When I was 17, my boyfriend at the time — a senior — proposed after we'd been together just over a year. It may sound extreme, because it was, and even as it happened I knew the hurdles we'd face growing up together. Our marriage didn't last and, now that I've been with my current partner for 13 years, it's extremely obvious that there are more than a few ways my second marriage is way different than my first; ways that undoubtable contribute to the reason why my husband and I are still together.
When I think back, my family and I gathered around the dinner table on Thanksgiving, the thing I remember most is the look on everyone's face when my then-fiancé and I told them we planned to marry immediately after my graduation. There was silence, all but the clanking of utensils on plates, and utter disappointment with my decision to take this path instead of that my peers were headed towards.
The truth is, and the thing none of them knew at the time, was all I'd been battling. My mom had decided to go back to school 40 minutes away, so she and my younger brother were moving from my beloved home to a small apartment near the college. Me, being the creative dreamer rarely satisfied by a classroom setting, spent most of my school days writing in notebooks rather than learning so my grades were barely above passing and definitely not college-worthy. I applied to some schools. only to be rejected and felt as though everyone was moving forward somehow, leaving me behind. I had no direction, no plan, and no hope for my future. My boyfriend/fiancé understood these things and even though he, a year older, attended his first year of college, he'd found a full-time job to work so that he and I could create our own kind of hope, together. Sounds great, right? In the very beginning, it was, or at least I convinced myself it was. What I thought I had was security, stability, and all the things I lacked in my childhood.
The reality, of course, was that it was a facade. The security vanished when the honeymoon phases ended and real life set in. My husband worked, sure, but I had a hard time getting a job with no experience and awful grades. Our finances plummeted quick (the cause of more than a few fights) and that stability I so desperately needed vanished when our relationship was tested by infidelity and mistrust. I see now it was merely our ages deciding too many adult things. We were both immature and unknowing of how to resolve conflict without an all-out war. We separated for a time and, eventually, started "dating" again until moving back in together. I found a great job and it seemed as though we were on the mend, for good this time. It wasn't easy, but better.
However, as we grew and found the maturity we'd been lacking in years prior, it became clear our paths had gone in two different directions. It's true those years are meant for self-discovery and yet, we'd been married, separated, and back together for nearly four years and just as my friends graduated college. We lived many lifetimes through the course of the relationship, but there came a day when everything shifted. I can't pinpoint what, exactly; I just knew we weren't meant for the long haul. We amicably split, for good this time, I took advantage of that self-discovery period I'd missed out on previously. I needed to know who I was, without him.
Sometime later, I met my now-husband. While I wasn't exactly ready to fall back into another relationship (and we had our testing moments as well), it all felt different this time around. I'd grown up a lot and knew what would work, and what wouldn't. This marriage has been different than my first in so many ways but none more than knowing myself now, better than I did at 17.