Candace Ganger
September 08, 2015 10:15 am

When I was sixteen, I fell head over heels in love. He wasn’t my first boyfriend, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, he wouldn’t be my last. Those late nights star-gazing in his parents’ convertible, we swore to be together forever. Our romance blossomed and before the start of my senior year, when he graduated and settled into college dorm life, we discussed things like exclusivity, how to do the long distance relationship thing, and marriage. Yep, you read that right—marriage. As in ’til death do us part, in sickness and in health, and all those very serious vows. It works for some people to settle down that early, but for us, when it came down to it, we really knew nothing about what being married would really be like. In the time we spent together, I learned some invaluable lessons that helped shape me as a person in both love and life. Things I wished I’d known way back when I listened to my heart more than my brain. Things I hope to tell my own daughter if she comes to me at 17 and says she’s in love and wants to get married.

Marriage does not mean the end of relationship changes

Growing up in a split household, the only solid example I’d had of the aforementioned vows was that of my Gram and grandpa. He passed in 1990, but even after his death, Gram held those vows like a lifeline. She believed in true love and soul mates and all the things that appear to be fleeting at times in this busy, chaotic world full of phone swiping as opposed to courting and internet messaging instead of an old-fashioned phone call.

I thought by being married, nothing could change in our relationship. We promised to never let things like bills ruin us, to always make up before going to bed, to stay as close as we were in school. I didn’t know then that life sometimes as other plans and if you’re not equipped to deal with the bumps, the relationship may not survive.

Being married doesn’t give you an “out” when you’re lost in life

At 17, I didn’t know much more than what homework was due. I didn’t know myself like I proclaimed, I didn’t know what path I was meant to take after graduation, and most of all, I wasn’t sure I knew the kind of true love my Gram had modeled. In fact, I had no plan at all and the boy I loved, did. He was good. He knew where he wanted his life to go. Made good grades, got into a good college, had a good summer job that paid good summer money. But me? I had none of those things and had a plethora of challenges instead. My mom and younger brother were moving to a different city right after my graduation and because I didn’t get into the colleges I’d applied to, I felt more lost than ever.

Where would I go? What would I do? Who was I? I applied for various jobs that paid in peanuts just to get by. I had no idea how to be a person in life or how to take care of myself, by myself. All these selfish reasons sent me clinging to my high school sweetheart before he had the chance to make something of himself. It’s a choice that still haunts me to this day because without me as the variable, where would he go? Who would he be? Who was he? The fact remains, I changed his course and probably not for the better.

If you’re not ready to share, sacrifice, or grow together, you’re not ready for marriage.

It wasn’t long before the “M” word was thrown around. By Thanksgiving of my senior year, we were engaged with plans to marry just one month after graduation. It all happened so quickly yet when I think back, it was a slow series of motions where I desperately wanted my future self to step in and tell me all the things we’d sacrifice and all the experiences we’d miss out on just by saying those vows. And I’m not just talking about me. I couldn’t know then he’d leave school, struggle to find a good-paying job, and our finances would forever be the center of our love. It consumed us. We’d be evicted, forced into separate homes because of the differences we couldn’t work out. There would be other people we’d want to date (because we were only teenagers) but because we were bound to one another, we felt trapped. Neither of us were truly happy but we wanted to prove naysayers wrong, so we stayed together.

Sometimes divorce is inevitable, and that is OK

We worked on our relationship for four years before coming to the mutual realization we were too drained and not enough in love to stick it out. Divorce seemed to be the only option and I don’t say that lightly. Divorce is hard. Sometimes harder than the marriage itself. I felt defeated and embarrassed to have fought for four years to just give up and I’m sure he felt the same. Our brains had grown and changed over those four years. So did our interests and personal paths and the hardest truth was that we simply had outgrown one another. He was, and is, a good man. I was, and am, a good woman. We had a lot of good times among the bad. But together, we just didn’t work and sometimes, as heart-wrenching as it feels at the time, it’s for the best.

Even if it ends, it still matters

When I was 18, I thought I knew it all. When I was 22, I learned that not only did I know nothing at 18, but even at 22, I was still clueless. Love is a special thing. Nurture it into something that lasts a lifetime so those vows are written in granite. Some people meet and fall in love as teens and stay together forever and that’s amazing. I wish it had been that way for us, but it wasn’t and I wish him only the best of everything. I don’t look back on those years with regret. Not even a little. It’s all part of the journey to knowing myself, finding my path, and most of all, now that I’m really ready, discovering and nurturing the kind of true love my Gram modeled and this time, succeeding.

[Image via iStock]

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