When I look back on it, I’m not sure why I got married the first time. There were the reasons: we wanted to travel in the Middle East and thought being married would be prudent; we were going to stay together forever of course, so why not now; I was grasping for purpose in my post-college first real job I have no idea what I’m doing life and thought, why not? And I was madly in love. Love doesn’t need reasons. Plus he was sensitive, intelligent, and passionate about making a difference.
We talked about it. Then we told people. Then he asked me—a surprise—as I perched on the arm of the chair he was sitting in in his bedroom in his first apartment. It was a sad room, with white walls reflecting fluorescent lights and bars on the windows. I said yes and felt giddy because I had been expecting so little, even less than his mom’s engagement ring. In retrospect, it was weird that we were sitting side by side not really looking at each other but at our hands in our laps and my finger with a too-large ring.
I had the big wedding. I was the first of my friends and had strong opinions about it. I wrote my own ceremony, block-printed my invitations tied with ribbons and fancy paper, and hand-painted silk scarves for my bridesmaids. I was a crafting queen since this was before DIY or DIT was a thing. And it had to be perfect because I had the perfect relationship, the perfect fiancé. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know what I was doing with my life because I was getting married.
There were lots of red flags, but it’s always easy to see these things in retrospect. This haunts me. I loved him more than I loved myself. We were married for five years; he wanted to leave at six (then changed his mind); I filed for divorce after seven; and our divorce was finalized after our eighth anniversary. Of marriage. And twelve years of my life.
I used to chant to myself: at least I don’t have kids. At least he didn’t leave me with a mortgage. At least I’m still youngish. I drank too much whiskey and watched the six-hour BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. I did this for months. I also liked Under the Tuscan Sun. Then I moved back home to my parents’ house eight years after I moved out.
I visited every friend who had ever said: Come visit me. I dated, mostly just to tell my friends stories. When my ex returned to the States, I moved to Ecuador and splurged on the Galapagos on my seventh wedding anniversary. I could feel myself smiling again.
And then S flew to Ecuador to visit me. It was the most romantic thing anyone had ever done for me, and I fell head over heels in love with him. I had dated him back in California, but I was aggressively single and uninterested in serious. Despite this, I must have liked him, because I saw him at every possible moment before I left the country (we had started dating right before I left). In Ecuador, my friend K had said, “You’re taking him to the beach? People fall in love at the beach…”
He took care of me, and taught me how to surf and forage. He also taught me how to move on and let go. I liked that being with him meant that I liked myself more. I learned to be less afraid and more honest, qualities S has in spades. I learned to speak up for myself.
It was incredible to know I could feel like this again. In love.
Years of adventure and love have passed and now we see our wedding on the horizon. We talk about it—mostly the impossible logistics of our huge families and small budget. We talk of eloping. Mostly, we just want to be married (technically he just wants to be together always, with or without the state being involved).
This will be my second wedding. The last.
This time I know why: I can be myself with him; when times are tough, he just knows what to do; we make changes for each other but love each other madly as we are; we support each other’s dreams but live in very practical reality. We live well together. We travel well together.
He doesn’t try to control me and he never calls to demand where I am. He has his own life and rarely tries to guilt me into doing anything I don’t want to do. He makes me so happy. Crazy happy.
But we fight and sometimes it’s bad and I am scared shitless that I am surrounded by red flags that I’m just not seeing. He’s not perfect and I have shown myself to be a poor selector of spouses. It’s hard to know that the only answer lies within me, the same self that I slightly distrust, the same self that got me into that shit mess of a first marriage. I (obsessively) read fear-mongering, exaggerated, percentage-filled articles that say this is why people divorce: too small of wedding, too expensive of wedding, too young, second marriages, finance fights, in-laws, conception issues, different religions, different backgrounds, different love languages, not enough sex, mismatched libidos, bed death, children, different parenting styles, didn’t date long enough, lived together, didn’t live together first, etc.
Even if I checked all of those boxes (we aren’t too young, check, we have enough money even if we can never afford a house in the Bay Area, check) there is no guarantee my marriage will work. We could hug for ten minutes, kiss every time we part (this we do), practice active listening, process process process, and still not work.
Can I just believe that our love will grow with us and change as we do, for the better? I’m working on it. Can I believe our love will hold us up in the bad times and make the good times fantastic? I’m counting on it. This is the amazing thing about love and marriage. We’re taking such a leap of faith and placing heaps of trust in another person and trusting ourselves that we want this person forever, a real person with all their flaws and perfections. It’s so beautiful and scary and I’m planning to jump.
I trust that we can catch ourselves.