This is the anniversary of the day I ran away. I won't tell you how many years ago that was, but I can tell you it was a November 12th.
It's a terribly sad story, and it's not just my story, so I can't really go into details. Let's just say that I used to wander around my then-town wishing I could afford to put up a big billboard with the motto "You Don't HAVE To Marry Him."
My feeling, a million years ago, was that I HAD to marry the man who wanted so much to marry me or else Something Very Bad would happen. It was a long time before I realized that nothing very bad would have happened if I hadn't. Indeed, some very bad things would not have happened. And although he was very upset when I left, he did not simply roll up into a ball and die. He did not kill himself. And, in fact, I understand that today he is a successful professional with an enjoyable career. Well done, him.
I cannot stress how important it is not to marry the wrong person (or to marry before you become a right person). In a restaurant in Germany, I was horrified to find myself pointed to as "a successful divorcee": the third woman in the conversation was unsure if she wanted to marry her German fiance after all. My admirer's idea was that if it didn't work out, she could "just" divorce him.
Although any practising Catholic would find this idea distasteful, I found it awful, not just as a Catholic, but as a divorcee. Some scars take a long time to heal. Indeed, some scars might never heal in this earthly life. After all, here I am umpteen years later, happily remarried, with my blog-billboard saying "You Don't Have To Marry Him," just in case some agonized woman out there randomly types "Do I Have To Marry Him?" into a search bar. There is no such thing as "just divorcing." Marriage, no matter how short, illicit or unsacramental, is so psychologically powerful its end leaves a stain.
Being a divorced-annulled-remarried Catholic presents me with an internal paradox: I am deeply grateful for liberal divorce laws and I deplore the high divorce rate. I am deeply aware that divorced people (especially, I suspect, women) are marginalized by other Catholics, but at the same time I understand the marginalizers' concerns. Being judged forever by my own was a risk I was willing to take--and, in fact, I placed myself in the hands of professional Catholic judges: an annullment tribunal. Was going through that painful? You'd better believe it. Never, never again. But it was necessary---just as chemotherapy is necessary to a cancer patient. It's horrible, but it heals.
When I left, I knew I might not be given an annullment (though I had very strong grounds to think I would) and that I might never marry again. So be it, I thought. Anything, just so long as I could be free. I'm sorry to say I have an inkling of what it is like to be the fox that chewed its own leg off to escape the trap. And that, my dears, is why I say to you again and again "Don't settle."
Update: Cherubs, it was a long time ago, so don't feel bad for me now. Come to think of it, though, prayers go outside of history into eternity, so if you like, pray for me on that day. (Does that make sense? Maybe you helped then by praying now.) Meanwhile, I went shopping for girly things this afternoon, which I enjoyed very much.