I Almost Got Married at 23
A Conversation with the Girl Who Said Yes and the Woman Who Walked Away
Where do you begin when you’re talking about an ending?
Do you start at "the before" when you were alone before the love you lost? Do you start in "the after," when you knew (thought) he was the one? Perhaps it’s most logical to start with the first date, where the characters brush together to make the metaphorical sparks that we all seem to be waiting for. How odd that I’ve only just realized I am sitting in the coffee shop where that took place (where she was, that girl with my name, the one I haven’t seen in years). For the irony of it, maybe it’s best that we start at the end.
The girl who loved the man, who said yes to the ring, the man and the forever it promised, who followed the man across the country and back, who longed for the man’s love, got lost and died somewhere along the way of fighting for it. The woman who outlived her, left that man two months before their wedding. More accurately, the man and the woman left each other.
It was one of the most dramatic endings of my life, and although there are more devastating endings to be had, I still believe it warrants recognition and mourning. A 19-year-old version of myself entered a relationship carefree and blissfully naïve and left a 23-year-old version of somebody else. I imagine that if the younger version could have looked into the eyes of the elder, she would have asked, bewildered, “What in God’s name happened to you?”
Would summarizing the events of moving in together, buying not one but two houses, supporting one another's job applications and dreams, selling our home and buying vehicles, moving to Yellowknife and leaving our families behind, getting engaged and moving back, only to call off the wedding, pack up our cats, and move into an apartment without him, give her any idea of what had really happened?
How would you tell your old self how you left the man they’re in love with?
“It’s not something you can understand yet,” I would say and she wouldn’t believe me. “I’m not even sure what to tell you. There’s not one catalyst that leads to the ending, no huge fight, betrayal or unforgivable act. It just ends, like some things do, like storms and seasons and stories. When the time comes, try to remember that there’s nothing you’ve done wrong and nothing he’s done wrong and nothing that you could have done to stop it. There’ll be a day in the kitchen of the house you own together where you’ll tell him that you can’t do it anymore and he’ll agree, like he was just waiting for you to say it first. You’ll still love him when you say it and you’ll still love him when you leave him. He’ll be your best friend and you’ll leave him.”
That long dead version of myself would stare daggers into me and yell, “How do you leave someone you love?” and I’d just shrug and shake my head because how do you explain that in the end you had to choose yourself instead?
When I couldn’t (wouldn’t) explain, in this metaphorical conversation with my old self, she’d grasp for understanding the way some other people do, with their ideas and explanations for what happened. “It was never meant to be,” “It wasn’t love,” “It wasn’t right.” She’d choose one of those easy explanations for an ending where you pretend it didn’t matter in the wide scheme of your life so you won’t feel like you’ve lost something.
The truth is, he will always be something I lost.
The truth is, there are some things we’re supposed to lose.
But she’s 19 and 20, 21, and 22, and she’s in love with a man and has dreams of a future that she doesn’t know won’t exist. There's no way to explain this to her. She'll have to learn it on her own (as she does) and besides, she’s not all wrong about it. She has found her future, and so much of it is because of him. So much of it was built on their life together. It just turns out that the future she was building wasn’t going to be with him.
I almost got married at 23. We had a good relationship, he was my best friend for a while, and the memories we have together are among the greatest ones I have. I didn’t think I loved him. I did love him and no one’s idea of love or what it looks like can take that away from me. At 22 I said yes to a man, and at 23 I said yes to the future we had built. My ‘Yes’ was not at the end of the aisle in the white lace dress standing before a man I loved. My ‘Yes’ was said in the first apartment where I lived alone with my two cats, and the woman who I hadn’t known was the future I’d spent building with that man the last three years.
Some days, it is completely surreal that I was once engaged to be married to a man I loved. At 24 years old (nearly 25), it feels like something that happened to someone else in another life. For a while, I worried about the implications of it all. Like whether I had forced him to fall out of love with me, or was the type of person no one wants to marry. Some days I thought I’d have to ‘fix myself’ before I was ready to be with someone else again.
You wouldn’t believe how long it took for me to finally understand the truth and see that things hadn’t fallen apart. I wasn’t broken or undesirable, nothing had been a waste of time, and the future I was building still existed. I just hadn’t realized that future was for me and not us. I just hadn’t realized that our ending was one of my beginnings.
Now I live in an apartment I like to call Cabin 410. She’s pretty, and filled with things that are mine and mine alone. Like the books on my shelves, the unpublished words I’ve written, the two cats that roam about, the food in the fridge and the desk that I built with my father. It is a five minute walk from the cafe where the girl went on the first date with the man, the same place where I sit now. Nothing has been easy since the woman left the man and the man left the woman. For a while, things were very dark and difficult and, sometimes, they still are.
Life can be lonely, especially when you have loved someone, and been loved in return, and the world says that the logical ending is marriage and a future together, but you don’t choose that path. Meet someone you love, marry them, hurdle through life together with houses, careers, and kids. I chose to leave that all behind for the woman I am now, for this future I am choosing to build for myself as an entirely different person who wants different things then her past selves. It was not the easier thing to do, beginning again never is. But it will be worth it. It already is.