The Before, After, and Shock of Unexpected Divorce


And how I feel about my big, white wedding

by Amy Schreibman Walter

a chuppah at a wedding

I stood in the foyer of the synagogue in my long white wedding dress, my face covered by a veil, a vintage headpiece of fabric flowers on top of my freshly styled hair. My hands and knees had begun to tremble under the weight of the moment; my body must have sensed instinctively what my mind already knew—this very moment was the before, and after I would be somehow changed by what would transpire during the in between. My senses felt vigilant, my body reactive.

Packed to capacity, an excited buzz emanated from the room, reminiscent of the palpable sense of expectancy in a theater before the curtains come up and actors step onto the stage.

Lou* and I got engaged while I was on a one-year paid sabbatical from my job—as a bride-to-be, I had the gift of time to plan. Every tiny color-coordinated detail of our wedding had been thought through, discussed, debated, and, finally, implemented, right down to the stem of the lily on my fiancé’s jacket (it was wrapped in a navy blue ribbon to match our color scheme).

The care that had been poured into each small decision was evident, from the text I’d written for the wedding program that the guests held in their hands to the soft silk fabric we’d chosen for the personalized yarmulkes the men wore on their heads. My passion for planning mirrored the passion I felt about this new chapter of my life that I was about to embark on with the man I loved.

As the music changed tempo, slowing slightly, people shifted in their seats a little and several turned toward me. This was it. The processional of the bride. Lou was flanked by his parents on either side of him, at the end of this aisle waiting for me. My body was both excited and filled with anticipation. I reminded myself to breathe in and out, in and out, to savor every second.

As I began my slow walk, I passed people I’d never met, and made eye contact with some of them. I’ll never forget the look on one man’s face. He was smiling widely, waving his right hand in an almost furious greeting, iPhone at the ready to photograph me walking toward him. I had absolutely no idea who he was, yet he was waving at me as if I should know. My confusion was likely a result of having a huge guest list, of having plus ones, of inviting so many people.

There was an eight-page minute-by-minute wedding itinerary, but the moments that seared themselves into my memory aren’t on it. I couldn’t have planned for getting so dizzy when circling Lou seven times, that he had to take my hand to steady me. I couldn’t have planned for the comedic intimacy of being in the hotel bathroom after the ceremony, reapplying my makeup with my two bridesmaids, having them hold the train on my dress for me as I moved around the room, us exploding in girly giggles. Or the sweet unexpected speech from our little nephew at our reception. Or the moment after cutting the wedding cake, where the guests shouted, “Kiss! Kiss!” and Lou grabbed me and kissed me with a fervent passion.

Ours was a joyful, celebratory reception, filled with dancing and energy, as well as a disco light up dance floor. Our names flashed from the floor in red and orange; no expense had been spared. We had a DJ and a klezmer dance leader and a videographer and a photographer and a cake maker and a catering team and an open bar… well, our guests went home happy. We landed in the honeymoon suite happy. Zonked, but happy.

A BEFORE AND AN AFTER

There was the before and there was the after, walking back down the aisle with my new husband, hand in hand, grooving our way down the aisle as the band played behind us, our faces lit with the unparalleled joy of being newly married, colored confetti flying.

The first six months of our marriage, I felt utterly content—settling into routines, beginning to learn the ways of marriage. But then, around seven months after our wedding day, Lou came home from work one day and announced that he was leaving our marriage. There was no sense to be made of this, only shock and bewilderment. He said that he’d changed his mind about what he wanted from his life, realized that marriage wasn’t for him. And that was that. Finality came swiftly from him.

My husband had been engaged to three other women in his lifetime, but he’d called off each engagement before making it down the aisle. I’d thought things were different with me, and he’d thought they were, too. He’d actually married this time. He told me he thought he’d changed, but he knew now that he “just couldn’t be married.”

Untangling myself from my husband, from my identity as a new wife, from my love for him was all unfathomable. Yet, I had no choice. A separation and impending divorce from the man you love, after less than a year of marriage, is a peculiar kind of pain.

There are always those unknowns, those wild cards that you can’t plan for, control, or do anything about. These wildcards exist in wedding planning, in marriage, in life. There is always the before and the after.

Because our wedding had been so large, the subsequent disentangling was large too. There were so many witnesses, so many who had come from so far at great personal expense to support us. There were so many people to tell, so many people who weren’t our close family who had borne witness to this moment in our life.

And then there are the more personal little tragedies. My gorgeous young niece and nephew will remember forever that they were a part of a wedding that inexplicably ended after less than a year. How did my sister-in-law tell her children that Uncle Lou and Auntie Amy’s marriage was suddenly over? The rabbi who married us will always remember how he tried to help save our marriage, but how my husband wasn’t interested in the saving.

WHAT’S LEFT BEHIND

A beautiful album of wedding photographs and a guestbook filled with heartfelt wishes, an adorable personalized cake topper (the bride and groom who look just like us), a sterling silver cake knife engraved with our names, a handwritten wedding program… these objects sit in a cardboard box at the top of a closet are useless reminders of hopes, dreams, and love.

While visiting a friend’s apartment recently, I admired her wedding photographs in frames on her mantelpiece and remembered my own, sitting in their new frames in that cardboard box. All the planning in the world, all the love, and all the care didn’t prevent my husband from leaving.

I will never be exactly the same woman I was before—before I got married, before my husband announced his intention to exit the marriage. But there’s a strength I didn’t know I had, a fortitude that has emerged.

One day, I’d like to marry again. I value the institution of marriage, and I believe in it deeply. Yet I understand that the lasting parts of a wedding day are not in the table decorations or the music, not on the light up dance floor, not in the cake. In weddings, as in life, what lasts are simply those moments that sear themselves into your memory, into your body. What lasts are the moments where there’s only a before and an after.

*Name has been changed.

Amy Schreibman Walter

Amy Schreibman Walter’s articles and essays have been published widely. On the topic of weddings, her work appears on Smashing The Glass and The Huffington Post. Amy’s book of poems, Houdini’s Wife and Other Women, is available from Dancing Girl Press. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyswalter or find her at www.amyschreibmanwalter.com.

Staff Picks

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • Emily

    Holy shit, I can not even imagine. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • amyswalter

      Thanks for reading, Emily!

  • Abby

    You clearly have strength in spades my APW friend.

    Sending you all the positive vibes one can over the internet today.

    • amyswalter

      Abby, Thank you so much. I feel your positive vibes all the way over here in London :)

  • Ashlah

    I think I stopped breathing when I read his announcement. I cannot imagine how crushing and confusing something so unexpected and sudden must have felt. Wishing you happiness.

    • amyswalter

      Ashlah, Thank you for your kind words; I appreciate them!

  • Jessica

    This was a big fear of mine when getting married–what if he decided he just didn’t want it? A friend of ours was asked for a divorce from his wife of 7 months the weekend we got engaged, and that really played into a lot of anxiety when planning the wedding.

    I know that a lot of my friend’s relationships since then have been massively shaped by this. His trust, who he chooses to spend time with, what he commits to have all changed drastically since the divorce. It was 4 years ago, and the ripple effect is still apparent. I feel for him, and you, Amy. It’s hard.

    • amyswalter

      Thanks, Jessica, for sharing all this with me. I’m so sorry to hear about your friend. I wish him a smooth road to healing. Thanks for your kind words; I appreciate them.

  • AP

    What a gut punch. Thank you for sharing, especially this: “A separation and impending divorce from the man you love, after less than a year of marriage, is a peculiar kind of pain.” I can relate, sadly.

    Sending happy thoughts your way!

    • amyswalter

      AP, Thank you for your happy thoughts! I’m sorry that you had an experience where you can relate to this. I wish you very many happy thoughts, too!

  • Pingback: The Before, After, and Shock of Unexpected Divorce | Wedding Adviser()

  • Kara

    Our friend had something very similar happy–9 months after their wedding. She was served divorce papers during her birthday weekend. Her, then husband, had packed up clothes, shoes and toiletries during the day and moved out. He also closed their joint credit cards, took one car (that was in HER name), and took most of the money from their joint account.

    He was the shittiest person for the way he acted. He never gave our friend a reason–just that he wasn’t going to continue with the marriage.

    It was the most bizarre thing. Thankfully, the divorce is finalized and she never has to deal with him again.

    • amyswalter

      Kara, I’m so sorry to hear about your friend and so glad that she is on a new path now. Please tell her I wish her well.

      • Kara

        Thanks Amy. I wish you all the best, too. You are strong and brave, not just because you went through this…but because you already were (strong and brave)!

        • amyswalter

          Kara, Thank you so much! :)

  • Another Meg

    Ooof. Sadly, I’ve been there. I held on to a box of wedding stuff for over a year. Same with my wedding dress.

    It took me years to get over the feeling of failure. But I did. And I have fervent hope you can move past this as well.

    • amyswalter

      Really sorry to hear that you’ve been there, and so glad you’ve come out the other side. I’m getting there, too. Thank you!

  • Violet

    Wow, such good writing; thank you for sharing with us. I attended a wedding that ended in a divorce about three months afterwards. The party who ended the marriage (as in your situation, it was fairly unilateral), felt guilty about the time and money guests spent on attending the wedding. (It was local for no one but the couple.) But you know, these things happen, and no one can predict the future. No one could have known on the wedding day that it would be over so soon. No one did know; we all enjoyed the day. The resulting divorce in no way made that day less special, or fun, or perfect for reconnecting with family.

    • amyswalter

      Violet, Thanks for this. I really love your take on things – it’s true – my wedding day was wonderful, and I will always have that day. I am grateful for that!

  • Suzanne

    It sounds like the groom somehow got the message in life that he was supposed to want to be married. Clearly, he struggled with the issue long before you came along.

    It’s actually a compliment to you that after breaking off three engagements, you were the woman that made him even want to try. Don’t internalize what happened, because it’s all about him. At least he finally knows better than to lead another woman down the primrose path that leads to a dead end.

    You just happened to cross his path, but as painful as it was, you gave him the gift of self-knowledge.

    • amyswalter

      Suzanne, Thanks for taking the time to write this. You are a very wise woman. I love your words. Thank you!

  • Jess

    I love this sense of “befores” and “afters” I tend to think of things as continuing on with no sense of stops or starts or changes or old or new or letting go of things past. The idea of a “before” and an “after” self feels poetic and freeing.

    • amyswalter

      Jess, I’m glad you enjoyed the piece so much. Thank you!

  • Michelle

    This was so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • amyswalter

      Michelle, Thank you! And thanks for reading.

  • Becky D

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I was married for 8 months when my husband showed up with a Uhaul on a day I was supposed to be at work and moved all of his things out of the home we had bought 2 months earlier. I learned a few weeks later that he had started a new life and business with a coworker, over the course of almost our entire marriage. Similar to your story, the pattern was there with previous relationships but I thought it would be different with us because he chose to marry me. I was finishing my doctorate while planning our wedding and it made it easy to push the negative out of my mind and focus on the events upcoming. When I look back now, there was so many warning signs that I couldn’t or didn’t want to see.
    The greatest thing I learned from the experience was how important it is to listen when people tell you who they are. I have been extremely lucky to find love again with a wonderful, supportive, honest man. I think that my current relationship is so much stronger than it would be without the perspective I gained from my divorce, despite how hard it was to untangle myself from life with my ex-husband.

    • Abby

      I love that your strength (like the authors) shines through in your willingness to find and believe in love again. Cheers to your relationship.

    • amyswalter

      Becky, Thanks so much for sharing your story with me. I’m sorry to hear about the sudden end of your marriage. Your comments about what you’ve learned speak to me. I believe in love and I have hope. I’m so glad you’ve found love again with a wonderful man. You’re inspiring. Thanks again for reaching out.

  • Sara

    I feel for you. My ex-husband walked in after about a year and a half of marriage and announced he was in love with someone else, didn’t want to be married, and never loved me. No warning, no hindsight 20/20. It’s hard. I hope you learn just how strong you can be, and it gives you wisdom and insight when you fall in love and seek a partnership again.

    But I can say. I don’t regret the wedding. Not one bit. For that day I was joyously happy, hopeful, and surrounded by a community of friends and family who loved me. I’ve had family members pass away since then that will not be there for the next wedding, and I don’t regret having that memory of them from such a happy day. If anything it reminds me more and more that the wedding is about so much more than just you and your partner…at least for me…it was about my family, friends, community, and celebrating one of life’s joyous occasions. I hope to have the opportunity to start anew with someone (perhaps the wonderful and kindhearted guy I met 3 years post divorce and am happily dating).

  • Christine

    Thank you for this. It actually helped me understand some of the feelings of my boyfriend, who was previously married for under a year. He and I have discussed marriage, he has said he wants to spend the rest of his life with me, and so I have taken his fear and skepticism toward marriage personally, even though he has told me about his ex and short-lived marriage and how its ending made him feel. Hearing it from someone else–who I’m not in love with!–is helpful.

    I wish you much healing and strength!

    • amyswalter

      Christine,

      I’m glad my essay helped you. Thanks for your kind wishes. I wish you much happiness!

  • CharlotteJ

    I very much needed to read this today. I’m going through a really, really painful break-up that I don’t want. We’re not married, but we do live together, and untangling is unbearable. It’s so good to read about your experience, and that it is possible to make it through stronger.

    • I’m sorry you’re going through such a painful experience. It’s hard when the person you love leaves and you have to figure out how to rebuild your life without them. Sending you good thoughts and strength for the journey ahead… Hang in there.

      • CharlotteJ

        Thank you <3

    • LifeSheWrote

      Sorry to hear you’re going through this. Stay strong, lady!

      • CharlotteJ

        Thank you!

    • amyswalter

      Charlotte, I’m so sorry to hear about your breakup. I hear you. It does get better, day by day, one day at a time. Be kind to yourself and give yourself what you need. The resilience and strength in you will surprise you. Sending light and hope your way.

      • CharlotteJ

        Thank you so much, I truly appreciate that. Means so much coming from someone who has been through what you have.

  • This post and some of the comments reminded me of the book Runaway Husbands. Perhaps it might be helpful to some reading this and going through a similar sort of experience? I know it helped me a lot.

    Amy, I wish you the best in your Life 2.0 (or at least that’s how I tend to think of it for myself). I took a while to move through the pain and grief of the end of my marriage and rebuild my (happy!) life again, but I did. Better things are ahead…

    • amyswalter

      Jenny, Runaway Husbands is such an excellent book – it helped me a lot last year. Thank you for your kind wishes. I am so glad to hear that you’ve rebuilt a happy life for yourself, and I believe that better things are definitely ahead, as you say. Thanks again for your kind words!

  • LifeSheWrote

    Sending you solidarity (because it sounds like you already have the strength)! Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Ellie Hamilton

    I got divorced last year under very different circumstances, but I still found myself in your story, relating to a lot of the pain, loss, and learning you experienced. Thank you for bravely telling your story and sharing your heart with us all.