How To Learn From Love’s Difficulties: Lessons from a 22-year-old Divorcée

Nobody gets married expecting to get divorced.  I know this to be true from experience.  I marched my 19-year-old self straight up to that altar in my overpriced dress, expecting “I do” to mean “I do until one of us kicks it”.

A well-meaning friend suggested we buy a dictionary and clip out the word “divorce” along with its definition.  That way, “divorce” would not be in our vocabulary.  Cute.  But cute doesn’t take you very far when you are only 22 and nearly three years into a marriage you desperately want to escape.

I was supposed to be successful.  In high school, people told me I would do great things with my life.  I believed them wholeheartedly and expected that a man would just tie me down.  So I purposefully skated through my teen years practically date-free.  Then I found a man who paid attention and made me laugh.  And I thought, “You shall henceforth fulfill all my plans, needs and desires and give me unending joy until we pass into Glory together, hand in hand with all our grandchildren around us singing ‘Amazing Grace’”.  So I married him.  At 19.  Without completing my education.  Without knowing that I was about as codependent as codependent gets.  Lacking healthy boundaries and overflowing with unhealthy people-pleasing.  There was not just a little writing on the wall; there were novels.

I learned so much through my divorce.  I learned about myself, about love, and, ultimately, about life.  In fact, I would do it all again if I were given the choice.  The person I am today is wiser, more peaceful, and kinder to both others and myself.  These are a few of my lessons:

  1. Life will offer second chances.  We can (and should) take life up on the offer.
  2. People’s responses to our life choices will often surprise us. Luckily, surprises make life interesting. 
  3. Weddings should not break the bank or break your back.  That is too much breaking for an event that lasts a few hours for a marriage that may or may not last much longer.
  4. We have the right to change as human beings.
  5. Plans can fail. That does not mean the planner failed.
  6. We do not need to defend our choices to every single dissenter.  Some people will just never approve.  We can beautifully survive the lack of approval.
  7. Find time to really laugh from your gut and to really cry from your depths.  Bottled-up emotion is a ticking time bomb.
  8. Life will keep teaching.  We just need to keep listening.
  9. Never give fear enough power to stop you from doing what you should be doing.  Feel the fear; do it anyway.
  10. Chaos and peace are not mutually exclusive.  Peace is not found in the absence of chaos but in the midst of it.

The aftermath of divorce is complicated, tiring, lonely, and, at times, awkward.  While the pang of these troubles diminishes with time, the lessons learned stick around.  This is true for any difficult life experience.  We persevere through the pain, and we become better human beings.  The author Maya Angelou is quoted with this amazing sentiment: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”  My divorce taught me infinitely more than I expected.  I now know better.  So I can do better. 

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