“I’m staring at the floor while running my fingers over the softly faded cotton sheets of the hotel bed. Nothing feels familiar in this strange room, in this strange town, in this strange country. “Maybe we shouldn’t do this.” My voice sounds hoarse. As soon as my words land, she stops rummaging through her suitcase and turns around. Her face reads surprise. “You can’t be serious!” She gets up from the floor and shakes her head fiercely. “My entire family is here already.” I sit in silence. Hours later, while wearing a white dress and a pale face, I look her in the eye. I take a deep breath and hear myself quietly say “I do”. When I leave the city hall with a new civil status and a tight wedding ring, I shake ten pairs of hands. None are those of my family or friends. My marriage certificate reads the name of an old Danish lady who lends her signature to people like me – who are on their own.”
“When I met Alice at work, we immediately hit it off. Every time we ran into each other, we’d talk and laugh. We enjoyed each other’s company. Although I wasn’t particularly attracted to her, I agreed when she first asked me out. Before I realised, we were in some sort of serious relationship. We went out with friends and explored new places together. She liked taking care of me – she’d even make the phone calls to public institutions which I still dread to this day. She’d often remind me of how much she loved me. But deep down, I knew. There was no sparkle; I didn’t feel any of the things I so desperately wanted to feel. I never looked at her and thought: “Wow, that’s my girlfriend.”
I didn’t listen to the voice in my head, because I didn’t want to lose or hurt her. She’d become my best friend and it felt comfortable being with her. In the meantime, our whirlwind romance accelerated: five months after we met, we bought a house together. The building had to be constructed, so it’d be a while before we could move in. I fell in love with the house more than I did with her… Alice’s father suggested that we reflect on the future. He told us to look into the option of marriage, which would be more financially attractive for our new status as homeowners. I’d always thought one day I’d get married in a place like the Little White Wedding Chapel; I liked the idea of getting hitched without any fuss. Alice started researching and found a place in Denmark. Tønder – if you ask Google, it tells you it’s the Las Vegas of Europe.
Within a week, she had reserved our hotel room and booked an appointment for a ten minute wedding. She enthusiastically invited her family and friends to come along, but I didn’t tell mine. Caught up in her excitement, Alice didn’t seem to notice we were on different pages. On a random Friday afternoon at the end of August, we were fourth in line at Tønder city hall. When I said “I do”, the words came from my head, but not my heart. Alice gently slid the wedding band on my finger; it felt like my breath and circulation were cut off altogether. Standing in a room surrounded by strangers and smiles, I felt more alone than ever.
Cracks in the wall
Once we got home, our wedding dresses still unpacked, I told Alice I regretted the wedding. I explained I didn’t think it was fair towards my friends and family, who hadn’t known about our elopement. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her I didn’t want to be married – not to her. She said she understood. We agreed not to legalise the certificate in Belgium, so the impact of what we had done would remain limited. A few months later, when it became clearer things between us weren’t going that well, Alice legalised the document anyway. When she admitted what she had done, I felt anger – and a first spark of hate. I had never experienced that feeling before. But most of all, I was disappointed in myself and my lack of courage to be honest. I’d been so afraid of hurting her that I’d let myself be forced into a situation I never wanted to be in.
I noticed the first cracks in our foundation after we got back from Denmark. Because I had gone along with something I didn’t feel comfortable with, I started looking at Alice’s behaviour through a magnifying glass. I realised she was a different person than the one she had made herself out to be. She said she was outgoing and ambitious, fond of sports and a healthy lifestyle – all the things I liked. Less than three months later, I was living with a couch potato. Alice quit her job and spent most of her days inside, except for the bi-weekly visits to Mc Donald’s.
There was no clear motive for her change in behaviour. She kept telling me she’d return to her old self soon, that she only needed a soft push in the back. I felt tricked. She wanted to become a person she could never be. One day, when I came home after a long day at work and saw her at her usual spot on the couch, I spoke the words that had been racing through my head: “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I’ll never forget the look in her eyes. Alice became hysterical and locked herself in the bedroom until midnight. When she finally calmed down, we agreed to live apart for a while. She returned to the apartment two weeks later, telling me how much she had missed me. She’d become even more convinced we belonged together. The only feeling I had experienced was relief.
It was the first time I didn’t back down. I insisted she picked up her belongings and put divorce proceedings in motion. One day, out of the blue, she sent me a text message saying she didn’t want to live anymore. I got in touch with her father, who demanded we stop all contact. But Alice kept reaching out to me through each possible channel – she called, texted, emailed, even showed up at my office. Her tone was always angry. She believed she deserved a fair chance and didn’t understand why I didn’t want to give her one.
She told me she wanted one more conversation. She needed it to find closure. Every cell in my body screamed no, but I gave in. What I had to say was no new information: we were two people who just didn’t match. Not long after, her mother called me. She was beside herself. She bawled and yelled Alice had killed herself, and it was my fault. I was the worst that could have ever happened to her child. She hoped I’d be able to live with the guilt for the rest of my days. Before I had the chance to utter anything, she hung up.
Standing still & moving forward
I sat there in a daze while the words sunk in. I can’t begin to describe the feeling that got a hold of me right then and there – the horror, the guilt, the shame. A full day crawled by, twenty four agonizing hours during which I was convinced she was dead. Until Alice’s best friend called: she’d taken an overdose of pain medication, but would fully recover. I felt 10% relief, 90% anger. The experience was traumatising, to this day it still is. I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever be able to get over.
It took another year and a half before the house was finally finished and sold. When we signed the forms, both of us sitting in silence at opposite sides of the table, I felt a weight being lifted off my shoulders. This chapter had dragged on for so long; it was like I had been holding my breath non-stop. When we left the notary office, we went our separate ways. I didn’t look back once. Ever since, it has remained a painful chapter in my life. It feels like a dark hole I’m swimming past, a bruise I’ll carry with me forever. Every month, I’m reminded of the disappointment and shame when I read that horrendous 8 letter word on my pay check: ‘divorced’.
Today, I’m in a new, healthy relationship. I’m happy, although it’s difficult to let my guard down. But I never want to go through such an ordeal again, so I speak up and share what’s on my mind. I love and feel loved again. By my partner and my adorable cats – those two bring me so much joy. Their innocence and sincerity have kept me afloat during a time when it took everything I had in me not to sink.”
*Marie preferred to share her story anonymously – her and Alice’s names are fictituous.