Love + Sex, Love, Weddings

The first time I got married, it was for all the wrong reasons

My first wedding, and subsequent divorce, taught me a great deal about weddings and marriages.

I remember how the air vibrated with humidity and expectation.

I was standing in a church I’d only been to for the rehearsal, in front of over 200 people, 80% of whom I knew. As my grandfather pronounced the question, “Should anyone have anything to say against this union?”

I reflexively looked over each shoulder without thinking how that might seem.

I wondered with detached curiosity if anyone would speak up. I was 22, and while my heart was in the right place, I was getting married for the wrong reasons, and in the wrong way.

As the reception stretched into the night, I barely remember seeing my new husband, let alone the perfectly coordinated linens we rented, or the carefully handcrafted centerpieces. It was a great night, though – we danced and laughed with our friends until the sun came up. I still hear about what a great party it was.

Six months later, my husband accepted a Fulbright scholarship in Vietnam, and we filed for divorce. We couldn’t imagine a life abroad together, and the first few months of marriage – with the pressure of the wedding off – had shown us that in our hearts we were just friends. Our parting was messy but loving, culminating in a house party celebrating our friendship and the end of our marriage.

Fast forward six years.

After a few months of seeing a great guy, months that felt more like an intensive mutual interview process than casual dating, marriage came up. The aftermath of my early divorce had been riddled with shame and embarrassment, and the idea of another wedding made me skittish. Out of this hesitancy grew the plans for what would become our perfect wedding day, and the foundation for the strong partnership we have today.

I learned from my first wedding, and I wanted to plan my second wedding – and go into my new marriage – in the right way.

We had an exacting guest list qualification that bruised some feelings among our family and friends, but it ensured our day was the intimate and supportive kick-off to our marriage that felt right to us. We had to both personally know every guest before the wedding, except a few far-away relatives. Our wedding was about pledging our lives in partnership and asking our loved ones to pledge in turn to support us in that union. How could people who didn’t know us feel the kind of heartfelt support we were asking for?

We ignored a lot of wedding traditions.

While my first wedding was incredibly stressful, I was determined not to be derailed by inconsequential details this time. We focused on what we knew we would remember about the day; the food, the music, our loved ones, and above all the promises we would make. My mantra as the day approached and logistical issues inevitably sprung up was, “Fuck it, whatever, it’s going to be great.”

While my first wedding was extremely detail-oriented, my second wedding was simpler. A Christmas tree aglow with white lights, and four giant gold balloons that spelled out LOVE were the only real decorations, save the beautiful moon backdrop my future husband and my dad built together to act as the backdrop to our ceremony.

At my first wedding, both the groom and I had grandfathers who were ministers. We had a very traditional Christian ceremony, despite neither of us being Christian.

The words were not ours, and they didn’t reflect who we were or our relationship.

When my husband and I first started discussing marriage, we sat down and talked about exactly what that meant to us. The conversation lasted months. It’s staggering how many couples get married without finding out if they share an understanding of what they are promising to each other.

As we planned our ceremony, we chose our words carefully to reflect what we wanted to pledge to each other, and we made the decision to say our vows together, a symbol of our equal partnership.

When I think of my wedding to my husband, the memory that springs to mind is always the same: we were standing in front of a small crowd of those we love most, each holding one side of the paper with our vows, our arms around each other’s waists, practically holding one another up, as I try to collect myself through tears to finish reading our vows together. I was overwhelmed that someone would want to stand in front of people and make such powerful promises to me, and I was transformed by the understanding of my husband’s love for me at that moment.

While it’s easy to get caught up in the details of a wedding, as long as those you love most are there with you, and the promises you make move you to your core, your wedding will be perfect. In the years following my divorce, I beat myself up for what had happened, and for the embarrassingly grand celebration we’d had.

What I couldn’t have known then was that the lessons from that ill-fated wedding would shape not only my perfect wedding but also the foundation of the strong and carefully considered marriage I have today.