As I said my vows, I knew I was marrying the wrong man: One woman"s confession about the most devastating mistake of her life
As I said my vows, I knew I was marrying the wrong man…
2:19 AM on 23rd May 2011
Walking down the aisle, I distinctly remember thinking to myself: ‘I don’t have to do this for ever if it gets too bad. Starter marriages are acceptable these days — almost fashionable. There won’t be too much of a scandal.’
What a terrible thought for a young woman in a 1,000 duchesse satin and lace dress to be having as she walked towards her fianc, standing at the altar. But it was genuinely how I felt at that moment eight years ago.
I was so nervous that when I reached my future husband, Joseph, I blurted out: ‘You look sexy!’
Ready to run: Claire knew her marriage was a mistake, like Julia Robert”s character in the Runaway Bride
It was the worst possible start to our marriage — the second we stepped out of the church, he pulled me towards him with a reprimanding, controlling grimace. ‘How could you say “You look sexy” in a church’ he hissed. ‘I wish you had more decorum.’
It didn’t get any better. Our week-long honeymoon in the Seychelles was marred by a panic attack in which I honestly thought I was going to die and recurring nightmares that I was being suffocated. Whatever had I done
To think, it had started so promisingly.
I was working in publishing when I met Joseph, a banker in the City, in a pub in Notting Hill, West London, when we were both 24. I was instantly impressed by his quick wit, fine brain and love for Broadway musicals.
He wasn’t my usual type, but my spirit had just been broken by the epitome of my usual type (a tall, fair, sporty lad with bucket loads of swagger). So I stumbled, dragging my weeping heart and shattered confidence behind me, into Joseph’s all-too-eager arms.
When, one year later, a sapphire ring was produced on a holiday in Spain, I loved the romance of it all — and the security and comfort I felt from knowing that a man wanted me. I loved being his priority, and ignored the tugging, uneasy feelings I had that this relationship was just a confidence-booster, a temporary filip rather than solid and everlasting.
I turned a blind eye to other warning signs — that my friends and family didn’t like how he spoke to me and thought he was trying to turn me into someone I wasn’t. I decided they simply didn’t know the real him.
‘We don’t understand why you want to get married,’ my mum pleaded with me at an emergency family conference soon after our engagement. ‘Why do you want to trap yourselves so early on into a relationship that could run its course in a few years’
‘How dare you! I love him!’ I barked back.
My divorced parents — who had not spoken to each other for more than ten years — presented a united front in the hope of shaking some sense into me.
‘But, darling, listen to the warning bells in your head. We’ve heard you argue, seen how he treats you. Do you really think this young man can make you happy for ever’ my dad said.
‘I know what I’m doing,’ I answered quietly. ‘You can’t judge me by your own mistakes. Joseph is clever and witty and he’s doing really well in his career.’
Flouncing out, I heard my father say to my mother: ‘He’s not lively enough to keep Claire happy,’ with a sadness in his voice that made me lock myself in that caf’s toilet and weep over what I was about to do.
I won”t: Claire knew her marriage wouldn”t be “till death do them part” when she said her vows
I knew then, unequivocally, that it wasn’t right. But I couldn’t call it off. My pride was too strong and I didn’t want to lose face, especially to the naysayers who had tried to tell me I was making a mistake.
Besides, we’d put down more than 5,000 in deposits for everything from the reception to the limousines. The invitations had gone out, and friends who lived abroad had started to book flights and hotels.
In the weeks before the wedding, I was on an emotional knife edge, knowing in my heart that I was doing the wrong thing but still desperately trying to make it work.
I spent my weeknights flicking through wedding magazines, willing myself to become the glowing bride everyone expected to see — and most weekends crying pathetically and wondering why I was going through with it.
I stuck my head in the sand and hoped for a miracle. I loved him, I just didn’t understand why his actions towards me were sometimes unthinkably cruel and selfish: he’d go out all night and not come home, leaving me torn between hating him for being mean and worried that he’d been hurt.
Not that he brought the best out in me either. Around him, I was needy and insecure, calling and emailing him a dozen times a day, and sulking if he didn’t respond immediately. I must have been a drain on his happiness, an energy vampire.
But we both kept thinking that the other would change after we were married, and that the constant arguing, grumpiness and battles for control were due to the normal stress of organising our nuptials.
Neither of us discussed that we might be heading down a disastrous road, or ever said out loud: ‘Let’s cancel the wedding.’ We were both too pig-headed and young to sit down and talk.
The wedding went ahead, of course, and was fabulous fun for all our 130 guests, who had no idea of my doubts.
Many had flown in from Australia, Canada and Singapore to be with us as we said our vows in a 17th-century church in Surrey which we’d filled with 2,000 worth of flowers and candles. The reception was at an upmarket golf and country club.
No expense was spared and Joseph and I paid for most of the 15,000 bill. My parents had offered to pay for more, but I think my inner guilt stopped me from taking advantage of their generosity; I couldn’t let them struggle to pay for a decadent wedding that would possibly not be my last.
In fact, I had spent more time worrying about the party aspect of it than the commitment, which was a sign to which I should have paid more attention. I was so consumed with the ‘event’ that I was in denial about the future.
I knew within months of tying the knot that my gut reaction had been right and I had made a terrible mistake (Joseph was clearly not happy, too, but also in denial). However, for three years I tried to persuade myself I could save our relationship and save face. I begged Joseph to try couples therapy, but he refused. I tried to bury myself in work, but it wasn’t enough.
We silently agreed to stop having sex, and any physical attraction that we once felt for each other disappeared. We still lived together in our two-bedroom flat in Clapham, South-West London, but otherwise we were leading separate lives.
He’d tried to mould me into his idea of the perfect wife — docile, compliant and quiet — by little things, such as criticising my behaviour on nights out, saying I was ‘too loud’ and trying to turn me against my friends because he didn’t like them.
But I refused to play along; it would have been like having my natural personality removed. He responded to my rebellion by staying out night after night with his colleagues, drinking and partying, while I took holidays on my own just to get away from my sad married life.
It’s no surprise that shortly after our three-year anniversary I decided this was no way to live, so I asked for a trial separation and moved into a friend’s spare bedroom.
No expense spared: But Claire”s “perfect” wedding day didn”t lead to a happy marriage (posed by models)
Afterwards, Joseph felt immense anger towards me. But living away from him protected me from his outbursts, and although we’d communicate via email, I didn’t face the daily drama and fighting.
My overriding emotion was of being a failure and the first few weeks were hell. My friends fell into two camps: those who had seen the writing on the wall and were happy I was finally admitting it, and those who thought I hadn’t tried hard enough.
Perhaps both groups had a point. I started going to therapy on my own, to talk through my decision with a non-biased, objective person and I soon started to flourish again. Admitting out loud all the hidden fears and shame I’d stored up for so long made my decision seem real and my reasons clear.
A pearl engagement ring is said to bring bad luck because its shape echoes that of a tear
Then my family commented on how they’d got the ‘old Claire back’ and I was shocked. I hadn’t realised how obvious my unhappiness had been to them. Their vote of confidence allowed me to imagine a better, easier, happier life. ‘The rest of your life is a long time,’ my mum said. ‘You’re only 29. Be selfish. Think about yourself.’
So, buoyed by my new inner contentment and my family’s support, after a few months of living apart, I asked Joseph for a divorce. ‘I’m sorry,’ was all I could pathetically offer as he flipped between hysterical tears and aggressive threats when I told him in our just-renovated kitchen.
I watched with a coldness and distance that I was shocked by, as if I was looking down on someone else’s defining moment.
‘You can’t change my mind. I’m sorry,’ I said matter-of-factly as he made futile promises to change. I knew he couldn’t.
Too much had gone on between us for me to feel regret at this stage. It may have come as a shock to him, but I’d known since before the wedding that I had to end things. I just hadn’t known how.
So I planned a life without him — without giving him the opportunity to win me back, without me even looking back. Emotionally, I’d checked out. I wanted to cut my losses and put it all down to a stupid mistake in my 20s. I certainly didn’t want to have children with him, and I knew that would have been the expected next step.
And I really didn’t want my heart to feel this cold for ever. I wanted to admit that I had failed and to move on. I had a few months until my 30th birthday and I was, somewhat naively, determined to be happier by then.
Now, five years after my divorce, I’m happily married for a second time. Following a much-needed three-year spell of being single, I met a man who is kind, honest and loves me for who I am rather than what he thinks he can change me into.
And I have never felt such overwhelming love. I’d do anything for him — happily — which is not just a sign that I’ve matured, but that my second husband deserves it.
My second wedding couldn’t have been more different from the first. I wore a simple cream shift dress and we hosted a dinner at a local restaurant for 60. This wasn’t about showing off, this was about true love and the start of our future together. It was the best day of my life.
If I could offer advice to a bride-to-be or future groom who think they could be making a mistake, it would be to listen to those warning bells. Don’t ignore them.
It would have been better for everyone if I’d had the courage to cancel my first wedding before the big day arrived. But, as it was, I wasted everyone’s time and caused a lot of heartbreak — especially my own.