I can still picture you sitting on blue carpet in your veil and flannel shirt.
Sitting in your sister’s old bedroom, leaning against the bed—I remember your doubts that day.
I remember how you dried your tears, squared your shoulders, and marched down your parents’ steps to meet your soon-to-be husband. You’ll need that tenacity a lot in the coming years.
No one really told you how marriage worked. That there are basic skills you were both lacking—the ability to communicate being a big one. You won’t figure this out for many years.
I hate to break it to you, kid, but your marriage isn’t going to last. You pictured a house and kids and Labrador Retriever and picket fence, and you get all that. The reality is not what you thought it would be. It’s a lot lonelier. It’s a lot harder.
One day, you are going to decide doing it alone is easier than trying to make your marriage work in a way that makes you both happy. This knowledge will break your heart. This will be the hardest decision to make, and you will never quit feeling guilty about it.
Your children will be your lifeline and reason to wake up each day. Your love for them and need to provide for them will lead you into careers you would never have pictured for yourself. You will never have much, but you will have enough. You’ll never be able to give them what you had imagined for them, but you’ll keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. You really should have gone to college, but you’ll manage to fashion together a nice career out of moxie and hustle.
You will be humbled.
Right now, you are cocky and young and have one hell of an attitude. That attitude will help you, and hurt you. You will be your biggest champion and your worst enemy. You are a fighter, but you will learn to choose your battles. You will need to learn to ask for help. From friends and family. You will need to learn grace, and forgiveness. These will not be easy lessons.
You are going to have your heart broken. A lot. You will lose friends. You will lose family. You will lose a child you helped to raise. You will lose lovers. You will lose jobs. And you will survive.
You are going to meet so many wonderful people. You can’t even imagine. You are going to meet men and women who will change your life. Some of these people will only be around for a short while. Some of them you will know for years and years. You’ll have friends who become lovers, and lovers who become friends.
You’ll have more female friends than you could have imagined and you will learn so much from them. You will love them harder and longer than any man—be thankful for that.
You are going to see and do so many things. You will travel and go to concerts and meet strangers and stay up too late. You will sing Carly Simon songs with Irish boys in a little bar in Ireland.
You will go running through Chicago in your bare feet, heels dangling from your fingertips so you can make it to the bar in time to watch the Blackhawks clinch the cup with your best friend. You can’t even imagine that now, but it will happen and it will be one of many great stories to tell someday.
You will have so many great stories.
You’ll never love someone again like you loved the man you married and had your children with. You can’t even fathom right now how someday you’ll barely really know each other. But he will always have your back. He will turn out to be a great dad. He will be the best ex-husband a girl could ask for. He will also be a monumental ass before that happens and he will hurt you like no one else could. But you will both put all of that aside and raise your children together, but apart, in the best way you can.
It’ll be okay.
Rest assured, you will fall in love again. You’ll fall in love a lot actually. But you will spend most of your time without a partner. Don’t be afraid of that. It was scary as f*ck for a long time, but you will get past that. You’ll do more things by yourself than you can picture. You will be brave.
You will never have a silver anniversary. You will wonder if you will meet that one person to settle down with. There will be moments fear will grip your chest in the middle of the night. And you will continue, at times, to be lonely.
But the most important thing, 21-year-old me: You will have the best, most amazing children.
You are going to do some things really poorly and it won’t be easy. You are going to miss some things you didn’t think you would. They are going to go through hard times, really hard times. And it will break your heart into tiny pieces when they hurt, every time they hurt.
They will be the best things you ever accomplish.
Happy non-anniversary to my first (and only) ex-husband. Happy non-anniversary, 21-year-old me.
Author: Heather Smith
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren