Every marriage begins with the knowledge that it will eventually end.

In almost all cases, these civil unions are entered with absolute certainty that the marriage will last till death do you part. Images flash on your wedding day of growing old together, sipping iced tea in the dim evening light as the grandchildren play on the front yard. You may catch yourself privately praying as you walk down the aisle, a secret wish that you will be the first to go so you may never live a life without your blushing betrothed. The Big Kiss is as sweet as your first, and as the honey drips from your newly married lips you can never imagine a world without your partner by your side. 

Isn’t it almost tragic, hoping that a calm and quiet death will be what separates you from your spouse? 

This summer I am a bridesmaid in three weddings, two of which I have already been in. The first two were gorgeous for entirely different reasons. I found myself in bliss, watching two of my oldest friends joining themselves to adoring men who wiped back tears (one with more subtlety than the other) as their brides walked down the aisle. You could feel the love in the air like a warm breeze, enveloping you in a sense of comfort and calm. These were two couples who were going to make it, two pairs who matched each other completely (and again, for entirely different reasons). We laughed, we cried, and we shared in the joy of another happy union. 

In one of the weddings, I had just gotten done walking in with my groomsmen counterpart. As I sat down at my assigned table I took in the scene. Beaming family and friends greeted the bride and groom as they walked in for their first appearance as husband and wife, hooting and hollering with vigor. I shouted with the rest of the venue, and before long I heard the DJ cue up the first dance. The couple faced each other and held on tightly, singing along, savoring this moment together as if no one else was watching. Their love radiated through the room, sucking us all into their bubble for just a moment. 

Suddenly a thought knocked itself into my head. Before I could keep it at bay I became overwhelmed by it, crying hot tears that were no longer happy. A friend and fellow bridesmaid heard me and immediately turned to hold my hand, and my thought pushed itself through until I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“I remember what that felt like.” 

My wedding was vibrant. I remember the jitters before walking down the aisle, how the guests faded into the mist the first time I saw my husband-to-be standing at the other end of the aisle. I remember the happy tears, the private moments, dancing to “Get Low” and screaming the obscene lyrics despite playing the edited version. I remember the best man and man-of-honor speeches as if they were etched in my head, the well wishes in our guest book tattooed on my brain. I was so full of light and love, savoring each new memory I was creating with my husband. Each minute of my wedding is part of me, each kind word and encouragement a reminder that at one point I was sure I would be spending my life with someone who I now barely know.

Everyone enters a marriage knowing it will inevitably end. But seldom know it will end in divorce.

Falling in love with him was simple. We used to stay up all night just talking, daydreaming of a future that seemed to be so out of reach (until it wasn’t). When I held him I was held back, content in the knowledge that this would last forever, until one day he let go. I was falling again, but he wasn’t there to catch me anymore. For the first time since I was fifteen years old, I had to learn how to catch myself. 

And much to my surprise, I did.

I would never describe my divorce as easy – unencumbered, perhaps. Once I made the decision to end the relationship I hit the ground running, calling a lawyer and filing for divorce through tear-laden stories of heartbreak and woe within three days of our separation. A month after filing I moved out of our apartment and back into my parents house with my daughter, a month after that I started a new job, four months after that I bought my own house, and after a full calendar year a judge declared me single. I received the final divorce declaration with a small smile, calling friends and family and sharing in a different kind of joy than the one I felt when I first gave up my last name.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I can swear he’s in the kitchen making Oreo pancakes. I see him in our daughter’s smile, I hear him in the songs we played on our road trips, I feel him dancing alongside me at weddings like a ghost. Every weekend he drops off our child with a sheepish smile, his place in my life as permanent as hers, and every weekend I feel a fishhook dip into my brain and pull out a memory of us when we were an “us.” 

But the old adage really is true: Time heals all wounds. 

I mourned the loss of my marriage like I would mourn any other loss. Grief isn’t a straight line, it’s a cycle, and for a while I was circling the drain. But I didn’t have the luxury of divorcing in a vacuum, the world beyond my pity party kept moving whether I was ready or not. At first I lost myself in my work and my child, ignoring my aching heart, but slowly I confronted myself and in that I began to mend. My ex-husband used to haunt me, but now he simply exists beside me, walking the same path in different directions. I used to never look him in the eyes lest I get sucked right back into them, but now when he comes to drop off our daughter I gently smile back.

I will never again be the girl who daydreamed about the boy in the Volcom beanie. Instead I became the independent woman I never knew I could be. Divorce was so many things to me. It was a defeat, a failure, a burden, a heartache, an end. But it also became a beginning.

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