I wasn’t on horseback and he wasn’t actually at the altar. In fact, it wasn’t even the day of the wedding — but it was close. Balances were paid in full, flights were reserved, and a breathtaking gown awaited its grand debut. Everything — save my own certainty — was finalized for the big day. And then, within a matter of hours, it unraveled to its core. There we stood: two very different people, eye-to-eye, no longer heart-to-heart.
But alas, this isn’t a story about heartbreak. It’s not about the burned bridges or irreparable friendships. It’s not about the financial burden, or the awkward phone calls, the social media attacks or the demand for answers. This is about a lesson in self-discovery, of silver linings and new beginnings. This is about what we can learn about ourselves and those closest to us during life’s rough waters.
When I ran away from that wedding, I let a beautiful new life swallow me whole. Did I look back? Absolutely… but not with a yearning for what was, rather a certainty of what was to come. It was on my journey from the former to the latter that I was blessed with clarity about the magnitude of what I had just survived. For seven years, I had let other people be the dreamers of my dreams. I had held myself responsible for the happiness of those around me and I tried living up to expectations that I had no hand in setting. The day I walked away, all of that changed. In the weeks that followed, what I learned about myself and those who had been in my life was astoundingly humbling.
The demise of my relationship (and basically every other part of my then-life) had happened over the course of an entire year-long engagement. Even so, I waited until just a week before the ceremony to actually call it off. There was a part of me – deep down – that couldn’t let go of the dream; a part that had too much pride to admit that I’d let the charades go on long enough. I was holding on to false hope that somehow I could change the inevitable. Some people said it was cold feet. There were a select few who blamed him, though most everyone (even myself) blamed me. It was a type of blame that I willingly accepted; after all, it was my choice. The truth was more simple than it seemed: I just didn’t want to marry him.
Such truth delivered some lifelong lessons:
When people don’t get answers they feel entitled to, they tend to make up their own versions of the truth.
I was fully aware that my decision to walk away was not accepted with excitement or celebration. People were hurt; families were divided, friendships were put through the fire. Those who had invested in us emotionally and financially were left baffled and felt betrayed; and more than anything they wanted answers.
But, you see, they were merely bystanders. There was no malicious intent to hurt anyone. Calling off a wedding involved me and him, and for that reason alone nobody was rewarded with the answers they so angrily craved. This is where my lesson about acceptance came to fruition. The fact is this: Their anger was only a retaliation of their love, a display of the pure vulnerability of the human heart. Reciprocating that anger wouldn’t have done any good. I couldn’t be angry at the lack of understanding. I had to choose acceptance.
This is about what we can learn about ourselves and those closest to us during life’s rough waters.
Unconditional acceptance brings healing.
I had to accept that those who were intertwined in both of our lives felt hurt. They wanted to seek justification and had to tell themselves whatever they needed to hear so they could process and move on. Just as I had come up with a million reasons to stay in my relationship as long as I had, those closest to both of us were searching for all of the reasons why I left… and I had to accept that for what it was, even if their versions were not truthful. Acceptance brought me joy, and joy encouraged me to press onward.
There is freedom in loneliness.
Venturing out into the world after the dust settled was — at times — an overwhelmingly emotional experience. I saw the world in a new light, as though someone had lifted a grey veil from my eyes. Beauty and opportunity were nearly everywhere. There was an astounding freedom in the loneliness of starting over — a promise that the journey ahead of me would be as fulfilling as I would allow it. For the first time in years, I began to dream my own dreams. I learned to shed the layers of fear and doubt that refused happiness in my relationship with him; on my own I carefully crafted a definition of bliss unique to my beating heart. My life: my choices, my desires, and my journey belonged wholly to me for the first time in my adult years and I began to find my way in the world with grace and excitement.
But it wasn’t always beautiful or painless. Staring into a metaphorical “life mirror” brought challenges that pushed me to grow. In the beginning, I felt raw and exposed. I ached for the friends who had been lost in the wreckage, and for those who were hurting without answers. Though I was solely responsible for my broken heart, I was determined to find purpose in the pain. Perhaps the biggest lesson in all of this was about heartbreak. I learned that:
Our hearts break so that we have the chance to take a deeper look inside.
I don’t believe we are meant to live this life without at least one good heartbreak in our charts; it is simply an opportunity to learn about our limits and the ability to persevere in the face of challenge. As I picked up the broken pieces of who I had been, I carefully examined them for flaws and cracks. I could identify the pieces of me that I didn’t care to put back together, as well as the sacred parts of my character that I wanted to fiercely embody.
It was in the rebuilding of my heart, by aligning my intentions with my character and recognizing certainty within the chaos, that I experienced joy on an unprecedented level. It leaves me breathless to think that the life I wake up to now, almost never was. By leaving the story that wasn’t mine, I was given the power to author a new story, far greater than I once was able to dream.
So, no matter where you are in your pursuit of love and life, seek to know your own heart first. Love with passion, but invest with intention. And most importantly, be the author of a marvelous tale of self-love and happiness.
Images via Bethany Schrock