Category Archives: Marriage

16th UNiversary

Moments before I walked down the aisle, sixteen years ago.

Sixteen years ago today, I got married.

My dad walked his 22-year-old daughter down the aisle to a majestic organ in a beautiful sanctuary on a hot afternoon. I carefully recited my vows and promised my fresh-faced groom I would love and honor him until death did us part.

I meant it.

The reception was small: held in a petite garden area next to the church parking lot. We served sparkling apple cider and charcuterie from Costco. A jazz band comprised of fellow college students played quietly and a budding filmmaker captured moments on Hi8 tape. Due to the unseasonable warmth of the day, the homemade wedding cake melted before my new husband and I could ceremoniously cut it. He proceeded to smash a piece all over my face, anyway.

There was some confusion over the remaining few hundred dollars of the wedding bill, which caused the last of my makeup to be cried off. We left for our honeymoon in my 1997 Toyota pickup truck; the remnants of the fallen cake streaked all over the vehicle. The back window jokingly read, “Mr. and Mrs. Spencer”.

It wasn’t the wedding I wanted, but it was the best I could do.

We were so young.

Today, the sanctuary has been torn down and made new. The garden has been replaced with church offices, where I spent almost five solid months in marriage counseling after discovering my husband’s infidelity.

The organist recently received a heart transplant, the musicians all have steady, successful careers and the videographer became a widely recognized director and won a million dollar Superbowl commercial contest.

And I am happily divorced.

*****

“It’s not the wedding, but the marriage that counts,” they say. If my wedding was any indication of the sort of marriage that followed, I should have bolted the opposite direction down the aisle at the very first note of the processional.

But I believe in marriage. I think it’s amazing, difficult and utterly courageous to make that kind of commitment to another person. Certainly, I was young. Perhaps too young. But I wasn’t afraid. And when my marriage went to complete shit, I held on and fought for the concept – and the person – as long as I could.

I admire that girl. I’m proud of her.

The person and the girl are now gone. But I do not regret the commitment, if only for the role it played in giving birth to the woman I have become.

So today, on my 16th Universary, I do not mourn the loss of a marriage, but cheer for forgiveness and the freedom that accompanies it. I honor growth, wisdom, vulnerability and true, selfless, mature love.

I celebrate the gift of a second chance.

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Four Years

I have officially been divorced four years.

The day – March 3rd, to be exact – came and went without incident. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me until this morning that another year had gone by. It feels so damn good to have that time behind me.

March 3, 2011

I’m guessing Marjorie must have gotten tired of signing her name.

 

The past four years – six, really, if you count from my discovery of X’s infidelity – have been the most difficult, refining, tragic, incredible, horrible, deep, dark, elating, wonderful opportunities of growth. What is more, they have been saturated in grace.

I never mean to treat or speak of divorce flippantly, nor do I advocate running out and getting one to find new meaning in your life. But I do think any arduous road or suffering, if faced with honesty, vulnerability and grace, will inevitably bring surrender, acceptance, peace and maturity.

But it’s fucking hard. And there are consequences; results. I still have questions.

Did I marry the wrong person?

Given the fact my husband cheated on me and got remarried four months before we were divorced, my knee-jerk reaction is, “Absolutely! That guy was and still is the worst kind of idiot douche!”

(Side note: as initially painful as it was, the fact I had a Sister Wife will always be ridiculously funny. And true!)

I can argue that I was young and immature when I got married. Sometimes one will make choices that aren’t conducive to marriage. People change. I can also say all the work I have done in therapy over the years has helped me identify my own issues, how to deal with them and exactly what type of person/relationship to avoid.

Yet I have seen young people get married and stay married. People change for the better. I have seen couples stay together after an affair (or two or three). Staying married is a daily choice. Love, itself, is a choice. It takes two people to make it work, long after the romance has faded; when the cellulite is harder to battle; when it takes more than one match to cover up the foulness in the bathroom; when arguments and disappointment are a daily occurrence; when the snoring gets louder and a good night’s sleep is infinitely better than sex.

In his book, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes,

“Both men and women today see marriage not as a way of creating character and community but as a way to reach personal life goals. They are looking for a marriage partner who will ‘fulfill their emotional, sexual, and spiritual desires.’ And that creates an extreme idealism that in turn leads to a deep pessimism that you will ever find the right person to marry.”

As much as I want to re-write history and celebrate the fact I have been given a second chance at love (and perhaps marriage), I do not believe I made a mistake in choosing the person I first married. I walked down the aisle in 1999, excited about my future. The young man I married that day had great potential. I loved him. He was my friend. We saw life as an adventure, together. That was enough.

But people make choices. X chose his path and I chose mine. And because God is good, there is a copious amount of grace for us both.

What about the children?

I did not have babies with X. For that I am truly grateful because I would forever be tied to him. I would have never been able to pick up and move to New York on a whim. I wouldn’t have the freedom to travel and do what I love for a living. What is more, I would have to co-parent with someone I do not respect. Most of all, the children would suffer the effects of divorce, perhaps more so than I.

I will never feign to understand what it truly feels like, but I mourn with those of you who have kids and are enduring divorce. I hope each party can be kind to one another. I pray personal issues or suffering will never, ever be used to manipulate children into turning against the other parent. It is child abuse.

I still mourn the loss of my sisters and brothers-in-law, and my nieces and nephews. I was in the operating room when two of them were born, via C-section. Unless the photo albums have all been thrown out and memories erased, there are fourteen years of documentation I was their aunt. I was X’s wife. I was a daughter-in-law. I was a sister-in-law. They were my family.

But they are now strangers. That is deeply sad.

Will I ever marry again? Have a family?

Hell if I know the answer to that question. I have days where I am beyond grateful to be single and childless, living some watered-down version of a Sex and the City episode. There are other days when I wake up to the noise on 5th Avenue and desperately wish I were being smothered by the weight of a good man. If I had a baby, I can assure you I would be the biggest offender of saturating social media news feeds with his or her every waking moment. Ad nauseam.

But marriage is not the answer to life or its problems. It is not the completion of self or fulfillment of happiness. Nor is birthing or even adopting baby humans. I worry for people who are waiting with bated breath to start enjoying their life when marriage and/or family happens. These things are no more guaranteed than the next minute of time.

I sincerely wish we – especially the church – would stop placing marriage and family on a pedestal. Isn’t it enough to be alive, demonstrate love to those around us and acknowledge we, too, are loved?

Easier said than done. But it should be.

When will I fully heal from my divorce?

I believe healing happens in process, and is different for everyone. I was an absolute insane person the first six months after I recognized my marriage had fallen apart. Looking back, I wouldn’t necessarily blame X for wanting out since I reacted to every little thing he did. I felt mortally wounded. A nonstop rollercoaster of fear and emotions drove my words and deeds.

I was a different kind of hot mess after I filed for divorce. I needed to feel free and allow myself to act irresponsibly. I needed to explore what it meant to be single in my thirties, after having been married for the majority of my adult life. I needed space and time to ugly cry, get drunk or laugh heartily. I needed to feel safe. I needed my community. I needed support. I needed therapy. I needed to experience healthy relationship. I even needed to withstand more breakups.

And then I needed to pack my bags, move across the country and start my life all over again.

I’m not sure anyone is ever fully healed from divorce. It is an emotional, physical, mental and spiritual trauma. Initially it is a huge, gaping, seeping wound that needs constant monitoring and care. Sometimes it requires life support.

But eventually the wound scabs over. It becomes a scar. And whereas that scar may never go away, it – along with the memory of the trauma – fades.

****

So, wow. Divorced four years. Separated for six. Soon enough, I will have been divorced longer than I was ever married. The scar remains, but is slowly fading.

X and I have both moved on. We have completely different lives now, and I (think I?) genuinely wish him well. It still strikes me as odd that I was married to someone for ten years, yet I cannot remember the sound of his voice or the touch of his hand. Sometimes he has a cameo in my dreams. Other times I will regale a funny story about my old life with one husband, two cats, three dogs and four chickens in an old house on a rocky hill in sunny Los Angeles.

“That’s so not you!” my new friends gasp, as the Chrysler Building twinkles behind us in the warming spring sunlight.

And they’re right. It’s not me — anymore.

X was my first love. He hurt me deeply, but in no way did he destroy me. Neither did my divorce. If anything, I am free to love more fully and deeply now, and without fear.

Divorce has not defined me. It has refined me.

Worth the Risk

I went to a wedding recently.

The last wedding I attended was two years ago, in June. I flew to North Carolina for the big day, but wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to affect me. I wasn’t divorced yet. In fact, I had only just filed the first round of paperwork, two months prior. The fact that it was the second wedding for the groom, however, made it a bit more tolerable.

Happy, hopeful, Christianese-naïve and virginal couples made me sick.

The wedding was small and lovely, and I was excited to be there. I thought a happy wedding would take my mind off my failed marriage. Yet, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for myself. I quietly sobbed as the couple recited their vows to one another. It was hard to hear them promise that they would “forsake all others”, and remain true as long as they both lived.

X and I recited those same, exact words to each other on our wedding day. I remember how good it felt to hear his vows. I was safe. My husband would love me and stay by my side, until death parted us.

Not even ten years later, he chose to break his promise. That choice sent a pulsating wave of destruction that pervaded our souls.

I brushed away my tears (and sweat, for it was a bloody hot and humid Southern day), and perked up a bit.  I knew how much pain the groom had endured when his first wife selfishly left him, and it was truly a blessing to see him marry the amazing woman God brought into his life a few short years later.  Their love story was evidence of God’s grace, and true redemption.  The couple’s relationship and subsequent union was nothing but encouraging to me, and I was filled with hope, once again.

Yet, as I sat down in my designated seat at the reception, I violently tore my place card in half.  How dare they display my married name?

“I AM LESLIE SPENCER!” —  I remember screaming, then marched up to the band and demanded to sing a song.

I sang several, then sneaked off with the only single groomsman and downed a couple shots of Sweet Tea Vodka.  But Sweet Tea Vodka was gross, and it didn’t fill the vacuous hole that I felt in my tattered heart.

I missed my husband.  I wished that he hadn’t turned out to be such a fucking disaster.  I hated him and I loved him, all at the same time. In a way, I was furious that he wasn’t at the wedding.  After all, if it weren’t for his friendship with the groom, I would have never met him.

I took a walk, alone, around the lake on that warm, sticky Southern evening. Bullfrogs and cicadas sang lovely duets that echoed across the water.  Mosquitoes fed upon happy, unsuspecting party guests. Fireflies danced and flickered their brilliance in the moonlight. Joy, laughter, love and hope truly filled the beautiful backyard wedding and reception, and I was grateful that I could experience it all as a fresh divorceé, even if I were caught up in my own misery and pain.

Enter last weekend’s wedding.

It was the largest I’ve ever attended — 550 guests! — and the first with Korean translation.  It also might have been the fastest engagement, ever. Everyone was thrilled for the couple, whose love story is a heartwarming, romantic fairytale. Two friends, who had been single and known each other for a long time, finally decided to go on a date, and that was that.  Less than six months later, they were married.

I happily sat in the large, Methodist church on Wilshire Boulevard and scanned the crowd for attractive men.  Much to my chagrin, those whom I had singled out were attached to equally attractive women.

I decided to give it a rest. After all, I wasn’t attending the wedding to meet someone. I was there to support my friends; to uphold them in their commitment to one another. And, for a moment, I marveled at how content I was — and have been — being single.

Eventually, the lovely bride floated down the aisle to be united with her groom.  I smiled, took pictures and cheered for them in my heart.  I cheered for myself a little bit, too, because (a) I wasn’t crying stupid tears over X, and (b) it felt so good to not feel sorry for myself anymore. Ugh. Self-pity is tiresome, and certainly not attractive, especially at weddings.

I felt like I had passed Level 1-2 of the Super Mario Brothers Game of Life.  (Hello, Level 1-3.  I am very much looking forward to your secret underwater adventure.)

Weddings  — for me — are happy again.  They are…easy.  Wow.

My friend and pastor, Joseph, officiated the beautiful ceremony. From my perspective, the fifteen (or eighteen?) flower children behaved themselves perfectly.  The bridesmaids looked happy and comfortable in their own dresses (seriously, people, this is a huge plus!). People laughed; nodded in agreement; dabbed away tears when the groom got choked up, and breathed in the beauty of the couple standing before them.

Two people were pledging their lives to one another. That’s a huge commitment.

As the ceremony progressed, I took a deep breath in, and let it out.  I knew that I’d have to prepare myself for any sort of emotional reaction that might sneak up on me.  Frankly, I dreaded hearing the couple recite their vows.

Suddenly, to my surprise, Joseph predicated the next part of the ceremony with what seemed to be a disclaimer.

He spoke to the groom first.

“I want you to say your vows, and then close your ears,” he said.

What? 

I leaned forward, on the edge of the hard, wooden pew.  My ears were definitely open.

“You see,” Joseph continued, “You are making a promise, but it is not based upon what the other person promises you. “

I gasped.

That is the most amazing thing I have ever heard.

Maybe it is a simple concept – but I finally got it.

Love — and commitment/marriage —  is a choice.  Love isn’t based upon what the other person does, or doesn’t do.  We choose to love; we choose to keep our promises, even when the other person fails us.   And people will always fail us.

X failed me — as he said — “spectacularly”.  But I failed him, too.  Maybe my failures weren’t as tangible, but we both broke promises along the way.  Why?  Because we’re human.

And the amazing epiphany I had in that pew, at 11:36-ish a.m. on a hot, July morning, is that nothing is guaranteed. Life is messy. It is not a linear product of good, or even bad, choices. Relationships are hard. Choosing to love opens ourselves up to a whirlwind adventure of life lived to its fullest.

Choosing to love is worth the risk, even when the outcome isn’t guaranteed.

I am grateful for my marriage to X, because it was a learning experience. I loved him, almost desperately. I still love him, in some sort of way. And, deep down, I know he loves me. At the same time, I am beyond grateful that I am not married to him. X goes down in history as a faint glimmer of my past.

It was — and is — all worth it.

Henri Nouwen said it best:

Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart.
 Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving.

And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair.

We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.

Amen.

May we choose to keep our promises.

May we choose to forgive.

May we choose to love.

Because the risk of loving is always worth taking.

10 Years

He came home on a Tuesday, three days before our 10th wedding anniversary.

I refused to pick him up from the airport.  I was extremely weary, and wary of his intentions.  My behavior was anything but stellar.  We met for dinner at our favorite local pub the night he returned.  Halfway through, we started arguing, which evolved into a huge fight, which escalated to me screaming expletives (surprise!) in his face.  I quickly left. He followed after me, and I responded by kicking him in the shins.

Things got a bit better the next day, when we returned to marriage counseling.  Through another two-hour session, my husband expressed his desire to be in the marriage, and said he was back to “do this” with everything in him.  Clinging to Hope, Part Three, I had faith that God could, and would, renew my marriage and resurrect our relationship.

Still, I had trust issues.

It is the eve of my 10th wedding anniversary, I wrote.  I want so much to pretend it’s just another day, but it’s not.  Is this my final year of being married?  How many more months or years will I endure [his] apathy?

Oh, God, I mourn the loss of [him].  I miss him so much. I miss my loving husband who didn’t care what anyone thought. I suppose I deserve it.

I just have to treat tomorrow like any other day.  God, I know you love me even if [he] can’t.  He may never again – I can’t bear his apathy.

I CANNOT BEAR IT.

Suffering from jet lag, my husband went to bed early that night.  While he slept, I found a note that he had written to himself.  It was neatly printed on a small, lined piece of paper.  I don’t quite remember if I was snooping through his belongings, or if he had strategically placed the note so that I would find it.  His words made me gasp for air.  I have since burned this particular writing, but I recall reading that he did not love me anymore.  At the same time, he still loved me.  He dubbed himself a liar, and wondered why he had ceased caring — even about his family.  In the end, he concluded that there were more exciting things going on in his life than his marriage.

I felt like such a fool.  I immediately fled the house, note in hand.  I had no idea where I was going, but I needed shelter.  I “followed the windshield” and ended up at my in-laws’ house, just two miles away.

My mother-in-law didn’t react to the note.  She didn’t see anything wrong with it.  I was confused.  Still, I asked to stay over that night.  I couldn’t go back home.

He has no energy to make the marriage work because there are more exciting things, I wrote, sitting cross-legged on my husband’s childhood bed.

LORD, I want so much for him to be brokenBut he is not there.  I give him to You.  I set him free.  I will set him free.  God, I don’t know what to do otherwise.  He doesn’t love me, he doesn’t see anything about marriage beyond a history and that he once loved me.  He fell out of love with me.

Lord, I know that You will never fall out of love with me.   God, I don’t want to be divorced but I cannot endure this treatment any longer.  I don’t know what else to do.  [He] is paralyzed, incapable of making a decision.  But he doesn’t WANT to make a decision.

I don’t want someone who is apathetic.  I don’t want a husband who just sticks with me because we had a history.  I don’t want a liar and a cheater for a husband, and certainly not one who is incapable of action, especially forgiveness.

The next morning I lay in bed and stared the large, intricate collage of family pictures hanging just above me.  Depicted as nothing other than the happiest of couples, my husband and I adorned the wall.

Ten years earlier, I had woken up with such hope, excitement and anticipation for the future.  Vivid memories of our wedding day flooded my mind.  I remembered goofing off with my bridesmaids just before the church doors opened and the organ blasted; I remembered how much my face hurt from grinning as I floated down the aisle.  I remembered how my husband and I enthusiastically recited our vows to one another, and then became overwhelmed with joy and amazement just after we had been pronounced “Husband and Wife.”  I recalled the faces of our wedding guests, even what some of them wore.  I chuckled at how our wedding cake toppled over in the unseasonal heat of that late October day, and genuinely laughed at the memory of my husband shoving his hand down the front of my dress as we drove away, bound for our honeymoon suite.

We were so innocent.

I dragged myself out of bed, still fully clothed, and drove home.   I slowly climbed the stairs and quietly slipped in through the back door.  I didn’t think my husband would be awake, much less notice that I had been gone. Yet there he stood.  He greeted me eagerly and presented me with a dozen red roses.  A note accompanied the large bouquet.

This note was vastly different from the last one I had read.

He called me his wife.  He knew he had failed me, but I still loved him, and that was beyond anything he felt he deserved.  He wanted to do me justice.  He wanted me to soar.  Most poignant to me was that he said he loved me.

So, in that moment – that day – things were better.  We had made it to Tin / ten years.Our “celebration” was not spectacular.  It fact, it felt just like any other day.  Yet it was refreshing to behave as a couple again.  We went out to breakfast with my mother-in-law (yes, weird), strolled with our dog, Wimbley, around the Rose Bowl, shopped for socks and T-shirts, scarfed an early dinner at happy hour, and patronized the indie theatre to catch Nick Hornby’s An Education.  It would be the second time I had seen the film.

I
t was a fine anniversary, I recounted. We…made love, which is still hard for me but I want to trust [him].  I don’t know the correct formula for healing sexually after an affair (but) I don’t want to hold it over both of our heads for years and years.There have been small steps and some progress.  I don’t want to give up…I so very much want him to become a godly man.I want to be married to a godly man.

Restore us, O God Almighty,
make Your face shine upon us,
that we may be saved.
~Psalm 80:7

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