What I Wish Someone Told Me When I Was 26

Why such a specific age? Well, my 26th year was a life-changing one. I was a mess. I’d even go as far to say that my life was a complete disaster.

A lot of people don’t know this but I married at 25 and a mere 18 months later, I found myself legally separated when a seven year relationship came to a tragic end.

I’m still not sure why we ever married. Our relationship was an unhappy one to begin with and yet somehow we continued blindly down the path that society conditions us to follow “Go to school, get a job, get married, buy a house, have children …”

The Engagement

I remember the day he proposed. We’d spent a romantic weekend in Ontario’s cottage country. I’d had a feeling that he was about to propose and was thrilled about the pending nuptials, as any girl rightfully would be in that situation.

The setting couldn’t have been better — it was a crisp, late afternoon in October. We took a long walk together on the beach. He started talking about our future together, expressed his love and even recited a poem he’d written just for me.

Yet when he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him, I felt numb and even dead inside. I dumbly stared at the engagement ring and wondered how many carats were in the diamond, as it was sparkling brighter than any jewel I’d ever seen.

Here I was in the midst of this very special moment and I was simply underwhelmed. I went through the motions, kissing him and of course, saying yes. I didn’t see any other option, even though my instincts were telling me it was wrong. I thought there was no way that I could say no to the man I’d loved for so very long. Wasn’t this the “natural step” for us?

The Parents

Two months later I moved in with him and his very traditional parents. While I appreciated his parents’ generosity to allow me to move in, pay off debts and save for our future, moving in was just another bad decision.

Being a fairly independent and free spirited girl who’d been living on her own since the age of 18, it was a big adjustment to say in the least. I had to keep them informed of my whereabouts at all times. I needed to ask for permission to do things. I was saddled with new and unexpected domestic responsibilities. It was expected that I follow their cultural norms and be obedient and subservient.

As I wasn’t paying rent, I didn’t mind the domestic chores. It was really the least I could do. I liked learning about their culture, especially if it meant that I’d get to eat some tasty dishes or learn about their heritage. I especially adored the closeness of their family, as it was so different than anything I knew from my own experiences.

What I didn’t appreciate was being judged each and every day. They saw me as this white Canadian girl who came from a family that wasn’t any good. We weren’t wealthy and had a long history of divorce. I wasn’t seen as successful as I had debt and wasn’t earning as much as their son. They didn’t recognize that was debt was purely from student loans and that I put myself through school without much support from my family and by working two part-time jobs. Or that I was the very first person in my family to ever complete post secondary school.

Despite my work around the house, trying the language, frequent bowing (yes!) and even converting to Catholicism, my efforts were never enough. I was constantly criticized. I was told I needed to cook and clean more, that I didn’t know the language well enough and needed to go to church (especially confession) more frequently.

There came a point when I realized I’d never measure up to their high standards. Our cultures were vastly different and nothing I could do would change this. Hardly a day passed without a complaint that brought me to tears. They resented me and I them. Bitterly, I stopped putting in as much of an effort. They failed to treat me with respect and accept me for who I was. I never asked for so much from my husband so why was so much expected from me? This was the central theme of many arguments (and trust me there were many) we had.

The Wedding

A year passed and we got married. Our wedding day was filled with one bad omen after another.

His mother forced us to do a last minute confession with the priest just minutes before the wedding ceremony. The priest asked me a very intimate and very inappropriate question and I lied in response for fear he wouldn’t marry us. Yes, I lied to a priest during confession!

When we tried to light our unity candle, it wouldn’t light.

My husband got so drunk at the reception that he puked all over me and my beautiful wedding dress as we travelled in our limo enroute to our honeymoon suite. When we reached our hotel room, he drunkenly took a shower and forgot to close the curtain. I was forced to clean up a flooded bathroom floor, still sporting my dress and tiara as he passed out for the night in our bed.

Not exactly the wedding day and night that most girls spend their lives dreaming about! I totally deserve a “do-over” someday later in life.

Moving Out

We soon bought a townhouse in Toronto and moved out of his parents’ home. Our lives together only got slightly better, despite the escape from the constant judgement, demands and pressure from his parents.

He told me he hated our new place and would have preferred to live with his parents longer so we could save up and move to a big house in the suburbs.

I responded by saying that if he wanted me to maintain my sanity and our marriage to survive, it was imperative that we move out as soon as possible. What’s more, I never ever wanted to move to the suburbs. Do I really seem like the white picket fence, mini-van owning, soccer mom type to you?

So there we were. We should have been a happy couple, right? Instead, we were the exact opposite. Fights, sobbing, slammed doors, lost tempers were all too frequent. He was almost never home, typically coming home at 2:00 AM on a weekday leaving me home alone, worried and frantic.

Ending the Marriage

We were out grocery shopping together when he asked me a question. I said “pardon” because I didn’t hear him clearly. I had to ask him to repeat himself again as he was mumbling. Frustrated he began yelling and screaming at me in the middle of the store. Humiliated, I burst into tears and asked that he stop his verbal and public assault. So caught up in his rage, he failed to recognize his surroundings.

That night he told me he didn’t love me anymore.

There was my chance for freedom! Yet, I pleaded with him to stay, work on our marriage, even attend counselling. He reluctantly agreed. Splitting up didn’t seem like an option.

In the months that followed, I lost more than 30 pounds and shrunk four clothing sizes. I slept on the floor in our bedroom as I couldn’t bear being in the same bed with him. I was even on meds to try and stave off the depression.

It eventually came out that he was being unfaithful and he had been for a very long time. Not so unexpected considering the state of our marriage. We very obviously weren’t happy with ourselves or one another. The love and friendship had disappeared somewhere along the way.

During this time, he actually berated me telling me that I was boring, that his new girlfriend was more athletic and better looking. He asked why I didn’t earn as much money as her, ignoring the fact she had a higher level of education, was seven years older than me and therefore had been in the workforce much longer, and of course had a higher income.

He failed to acknowledge his controlling ways and how I’d gradually lost my identity over the years. How could I manage to be interesting considering he didn’t allow me to have friends outside of work or permit me to do anything on my own. He destroyed any sense of independence I’d ever had.

He left me and moved in immediately with her, something which hurt me quite deeply. It was as if I never meant anything at all. That our seven years had been nothing.

I was embarrassed that I’d let this happen to me. I thought — I should’ve been stronger. I never should’ve married him. I should’ve stood up for myself. Even now, I’m embarrassed when I think back to that time.

I was also at a loss about how to move forward. How would I survive on my own? How would I support myself financially? How would I ever love someone else? How could I make new friends on my own, friends that weren’t his?

What I Wish Someone Told Me

What I didn’t know was that a new chapter of my life was about to begin. One that was exciting, fun, and full of adventure. Which brings me to the point of this post “What I wish someone told me when I was 26.”

  1. The pain will eventually dull.
  2. The future’s bright and many good things are coming your way.
  3. The ending of your marriage is one of the best things that will ever happen to you.
  4. That it won’t take long to discover that life without him is better than life with him.
  5. Making new friends is going to be super easy. A day will come when you’ll have more friends than you ever need. In fact, they’ll be spread around the world. You’ll consider some of them family.
  6. You’ll love another more deeply, passionately, and joyously.
  7. You’ll own your own home someday.
  8. Your “family” will grow to include an adorable Persian cat named Izzy, and later a cat named Burt Reynolds.
  9. Career advancement will happen. You’ll someday earn more money than his girlfriend.
  10. You’ll be anything but boring. It will start with bartending lessons and salsa classes, to cooking courses and playing sports like ultimate frisbee and floor hockey. It will lead to worldwide travel and amazing experiences like dressing up as a princess to eat dinner in a Portuguese castle, paragliding through the Italian Alps and attending runway shows at Berlin fashion week.
  11. You’ll move halfway across the world to start fresh in Berlin, not once but twice!
  12. Time will pass and you will forgive him and most of all yourself.
  13. Best of all, you’ll find happiness along the way.



A Canadian from Toronto in Berlin. Agile coach working in tech. Travel blogger @cherylhowardcom.

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Cheryl Howard

A Canadian from Toronto in Berlin. Agile coach working in tech. Travel blogger @cherylhowardcom.