This Summer I did the unthinkable, I called off my wedding weeks before I was meant to walk down the aisle.
My fairytale wedding was booked, paid for and organised down to the tiniest detail. It was nearly two years since my fiancé started designing the ring, 18 months since he got down on one knee and asked me to spend our lives together in the grounds of a lavish hotel. He practiced saying the words and doing the knee bend and booked a gorgeous room with a freestanding bath and fireplace he knew I’d love. After I accepted, all the hotel staff applauded. We called our families and heard them cry and tell us we’d made what had been a horrific year (2020) worth living for. We posted on Instagram the gorgeous ring, poised between our beaming faces.
We hired a planner, we visited venues in the Greek islands, we tasted menus and chose flowers, place settings and fireworks. We auditioned a band and a DJ and chose all our songs. We discussed name changes, we plotted our next financial steps. I took my mum to see the dress I’d chosen, and passersby by stopped to give me the thumbs up while we toasted champagne.
Our guests sent us photos of the outfits they’d bought and told us about the hotels they’d booked for it and holidays they’d planned around it.
And then it all fell apart.
When people ask me what happened, it’s almost impossible to explain. Relationships don’t just end in an instant, after one bad fight.
Looking back, we’d been unhappy for months. I’d been spiralling, trying not to face what I knew to be true – I was deeply unhappy and living a lie. He’d grown increasingly angry living the same life of denial.
Our home became a tinder box. When I heard his key in the lock, every hair on my body would stand on end as I braced myself for the inevitable argument.
Looking back, it seems I had no other choice but to end it. But at the time, it was a terrible decision to make. I felt an overwhelming sense of fear and a deep shame.
Once you’re engaged, you don’t get a private break up – far from it. We had to email 200 people to tell them the wedding was off, speak to wedding contractors, negotiate with our landlord, loop in co-workers. Eventually, I had to take off my ring. Everything was so brutally public.
It's been a rollercoaster since. As 2022 comes to an end, I’ve reflected on how I got through my life turning upside down and starting over at 35. These are some of the lessons I’ve learned:
1) Love does not just come from your romantic relationships
The outpouring of love I received from those around me was profound. From my incredible friends, to my parents who tell me they’ve never been prouder, to colleagues I never considered close who gave me unwavering support. Romantic love is just one type, but love comes from all angles. Embrace the other loves in your life, they will sustain you.
2) There is no ‘good life’ that is worth living inauthentically
On paper, I enjoyed a life of riches that many people would envy – living in an expensive neighbourhood, going out for lavish meals, enjoying multiple holidays a year. But I wasn’t happy and nothing I did could convince myself otherwise. Losing the lifestyle was totally worth it. Now I’m enjoying new riches: living my life, my way.
3) Man makes plans, god laughs
I thought I had my whole life sewn-up, my whole future mapped out. Houses had been selected, kids names chosen, retirement plans discussed. And in the space of days, it all unraveled spectacularly.
The truth is, I never knew what the future held. It was always an illusion. If the past few years have taught us anything it’s that the world can change in an instant. All I have is today, so I focus on making today the best it can be.
4) Some people serve a particular purpose, but aren’t meant to be forever
We got through a global pandemic and total social isolation. We were all of humanity to one another during lockdown. We confronted death and disease and family illness, and managed it because we were so in love.
That was incredibly meaningful, but it was not meant to be forever. I am learning to cherish what we had for what it was, and not what I thought it would be.
5) Do not believe other couples’ propaganda
Since we sent that fateful email, I have been amazed by how many people told me they wish they had done the same. People in seemingly happy relationships, living the dream family life on Instagram. Once we went public, so many unhappy couples came out of the woodwork.
You do not know what the people around you are going through. My choice emboldened people to share their own difficulties. Some I’ve seen coming, many I have not. There is great suffering all around us masquerading as perfection. I’ve been astounded by how many people are suffering by staying together because they feel they ought to.
Don’t ever take for granted that someone you know is solid, sorted, and living the life you think you want. Scratch the surface and you may learn of deep pain.
6) People move on
I knew as soon as it happened that I had a few weeks, maybe a few months, where I would command people’s attention. And I did, people came out from all corners to support me. And then they moved on.
People have their lives and families to think about. People have their own dramas to deal with every day. The outpouring of grief and support was great, but don’t rely on it always being there - people will stop calling and stop answering your messages, and you’re going to have to be alone and get through this. It will be the hardest thing you ever do, it will be lonely and dark, but the person you are looking for, is you.
7) I am brave
This has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. If you’d told me what was to come at the start of 2022, I wouldn’t have believed I could do it.
We walked right to the edge of that cliff with guns to our heads, and we still didn’t jump. That’s next level bravery, and I’m proud of us. I’m proud of me.
I have been surprised every day by the strength that is within me. I now feel like there is nothing life can throw at me that I cannot handle. And that is incredibly empowering. I’ve done this, so I can do anything.
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