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.
The old adage of "live and learn" certainly applies. At 17, I didn't know who I was. It's not to say everyone doesn't, it's just that I didn't. Not a damn clue, actually. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do, the kind of woman I wanted to be, but not an inkling of how to get there. This definitely affected my relationship with my husband. How could we be unified as individuals coming together if I wasn't whole yet? (The answer, of course, is that we couldn't.)
Now, I have the answers to all these things. I'm more confident and secure in myself. This reflects and benefits every relationship I have now—not only my husband.
Being that I was incredibly immature (I say it with 20/20 vision now, but didn't realize it then), I was selfish. There were things I wouldn't budge on or give up in order for our marriage to work and likewise, my partner was the same. I do believe this sort of thing came with age and experience and while I'm happy to be where I am now, I like to think it's because of all the times I learned from the fall-out where compromise lacked.
I've always been a "fixer." This stems from childhood, and me simply seeing the broken things in people (a kindred spirit, maybe) and thinking I can be the one to heal the wounds or change the habits. Not only was this a dangerous way to live and believe, it caused a lot of heartache. In my late teens years, there was too many things I wanted to change within my partner and I'm sure he could say the same about me. None of it was in the best interest of our relationship and I se that now.
This time-around, while there are always going to be things my partner and I disagree on or things we annoy one another with, I love the person he is at the core. I don't want to fix or change him in any way. If I did, and was successful, our relationship wouldn't be as great as it is.
My bar was set incredibly high way back when. I had an image of the white picket fence-type scenario, hoping it would rewrite my bad childhood memories or give me something "real" to cling to. There are times now (especially with my OCD and need for order) I still catch myself expecting too much of my partner, seeing that it only sets him up to fail. It's not fair.
What I've learned in our 13 years together is that it's really my bar to set in the first place. We're two different people with two different ways of doing things. The point is, it gets done somehow. I've come to accept this and we're better for it.
My whole life, I've been a closed book. No one could know a thing about me unless I let them and even then, I protected those bits with everything I had. I still do, I guess. However, being married at 18, I hadn't yet set boundaries on things like going out with friends or saying "yes" when I meant "no." I thought marriage was a journey I was supposed to do whatever, whenever, all the time, and no matter what. Yes, I'm talking about sex and romance and connection and, mostly, lack thereof and how complex it becomes when you've suffered trauma but feel compelled to partake at times, just because you're married.
It's more complicated than simply being open to your spouse when, all your life, you've hidden so many thing from everyone. In my second try, I vowed to be more open about these things so that, when those times came, we'd know how to handle with the utmost respect and compassion to me, my emotions, and my body. Thankfully, my husband is more than understanding and really, just wants me to be happy. Whatever that means.
I remember all the times I'd stomp out of the house with no resolution only to have the same damn argument an hour later. The problem was, I didn't always articulate the way I was feeling properly. This left my partner confused, and sometimes angry. I don't blame him and, well, he was no better.
Part of being 18, or 19, means finding newer, better ways to communicate so your voice is heard and so you can understand each other better and live "happily ever after." Lack of communication was one of the biggest reasons that relationship fell a apart so now, I make it priority.
I had a lot of resentment floating around for a long time because I didn't know how to let it go. It didn't matter who was wrong or right. Once I met and married my second husband, I saw how insignificant things from my past had become so it became easier to let them go and really, forgive both my first husband for his mistakes, and mine as well.
While communication is a must, I've learned there are good ways to deal with an argument and really, really bad ways. For four years, I spent most of my time acting out the bad ways. It showed in our relationship. We were rarely on the same page, couldn't find a common ground, and most of that time, I hadn't matured like I thought I had.
Now, when there's a disagreement we work through it. Like adults who love each other.
I'm pretty weird. I say that in all honesty. My Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), is confusing to most, and I'm typically the girl tripping over nothing, mumbling quietly, or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. I'm OK with me, but I never know how others perceive me and my actions.
Way back then, I was insecure. I hid a lot of who I was in that marriage, fear of him judging me. It took a long time and a lot of self-discovery and reflection to understand these things make me who I am—the good and the bad.
Of course I made a ton of mistakes as a teen. After all, inevitable failure is part of growing up. In my case, I had to grow up a lot faster because I chose the path of marriage over anything else. It took trial and error (mostly error) but I got through it. I'm not ashamed of the time I had with my then-husband and I sincerely wish him the best. However, I know who I am now, what I want, and where I'm going.
This marriage now — as we approach 10 years married in October — has shown me making all those mistakes back then (and learning from them) helped me become the woman I am today. How can I be mad at that? (Hint: I'm not. At all.)