Hi! Here’s chapter 2 of Trash the Dress: Stories of Celebrating Divorce in your 20s. In this chapter, my personal story continues, but soon we will be diving into the stories of 70 young divorced women around the world to explore why they got hitched, why they ditched, and how they moved on from their marriages.
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My So-Called Marriage- Excerpt from Trash the Dress: Stories of Celebrating Divorce in your 20s
After our wedding, Max and I flew to Antigua. But first, we had a layover in Puerto Rico. It was there that the first argument of our marriage took place.
Walking down the streets in the center of San Juan, we passed a man offering tourists photos with a beautiful parrot. Being a huge animal lover, I of course wanted to pose with the bird. However, the man selling the photos was very sketchy. Max didn’t want me to participate, so he walked away, leaving me in a potentially dangerous situation. I was infuriated. I felt that a protective husband would’ve dragged his new wife down the sidewalk.
In addition to the parrot incident, the local cuisine was far from vegetarian friendly. I found it very hard to enjoy myself while my stomach was growling and I was fuming at my husband. However, I refused to let that ruin my time and focused my thoughts on Antigua, where our real honeymoon would begin.
The island was pure paradise. I even broke my anti-sunbathing rule and soaked up the sun’s glow (with SPF 50). Aside from dodging jellyfish, it was delightfully refreshing to wade in the crystal clear water. And leave it to me to make friends with the stray dogs on the beach. It broke my heart to see so many homeless animals on the island and learn the locals considered them pests. I made sure they felt loved, snuck them food and swam with a pack of four.
Unfortunately, the honeymoon literally ended as soon as we returned home. They say the first year of marriage is the hardest. I never made it to the second year, so I can’t tell you if it gets easier or not once you pass the 365-day mark. But I can tell you that during that one year I spent as a wife, I lost myself. I had always been optimistic and romantic. Marriage turned me into a sad, lonely woman who constantly fought with her husband about lack of intimacy.
Max wouldn’t hold my hand in public, eat dinner with me, cuddle on our couch or go to bed the same time I fell asleep. He became my roommate and a very unattractive one at that. I refused to kiss him when he grew a beard, so of course he gave up shaving. It was his way of pulling away because he was unhappy being married, I believe.
There were a few factors that contributed to the death of my so-called marriage. For one thing, there was financial strain. I had a low-income music industry job and Max was frequently unemployed. He was still figuring out his passions and changed jobs a lot, sometimes without consulting me first. He wasn’t happy with himself and I was frustrated with him. I needed him to get a job that provided health benefits so I could leave my job, which I felt was holding me back from furthering my dreams. We used my paychecks to cover the mortgage and lived off my credit cards, which piled up my debt. I resented Max because I not only worked full-time, but also spent my spare time trying to launch companies and take on freelance work to make extra money.
These issues could have been resolved over time. But one deal-breaker could not: children. The day Max told me he didn’t want to be married anymore and that he never wanted to have children, even though he previously agreed to, it was over for me. I had been putting pressure on us to prepare for having a family. I wanted to be pregnant by age 30 and kept reminding Max that we needed to get our lives in order. I learned I should not have married a man who agreed to have kids with me. I needed a partner who could not wait to be a father. But I’ll get to that part of my story later.
First, I want to tell you about the one week during the entire fourteen months of our marriage that Max and I were actually happy.
It was the week of our one-year anniversary. I remember being so blissful that we even ordered a miniature version of our wedding cake so we could eat it fresh, rather than the one-year-old frozen top that is customary.
I believed Max and I were going to make it after all and wanted to commemorate our renewed love. Well, nothing says forever like a tattoo.
As a female with visible body art, I always considered it odd I ended up marrying a man who did not have a dab of ink on his body. Max wasn’t against tattoos, he just couldn’t think of anything he wanted permanently etched. I wanted to initiate Max into tattooed society and our first wedding anniversary was the perfect occasion. I suggested we get matching “XO” tattoos on our wrists to represent our love and because we survived the bad times.
It’s important to note that about six months into our marriage, Max and I actually made the decision to separate. Though it lasted about two weeks and we still lived together, I removed my wedding ring. This was in April, my birthday month. At this time, my music ‘zine, Planet Verge, had transitioned into an Internet TV show and we hosted a launch party in New York City.
That night was one of the best of my musical life. Along with running Planet Verge, I had previously launched a music PR firm, Audio Crush, and recently scored the Matches, a wildly successful indie band, as clients. (Interesting tidbit, the Matches’ vocalist Shawn Harris, an outspoken vegan, is the person who inspired me to give up eating chicken and become pescatarian. I interviewed Shawn regarding veganism for one of the very first episodes of Planet Verge TV. Sadly, that part of the footage became lost so I never got to watch or release the interview.)
The Matches were showcasing in New York City from their hometown of Oakland, California, at my show! It was magical being surrounded by bands I loved and my best girls, the Planet Verge staff. It didn’t matter that Max wasn’t there. He just would’ve dragged me down. Every time I looked at my naked left ring finger, I felt free.
Yet, a few weeks later I slipped those diamonds back on my finger. Max and I had decided to try to work through our struggles. And I believed we had. So by the time our one-year anniversary rolled along, I figured we were in the clear to mark ourselves with each other’s memory for life. Everything seemed to have fallen into place by that September.
Max liked the matching “XO” tattoo idea and even suggested we get them on opposite wrists for when we held hands. Yes, you read that correctly. I said when we held hands. Like two people who voluntarily touched each other in public. Shocking, but we were actually in love during that one week.
When we got to the tattoo parlor, the artist drew a few different options for the “XO” but recommended we make it even more personal by drawing our own. Max and I both decided that his handwriting was cooler than mine, so we chose his “XO.” I had an inkling that getting matching tattoos would jinx our marriage, but pushed aside my signature paranoia. However, my instincts were in tune. Two months later, I moved out.
Now, I must state that I am not a quitter and leaving was far from the easy way out of my marriage. I did everything I could to make things work. I even begged Max to go to therapy. I pledged to be by his side for better or worse and richer or poorer, and I meant every word.
Like I mentioned earlier, I put pressure on us to build a nest egg, buy a house and have babies. On our track, I didn’t see those milestones coming to fruition. I’m the most goal-oriented person I know. Yet, somehow I ended up with someone who was still figuring out what he wanted in life. Regardless, I was dedicated to making our marriage work. I told him this shortly after our one-year anniversary. We were at our lowest point, basically leading two separate lives. Max frequently went out with his friend, Sam. It upset him that I didn’t have the energy to be social on work nights, between battling chronic fatigue and running Planet Verge after-hours. Towards the end, he went out multiple times a week. We barely spent time together.
I was alone whether or not Max was home, so it really didn’t make a difference. We were both miserable. I knew we didn’t have the connection married couples were supposed to embody. Max realized this, as well.
It was his cousin Carey’s wedding that made us face the truth. Carey was our age and she and I had become close during her wedding planning process, as I designed her magazine programs. At Carey’s reception, a member of the bridal party gave a speech about how Carey and her husband were perfect for each other and even finished each other’s sentences. The pair was so in love it radiated off their smiles.
Max and I didn’t finish each other’s sentences. I didn’t have any idea what was going through his mind. Hearing that speech assured me: I married the wrong man. The speech had the same effect on Max, but he actually had the guts to approach the subject. Deep down, we both knew we weren’t compatible for the long haul.
One day, Max opened the floodgates to his feelings. Words spit like daggers from his mouth and stabbed my heart as he told me, “I don’t want to be married. I don’t know if I don’t want to be married to anyone, or just you.”
My body went into bloody shock. Fine, he didn’t want to be married. But specifically not to me?! What was that supposed to mean? I was a great wife! Any man would be lucky to have me, that is, as long as he didn’t mind cooking dinner every night.
I still hung onto a morsel of hope after Max’s statement, knowing that sometimes you just need to talk about bottled up issues.
But what Max said next made me numb. He told me he never wanted to have children. This was my deal-breaker. Nothing else was worth working on if he could never give me the thing I wanted most in the world: motherhood.
My motherly/nesting instincts began at an early age. I used to catch inchworms and butterflies and make them homes in shoeboxes. I actually molded tissues into furniture!
What can I say? My mom raised me as a total girly-girl. I had every doll on the market—from those with battery-operated heartbeats to newborn baby dolls with lifelike gender parts. I even owned a pregnant doll. She had a swollen stomach that when removed, revealed a newborn inside. After the baby (mine was a girl!) was “born,” a flat stomach popped up and just like magic, she was back to her amazing pre-maternity body. If only this happened in the real world, right?
I have always envied adorable pregnant people. So you can imagine how my world sank into the solar system when Max told me he never wanted children. That settled matters. It was over. I phoned a friend in the middle of night for solace and then cried myself to sleep.
The following morning, I called my mother in hysterics while I walked the dogs to tell her I was moving back home. This was not surprising news to her. She told me not to be sad, but happy that I could move on and get what I deserved.
When my father heard the news, he told me to freeze my eggs and file for divorce. If I had the money, I probably would have frozen my eggs. I was having a nervous breakdown because I was 28 years old and starting my life over from scratch.
Since I wanted to be pregnant by age 30, I put the pressure on Max. I told him that we had two years to get our act together and save for a house because I didn’t want to be an older mother and everyone knows there are risks to having a baby after age 35. Our financial status had already led us to put our condo on the market. In an attempt to save money and reduce expenses, we planned on renting a place. I hoped with less financial stress, we would be able to get our relationship on track, enjoy each other’s company and build our family.
It’s my own fault for thinking I could change Max’s view on fatherhood. But for a while, did think so. Very early in our relationship, I presented Max with an ultimatum. We were actually driving at the time. “If you never want children, I will get out of this car right now,” I told him.
There was no way I was going to waste my time and invest feelings in someone who didn’t want to have children. I felt too old to be casually dating.
Max knew if our relationship ended, I would cut him out of my life. He didn’t want to lose me, so I believe he tried to convince himself that one day he would want his own rug rats. He lied to me and perhaps himself.
We even discussed names for boy and girl babies, some of which Max suggested. I thought he was coming around to the idea of fatherhood. But those children would never exist because I entrusted my love and dreams to someone who deep down knew all along that he didn’t want the same things in life as his wife.
The day after Max and I decided to divorce, I went to work (against my mother’s advice). I cried a river before arriving and during my lunch break on phone calls with friends, but I made it through the day. I was determined to carry on as usual.
I spent Thanksgiving night and Black Friday of that year moving out of my precious condo. I had wanted to leave two weeks earlier, but I was struck with illness and unable to pack. Then, I had to wait for the new bed my father generously bought me to arrive before I could begin sleeping at my mom’s. The holiday was the perfect time to begin carrying boxes out since Max was at his parents’ house and I had the place to myself.
Max offered to let me stay at our condo so I didn’t have to uproot my life. But there was no way in hell I was going to be stuck paying a mortgage I couldn’t afford. If Max wanted to tear my life apart, then he could deal with the condo until it sold. Luckily, he didn’t put up a fight.
Fortunately, our whole divorce process was very simple and civil. The bed and couch were already his, so they remained in the condo. Everything else I pretty much paid for on my credit cards (hello, post-marriage debt), so I took those items. I did, however, leave the TV stand, coffee table, pots, pans and blender. There’s no denying I am an awful cook and Max would actually make use of them.
As much as I was relieved to be out of an unhappy marriage, I was devastated to be leaving my new home. Living in that condo was my first time out on my own, so to speak. When we first moved in, it was the condo of hopes and dreams. I felt liberated to finally have a place of my own and was so excited to decorate. Like our wedding, I put so much attention into every little detail—from coat hooks to placemats for the dog food bowls. But it never became “home” because there were never any warm, loving feelings between those walls. The couch represented sadness because every time we sat on it, he pushed me away. The dining table just stood as a reminder that we never ate our meals together. That’s not the way I imagined my happily ever after playing out.
On my final trip, my mom and brother, Joey, helped me carry out the contents of my life. Taking one last look around the vacant rooms, I took a deep breath and closed the door on that chapter of my life.
Once again, music became the soundtrack to my world. I found peace in listening to a breakup song by my favorite musician, Butch Walker.
With those lyrics as solace, I carried hope for a bright tomorrow close to my heart and crammed as much furniture as possible into my childhood bedroom. Before I moved in with Max, he and I had painted my bedroom walls hot pink. Returning with my barely broken in black furniture was a nice contrast. Everything else was piled into the garage: wedding gifts that were never opened, the fine china, picture frames that displayed moments of a life that seemed to be surreal because it came and went so fast. Some of those boxes are still unopened.
I grew up there and had everything I owned with me, yet I didn’t feel like I belonged at the house anymore. My mom had recently gotten a new puppy, Emme, and was worried that my two big dogs would cause problems. Granted, Skye had a history of ripping apart the couch and biting the windowsill every time another dog walked by outside. So I kept Skye and Lucky locked in my bedroom with me for the first week or so upon my return. Most of the time, they were the only company I wanted around me, anyway.
I spent a lot of time alone, hurt that I never even had a chance to settle into marriage and enjoy the experience. From day one, Max and I were hit with financial problems. That strain only exacerbated the little annoying issues we had with each other. We never had the opportunity to be happy because we were always stressed out and in survival mode. But even if money hadn’t been an issue, our marriage still would have ended. I suppose I was grateful that we didn’t prolong the inevitable and I got out while I was still young. But that didn’t make my situation any better.
A few weeks after I settled in back at my mom’s, I was let go from my job. The company for which I worked was struggling to keep afloat and my position was the first to be eliminated. Just my luck! When my boss broke the news, I was shocked. I was a hard worker, always developing innovative ideas to propel the company. I never imagined that would happen. But there I was, 28 years old, divorcing and jobless.
From that point on, I spent a lot of time sitting outside in the yard. The dogs chased each other in the sunshine while I collected my thoughts on paper.
Here are two experts from my diary:
March 6th (breakdown day)
“They’re all assholes, Joelle. Just to different degrees.”
I cried a lot today. Max will only talk to me through text message. He said “I can’t see you right now. I am where you were three or four months ago.”
I just want to talk to him, see him, both agree that this is best for us. Not hate each other.
I am hurt that this happened. That he selfishly knew he didn’t want to be married, but went through the motions. (Max actually spoke in person with my mom before I moved back home. He felt he owed her an explanation and told her that he had many conversations with his parents before our wedding about whether or not he was ready. Turns out he wasn’t.)
I’m mad that I had a beautiful wedding and can never put up a picture of me as a bride. Or any nice family photos we took that day.
I just watched our wedding video. I see his clean shaven face—that’s the man I love(d). Look how he voluntarily kissed me and put his arm around my waist. That never happened in real life.
Emme is barking right now. Almost as if to say “Joelle! Wake up! Stop remembering something good! The reality is that you were unhappy every day of that marriage. Sad. Alone. Depressed. That is what your life had become.”
I’m remembering that one-week around our first wedding anniversary. We were honestly happy. I felt in love, leaving our condo and walking hand in hand to our car in the parking lot. We were happy. I was so happy. One week.
I have this matching “XO” tattoo in Max’s handwriting on my wrist to commemorate it. Ick.
I can’t believe I didn’t write in a diary for the past five years! Probably the most important in my life thus far—my whole relationship with Max. I don’t want to ever forget it, as I mourn and move on. I’m a positive person. I know that everything happens for a reason. I don’t regret our marriage. I wouldn’t even have Lucky if I didn’t get married. I’m sure at one point, I was happy. But I can’t remember it. I don’t know what happened, how we lost it, why we’re both giving up. I have to walk away or I’ll live my life in regret and unhappiness.
I’m sitting in the yard now. All three dogs are running around. It’s muddy because the snow has melted. I’m wrapped in a hoodie and purple blanket. The birds are chirping and wind chimes are singing. All should be peaceful. But I’m burnt out. I couldn’t fall asleep until 4 a.m. last night. Heart races. Nervous wreck.
As I mentioned in my diary, anxious thoughts drove my mind in a million different directions every night. In addition to the divorce and job loss, I felt like a loser moving back home. It was so embarrassing having to face all my brother’s friends, especially on Saturday nights when I was home and they were all living it up in our basement.
My own social life had taken a turn as abruptly as my marriage. It’s during times of crisis that you find who has your back. I parted ways with some of my best friends because I felt they did not understand or support what I was going through.
By the time I got my wedding album back from the photographer, almost all the key players from the ceremony were out of my life. Did I feel vacant? Certainly. But did I let that rule me? Not once.
Living in New Jersey, the state with the lowest number of divorces in the country, I was pretty sure I was the only woman divorced before age 30. After all, according to social media, everyone else my age was getting married and having babies. Meanwhile, I was a member of an underground society of women who had failed ourselves, our families, and our dreams of happily-ever-after. Or so it seems when it first happens.
When my marriage first ended, I couldn’t relate to any books on the market. There were books from therapists filled with marriage-saving strategies and books with stories from mothers who spent decades as wives. I didn’t want to save my marriage so that nixed the majority of books on the shelves. I did read one collection of divorce stories, but found it hard to relate to women who had children my age.
I knew there were other women out there just like me, who felt so alone, like they were the only ones going through divorce in their 20s. I just had to find them. One night right after I left Max, Penny and I went to dinner to celebrate our 10-year “friendiversary.” Walking back to our cars in the parking lot, I told her, “One day, I’m going to write a book about this.”
I felt it was important to unite with young, confident divorced women so we could lead the way for those whose lives were just turning down this winding road. I wanted to show new twenty-something divorcées that the end of marriage is just the beginning of the lives we were meant to live. And that life is indeed beautiful.
From that point on, I embraced the opportunity to select the people who I felt deserved my friendship, love and talents. But before I could officially celebrate divorce in my 20s, I had to forgive myself for marrying Max and take creative measures to release anger. So, I made a good riddance list of everything I disliked about Max, compiled a list of everything I sought in a future mate and trashed my wedding dress.
These liberating rituals allowed me to celebrate my divorce. I’ll tell you about them and then I’ll share what I’ve learned from young, confident and successful divorced women around the world.
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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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