My First Marriage
My First Marriage
While some psychotherapists would suggest I was getting married so I could create a new family for myself, I blame the decision entirely on The Learning Channel (TLC).
My first problem may have been attending an all women’s college. Instead of attending what my friends and I came to call a “real school” where there is a football team, sororities, and parties I chose a tiny women’s Catholic school tucked in the Northeast part of Washington DC. While it provided me with a great education and a superb foundation for a career it lacked an atmosphere conducive for conversations on a regular basis with the opposite sex. You know what happens when you are not around men? You find yourself having a major crush on your communications professor, who also happens to be flamboyantly gay.
Visiting guy friends and boyfriends were treated like foreign dignitaries. Come to our country! Bring your friends! We will throw you a party! You supply some buddies and we will provide the women and the alcohol! If it were not for the nuns living on the third floor of Main Hall we could have easily become a Bunny Ranch.
If there was anything that made me want to settle down it was constantly being surrounded by so many women of the cloth. It is easy to fear you will become a spinster when a third of your professors have dedicated themselves to Jesus.
I only had two real boyfriends between high school and college. I dated. There was one Capitol Hill staffer I was convinced I would marry one day. He had a side job waiting tables at our college bar and I would make sure I stopped by whenever he had a shift. We never dated, and I suspect part of it was his concern that I might be an alcoholic.
During my junior year my best friend Dan got stationed at the Naval Base in Anacostia. He would routinely bring friends with him to meet my college friends out for drinks. On one of those occasions he brought along a tall and handsome member of his company. They were both part of the Naval Ceremonial Guard, a unit responsible for the funerals at Arlington Cemetery. He had beautiful blue eyes and was nice, which seemed reason enough to pursue a relationship.
I threw out all common sense because having a new boyfriend meant not having to spend another weekend watching Lifetime movie marathons. Now I had someone who would take my friends out for dinners and had no problem paying the check, even if it meant he was running up his already substantial credit card debt. I didn’t find out until after the wedding how much he spent playing online poker.
The thing that attracted me to him most is what ended up becoming the largest thorn in my side. He was too nice. It was almost as if he was wading through life, waiting for direction. I wanted to find someone who would challenge me, but I ended up with someone who agreed with anything I said or did. After awhile I started to feel like a dictator.
I should have seen it as a red flag when my new fiancée shared with me that when he told his mom he had proposed (I had yet to formally meet her) her response was the following: “Why did you do that?” Upon meeting his younger brother for the first time my fiancée unwittingly admitted his reaction was “she seems nice, but she is kind of fat.”
After a few months of delusional dating bliss he was given orders to a military base outside of Chicago. I wish I would have looked at it as an opportunity to move on to someone with a compatible personality, but I convinced myself we should continue the romance long distance. Instead of dating other people and enjoying my last year of college I spent the extra money I made from bartending and waiting tables on plane tickets for him to come visit me for short weekends. The longer we were apart the more I convinced myself we needed to be together. The weekend of my college graduation we got engaged. While some psychotherapists would suggest I was getting married so I could create a new family for myself, I blame the decision entirely on The Learning Channel (TLC). Do you know what watching back-to-back episodes of The Wedding Story can do to a girl living thousands of miles away from her boyfriend?
He proposed to me on a staircase outside a restaurant after I ate an entire plate of calamari.
After the engagement I worked a second job to make enough money to pay for the wedding. I didn’t come from a family with money and his mother spent any extra money she had on manicures, cat food, and tchotchkes.
As the wedding grew closer my relationship with his family began to unravel. His mother reluctantly informed us she had to take out money from her 401k to help pay for our flowers, a rather small offering compared to what she paid to fly out her hairdresser from California to ensure her bald spots were covered. The rehearsal dinner was the first time I was able to spend any time with his older brother and his girlfriend with whom he had just reconnected. While at first polite, things started to sour by the end of dinner when he accused his brother (the groom) of staring at his girlfriend’s breasts. After some post-dinner dancing the two ended up in a fight outside the restaurant that almost culminated with someone getting strangled.
During the pre-wedding meeting with the priest who married us he asked us what we loved most about each other. I spoke about his clear blue eyes and his love of history. He said I made him “feel comfortable.”
The wedding was held at my mom’s church in suburban Philadelphia. My Uncle Richard walked me down the aisle to the disappointment of my mother. She had hoped I would ask my stepfather, which seemed a strange request since we hated each other. Listen I know we can’t stand each other, but do you want to give my hand away in marriage?
I had four of my friends and my younger sister served as bridesmaids. They wore Ann Taylor red sheath dresses because I wanted to make sure they wore something practical. Doesn’t everyone wear an old bridesmaid dress to a job interview?
My older sister was my matron of honor. She eloped two weeks before the wedding while on her husband’s business trip to Australia. It was a secret until she showed up at my rehearsal dinner with a new ring and her wedding album.
The best man was my friend Dan. His two brothers served as groomsman and I wrangled two of my cousins and a co-worker to round out the wedding party. Another bad sign of things to come that he did not have any friends of his own.
I was distracted throughout the ceremony because the groom’s brother’s girlfriend was, as Maura suspected, possibly on Opiates. She was staring into space with a huge flower on the side of her head.
I was also uncomfortable with the way the groom kept staring into my eyes with tears rolling down his face. Pull it together man, I kept thinking.
The wedding reception was held at my mom’s house. Since I had to foot most of the bill my options for a grand scale reception had to be pared down. I had spent months working evening and weekend shifts at a restaurant in Georgetown slinging vodka tonics and oysters to cover costs. But small flower arrangements and over a hundred guests could not cover the carpet stains, mismatched furniture, and the smell of the family cat’s urine.
The morning of the wedding my stepfather was hosing down the back patio to get rid of dirt and spider webs. But nothing could have been more embarrassing than what awaited me at the top of the driveway at the reception when the DJ announced the wedding party. Rather set up next to the stonewall facing the back woods we had lit up with white Christmas lights as requested, the DJ took it upon himself to set up his equipment inside the garage. Instead of looking at the smiling faces of all my wedding guests I was jolted by the site of a massive water heater. Is there anything romantic about a riding law mover and old rakes? Because what says wedding like a hedge trimmer or snow blower?
Many of the guests were late because the father of the groom took all the handouts from the church outlining the 15-minute directions from the ceremony to the reception. Since we lived on a hill above a narrow street the “valet” had to park cars a half a mile down the street in another neighborhood.
We ran out of alcohol early so my mom asked my brother-in law to go to the store to get more beverages for our 100 thirsty guests. He returned with a six-pack of Cherry Coke bottles.
My stepfather and his relatives my mom forced me to invite spent the entire duration of the reception in the family room on recliners watching MASH reruns. The groom’s family held court in the backyard beside the rusty swing set no one had used in almost 12 years. My friend Katherine tried to be polite and start conversation in the kitchen with my stepfather. “I have heard such nice things about you,” she said. “Oh, no, you didn’t,” he replied.
The cake cutting ceremony was held in the living room. Since most of the guests could not physically jam their bodies into the room or the adjoining hallway some of them had to go through the bushes and watch from the window outside.
Later on guests were taking turns taking wheelbarrow rides around the driveway. Neighbors I had never met dropped by in their pajamas to ask us to turn the music down.
The one good thing was the majority of my guests were drunk. So it was my hope they blocked out the fact that I had no interest in dancing with my new husband or god forbid feeding him cake. In fact I did everything I could to avoid him. If it were not for his tuxedo and brand new wedding band you might not have known we even knew each other.
In my heart I knew months before it might not have been the best choice. But I was afraid if I cancelled the wedding I would have proven everyone right who thought it was a mistake to begin with. I will show them, I thought. We may have to live in separate residences, we are certain to never procreate, and we might have to get a restraining order against his brother, but damn it, we will stay married.
I admit to you that the night of the wedding I retired to the bathroom in the hotel room we were staying. I had been dancing so my hair was in a sweaty heap and my waterproof mascara had somehow pooled beneath my eyes. I locked the door, un-zippered the back of my dress, stepped out of the gigantic skirt, and stared at my reflection beneath the poor yellow lighting. While my new husband waited for me to return to our suite I whispered to the mirror, “what have you done?”
On the honeymoon I couldn’t help but wish my friends had come with us. Dinner conversations were dull. I would have rather read a book on the beach then spend any time alone in our room. Upon our return we moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia so he could leave for a seventh month deployment. I was elated. At least now I could have some alone time.
I know I was not the only one wondering why I had made such a colossal mistake. My mother-in-law ordered only eight pictures from the wedding and I only happened to be in one them, and it was a group shot.
Never spending time with your husband makes it all the more difficult to face the fact that you have nothing in common and you married too young. His long deployments delayed the inevitable. His mother did not make things easy in the run-up to the split. One afternoon I opened a letter from her, which included an advertisement cut from a newspaper for a weight loss pill. The post-it note attached said, “Maybe you should look into this.”
My sister was the first person to actually point out that I was fooling no one with my misery. “You don’t even talk to him”, she pointed out. “Why torture yourself anymore?” She was right. We didn’t have any children and had barely even lived together. But wouldn’t people be let down that I did not see my commit through? Wouldn’t this give everyone reason to say “I told you so?” “Actually”, she said, “everyone will understand completely.” And she was right. Everyone wondered why I had not done it sooner.
I suppose it would have been easy to blame everyone else for not staging an intervention so I could have avoided the headache of a divorce. But I doubt I would have listened. Sometimes it is hard to put on the brakes once you get yourself wrapped up in a wedding tornado. Somehow you lose your common sense once you start dress shopping and assembling your wedding registry. What is more important, preventing a huge mistake or getting yourself a 12-piece Pottery Barn place setting and matching flatware?
Breaking it to him was a little harder. I rented movies that featured couple divorcing. I tried to encourage him to get back in touch with his ex-girlfriend. I even made sure when we went to the local Barnes and Noble so he would “catch me” reading the book The Starter Marriage.
When I confronted him he was his usual melancholy self. “So we are divorcing,” he asked?
He moved out. I filed paperwork. The last time I saw him he seemed happy. “How’s your advertising job,” he asked?” I didn’t have the heart to remind him I actually worked in PR.
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