In the time since I left teaching, I’ve heard at least 3 pregnancy announcements, become an Aunty, attended a wedding, tried on my bridesmaid’s dress for imminent bridesmaid duties, been to two hen parties and two baby showers, looked at several recent wedding albums on Facebook, met my friend’s not-so-new boyfriend, seen her new home, helped friends move into their marital home and been a bridesmaid. Amongst other things of course.
Me? Well my life’s been going backwards. Not all of it certainly, but a very large chunk of it.
At this time of my life, watching people get married and have babies is really tough. ‘Tough’ sort of sums up the combination of complete joy in seeing people celebrate this great and momentous time in their lives, coupled by the immeasurable pain of losing something incredibly precious, something you no longer have, and dreams crushed and unfulfilled. It feels like everyone is getting married and having babies except me – I’m doing the opposite; I’m getting divorced.
My life is going backwards. It has, and sometimes still does, feel like someone has rewound the video (old school!) of my life, gone back 5 and a half years to before I was married, or 12 years to the last time I was single, and announced that this is to begin again albeit 12 years older than I was at the start. It’s like someone has told me to start again.
Looked at realistically, this is of course not actually true. I am by far not the only one unmarried or without children. I am not the only one whose life has not mapped out as they expected. I am one of a number of Christian couples I know and have heard about, in their twenties, getting divorced. To my skewed perspective, everyone else seems to be heading off into the sunshine of their dreams, baby in tow, or marriage on the horizon.
What I have learnt through this experience though, is that we can never know the inside of anyone else’s life. Although to me as an outsider, all seems rosy, this may not actually be the case. Everyone’s life holds stories of, if not life going backwards, at least life on pause, going on a detour to the original destination, or changing destination altogether. We tend to hold those things inside, and don’t speak about them except to those closest to us. It’s easier to be considerate when you know, but these things are hard to share. We all hold those hopes, current or broken, in our heart and when we hear an announcement it pierces our heart a little again.
Being part of a wedding party does however, give me hope that one day, maybe, that could happen for me again. Love exists! It’s possible for a man to love a woman without guile and for all that she is, just as I was once loved. I remind myself I was loved like that. It was true, whatever it feels like somedays now. And I am deserving of love like that.
I don’t deserve it because of anything I have done, but because loving someone in that way is what marriage is about. God’s intention for marriage was a mere glimpse of how God loved us. Total forgiveness, even at our worst, and being loved regardless. Love is a choice sometimes, a commitment always. I let God down, He loves me anyway. What a challenge to uphold that in marriage.
Strange as it may seem, I am glad that my dream of one day having children is at yet unfulfilled; selfishly, I wouldn’t want to have to negotiate the pitfalls and devastation of divorce with a child to take into account. That said, the stamp on my broken dreams when someone announces their pregnancy can feel like a physical pain. When I was married and held someone’s newborn, it used to remind me that I didn’t want this quite yet, but one day it was to be us. Now, there is no us, and a shattered dream.
I’m not sad I’m not pregnant. I’m not sad I’m not a mother. I’m sad because of what won’t be, and of what might never be.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear your good news – I do! I love hearing people’s joyful news, and I don’t mean to give the impression I resent your news. I’m thrilled for you! I am genuinely pleased to share in your joy. At the same time, yes, I am a little sad for me.
So how do you live with this tension? As a wise friend said to me, you have to enjoy the moment with the people, and then be sad later. I’ve tried to put that into practice and have ended up enjoying things far more than I’ve ever anticipated.
Have people who know you, inside and out, at your worst angry, sweary moments, and at the moments where you’ve remembered what happiness feels like, at the end of the phone. They’re the people you can run to at an announcement and confess ‘I’m so happy for them,’ and then burst into tears, and they understand. They know you’re not jealous; you’re grieving what life hasn’t given you; and that your joy that someone else has been blessed in that way is being temporarily masked by your grief. They’re the people who are most delighted when you announce that the event that you thought might be painful just made you really happy, and that it’s the happiest day since the start of rewinding to date.
At a family wedding, I was determined to enjoy it, even without my husband at my side. This was their day, a happy and joyful day. I was happy and joyful for them. It was in the same church I married in, with my entire family present. I had several friends primed and ready to text throughout the day. I had been offered the opportunity to bring one of these friends, but I declined. It was a generous and considerate gift, but this was their day, not mine. I spent much of the wedding rehearsal ranting at a friend via text, expressing my anger about my ex-husband’s disregard of our marriage vows and trying to hold back tears and pain. Going to the rehearsal, for me, was the best thing I could have done. On the day, hardly anyone heard from me, except for the occasional ‘look at the dress!’ shot. Knowing they were there, ready to walk round to the reception, give me a hug and send me back in, was enough to keep me going. It was the happiest and most joyful I’d been since rewinding had started. And I’ve had brilliant days since. The pain lessens. I danced the night away as a bridesmaid and had a fantastic time. I was overwhelmed with love when I cuddled my tiny nephew.
My rewinding is nearly over, for shortly I will be officially divorced, and that season of separation will end. In a way I’m going back to the start. I’m learning to find the green grass in this stage. I’m single and live by myself, but I don’t answer to anyone, I just make decisions and do. I don’t have children; I go out late and have lie ins.
Watching other people live the life you had or want is tough. But survival is possible, and sharing in their joy can actually make you the happiest you’ve felt in a long time. Any rewinding tape comes to an end. And at that point, it begins to play again.