People see marriage as a once-in-a-liftetime event. Some see it as a milestone, an item to check off from one’s list of things to do to be successful. Girls dream about becoming a bride. They plan out their wedding even before having a boyfriend. They know what style dress they want and what color scheme to choose before even getting a proposal.
I never had that dream, but I got married when I was 24. Part of it, was because I was following the path that was expected of me. You date a guy that you’re compatible with and care about a lot for about 4 years, next is marriage, so you can build a life together.
I had a good partner. He was supportive of my dreams and aspirations. He accepted all of my quirks and shortcomings. He listened and understood me. He spoke highly of me. He encouraged me when I doubted myself. Pushed me when I couldn’t push myself. When we met in college, my essay-writing skills were so bad that I was referred to the writing center; but he helped me edit every single paper starting from my sophomore year. Even when we started looking for jobs, and when I switched employers, he reviewed my resumes and cover letters. Even when I was applying to an MBA program after we got a divorce, he still offered his feedback on my essay. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without him. He’s always watched out for me, cheered for me, supported me.
Within the marriage, his family accepted me. His grandparents and uncles let me call them grandma and grandpa and uncle, which made me feel a part of the family. But our marriage didn’t feel right. There were years of internal struggles from my side that I share in my podcast, and I eventually recognized that I couldn’t stay married. The life I could have with him would look amazing from the outside––we’d have a condo in downtown Chicago, we’d have a dog, we’d travel around the world, eat at nice restaurants and fancy bars, we’d attend fancy galas with his fancy job or maybe mine, we would retire in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming––of course, these are still things that I can have, but when it came to the marriage, I knew that all the external achievements still wouldn’t make me feel full inside. If these things that made my life feel stable and secure were what kept me, it wouldn’t have been right for me to stay.
It’s easy to fall onto a path that seems definite, but certainty can also be suffocating when it isn’t the right path for you. My mom does not understand this. She doesn’t understand why I cannot stay married and live as roommates. She asks why I can’t just settle simply to have a companion to go home to. Although I see where she is coming from, the life that she can tolerate is not for me.
I care a lot for my ex, so I ignored the signs and oppressed what I was feeling for a long time. I tried to change my mindset to accept a life that didn’t feel right, to accept a future that didn’t feel fully me. But it eventually came to a point where I just couldn’t do it anymore.
One of the biggest mistakes we made was that we didn’t truly communicate. We talked daily––I shared everything that was going on with me with him. But we were not vulnerable about our feelings about our marriage nor what we wanted or needed out of it. I tried to talk about it but we always ended up changing topics and never got to them, or we just assumed that the issues brought up were ones that would eventually disappear. They didn’t.
When we separated, it was very sudden. We had the conversation on a Thursday night, and he moved out on Friday. It was hard and it was very hard for at least two years. I still get emotional about it but we both know it was the right decision.
The right decisions can often be the hardest decisions. Getting a divorce feels like grieving the death of a loved one. When we separated, the intense emotions I felt were the same ones I felt when my paternal grandpa passed away. It hurt. The loss and the pain I felt made my chest tighten, my face heat up, and my tears well up. When I’ve spent 12 years with a person every single day, talking to him, seeing him, and all of a sudden that is gone, it’s a loss. When little moments that only he understands or would appreciate happen and I can’t really text him the same way I used to, I felt lost.
I’ve had a few moments one and two years into it when I doubted my decision to get a divorce. It’s funny because I had so much conviction when I decided to separate. I spoke with absolute certainty of my decision to move forward. I had no doubt in my mind. But still, there were two big moments when I thought I had made the wrong move.
One time I was at a bachata congress in Spain and was wide awake at 4 a.m. because I had roommates who snored. I typed out a long, heart-wrenching email to him while sitting and crying in the hotel bathroom floor (there was nowhere else to sit), questioning my decision. I even proposed that we try to get to know each other again and date again––maybe this time it’ll be different. That e-mail, when I read it again, was actually full of fear. Fear that I will never find the same connection that I had with him, fear that I had made the wrong choice. It was not actually of a longing of wanting to go back to the past.
Another time was when I watched a movie that reminded me of our experience and made me question if I tried hard enough at the marriage, if I was supportive enough of him. This time, my messaging to my ex was full of guilt.
Each time I question myself, he reminded me that I made the right decision for the two of us. Him telling me that I made the right choice helped validate my feelings and reduce some of the guilt that I have been holding onto. I’m fortunate that even after our divorce, he has been the one who has helped me sift through these feelings and also who continues to be the objective supporter of my decisions and my champion. I’m really am lucky to have met him.
All this is to say, neither marriage or a divorce is easy. The decision to get married is one of the highest commitments you can give to a person, but sometimes even when you give your best, it can still not work out. Getting a divorce means parting with that past, but it also is an opportunity to go at life in a different way. I had to find myself again. Learn to really be on my own. Learn to reach out to my friends when I need emotional support. Learn to be kind to myself when I feel sad. Learn to be strong because I chose this.
I wanted to share this because I feel that people who have not experienced marriage or divorce see it as something that’s black and white. They say that marriage is sacred, that you should stay in it no matter what, even if you are not happy, even if you are abused, even if it takes your identity away. Divorce is bad. You are a failure if you can’t even keep a marriage. You are damaged goods if you’ve been through a divorce. But that’s not how it is. This one is my experience, but others likely have entirely different experiences and emotions.
Some things I’ve learned from this experience:
- Getting a divorce isn’t the end of the world. When we separated, the first thought that came to our minds were, “What I am going to do, being 30 and divorced?” We were each other’s first long-term, and real relationship so we had never dated before each other. A different life was unimaginable. I’ve thought about a different life before, but it didn’t look that glamorous. It’s scary to jump into the unknown, into a space we’d never explored nor had been exposed to, but we each learned that it really isn’t the end of the world. We’ve both adapted and are doing well.
- Getting a divorce isn’t a failure. You are not a failure if your marriage doesn’t last forever. My mom may think differently. She’s in a marriage not because she’s happy in it but because she feels that she doesn’t have a choice and she is fine with her situation. But I am not my mom. To me, I would have failed myself if I had stayed in a situation I didn’t want to be in, if I had settled. This is a lesson I’m learning each day as I’m dealing with people and situations now–learning to say no to things that aren’t right for me.
There definitely is a stigma against divorces though. My ex’s name was on my grandpa’s obituary as my husband when my grandpa passed away, which was after our separation. My parents didn’t want the family and friends to know. They also didn’t want my late grandpa to find out even after his death.
- Divorce is sad, but it’s not a bad thing. There is a reason why people end up separating––it tends to be a better situation for both people, even if they may not know it at the time. It is sad but it’s also not sad. Did you know that people throw divorce parties now? It’s something that can be celebrated!
- You can and will start over. It’s scary but also exciting to start over and find yourself again and build a new self. I am living by myself for the first time in my entire life. (I went from living at home to having roommates to living with a husband so I had never lived on my own.) I love it. I love that I can decorate the place the way I want it and feel comfortable in the home I built for myself.
I’m learning as well that being on your own doesn’t mean that you are alone. I have so much support from my friends and family that I have never felt that I had no one to turn to.
- Most people don’t care. When it comes to dating again, one of the concerns is that there’s a stigma against divorced people, but I haven’t felt that to be an issue. Most people that I’ve encountered have not cared that I used to be married. In fact, having the experience being married is a testament that you are able to be in a long-term, committed relationship. Not everyone can say they’ve had that.
- Tough decisions can set you free. Sometimes it’s impossible for us to think of a different outcome for ourselves when we are in specific situations. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of what we are comfortable with in order to pursue a life that is truly authentic. But when you do, you open new doors for yourself. You set yourself free to new possibilities.
- Make peace with it. As I have been thinking about this topic and also as I’ve seen the marriages around me–even though they are filled with challenges and some complaints as well, the couples are still in it together–it makes me wonder and wander about whether or not I made the right choice. I guess it means that although I act like I’m tough, parts of me is still processing this whole ordeal. I know I need to move on. I’m working on it. It’s going to take time.
My marriage, my divorce, and my time with my ex will always be a chapter in my life’s story. I am happy to be where I am today. I am a more independent and self-aware individual who is chasing after a life that is truly her’s. One thing that occurred to me when I was recording the podcast is that, perhaps my journey of striving for authenticity didn’t just start this past year. Perhaps it started the moment I took the courage to end the marriage so I can live my life in the way that feels right for me. That’s empowering.
What is one of the biggest, and most difficult decision you’ve had to make in a relationship? Share with me!