How Does It Feel to Be a Single Divorcee at a Wedding?

If you're going to a wedding without a swim buddy, rain or shine, you have to know what to expect. Or leave your Blackberry in your hotel to avoid needy impulse texting.
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I've been to two weddings since my divorce. The first was a cousin's wedding that I attended with my parents and ex-boyfriend, and the second wedding was a close family friend's where I had my sisters and parents to sit with; they served as a security blanket.

I recently attended the wedding of a new friend. It was a spur of the moment decision that came about when he was kind enough to invite me, and I was honored. I originally had plans with a romantic prospect, but in the weeks leading up to it, I sensed they were going to fall through. The guy and I didn't have any longevity in the cards, including the week leading up to Labor Day.

When he canceled, I was relieved, and seized the opportunity for adventure -- a wedding in gorgeous Vermont where I could spend some time alone, celebrate a momentous day with my friend and his bride, and perhaps meet some new people. When a married friend of mine heard I was going, she said, "Maybe you'll meet someone! I met my husband at a wedding!"

I arrived the night before the wedding and enjoyed the few hours leading up to the rehearsal dinner luxuriating in my aloneness. I had declined getting a ride from New York City and instead I took the train to Albany followed by a taxi for the long drive to Manchester, so that I could read and spend time in my head. I took a bath, ordered a bottle of wine for one, and then agreed to join a group of people (some I knew and some I didn't) for drinks.

When I walked into the bar and sat down at the table, I wasn't prepared for what I discovered next.

Every person at the table was in their late twenties or early thirties, and sitting next to their plus one. They were all in a relationship. Two of the couples were engaged. I was the single odd gal out.

When one of the girls began excitedly talking about her own wedding plans, something dawned on me. And without thinking, I blurted, "Today is what would have been my eleven year wedding anniversary."

Record scratch. Followed by a few empty stares (and one undisguised look of pity.) "You're divorced?"

"Yeah," I replied. "But I'm okay! I'm not sad. Really."

How's that for some rain on a hopeful marriage parade?

The following day I went into town to have lunch and to enjoy some outlet mall retail therapy. When I walked by a quaint restaurant, I experienced a strange deja vu sensation. I had been here before. Had I blocked it out? And then it occurred to me that I had been to Manchester over a decade ago with my ex-husband and ex-mother-in-law.

The wedding was exquisite, held at the Hildene grounds of Lincoln's historical mansion. The ceremony was held outside in the lush rose garden. I felt as if I had been dropped into the middle of a fairytale. And the weather was perfect.

Until it wasn't.

An hour into dinner, the sky grew black and the winds fierce, thrashing the grand tent and knocking over wine glasses. What followed was an hour of torrential downpour and a tornado watch on Vermont. The guests were relocated into the living room of the mansion and sat along the staircase, hands empty because the bar was abandoned out in the downpour. But they adapted. The bride and groom danced in the small space before the fireplace, and the father of the bride gave a moving speech.

I couldn't resist the obvious metaphor. We plan for perfection. We hope for flawlessness, but of course, there is no such thing. Instead, we learn to adapt quickly, and revel in the mess that can show life at its most beautiful.

My wedding on that day eleven years ago was what you would call flawless, weather included. Friends called for months to say it was the best wedding ever. "It was perfect!" As if it was an omen that our marriage would be too.

When the rain dissipated and we all moved back outside to our tables, I was surprised to feel a jolt of sadness. But I didn't miss my ex-husband. I missed my ex-boyfriend with whom I had recently experienced a rekindling.

In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised. Weddings will do that to you. Even if you're relatively happy on your own and enjoying your independence, witnessing the merging of two people and celebrating life-long companionship is going to expose the absence of it in your own life. Especially if you've already had a taste of matrimonial bliss before.

So I shouldn't have been mad at myself for texting my ex-boyfriend that I wished he was there. But I was. Why hadn't I been more prepared? Why hadn't I packed my emotional baggage more carefully with the proper armor to defend against loneliness?

If given the option to do it over again, I would still go. I was glad to be there. But next time -- and a note to all yea single women -- if you're going to a wedding without a swim buddy, rain or shine, you have to know what to expect. Or leave your Blackberry in your hotel to avoid needy impulse texting.

My two close girlfriends who are also divorced are both in serious relationships and contemplating marriage number two. They both want to have a small ceremony, a party, or perhaps not any kind of public celebration at all. Like me, they are still optimistic about marriage but have demystified the rosy fairytale aspect of it. I wondered what they would be thinking had they been there with me. Would they be viewing the young engaged couples at my table, or the bride and groom, through lenses marred -- or sharpened -- by experience? Do those of us who have already been married see wedding celebrations differently?

The answer came to me when I remembered what an older woman said to me on the shuttle ride to the wedding: "Trust me. It's even better the second time."