorgeous. I love Michael Ondaatje. The English Patient is actually one of the inspirations for our wedding… that era, East African aviation, vintage travel…. I love the scene where Almasy is trying to map her body, claim her like he claims the desert by naming her parts. He is an explorer mapping her most intimate geography… Nice. Thank you!

          (For us it was just Big Red gum, but you know… it was Cinnamon-peeler epic)

          • Anon

            I’m laughing about the gum!

            I love the English Patient, I know just the scene you are talking about. You might also enjoy his memoir of growing up in Sri Lanka, Running in The Family. It’s very visceral in the descriptions of landscape and climate, and home, and as somebody living abroad parts of it might resonate with you.

        • Class of 1980

          “And I agree, the real thing really is a fairytale. I’ve lived both, and realized that ‘relationships take work’ is not what you think it means when you’re in the wrong relationship.”

          THIS should be engraved on stones and given to everyone.

          • Anon

            Why thank you!

      • You are a great writer! Even in your comments you are able to capture a moment and make it visceral for us. Like your first kiss with your fiance.

        Also, your line about “divorce is the suspension of reason”. So true. I’ve seen it and lamented it in divorce. Even my parents’ mostly civil divorce had elements of this. It is what I fear most about the possibility of divorce. Both of us come from divorced families and in his case there was so much more “suspension of reason” that it scarred him and his sister (and mom). We have discussed this many times and I keep insisting that *if* we divorce (though we don’t want that as an option and your post made it even clearer why it is necessary but destructive) we MUST try to avoid this for our (future) children’s sakes.
        Congratulations on your fairytale ending!!

  • I loved this post. The way you described divorce was so visceral (literally?) that it made me feel closer to possibly understanding than I ever have. Hopefully I won’t get any closer.

    • I agree. This was so well written that I got a really good glimpse of what it’s like and how it felt.

  • carrie

    An incredible, beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it, and congratulations! So many wishes of happiness to you and your beautiful family.

  • Karin

    Wow!! What a wonderful yet eye opening read. Many blessings to you and your new husband, as well as your beautiful children. Many blessings to your ex-husband as well. May he find the happiness he deserves too.

    • Manya

      Thank you for sending your blessing my ex-husband’s way too. At the end neither of us was worthy of one another.

      • Uzo

        Manya, I think your words are the confirmation I have been seeking.

        Thank you for helping me believe in Love. In Fairy Tales. And for letting me know that though love and marriage may be work, they do not equal TOIL.

        May you home be filled with much joy and happiness.

  • “Because I know what divorce is, and so does my fiancé, we did serious due diligence on this thing. We checked and cross checked every element: attraction, sex, respect, financial beliefs, political beliefs, habits, dreams, parenting style, conflict resolution style, life rhythms…. We both know, from experience, that divorce is not an option.”

    Yes. This. I did this over and over before committing to my fiancé. I was divorced, he is not. Divorce is an awful, awful thing to go through – I never want to do it again.

    Yay for finding your soul mate!!! I am so completely happy for you, and I wish you the best. :)

    • Manya

      Right back atcha!

  • This is one of the most powerful things I have ever read. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, and for reminding me how much I appreciate the love I have.

  • I want to EXACTLY! this post 100 million times. I got married too young under the pretense of a happily ever after by a service member who enlisted “for us and our future”. I was miserable, cried all the time, canceled our big affair for a quickie courthouse wedding. Didn’t tell our friends. Refused to call him my fiance – but if people doubted us, SO HELP ME did I ever rear up and protect. I thought we could work it out, *I* could work it out. Deployments and work ups and underways and nights spent on the couch showed me he was truly a controlling SOB who goaded me into marrying him.

    And when I wanted to leave – I got pregnant. I thought I could stay. And then she came, and his actions did not change. My father was heavily abusive on all ends of the spectrum and I would. not. let. my daughter grow in the same household. All of the fighting I did to ensure I didn’t end up with someone like my father slapped me in the face – I just refused to see who my father really was behind the abuse. He and my exhusband share the same face.

    You are so very right – it felt like an option in the beginning. Divorce took me to the deepest, darkest, nastiest place of my life. There was so much hurt and disdain and rumors and I swore every night my life would fly apart in a million pieces. I was the one who left, but he utterly destroyed me.

    But he couldn’t take my daughter. She’ll be the 4 this September. My husband and I married in April – and he stood by my every breakdown and emotional gnashing of teeth and he was a permanent constant by my side. He let me learn not everyone will hurt me. He waited patiently while I fought against my love for him. And now this man is the daddy to my little girl and the other half to my soul.

    All of that utter bullsh*t I had to endure? Worth it.

    But never, ever again.

    I am so happy for you and your family. I have become the military divorcees mecca, countless friends now braving the trenches of Hell, and I promise every single one happiness awaits them at the end. I’ll point them to this post for more proof – sunlight is waiting at the end of the tunnel.

    Thank you for this. Also – the photo at the end? Absolutely melts my heart. It’s perfection captured in time.

    • Manya

      Oh, Melissa, I’m so sorry. I tell people going through it Winston Churchill’s quote: “When you’re going through hell… KEEP GOING.”

      But don’t you feel like you value your husband all the more for the ease and wonder-full-ness? I have worked really hard to release regret and honor what that younger woman in me was trying to do.

    • clampers

      All this is just turning me into a blubbering mess this morning. You ladies are so strong. Many props to you.

  • Kelly

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful, powerful story Manya. Cheers to you and your soul mate, and your beautiful girls.

  • Manya, this post is heartfelt and moving. I’m sure this was not an easy story to share, so thank you for doing so.

  • oooohhh wow. somehow I’d like to communicate how much this post kind of kicked me in the gut. not that your first marriage was anything like my parents’, but still I think you gave me a window into my mom’s experience with that divorce. I mean the situations are completely different, except probably the verbal abuse and the crying in the pantry, pretty sure that happened. and the soul crushing divorce proceedings, when small children are involved. I’m so glad you got yourself out of that situation. also yay secret city hall wedding! congrats! that picture really speaks for itself, you guys are definitely gonna be ok.

  • This post was so raw and revealing. I’d never thought about divorce in the way that you described it. That bit about ripping the arteries out of a marriage and bleeding to death is so intense. Thank you so much for sharing your story, and congratulations on your future marriage!

  • charm city vixen

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    This is an amazing post, and the point about divorce not being an option — so, so true.

    You are incredibly brave, your children are beautiful, and I wish you and your new husband a life filled with happiness.

    Congrats, and best wishes!

  • Thanks for having courage and taking the time to so beautifully write your story. This piece will stay with me.

  • Manya, what a beautiful written post. I look forward to your wedding graduate post as well, but I’m so glad you took the time to share this with us first. I’ve always really strongly believed that it’s better to back away from a marriage (even if it means at the alter) than to go through the motions, but I think that is so much easier said than done. Your strength and courage really shine through in this post… and your daughters are absolutely beautiful. I’m so glad that both of them were able to stay with you, and that, despite the hardships, your choices got you to this wonderful place.

  • This was such a beautiful and honest post, and it takes courage to be so up front and open about a tough situation such as the one you experienced. I’ve heard several people say, “If it doesn’t work out, there’s always divorce” and it floors me a little bit and saddens me. Divorce is never easy or simple and should never be seen as an easy out. I’m glad that your story had a happy ending and look forward to reading your grad post!

  • Cassandra

    It was waking up in the middle of the night and thinking “I hope to god my daughter never lets someone treat her this way” that got me out. To teach my daughter better, I needed to be stronger, too. I was lucky in that we hadn’t yet gotten married, so legally, it was easier to leave, but it took more out of me mentally and emotionally than I could have imagined. Like you, I came out of it and have found my person, too. Someone who has the same values, wants the same things in life, and treats myself and my daughter with the utmost respect and love.

    This was heartbreakingly good to read. You and your girls are absolutely gorgeous. And the secret wedding in Nairobi – I think it says a lot when you’re grinning when you kiss. Also, I’m coming to Nairobi for research soon! I should have figured there were APWers everywhere.

  • Thank you for writing this incredible and brave post. As someone who has also been through a marriage I knew I shouldn’t have entered and the fall out that came after, it really resonated with me. I can still remember clearly the underlying anxiety on that wedding day, and the reasoning and excuses I piled on top of it to try to sooth it away. Just as clearly is the memory of that last fight (over going to get a gallon of milk) that was the beginning of the end.

    Divorce was so much harder than I had imagined it would be. Yes, it was the out that I had consoled myself with early on. I had never imagined, or would have believed, how hard it would be emotionally. I mean, this was someone I didn’t respect, love or even really like anymore. Someone I physically recoiled from if he tried to touch me. Even still, it was so effing hard, and I felt so very alone. It was unquestionably the right thing to do. (There was emotional abuse.) I had a support team, but none of them could understand why I was so emotionally eviscerated over making the choice to leave. Even still, it was a necessary choice, and one I’m now so glad I made.

    Now, with almost ten years of hindsight, I can even be thankful for it all in a way. Through it all I grew so much, and it helped to shape me into the person I am today. The person who when entering into marriage for a second time did it with thoughtfulness and maturity. And just as importantly, no nagging doubts or buried fears.

    • Your entire second paragraph was almost like you opened up my brain and read the contents.

  • Claire

    Wow! Blew. Me. Away.

    Thank you for this courageous, heartbreaking and hope-affirming post. Stories like this are the reason APW is so much more than a “wedding blog”. As a wedding dropout and a recent wedding graduate, I found myself nodding in agreement with your beautifully articulated wisdom.

    Can’t wait for your graduate post!

  • I’ve never been divorced and still have happily married parents. But my boyfriend got divorced soon after his daughter was born, as describes it as the above-and-beyond worst thing he has ever gone through. I have had a hard time really, truly understanding that, but your post has shed some light on it. Thank you for that.

  • This is such a lovely post. And I mean that in it’s honesty and openness. It’s a hard post to read, and I can’t even imagine writing. But it is powerful and lovely.

    I do want to say that by deciding to have a smaller/courthouse wedding, doesn’t mean the marriage will be bad. Some folks just aren’t cut out for the big wedding. Now, know that I don’t think that’s what you’re saying in your post — what I read was that it should have been a warning sign *for you*. I just want other brides out there to know that wanting that small wedding isn’t a hex on their marriage.

    I wish you nothing but happiness, love, and respect.

    • Manya


      Thank you so much, and you are SO RIGHT. Courthouse weddings are awesome–all sized weddings are awesome when you know (deep down in the gut, where it counts) that it’s right! It wasn’t the size, but really the fact that I knew I was hiding and downplaying it because I was secretly ashamed of saying vows I knew I might break someday that made the size significant. I’m glad you saw it that way, because that is truly what I meant.

      For us, once we were engaged, we couldn’t wait one more second to have the other person be our official person. I want him to be unquestionably in the legal driver’s seat if something bad happens to me, ya know? Our teeny-tiny courthouse wedding was filled with joy and fun and we loved every secret crazy minute of it. I’m also looking forward to a bigger (but still small–34 guests) shebang in 28 (!) days with bells and whistles and vintage airplanes… cuz that’s just how I roll (reference: a lifetime addiction to bridal-porn and lipstick). The only reason the Courthouse is (was) a secret is because people are coming from far and wide to the South Coast of Kenya, and we want them to feel like they are witnessing the Real Deal. Because for us bearing witness to our love and commitment in front of our (rather small) community is the Real Deal too.

  • Libby

    It’s so rare to read a post with such maturity and depth. It’s not that the other reclaiming wife and wedding graduate posts aren’t fulfilling and insightful, but let’s face it: most of us are babies at being wives, being engaged, learning what marriage is. So hearing someone with so much experience who can so clearly state why her marriage was wrong (for her), why she should have followed her instincts, why she didn’t, and now what she learned from it – well, it really touched me. Oddly enough, I’d like to read more posts like this on APW. Knowing what marriage shouldn’t be seems to me an important companion, a counterpoint, to knowing what marriage should be and is.

    Thank you, Manya. You really gave me something to think about today, and for some time to come.

    • Anonymous

      Yes yes yes!! This is why I eagerly devour the Reclaiming Wife posts–because it feels like having a loving, smart, wise community of more-experienced women explaining how life and relationships work (or don’t). It’s the big extended family I never had, warning and soothing and helping sort through life’s tough questions.

      This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read on this site. Thank you for your honesty and your generosity.

  • MamaMelli

    Thank you so much for writing this piece and sharing your scars and triumphs. It was tremendously well-written, which is just enhancing the fact that your story and your particular viewpoint is wise and challenging.

    I also personally appreciate you addressing your abuse and how you wrestled your way out of it. I think abuse is something that’s hush-hush even of forums such as APW, because there’s still this taboo belief that smart women don’t get into bad relationships. Thanks for helping to bust that myth with your post; it means a lot as a fellow survivor.

  • Karen

    Thank you for this brave, cathartic, redemptive post. It helps me understand my fiance’s divorce a bit better, and while that’s scary, I believe he feels that ultimate sense of light and renewal with me that you feel with your fiance/husband now.

    And I love that you all have different last names! I’m going to be the “adopted” one in my family — the three of them have one last name, and I’m not taking it — but it’s nice to remember that families come in all sorts of complicated shapes and sizes.

    • ElfPuddle

      “the three of them have one last name, and I’m not taking it”.
      I’ll be the adopted one in my family of four, and also the one with a different name. Families come in all sorts, but yours looks A LOT like mine. :)

      • charm city vixen


        I’ll be adopted as well — and I’m keeping my name :)

  • Wow. What an incredibly courage and honesty. How generous and wonderful that you have shared it with us. I’m really glad it had a happy ending and so happy you got to keep both of your girls.

    Your description of divorce was so painful to read, but so well said.

  • amy

    Uh, this was one of those knots-in-my-stomach, cold-sweats, messy-crying-at-work posts.

    I loved it. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. *Teary in Chicago.

  • Rachel T.

    What a beautiful and poignant post. I think so many of us have these stories, some that result in marriage and then divorce while others just result is “ending in blood”-style break-ups. Your words and sentiments are beautiful; your children are beautiful. And above all else, it’s wonderful to see that you’ve settled into a new life full of love and compatibility, and above all, that heart-felt detail-oriented excitement-laden wedding of your dreams. Most everything happens for a reason, and if not a reason then just for strength and growth. Congrats!!

  • Not Sarah

    Manya, thank you so much for sharing your story. Beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.

    “and should have known keeping it low key was a sign something was wrong”

    This. I’ve had this problem with relationships. If I don’t want to tell people, I’ve learned that that means there is a problem with the relationship.

    You look so much happier in that last picture. (Is that you?) I love that green tie on your dress! I wish you the best with your fiance and your beautiful girls.

    • H

      My trick for finding out my gut feelings on relationships are phone calls. If my boyfriend calls my cell phone, and I see the name of the person who is calling, and my heart sinks because I don’t want to pick up the phone and talk to him at all, it means I’m in the wrong relationship. If I’m excited that I get to talk to him, and can’t wait to pick up the phone and tell him what’s going on in my life and/or make plans for meeting up, it’s probably a good relationship.

      • Not Sarah

        That’s a really good check! In my last relationship, I was happy to see the missed calls, but wasn’t interested in picking up the phone when he called. I figured out eventually that that was a bad sign.

        Another check is when I’m relying far more on my mom for ranting and raving about stuff than my boyfriend, especially considering that my mom doesn’t understand my job at all.

        • Amy

          My ‘canary in the mine’ is a certain ex of mine: my first real boyfriend, first love. When I am single, I know that I would never want to get back together with him, we wouldn’t be right for each other. So if I’m in a relationship and I start wondering ‘what if’ about this guy, then I know I need to step back and take a good hard look at that relationship. This test has never steered me wrong yet.

  • This is just beautiful. I so enjoyed reading it, and I hope your secret wedding was a delight :)

  • Thank you so much for this post. Your integrity and bravery shine through in every word. I’m glad you found happiness- as someone who had been in a similar situation, I know firsthand that the happiness we have now is so much sweeter because of difficult experiences that carried us to where we are.

  • keely

    i read this line “My two girls, who stayed with me, are my maids of honor.” and instantly begin crying at my desk. THANKS APW, hahaha!

    thank you for sharing this story.

  • Goosebumps! What an amazing post. Reading it as a child of a divorce brought up a lot of old feelings of what it was like watching my parents’ marriage crumble, and while I’ve never really had deep discussions with my mother about the nitty-gritty of her divorce, a lot of your story reminded me of things I saw between my parents as their union gradually disintegrated and now I feel like I have a little more insight into how my mom felt throughout. I think she would agree with you wholeheartedly that divorce was not an option, and she stuck out her marriage for a good 30 years almost before deciding she couldn’t do it anymore, and I’m so glad she got out. Mostly because she obviously wasn’t happy, but also because we kids can feel that unhappiness (like your daughter finding you in the pantry) and it affects us, too. I’m proud of and impressed by your strength (and my mom’s) to do what was best for your sanity and for your (so, so beautiful) daughters, who I know will benefit immeasurably from having a strong, wise mother like yourself. This is the best possible outcome to such a tough situation, and I wish you all the best with your new husband.

  • Stephasaurus

    One of my best friends got married a few months ago. When I jokingly said to her, “I like (her husband’s name) way too much, you guys can never get divorced!” she said, “Well, we don’t ever want to think of it that way, otherwise we’ll feel like we’re stuck with no way to ever get out if we need to.” I guess I agree that it’s good not to feel like you’re “stuck”, but I wish I could show her this post. Sure, it’s an option. But it can destroy you.

  • This was one of the most touching posts that I have ever read.
    Thank you for sharing this deeply personal story.
    And congratulations for everything to come.

  • Class of 1980

    “I learned divorce is never an escape hatch. It is not an option. It is the deepest and darkest last resort when you look at the 50 years stretching in front of you and know that if you have to continue your soul will die. It is never about what is fair, only what you are willing to do to be done.”

    My God. My divorce was emotionally awful even though we were very kind to each other and there were no children. So yours must have been 10 times worse.

    Yet, I relate to every single word you’ve written. This is a powerful story.

  • Shannon

    Okay, I just learned so much from this post… Thank you! How brave and honest you have been here about your divorce experience. You are awesome, and congrats on your new husband!!

  • This was so incredibly powerful.

    Aside from the divorce aspect, which I certainly appreciated, I also appreciated hearing about the outside factors leading into the first marriage — the lifestyle switch, the war, the uncertainty. There are many things that lead people, as you say, one foot in front of the other, into marriage. There’s love and there’s companionship and there’s a host of other reasons why it seems like it may be the right thing and/or the right time. These things aren’t always niggly little things, either; they’re big, massive, absolutely-have-to-be-considered things. It’s incredibly important, then, that we learn from others how to navigate the balance between the outside factors affecting your relationship and your decisions, and the factors within your relationship that may be pulling in a different direction.

    So yes, thank you for sharing with all of us the relationship with your ex- and current husband, with your girls, and with your marriage. Again, very powerful.

    • Shawn

      I so agree. While I’m thankful I can’t relate to the divorce part, your description of “one foot in front of the other” totally described the relationship I had with my ex-boyfriend. He was my first boyfriend and my first love. We had different backgrounds, cultures, education levels, ages, goals and aspirations. But if someone would look at me funny and question why I was with this person, I was defensive about how smart he really was, how he didn’t have the same opportunities as I did, how I loved him and that was all that mattered. They were just being close minded and not as open and understanding as I was. But I knew it wasn’t right and that he didn’t treat me well. I remember thinking that I didn’t want to end up with this person, but that I also couldn’t comprehend how it would ever end – how devastating that would be. It ended with him cheating on me and I was so, so broken and for a lot longer than I thought I would be. I wouldn’t wish the pain on anyone, but now I look back and I’m thankful that something forced that relationship’s end so that I could find my love who is so good to me. I know break ups are nothing compared to divorces, I just mean that I totally related to thinking I was smart enough and hard working enough to pull us through it. You see the train wreck coming, but getting off the tracks is too scary, sad and painful, so you hold on, convinced that you’ll be able to control it and just avoid the wreck somehow. But you can’t, and it sucks. If you’re lucky, you learn – and you find a better, happier place. Thanks for sharing your experience about doing just that, because I know a lot of us can relate.

  • Oh, my god. This hit close to home – the crying in the bathroom, the horrifyingly bad “divorce” (though mine was a common-law relationship, and thankfully no kids, so legal issues were smaller) , the discovery of just how badly someone you had loved could treat you… Fear of violence, the panic attacks, endless money fights… Oh yes. I too “knew” that love and marriage was work, but it wasn’t until I left him and started seeing my now-husband that I realized that love-work didn’t have to strip your soul clean, and that things, that LIFE, could be easy. That happiness was an option for me…

    Congratulations on your happy new marriage and beautiful family. You clearly deserve all the joy you can handle.

  • Kathryn

    An amazing, powerful story. Thank you for sharing, and Manya, I wish you and your new partner, and your beautiful girls, nothing but the deepest happiness in the years ahead.

    I hope this isn’t an inappropriate place to bring this up, but I’d love to see what other APWers think about the idea of soul mates. Because when I read this, in Manya’s post —

    “Marriage is a decision every day, every minute. Love is work, everybody knows that. Fairy tale soul mates are just that—fairy tales. Real love is deciding to be together over and over, even when it is hard, and we do love each other.”

    — I couldn’t help but think, yes. Well, mostly yes. To me, at this point in my life, love isn’t work. It’s a revelation, full of joy and comfort. But there’s still that practical part of my mind that balks at the concept of “soul mates,” at least as the word is popularly defined. I’d be curious to hear how others weigh in on this.

    • Manya


      I totally hear you… “Soul Mates and Fairy Tales” are loaded terms kind of in the realm of “Raindrops & Lollipops, Sunshine and Unicorns… (and bullshit.)” And the mantra you quote was in my mind because it is TRUE. Marriage is those things. And when the architecture of your marriage is sound, deciding to be together over and over leads to peace and commitment…. It’s the difference between day trading and long-term investing. You do the work of riding the waves and smoothing over the rough spots… and the relationship on average lifts you up and enriches you.

      The problem was that became a mantra that made me believe that all marriages were as hard as mine…that you have to tread water–hard–just to keep your head above water.

      Now that I have been in a much healthier relationship for a long time, I realize that there is work and there is toil. Work is holding my tongue until I calm down and can talk rationally to someone who I can fundamentally communicate with and who is willing to meet me halfway. Toil is being terrified to tell your husband you accidentally missed a flight for fear of being screamed at and told you’re a bad mother.

      To me the terms Fairy Tale and Soul Mate evoke the deep sense of wonder I have at finding myself with someone just as committed to working at it as I am… and who sees the work in the same way.

      • Another Kathryn

        “Now that I have been in a much healthier relationship for a long time, I realize that there is work and there is toil. Work is holding my tongue until I calm down and can talk rationally to someone who I can fundamentally communicate with and who is willing to meet me halfway. Toil is being terrified to tell your husband you accidentally missed a flight for fear of being screamed at and told you’re a bad mother.”

        This. When I first read this post I thought it was good – but it didn’t hit me. I was able to stand back and think, I haven’t been through divorce so I can’t really undestand this. But this comment – I’ve been through this. My last relationship was years of being terrifed to say something and holding it in, thinking I had learned how to “manage” my relationship so it would work. In the end, two years (or more) after I first had the thoughts, I worked up the courage to end it. And we weren’t married and didn’t have kids – but it was still so so hard.

        And now I’ve found my person – the one I happily choose every day and we both work to meet each other halfway. Love is definitely work – but I like work – and can’t wait to marry him.

        Thank you so much for your wisdom.

    • The person I thought was my fairy-tale, supernaturally ordained soul mate — the person who I felt like I was flying every time I looked at him — turned out to be impossible for me to have a healthy relationship with. That “soul mate” feeling led me to put up with way too much crap from him, to sacrifice even my own feelings and thoughts to avoid causing any conflict. I felt like I HAD to keep the relationship going no matter what, because we had felt so strongly and proclaimed to each other that we were soulmates. Being soulmates turned into “love is work,” because I kept hoping that if I just tried harder to solve our problems, we’d feel amazingly connected again. It almost broke me getting out of that relationship — but when I snapped, it was into a stronger shape. I realized that I had to trust myself and my own instincts, no matter how important someone else was to me.

      The man I married? We never felt like a fairy tale. Angels didn’t sing, music didn’t play, we didn’t know we’d get married the instant we laid eyes on each other. We were attracted to each other, but it didn’t feel different from other relationships at first. Day by day, his kindness, his respect, his dry sense of humor, his trustworthiness, his gentleness, all made me love him more, and more deeply. It was quiet and subtle. He says he went through the same process falling in love with me.

      Love isn’t work. It might take some work to figure out the best way to communicate with each other. It might take some work to negotiate who does which chores. Problems will arise in life, you will disagree on some things, and yes, you’ll have to figure them out together. When people say “love is work,” I think they mean to say “you won’t always magically agree on everything forever.” Basically, “it won’t always be like the first month of the relationship, where everything is perfect and the other person can do no wrong.”

      But it shouldn’t be work to enjoy your love’s company. It shouldn’t be work to want them on your team and trust that they’ve got your back. You shouldn’t feel like every day with them is a grim, teeth-gritting duty. You shouldn’t feel miserable all the time, and keep thinking if you just worked harder to solve the problems, you could stop feeling so miserable. That’s not part of the normal “work” that arises in relationships.

      • Manya

        Perfectly said, Carrie.

      • Kayakgirl73


        Your second paragraph describes how I feel about my husband. It was a quiet love that came on slowly. No love at first sight, huge he’s the one. Just a quiet understanding over time, until one day I woke up and realized I was in love with him. I now feel an incredible sense of belonging and that this marriage is right even if I can’t always articulate the whys.

      • Amy

        I love this thread of comments! I too had a relationship that I thought if I just worked hard enough I could make it right. Because love is *supposed* to be work, everyone says so. But it’s not work, not that kind of work. I wish I had known.

      • SUE

        Carrie, I cannot agree with you more. I was once engaged to a man who was “perfect” for me and there was so much pressure, both from myself and from others, to make it work no matter what. When we got engaged, it should have been a gigantic red flag that I had absolutely no interest in the wedding, refused to wear a ring and started drinking too much. We got into a huge fight and almost called the whole thing off the morning after we got engaged. The thing was, he did no more wrong than I. He remains to this day someone I respect and care for. In the end, he was in the same situation as I, feeling like it just wasn’t right but with friends, family and history telling us we should be together. Shortly before the wedding date, we parted, knowing that it shouldn’t be that difficult to stay with someone. It was the hardest conversation I ever had with my parents and I’m still not sure they understand.

        The man that I’m about marry, I have the exact opposite story with. It was work to make our relationship possible but there was never any doubt we wanted to be together. We bring out the best in each other and genuinely enjoy spending time together. When we have disagreements, it doesn’t feel like a fight – it just feels like something we need to work out.

        During my first engagement, my mom once told me that I shouldn’t worry about being disinterested in the wedding because that’s how she felt and she’s been married for 40 years. I disagree. I still have no interest in centerpieces and colorschemes, but I’m excited about the wedding. The wedding should be a kick-off for the lifetime you will share together and if you’re not excited about that, you should really think about why that is.

  • Cristina

    That was heartbreaking and beautifully written. Your daughters are very lucky to have such a strong, independent mother.

    Congratulations on your upcoming marriage–I love the last picture!

  • Eped

    Thank you for sharing this–it’s an amazing, hopeful story, and BEAUTIFULLY written. Also, many thanks for poking holes in the “love is hard work” argument. That really bugs me because I think it leads MANY people to stay in the wrong relationship because if it’s hard, well, it must be love! It’s just not true. Does it take time, effort, attention? Sure. But it shouldn’t feel like a job you can’t wait to retire from.

    Best wishes to you and your gorgeous family.

    • Class of 1980

      “Does it take time, effort, attention? Sure. But it shouldn’t feel like a job you can’t wait to retire from.”


  • KB

    This is exceptional; thank you for sharing it with us. I could read your writing all day long.

  • Jazmin

    Beautifully written. I read this with tears streaming down my face. Even though our situations couldn’t be more different, in some aspects they could not be more similar. Thank you for writing this.

    “I’m someone’s daughter too.” That is something I need to remember on a daily basis.

  • “Fairy tales do exist.”
    This is where I lost it. Thank you, THANK YOU for sharing such a hard post. A wedding called off, and it felt like a divorce. Lawyers became involved, nasty lies were spread… and all I could think was “Thank God there were no children involved”. You are so strong. I am so glad you found a fairy tale love – it gives me hope, and reaffirms that some decisions are made for the best.

  • ka

    If I remember correctly you commented one day with an abbreviated version of this story and we all clamored for you to write a post?! It was compelling then, and even more so now. Thank you!

    There is a veil surrounding the emotional journey of divorce, often rightfully so, but getting a peek beneath it is crucial for all of us considering marriage. We should all do the due diligence you described, including examining divorce for what it really is.

    Of course, to be perfectly honest, hearing about divorce this way scared the shit out of me. But I have the kind of anxiety where “sure” will never be an option, and if I don’t take a leap I’ll never fully live. And so I’d rather experience the highs and lows of marriage (and even potentially divorce), than not try at all. Hmm, marriage, and divorce, and so many BIG decisions are really just about checking your gut and knowing yourself in the end, aren’t they…

    Congratulations to you and your fiance (and your beautiful girls)! That picture is pure bliss.

    • Kristen

      I think a lot of it is about letting the words that want to tumble out of your mouth to do what they need to do. Sometimes you find yourself swallowing a ‘no’ and saying ‘yes’. My sister once ended an engagement after someone asked her, “But do you really love him?” and she heard “No” fall out of her mouth.

  • Manya,

    Although everyone has said this in their own words already, I just wanted to thank you for writing such an incredible post today. It completely blew me away… For me, it was the brutal honesty about such a painful, personal experience in combination with your beautiful, eloquent writing. This post was so full of truth, and you are so honest and brave to share it here. I really, really appreciated reading this today! And the way you put things is just perfection. Can’t wait to read your wedding grad post! I’m so glad you were able to find your way through such pain, and find a happy ending on the other side. LOVE that last pic of you two kissing!

  • BUH! So thoughtful, so brave, so beautiful . . .

    So speechless. Thanks.

  • Shirley

    ….”I learned ripping apart the web of arteries and veins that is a marriage can make you both almost bleed to death. …………… I learned divorce is never an escape hatch. It is not an option. It is the deepest and darkest last resort when you look at the 50 years stretching in front of you and know that if you have to continue your soul will die.”

    Wow. WOW. Thank you so much for this post. Its the first time I’ve read such a frank and honest account of marriage and divorce with sooooo many parallels to my own situation. Most people do believe that divorce is always an ‘out’ if it goes wrong and yet it is very very far from the easy option. I might even send this post to people who question my decision to ‘get out’ and say that I took the easy option or didn’t try hard enough or stay long enough to make it work. I bust a gut trying to make it right. I got out before I lost me because I honestly felt that if I didn’t get out right then, I never would and I’d ‘die’.

    Manya, this was very touching. Thank you x

  • I have chills all up and down my arms. You are immensely strong, and I’m so glad that you’ve won your fairytale in the end. Every person deserves not only love, but mutual respect, kindness and compassion. Congratulations on your bright new future! :)

  • Wow! Beautiful, powerful story. Best wishes to you, you deserve it!

  • Wow. I’m absolutely speechless. This was a wonderful and beautifully written post. I’m so sorry you traveled such a rough road, but I’m glad it lead you to something wonderful.

  • Sarahkay

    Thanks for this post today. I’ve written volumes trying to express what you’ve managed to do so concisely in your writing. I’m so glad to know that you have the happiness that you deserve now.

  • Class of 1980

    I’ve had such a busy important day today, but this epic post is still on my mind.

    Manya’s story belongs in the APW Hall of Fame. Do we have one yet?

  • Gemma

    Thank you. You said so many things that I have been longing to say myself. You did it so well in fact, that now I almost don’t need to. Thank you.

  • Kristen

    Thank you so much for this. I am sure it was painful to revisit and terrifying to press send. I hink it should be added to a collection of essays that everyone should read as they’re preparing to get married. I believe your courage could save a lot of people from a lot of heartache.

    • Class of 1980

      I was thinking the same thing. If I had a daughter, she would be reading it.

  • Katie

    The part of this post that stands out the most, for me, is when Manya tells her daughter to never let a man treat her like that. I can’t exactly! that one enough. My mom didn’t really send that message very clearly to my sisters and me, and I wish she had. I was lucky enough to learn from my sisters (I’m the baby) but it kills me to see the way they’ve had to struggle because of how they’ve let their partners treat them. You are setting such a strong, good example for your (ADORABLE!!!!) girls. It feels really weird to be proud of a total stranger, but there you have it.

    And a big WOOHOO for finding your love!

    • yes! I totally agree. I still remember the first month dating my first boyfriend when he cheated on me, and my mom told me to forgive him and stay with him anyway. I was 17! What was she thinking? If I could change one thing in life, I’d go back and slap my 17 year old self and tell her she deserved better. It took me almost a decade and a multi-year hiatus from dating to realize I deserved better. Manya, thanks for being a strong role-model for your beautiful daughters.

  • Manya,
    Thank you for sharing. I’m single, with barely a boyfriend in sight. (But I love reading this site.) If you make it this far down into the comments, I just wanted to say thank you. I’m a blond haired, slightly older than college aged, Republican, soon to be Peace Corps Volunteer. (Technically I’m a Nominee right now.)
    There is a wonderful guy I could give everything up for right now, and give up the PC for. But he hasn’t asked me to, and I won’t do it unless he asks. We click on all of the “life rhythm” things. In fact, we’re perfect on that front. But something keeps us from falling perfectly in love. Even though we both know we’re great together. I just wish I could figure it out.
    I have nothing really to say or ask. But reading your post and looking at your life and pictures is like looking at what my life could be. And what I want it to be- beautiful dark skinned daughters, the PC in my rear view mirror, and a life living abroad. (While my very US centric family continues to question how and why?) I just cried as I read this. This week my life has turned upside down with the guy ending things between us, and the PC delaying my placement another 8 months. I’ve been asking what it is I want to do with my life now. Where, how, and why? Your post really helped put it all in perspective.
    Thank you!

    • Manya

      You have an email? I’d like to write to you “offline”… Too many thoughts for this space, and off subject for this forum.

    • Elisabeth

      Hi ErinAnnie- I’m a RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) as well. My thoughts- go for it with the Peace Corps. I think one is far more likely to regret NOT doing it than they are DOING it. And Peace Corps, for better and for worse, changes you in many, many ways. The person I am now is not the person I was going in, which is a good thing.

      As far as relationships go, I feel like I grew SO much during my two years of service and the sorts of people I was interested in before, and after, are completely different. The (wonderful) relationship I am in now could never have happened before Peace Corps and I feel so lucky to have had those two years to grow as an individual and spend a lot of time thinking about what I wanted in my Person.

      Anyways- I just wanted to encourage you in your pursuit of the Peace Corps. It’s a frustrating process getting in. They say that being flexible throughout the nomination/invitation/medical screening process will help you during your actual service, and as much as it drove me crazy at the time (patience isn’t my strong suit)… it was true. And I think flexibility was an incredibly important lesson for me to learn.

      Good luck to you. If it’s the route you decide to take, I don’t think you will regret it.

      • Katie

        RPCV here too – definitely chiming in to also say do it, if at all possible. It changed me and everyone else I knew who was in PC with me, in a good way. I think joining was one of the scariest but best decisions I ever made.

        On a side note, I married a man from Kenya (my country of service) and while our relationship is very different (I had no doubt in my mind on our wedding day and we are insanely happy), I can definitely relate to some of the stresses of intercultural relationships.

        Saw below that your ceremony will be in Diani – what a beautiful part of the country! My husband lived in Kwale for a time after I left PC and before he came to the US, so I got to visit him there. I love the coast! I lived close to Kericho during my service, though.

  • Dream

    Can NOT wait for this wedding grad post. Stoked!

  • Manya, I remember reading your story in the recent pre-engaged post. Was that story about your new hubby?

    I’m happy you got your fairytale, and that you got to keep both your girls!

    • Manya

      Yes, I’m Lauren’s wedding sister! I’ve gotten more and more vocal in the comments, starting with one on body image. I guess Manya isn’t a name that leads to much anonymity… So much for City Hall being a secret! Cat’s out of the bag! I can’t wait for our ceremony in 27 (!) days.

  • “I learned you have no idea who a person is until you divorce them.”

    I learned a similar lesson when my partner of 8 years and I dissolved our relationship. And my current partner learned the same lesson when she divorced her husband. But we both agree that if we’d never been in those awful relationships, we would not be who we are today. We agree that we’re grateful for the lessons we learned, because we live out the benefits of those lessons every day together. Our relationship is stronger because we know what hell is, and we appreciate each other more deeply.

    Thank you for this amazing post.

  • Manya

    I have smiled and laughed and wept today. Once again, getting married has brought me an unexpected gift: this site, this community, today. I am profoundly humbled by your love and blessings and understanding.

    Just thank you.

    • Elisabeth

      I wanted to add to the many votes of appreciation for this post. Beautifully written and as an RPCV I could really identify with the challenges and exhilaration and unique circumstances and pure intensity that go along with dating someone from a different culture while living within their culture, rather than your own.

      Thank you for sharing. I hope to read more of your writing some day.

      (Also, I just returned from a year in Kenya and am so excited for your wedding graduate post (yay!) because I know how gorgeous the southern coast of Kenya is and can’t wait to see pictures! Where will you be having it??)

      • Manya

        Diani beach at a fab little boutique hotel called Kinondo kwetu. Look it up, it’s INSANELY charming. Kenya is so beautiful…do you miss it?

        • Elisabeth

          I stayed at Tiwi beach twice (loved it!) but didn’t *quite* make it to Diani. It sounds like it will be beautiful!!

          I miss parts of Kenya- but we lived near the Masai Mara in a very rustic, rural, dusty town, and I was pregnant most of the time we were there. (I’m due at any second, we left there in late April.) So, no, I don’t miss it that much right now. But I really appreciated the experience of being in East Africa (my PC service was in the South Pacific and WILDLY different from East Africa).

  • Congratulations on your upcoming marriage! I am so incredibly happy to hear that your story has a happy ending for you and your beautiful daughters.

    Also, I wanted to thank you for writing this post. I sent this to my mother, as she often feels like she was alone in marrying somebody about whom she had misgivings. He was an emotionally abusive alcoholic, but twenty-six years and six children later, she finally divorced him and is now working on her own happily ever after. Reading your post was like listening to a very articulate version of everything she described during that time: the fierce concern for her children, the guilt about not listening to her gut before the wedding, the despair and horror that divorce can bring. However, reading your post made me appreciate how much better the situation is now–that while divorce is awful and the scars from it run deep and last a long time, it does get better. So, thank you, and congratulations again!

    • Manya

      I really feel for your mom, and feel honored that you thought this might resonate with her. Strangely one of the hardest parts of leaving is that you feel like a failure and a quitter, as well as feeling guilty about being a lier. Like maybe something is wrong with you that you can’t just work harder and make it work out. You got yourself into this mess, and you don’t believe in divorce, and now you have to sleep in that bed you made. The sense of shame is overwhelming (not to mention the logistics!). Sigh.

      I often wished that my ex-husband would do something so extreme that I would be able to draw a line in the sand and make it about him, and not me. Do I dare admit that I may have even tried to escalate it to that level… (Unfortunately, you don’t really know all you yourself are capable of either until you are trying to tear yourself away)? The truth is it was about both of us, and our mutual inability to meet each other half way.

  • Thank you so, so much for sharing. I devoured every word. I makes me strive to dig deeper into my relationship with my fiance and go those extra lengths to have it straight.
    Thank you.

  • This is a beautiful post and brought back a lot of painful memories. Before I met my husband I was in a relationship with a man from a very different culture who I met on my gap year. I was young and naive but very much in love. He was a good man. He was kind, friendly, funny, generous. But there were way too many differences in our approach to life, our beliefs, our view on money, on children, on careers and the future. We agreed we were going to get married once I graduated, but I didn’t want to tell anyone. In my heart I knew it was wrong, but everyone else was telling me it was wrong for different reasons, and I hated the underlying racism and classism I heard there and I didn’t want anyone to think those were my reasons. Eventually I realised I wanted something very different than a life with him offered, and we broke up with many tears and much heartache.

    I am forever grateful we didn’t get married. When I met my now husband, I realised what a beautiful thing it is to be in love with someone who has the same values, the same expectations of life, the same dreams for the future.

    Thanks for sharing. It was truly cathartic to read. Wishing you so much happiness in your marriage now – that last photo made me so excited for you!

  • Claire

    This post has moved me more than any other I’ve read on APW. Thank you so much, Manya.

    At the heart of this post and many comments, I think there is a sentiment of “when it’s right, you just KNOW.” I am recently engaged to my boyfriend of 6 years, more than 4 years spent long-distance. When I read through Manya’s list of “we agree on this and this” with her now husband, I couldn’t help but start doubting myself and my relationship with my fiance. Do we really share the same views on money, work, and travel? Is it a bad sign that I still refer to him as my boyfriend, and I don’t wear my engagement ring, even though I’m living abroad and don’t feel comfortable sharing my relationship publicly here? Should I just call off the engagement for the mere reason that I’m having these second thoughts?

    It’s definitely a kind of purgatory, living apart before your engagement, and I’m still struggling to cope with the change(s) in identity, and the multiple and sometimes conflicting messages from this site and others: “you can’t let others define your relationship” and “this is how a relationship should be.”

    • Katie

      I know it’s been a few weeks, but I wanted to comment on your post.

      So much expectation is placed on how you ‘should’ feel during this time. Sadly, there is no black and white for the engagement period. Many feel elated, and many feel anxious, and many feel both.

      As someone who recently called off her engagement to the man she was with for 5 years, I know how you feel. I was in that purgatory of should I or shouldn’t I.

      There are two posts on APW that helped me think long and hard about it… one was called “The Wedding Dropout…” and one was about Anxiety. Both really helped me to see which were legit concerns, and which were things out of my control.

      Also check out Sheryl Paul and Rachel Safier if you have not done so already.

      Wish you all the best.

      • Joan

        Hi Claire,

        It has been 2 years since your comment and I am not even sure you continue to follow this blog but I am curious..what did you do? did you get married? what make you go forward with it (or call it off?)

        I have been with my fiance for over 8 years. I am in love with his sweet side, he supports me, he takes care of me, brags about me with people, is quite handy at home and really talented. We truly enjoy each other’s company and the little things that make our life special.

        But there is a side of him that makes me think twice about saying yes to our marriage. The part that keeps playing in my head when I keep reading about a relationship being work..but how much work?…I feel like I can’t communicate with him when things are not going well..my timing apparently is never right, and I expect too much too..that’s the way he sees it. I have to bite my tong often to avoid conflicts and what worries me the most is our differences when it comes to our views on things. I have justified his actions by using the way he grew up as an excuse (we have really different backgrounds). I have reasoned his lack of ambition exactly as the author of the article described it. I am also bitter because I am really active and he complaints about me being always busy but refuses to join me even for the lightest workout.

        In one way he is a dream…but when it comes to the most basic expectations he can be less than desirable. I love how he takes care of me when I am sick but hate how he corrects me in front of people. I love how he helps around the house but hate how he keeps making excuses to be more focused when it comes to finding a decent paying job.

        I feel so lonely on this…I don’t want to vent with anyone because I am afraid they form a wrong opinion of him.

        I hope you can answer…

  • Erin

    This is why I read your blog… even after getting married.

  • A A

    Thank you for this post!

  • Kat

    Oh, wow. Everyone else has already used the words I would use here as well. So again, thank you. What a beautiful future you have. I’m so excited for your grad post!!

  • Manya,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story!
    I’m young, only twenty-one years old, and I regret to admit that I already (most days) feel a kind of animosity toward romantic love. I want so badly to believe that true love exists, but I’ve always been somewhat of a cynic. Thanks again for giving me a sparkle of hope in the most beautiful of words from the warmest of hearts.

    I wish you and your family all the best!

  • Leigh Ann

    One of the things I love most about APW is the range of relationships that are represented. Not just engagements and weddings but called-off weddings and called-off marriages. Thank you for sharing your story. Look forward to your wedding grad post!

  • yes Yes YES!

  • This is so much better-written than Eat, Pray, Love, it’s unfair that Elizabeth Gilbert is the one who got the book deal. It’s so refreshing to read an honest account of divorce; nobody wants to say exactly what went wrong in their marriage but Manya has done just that here, and i thank her for it.

  • Another fan

    I couldn’t sleep tonight — just got back from my honeymoon and still reconciling the crazy waves of emotion. Thank you for sharing this — all of this. Your story is beyond a post – it is wisdom and love that glows from the depth of your soul. We are such a lucky group of readers to witness it. Your story also reads like a fairytale, which has helped me realize, I can go to bed now. Thank you.

  • Allie

    Luckily I opted for a long engagement the first time around. So it was called off a year beforehand- my whole family still kept their reservations and we had a massive non-wedding in Maui, so I guess there was a silver lining…

    I’m now marrying my soulmate. I can say this because I know how different it feels. I’m not mechanically project managing an event. I’m anxious and excited to plan the ceremony (something which I’d avoided doing before). I can’t wait to have friends and family all around and celebrating and being in the middle of all that love. And I can’t wait to actually be married- I don’t push those thoughts from my mind, they’re actually marching along up in front.

    I didn’t go through with it the first time around and for that I’m grateful. Thank you so much for posting the thoughts and feelings I had- the things I never feel like I can fully explain- the reasons why I let myself get in so far over my head- the things that make me feel like a fool- ignoring the small comments from friends and family, pretending like I was so much less elitist by following along on a path to a marriage that in my heart I never wanted.

  • I just came back to read this again after reading your wedding grad post (!!) and Manya? Wow. Wow, wow, wow. You are so very brave. I am so happy you’ve found what you need.

  • Kelly

    Beautifully written. Thank you Manya for sharing this story. I read this at work and had to keep getting up and walking away from my computer so that I wouldn’t be caught crying at my desk. So honest and fair and self aware.

  • Wow! What a story and such strong words! Did her follow up about her second marriage post yet? I can’t wait to hear her happy ending!

  • ML

    i read this earlier this year, and devoured every bit. it broke my heart, it made me ecstatic for manya’s new partnership, and it made me angry. i was struggling with questioning a relationship with the man i love deeply, whose heart and soul are so good and strong that i believed that my respect and admiration for him could sustain us. could fulfill me though i knew there were things about our life together that would never feel right.

    last week, we ended our relationship. a decision full of love and mutual respect. and while my heart is breaking, i also feel lucky that we’re taking care of ourselves and each other with grace. and so grateful to have APW, this community, and posts like manya’s to scroll through as i try to sooth my soul.

    now time to reread your wedding graduate post. here’s to hope! xo

    • Oh Sweetie–
      I’m so sorry. You will get through this, and your courage to do it now allows it to be a decision of love and respect. A HUGE hug to you as you find your new path to a more complete happiness that feels right. And my heart is breaking with you…

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  • This is just … wow. Amazing. I have chills, and have tears in my eyes. Thank you for sharing so honestly. So glad to hear that the story has a happy ending for you, your beautiful girls and your new husband.

    And thank you for putting this into words: “It is not an option. It is the deepest and darkest last resort when you look at the 50 years stretching in front of you and know that if you have to continue your soul will die.”

    My divorce was relatively simple. We owned little, and we had no children, and there was nothing to fight about. Yet it was still painful in its own way, and that statement sums it up so perfectly. I got a lot of grief from people who thought I left on a whim, and I know that some people will never understand why I chose divorce, but that’s exactly it. There was just no other way.

  • Randal

    Magnificent! Entirely consistent with my divorce experience.

  • Beth