Twice, I’ve been married – but it hardly seems right to describe them as the same experience. To get an idea of how badly I wanted out of my first marriage, consider that I had two young children and was pregnant with my third when I broke my vows.
Three years of physical and legal shenanigans later, the call came to say my divorce was final. It was 17 April, 2002. I’d just pressed the button to cross a busy road, and as I stepped off the pavement, I felt so light I could have been stepping into orbit. I thought everyone must be able to see the heavy black cloud lifting off me, like the Dementors in Harry Potter being driven away.
Later that same year, I got married again. It took a lot of conversations, and therapy, for me to get my head around being someone’s wife again. In the end, though, the decision was a matter of fewer words, not more. I didn’t have to fill in a blank space and be his something, his wife, his housekeeper (hah, he knew better than that); I just wanted to be his, and he wanted to be mine.
This time, I was proud to say ‘my husband’. I loved it when somebody made a pass at him, and he told her ‘you’d have to ask my wife about that’. There was a simple commitment which was welcome in a life that was complicated, with four young children between us, and the shockwaves of our respective divorces still reverberating.
For me, divorce is an essential part of respecting the institution of marriage. We need to be able to say some relationships are not worthy of the name. These words stuck in my head from one counsellor: ‘When fear comes in the door, love goes out the window.’ At that point, you definitely don’t want to feel locked in. I feel enormously privileged to live at a time and in a society that allowed me to make a mistake on the scale of marrying the wrong man, and not only live to tell the tale, but get it right next time.
The second time I found that, in the right relationship, there were no downsides to being married. Marriage offered security and liberation at the same time.
When those vows turned out to mean ‘until my husband dies randomly of cancer at the age of 44’, I was even more grateful that we were married. I went, with my brother and brother-in-law, to the same registry office that had issued bits of paper for every major life event so far – three births, two marriages, and now a death. Section 7 of a death certificate asks for the name of ‘the informant’. Section 7(b) asks for the informant’s ‘qualification’. My qualification is thus officially recorded as ‘Widow of deceased. Present at the death’. If he was going to die, that’s the qualification we both wanted.
My conclusion is that marriage is everything and nothing. You don’t get a choice about being born or dying – but you do get a choice about marriage. And it is worth celebrating, making a fuss, telling the world, demanding and giving respect, and admitting if it’s not working. It doesn’t have to cost a lot – I’ve never had an engagement ring – but a happy marriage is joy and riches beyond compare, and even after death has parted us, I’m telling you it was worth it.
Read Ten lessons from ten years of marriage by Sarah Abell on LifeLabs