Hi! It’s Joelle, your veteran divorcee. I cried, I conquered and I’ve told it like it is in my book, Trash the Dress: Stories of Celebrating Divorce in your 20s. That was over a decade ago. Isn’t that wild?! I’m now re-married with two amazing kids and three dogs and on Substack to digitally release every chapter of my book! That’s right. I want to reach NEW divorced women, open up our private Facebook support group to those that don’t know about it, and share some very big news about NEW BOOKS I am working on (but those details will come another time).
For now, please enjoy Chapter 1. I have to say, it’s so weird going back and reading my book and even weirder to copy and paste this excerpt I wrote in 2013 and publish it for you here. I wonder if I would write my first chapter the same way today. But there’s no looking back, only forward!
Please share with your friends and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss my next release.
Love Brews at the Cafe- Excerpt from Trash the Dress: Stories of Celebrating Divorce in your 20s
(Note: All names have been changed)
I’ve always viewed the glass as half-full, looked on the bright side and put my faith in fate and music. Growing up, I dissected lyrics to my favorite songs. Whenever life got me down, all I had to do was repeat some of those lyrics to myself and be on my merry way.
I believe there’s a great plan for everyone and everything happens for a reason, even if it doesn’t make sense at the time. When my marriage first ended, I was at rock bottom. However, I chose to dance in the dirt. Clarity—and my greater life plan—emerged from chaos, just like one of my favorite songs assured me. The church of rock ‘n’ roll has never steered me wrong.
I was not raised in a very religious environment. My family did not attend weekly mass, but my mother made sure my younger brother and I attended religion classes in order to complete the mandatory Catholic sacraments, despite my protest.
The older I got, the more I detested these lessons. One year, I missed out on an entire season of watching Beverly Hills, 90120 because group meetings took place on Wednesday nights during the exact hour my favorite television show aired. So I sat in class with a bunch of people I didn’t know or care to know and put a fake smile on my face as the teacher asked the same thing to me during every attendance check: “Joelle? Do you know your name is French?” I informed him that I was aware and 100 percent Italian, named after my father, Joe. Then I drifted into my own world, where I have existed ever since.
Now, as I said, I didn’t pay attention during those classes, so I can’t tell you much about Catholicism. However, I memorized the “Hail Mary” and “Our Father” prayers, repeated them to myself every night before bed (in total obsessive compulsive disorder fashion because I have always been paranoid of bad things happening to those I loved) and decided that religion can be a bit too organized for my taste. Weekly mass is not for me, but I have nothing against those who are devout followers of any religion. I believe in God—in my own way and on my own terms—which are private and not every Sunday morning during a service where attendees are obligated to shake hands with strangers sitting in nearby pews and drink out of the same wine glass. Um, hello? Germfest!
I was also adamantly against marriage preparation programs. I don’t believe a madly-in-love couple needs a stranger to approve or deny their decision to spend the rest of their lives together. We’re adults. We make mature decisions. And when those mature decisions to marry turn out to have been the wrong decisions, well, there’s always divorce.
Obviously, no young woman gets married with divorce as her Plan B. However, sometimes “‘Til death do we part” becomes “Death unless we part!” I’m not talking about suicide per se, but rather the death of our souls. Being trapped in an unhealthy marriage can strip even the most vibrant woman down to a shadow of her former self, a dark reminder following her every move.
It happened to me. My marriage led me to become a depressed, stressed out woman who sat on her couch alone at night wondering how her life came to be the total opposite of everything she had always envisioned. But I let it continue in hopes that one day things would get better.
Then, one day, reality slapped me in the face. My husband told me he didn’t want to be married any longer. I was about to become a statistic—a woman divorced before age 30! While many would view my soon-to-be social status as devastating (and believe me, it was) I knew getting divorced was the best decision, even though I felt as rare as an endangered species.
The road on which I was about to embark was treacherous. I had no clue how I was going to navigate my way and was unsure of where it would lead, but I agreed that we needed to end our marriage.
I had seen this event coming for a very long time. Ironically, I never imagined that when I met “Max” (name changed for privacy) he would end up being my future husband, let alone future ex-husband.
Max walked into my life through finger-smudged glass doors at a coffee shop where I was working as a barista while trying to launch my self-published music magazine, Planet Verge, on a national level. Max wore a long, fur-rimmed black coat and sunglasses. Slicked back hair and a nose ring completed his rock star look. Lightning struck. I began referring to Max behind his back as “Dave Navarro,” as I gushed over him to one of my coworkers and best friends, “Penny.” Max looked just like the Jane’s Addiction guitarist, so it was a fitting nickname.
After that day, Penny would call me during her shifts to report when “Dave Navarro” would come in for his daily cup. Turns out, he was there a lot with his best, tattooed friend, “Sam.”
One day, Max struck up a conversation. While talking, I learned that, be still my heart, he was a hair stylist! When he offered to give me an edgy new look, I immediately took him up on his offer.
Little did I know it would end up being a four-hour haircut. Yes, four hours. This was at the very beginning of Max’s career and I was among his first clients. That, on top of his attention to detail, meant that I was stuck in a salon chair until every single strand of hair was in perfect place. It was draining, but I didn’t mind because it gave us a chance to become acquainted. When the haircut was finally complete, I noted that it was unfortunate that I looked so great but had nowhere go make an impression. Max suggested we grab a bite at a nearby bistro, which happened to be my favorite.
At the restaurant, Max flipped through a music magazine I had with me and talked a lot about Scott Weiland. Max had a man crush on the Stone Temple Pilots frontman the way I had a girl crush on Tori Spelling. I didn’t think too much about it until it was our fifth time hanging out and he had yet to make a move. Then, I wondered if he was interested in being more than friends with any girl. Come on, he was a hair stylist and wore black nail polish. And it’s not like I was holding a “Do Not Enter” sign!
Finally, one night we were in my car listening to music as we always did and Max leaned over and kicked those doubts out of my mind as he said, “Come here, sweetheart.” We kissed a little and then he rested his head on my lap, which was cute.
“I could get used to this,” I thought to myself. Luckily, Max reflected my feelings.
To think, there was a time when I didn’t even want anything to do with Max. I ignored his calls and literally crossed the street when I was saw him walking around town. This was because I couldn’t figure out if he was interested in a serious relationship and I didn’t want to dedicate my precious husband-hunting years to something that was not destined to go anywhere. But alas, he won me over a little more each time he visited me at work.
All those coffee grinds must have gone to my brain. For some reason, I only focused on a pixel of the big picture. Max loved rock ‘n’ roll, let me paint his nails black, watched my favorite show, General Hospital, with me, and gave my friends and me amazing haircuts. Looking back, I realize he was Mr. Right-What-I-Needed-At-That-Time-Of-My-Life, but not Mr. Who-I-Need-For-The-Rest-Of-My-Life. While those qualities made him a great boyfriend, they weren’t what I needed in a husband. Yet, he became mine.
Sometime during the latter six months of our first year as a couple, Max told me to buy a bridal magazine because I’d never know when I’d need it. We were at a convenience store at that moment and of course those words brought a rush of blood flowing through my veins. And thus, I fell down the rabbit hole and got lost in a world of couture dresses, centerpieces and favors.
We booked a wedding venue before an engagement took place. Mistake number one.
One day, Max and I were sitting in the backyard of the house I lived in with my mother and brother. We mentioned how we hoped to be married in one year. I finally had a better job, working for a small music company, and we had been joined at the hip for the past twelve months, so marriage was the next logical step.
“Then you better start looking at venues,” advised my mother. “Places book up years ahead of time.”
Though we had the venue booked, I made it clear to Max that I still expected an engagement ring and proper request for my hand. So, he went to his family’s jeweler and made a few selections before taking me for final approval. I chose the ring that was his favorite, as well. It was a unique vintage-inspired band with tiny specks of diamonds and filigree. I couldn’t wait to get it on my finger.
Max didn’t seem to have as much enthusiasm for that moment as I did, or at least it felt that way from the lack of thought I felt he put into the proposal. The day he popped the question, I came home from work to find Max sitting on my bed reading a magazine. My eyes immediately went to the ring box placed beside him, which I pried open, only to find it was empty. Disappointed that he could play such a joke on me, I walked over to my dresser.
That’s when Max knelt down beside me and placed the round,
It was cute, but a part of me was hoping for a little more creativity in the proposal, especially because I already knew it was coming. To make things even more glamorous, he chose to do so on a day that I had let my hair air dry and wore knee-length, army print cut-offs and a white tank top. I always like to look my best and that was certainly not one of those days. But, of course I accepted with pure joy.
I took a shower, applied a ruby red, sparkly polish to my nails and had Max blow dry my hair before we went for a celebratory dinner to the restaurant where we had our first “date.” I can’t call it a proper date because he didn’t pay for me. He actually accepted my money when I offered to cover my portion of the bill. That should’ve been my first sign to run.
I did run, though it was to the bridal boutique. I had my brain set on a gown from a Greek designer noted for his exotic style. I had fallen in love with a magazine ad of a vintage goddess in a corset bodice and split skirt, lying on her side, sexily looking up towards the heavens. I tore out that page and saved it for the day I would actually be able to purchase the gown.
However, a lot of time had passed from when I started perusing wedding magazines to when Max and I actually got engaged. By the time I went to my local dress shop, I was served devastating news. My dream dress was discontinued!
The consultant told me to come back in a few weeks, when the store would be holding a trunk show. That day, my mom and I arrived for my appointment and lo and behold, one of the front mannequins was dressed in my dream gown! Well, almost. I’d call it the fraternal twin sister of my dream dress. Whereas the gown of my dreams had a visibly ribbed corset and halter neckline, the displayed gown was strapless with underlying ribbing and had a scalloped, sweetheart neckline.
“Oh my God!,” I exclaimed. “That’s my dress!”
I rushed right up to the bridal consultant at the front desk and told her I needed to try on that dress. She told me to look for others, as well. I grabbed a few and quickly put them on and removed them, not really caring because my dress was right there outside! And I needed to try it on! Impatiently, I wondered why they were taking so long to get it off the mannequin.
I began to glow when my skin first touched the satiny underlying layer of the dress. I officially felt like a bride.
“I love it,” I told my mom and the consultant. “It’s completely different from any other dress. It’s exactly what I want.”
With that settled, I moved onto other areas of planning. After the dress, the next most important item on my checklist was makeup. I have no problem admitting I’m a makeup junkie.
reruns on television. My liver and spleen were so enlarged that I was told I couldn’t attend any concerts even if I had the energy to emerge from under my covers because if anyone accidentally hit my stomach, the consequences would be severe. I have never felt 100 percent myself once I returned to the outside world, thanks to also being diagnosed with Epstein Barr virus and chronic fatigue syndrome, but I have certainly made damn well sure I look good!ALF
I have always been adventurous with my makeup. One of my favorite looks around the time I first met Max was lining my top and bottom eyelids in florescent green shadow. It was a color only I could wear. And as shocking as the style sounds, I actually received compliments!
My bridal makeup had to be just as dramatic as my personal style and also have staying power to keep unflattering marks undercover. I scoured the Internet for makeup artists with a vision similar to my own. Many posts on my local New Jersey bridal forums raved about one woman in particular, Alexa Prisco, The Glam Fairy. Curious as to what the chatter was about, I crossed my fingers, searched Google and hoped that The Glam Fairy’s work was as fabulous as her reputation.
Within seconds of landing on her official website, I knew I had struck glittery gold. Dramatic smoky eyes! Flawless airbrushed skin! Contoured cheekbones! Luscious lashes! We were definitely on the same sparkly page. I booked her services.
As a bride, I felt my most beautiful; from curled hair extensions to light pink painted toes. I was already counting down the weeks until I would be able to see the photo proofs.
We had a short, non-denominational ceremony in front of a charming gazebo. Due to partial paralysis caused by Multiple Sclerosis (MS), my father couldn’t partake in the customary duty of walking me down the aisle. My mother was more than happy to lead the way.
As I listened to Max read the vows I wrote for him, I realized why he might have had so much trouble writing his own in the first place. Maybe it wasn’t because he didn’t know how to put his love for me into words, but that he doubted our decision to marry, even though we had been living together for a year. Prefacing those vows I wrote for him, Max said, “It’s kinda funny ‘cause I always said I would never get married. People said I just hadn’t met the right one, but when I met you I knew.”
I know Max loved me, but I believe he was convincing himself to want the same things in life that I wanted. Perhaps he couldn’t write his vows because he wasn’t ready to give up his freedom, take responsibility for another person, and promise to one day be a good father to children he only told himself he wanted because I couldn’t wait to be a mother.
My own vows began on an interesting note. I told Max, “I guess I should thank (my Siberian husky mix) Skye for turning you into a dog person, or we would not be here today.” You’ll notice I didn’t begin with how much I loved him; I made reference to one of our struggles. When we first met, Max hated dogs and I actually stopped talking to him for a few months because I knew we could not have a future together. However, he eventually warmed up to Skye and her shedding fur.
Looking back, Max and I loved and needed each other in our lives for selfish reasons. But, as we made our relationship legal in front of all our family and friends, I realized it didn’t matter if all the issues we had between us actually did change along with my last name. He wasn’t my soul mate. I didn’t feel emotional.
Max and I spent our wedding reception mingling with our own friends and family and only united to do the ceremonious cake cutting, stomach stuffing and garter toss. We didn’t do the customary first dance because we both despised the act. I think it’s awfully embarrassing and invasive for 150 of your closest friends and family to stand in a circle and watch you stupidly sway for three minutes. Half of them will cry because you’re “so grown up” now, the other half because they feel lonely and are hoping they will have a chance to one day be on that dance floor. No, thank you.
I have always hated attending weddings and feel equally uncomfortable at events where I’m the center of attention. I didn’t even attend my college graduation for fear of having to walk onto a stage in front of an audience to receive my diploma.
Yet, I became obsessed with planning the most creative, attention-to-detail wedding anyone would have ever attended. It came to the point that I was more focused on the wedding than the actual marriage. I started to brush off all the relationship problems that arose and hoped everything would settle into place after the wedding.
I put my entire heart and soul into planning even the most miniscule of details. There could not be anything generic. The most personal touch was a four-page magazine program all about Max and me, which included photos from our engagement shoot and a collage of memories through the years. It was such a hit, that I made another eight-page magazine called The Newlyweds, which included photos from the wedding, and sent to each guest as a thank-you.
Magazine creation was a huge part of my life, so it was only natural to include it in my big day. The same goes for music. Having spent years working in the music business, I formed friendships with some talented folks and of course had to incorporate them into the day’s events as ceremony and reception musicians.
I also designed the seating cards and incorporated my precious fur-children, Skye (a Siberian husky/ German shepherd mix) and Lucky (a Korean jindo) into the day by using their pictures for the table assignments. Each table was named after a latte flavor.
A cupcake connoisseur, I was determined to incorporate the treats and used them as centerpieces. This was actually my friend Penny’s idea. She and I were engaged at the same time, so we helped each other plan our weddings. She was one of three pin-up usherettes at my wedding.
We asked guests to sign a black acoustic guitar using hot pink and silver markers. I planned on using the guitar to decorate our newlywed home. (I should mention that I waited a year for Max to hang the guitar, but it remained in a corner of our living room for the duration of our marriage).
At the end of the night, the videographer pulled Max and me aside and asked us to say a message to our future selves. It was so awkward because we were both caught off guard and words did not naturally come to mind. The videographer must have seen the red flags waving high. However, it wouldn’t be until after our honeymoon that those red flags would begin to flap in my face.
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Trash the Dress is a collection of stories based on a series of interviews with empowered young women who raised their naked left ring fingers high and waved their ex-husbands goodbye as they took charge of their futures. It has been featured on Huffington Post, Yahoo! Health, Cosmo Middle East, Sunday Times, Globe and Mail, International Business Times and other leading outlets.
Empowering girls of all ages and life stages.
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