I was 18 years old when I got engaged to my high school prom date. Twenty when I married. I had to sneak sips of champagne so my disapproving in-laws would not see. The daughter of a three-time divorcee (now four), I promised myself I would never leave my husband. No matter what, I would make things work.
One-year later, before even walking the graduation stage at college, I landed my dream job. I was offered the role of producing both the 6 pm and 10 pm newscasts for a CBS affiliate making $28,000 a year! No, the year was not 1987. Try 2007, and the offer was several thousand more than I expected. I was elated.
The only problem was it was half a country away from my husband, who was still finishing his degree, despite being five years older than me.
After several arguments that included him telling me I was selfish for wanting the job, we finally agreed I would take it while he finished his last year in school. My mother flew to Iowa with me to tour apartments, some of which were actually situated in the middle of corn fields.
Ten months in a long-distance relationship can teach you a lot. For me, I discovered something I had been trying to avoid since high school. My sexuality was not quite so black and white. Actually, it was a little more on the rainbow side.
Not even a year into my first big girl job, I got a call from the boss of the TV station I had interned at. He had a job for me -- a promotion to a bigger market! Granted, it would actually be a pay decrease, and instead of working 11-hour shifts starting around one in the afternoon, I would be working 11-hour shifts starting at midnight in a newsroom so cold that I would try to type with mittens and would make hot cups of tea throughout the night just so I could hover over them and feel the steam on my frozen fingers. All while rewriting the same crappy story four different ways so it sounded “fresh” for each hour of our morning news program. Television is nothing if not glamorous and well paying.
While my career expectations were beginning to quickly plummet, I was also battling with being back with my husband, trying to make a marriage work that I knew was becoming jaded even faster than my local-news-ridden mind.
I was an independent twenty-something who had never really lived a single life. He was controlling and wanted a nuclear family with a wife who also brought home a paycheck. We never had sex. We argued most of the time.
Our biggest saving grace for surviving the six months after I moved back was that we rarely saw each other since I worked overnights and he worked a 9 to 5.
Also, I was sitting pretty heavily on the “mostly gay” side of the Kinsey scale.
The best thing about working overnights is no one can judge you if you drink at 10 in the morning.
“It’s our 5 o’clock,” my co-workers and I would joke.
After fighting with my husband about going to marriage counseling together (he pretty much refused), I was beginning to drink a lot more. So before lunchtime on a weekday, while folding laundry, I was about three-quarters deep into a bottle of prosecco and texting -- OK, flirting -- with my best work friend when it happens.
"I like girls," I texted.
"Meet me at TGI Fridays," she replied.
Girl’s got class.
A couple of months later I was laying face-down on her floor crying about how I was a failure because I was a 23-year-old divorcee. My husband kept the house we had bought. I could not afford it with my $27,000 salary.
He had overseen all our finances, yelling at me one time because I purchased a tennis racket without telling him. My paychecks went to pay miscellaneous bills. His paychecks paid the bigger bills and probably went into financially responsible things like 401ks and stock. I never really asked, though now I know I should have.
He also had a decent savings thanks to his parents being good investors. I had secret debt thanks to the credit card I had taken out when I lived five states away, following the tennis racket incident. I could not even afford a lawyer to go through with the divorce.
Together, we hired an attorney to settle everything out of court for us. He gave me some cash to cover part of the equity in the house from the sizable amount we put down. My settlement was only about a fifth of that amount, but it was also my freedom.
I moved in with my best friend’s brother an hour away from work since the rent was only $300 a month. I traded in my car and bought a convertible, since he had refused to let me get one when we were married. 23-year-olds are not typically known for their financial prowess and the car payment was more than my rent, but to me, it was a physical manifestation of my freedom.
One-year later, I was sneaking with my best friend off to Connecticut (one of only five states same-sex couples could marry at the time, hooray for the Supreme court!) to elope in secret. I quit my job and went back to school to get a second degree. Over the course of two years, I had gone through a stereotypical midlife crisis before I was even halfway to midlife.
My convertible sadly died a few months ago, but my second marriage is going strong at more than five years. We are in a long-distance relationship and deal with the struggles of that, but we talk about finances and plan our future together, not one-sided.
I make a significant amount more working in my new career now than I did before, though I will be paying off school for the rest of my life. I joke that I don’t date, I just get married, and while there have been occasions when I wondered if I regret that, when I watch people swipe left or swipe right in chance of finding some sort of companionship, I realize overall, I’ve been pretty lucky.
I’m always wary when people get married around the same age I did the first time, but I try never to talk them out of it like so many people did to me (even if they were eventually right that, at least for me, it would not work).
I turn 30 this year and I know I have been through a whirlwind. While I do have regrets, they have shaped who I am.
For my 30 birthday, I have promised myself I will get the tattoo (my first!) I have wanted since the day I got divorced. It’s a quote from Alice in Wonderland, and my daily guidance to not live in the past but focus on the present: “I can’t go back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”