L is 28 and lives in New York.
Why did you get married?
I knew since I was maybe ten years old that I would get married young, and sure enough, at 22 I was one
of the first of my friends to get married. It’s hard to be clear-eyed about my reasons, and not bitter, but
certainly I was happy on my wedding day and secure in my decision.
I got married because I was looking for my partner, for stability, and to build a home. Though I was
mature in a lot of ways as a young adult, I was also very sensitive, very vulnerable; I felt emotionally
unsupported and alone, and needed a firm place to stand, which I thought meant having a partner by
my side. Navigating the world of college hang-outs and hook-ups and questions like “Is he just trying
to get into my pants?” had been terrifying, and I was also simultaneously becoming more and more
immersed in religious communities where it wasn’t unusual for a friend to not even touch his or her
partner until they were married. (These experiences and the tensions between them remain pretty
illustrative of the various worlds I’m a part of today.)
My ex and I had been on a marriage-track since almost day one of our relationship, though we didn’t
say that concretely until a few months in. We were of the mindset that if our relationship was at any
point no longer potentially headed towards marriage, it would be over. This made sense to me. I was
looking for love for the long haul. But after almost a year together, when engagement was on the
horizon, I began to freak out. Suddenly, even though I had been on board for marriage-or-bust since
the beginning, I had huge doubts. I felt too young. I wanted to live in an apartment with friends after
graduation, and have big dinner parties, and date around. That all seemed important somehow, and
was the main image that kept knocking around in my head… but I couldn’t parse why that image, that
hypothetical stage of my life was so compelling. It just seemed like I was getting cold feet because I
happened to be 12 or 24 months younger than I thought I should ideally be, which felt petty and almost
My ex was adamant about not dating indefinitely; he was adamant about getting married; he’s an
adamant guy. I trusted his feelings, in some ways, more than I trusted my own. I didn’t want to lose
what had been the best and most stable relationship I had ever been in—romantic or otherwise. I felt
sure that if we broke up, those 12 or 24 months would go by, and I would then be kicking myself for
letting him go. So I stopped freaking out and we got engaged. Again, please understand: I was happy on
my wedding day. Once I make a decision, I throw myself fully into it. But the circumstances leading up to
our engagement were rocky, and it’s still hard for me to look back at that time.
What changes have divorce/separation brought to your life?
(To be clear, I’m currently Jewishly divorced and civilly separated, with full intentions to become civilly
divorced as well; for the purposes of this interview, however, I’m going to just refer to myself as being
It’s easier to answer this question chronologically than psychologically; I’ll try both. In terms of the
timeline of my life, separation and divorce brought many changes into my life: I moved to another
borough and another Jewish community and lived with female roommates for the first time, I flailed
around madly in the midst of an intense religious crisis, I struggled with various bouts of illnesses I had
never had before from stomach stuff to anxiety attacks (which were probably not unrelated), I started
really writing again, I dated and got involved with new people for the first time in seven years, and I
changed jobs and careers. I would joke that my life had changed so drastically, I may as well also dye my
hair purple and get a bunch of tattoos—which, actually, sounds pretty good. Maybe I should look into
Psychologically, though, it’s not so easy to outline the cause-and-effect at play in every case. In many
ways I was stifled in my relationship with my ex, which was an unhappy and accidental outcome of the
combination of our personalities and values. A big part of the reason for the separation and divorce
itself was that I was not the person I wanted to be—spiritually, creatively, romantically. A family friend
asked me later if my ex was “controlling”… he wasn’t. He never asked me to be someone different than
who I was, or to stop writing, or to stop exploring my religious path. But those things happened, and I
know that I played as big of a part, or bigger, in my suppression than my ex did (and that’s something I
need to understand and work on). Ultimately, when all of our cards were on the table and it was time
to see if I could truly be myself and still be with him, it sadly became apparent that I couldn’t. So the
changes were already happening; they just played out in a more public way after we got separated and
How has divorce/separation changed your view of marriage?
Divorce hasn’t changed my view of marriage in a general sense; I’m glad that people choose to get
married, and hope that one day soon same-sex marriage will be par for the course everywhere.
Do you think you’ll get married again? Why or why not?
I think I’ll probably get married again, but the idea scares the crap out of me. When my gun-shy, freaked-out brain is in charge, I think that I got one free pass in terms of being divorced—that being divorced once is acceptable, but that I better be damn sure the second time around. I worry that I will continually make commitments to partners and then those commitments will fall to pieces again, that I will keep inviting my family and friends to ceremonies that they’ll attend wondering, “Will this one last?” I worry that I’ll stand under the chuppah and wonder that, too.
The problem with will-this-last thinking, though (and as I think Dan Savage says), is that you basically won’t know if your relationship was a “success”—by that metric—until one of you is in the grave. Other than that, at any moment, the other shoe might drop and you could be looking back at a, say, fifty-year marriage and four children and think, “Damn, it didn’t work.”
I am trying to tie my thoughts together here, and I can’t. I am of two minds.
Cynical self: If a successful relationship can only truly be measured in the moment, why bother to make a false promise to love each other forever, when that can’t possibly be upheld in advance? Maybe meaningful relationships are meant to last as long as they are meaningful. Marriage is an inorganic institution, after all, and it’s simply unreasonable to expect to share an entire lifetime with another person.
Romantic self: I want to try marriage again. I think I can love and be loved better. I want to find that imperfect someone who wants to be with imperfect me. Even if lifelong commitment really is impossible, I want to be with someone who wants us to give it a whirl together.
(I recognize that there’s a fallacy here, an assumption that one has to get married to make a lifelong commitment to a partner. I don’t actually think that’s true—but for better or worse, that seems to feel true in my own case.)
What advice would you give to women who are going through a divorce/separation?
I actually have a draft email in my inbox with the subject “various lessons learned”, which are all from the year since my ex and I split up. Here is one of the last and biggest ones, added only a few months ago:
Maybe you just don’t know… and that’s okay.
You might be trying so hard, as I did, to figure everything out. Your living situation, your boundaries,
your rules, your identity, your future, your past, your career, your relationships, your dating life, your
sex life—all at once. And honestly, maybe you just don’t know the answer to everything right now…
and that’s okay. Really. It’s okay. Just sit in the not knowing. You’re going to be fine. You’re going to be
happier. You just don’t know yet how it’s going to happen, or what that’s going to look like. And that’s