Making a swift 180 down the aisle.
I am generally against personal essays. I think they are undignified. Which is unfortunate for me, because when you get divorced, as I have just done, all anyone wants to know is what happened. I am not that young – but I am young to be divorced. My advice for anyone who feels self-conscious about their age would simply be: don’t get botox, get divorced.
What happened was this. On the day itself, I put the wedding dress on first before getting the creases out. I was too nervous to steam it properly. My hands were trembling.
‘It has wrinkles at the bottom’, my friend said. She looked very beautiful in her own creaseless bridesmaid dress, which was green. She had a dark tan that’s incongruous with her freckles. The overall effect, I felt, looked appropriately Irish.
The photographer was there, trying to be unobtrusive, taking photos in the background. I had only eaten crisps for breakfast, and when I went to the shop to buy them there were several armed police officers in the queue, which I felt was a bad omen. My friend pointed out all police officers in Belfast are armed, which I conceded to be true, but still, it worried me. I convinced her to continue steaming the rest of the wrinkles while the dress was on, which was an insane thing to suggest, but she went along with it because women are allowed to be insane for one day in their entire lives, and that is on their wedding day. The material was thin. Hot air scalded my thighs and I gasped. ‘Sorry’, she said. We agreed, it looked fine.
But the scald scabbed over and scarred. And the scar is still on my thigh. It’s barely perceptible now, but I know it’s there, so I look at it all the time. Every time I look at it, when I get out of the shower or when I’m lying in bed I think: this scar lasted longer than the marriage! It’s a joke I tell myself. And I’m not really laughing, but, sadly, it is funny.
I read an article in which a woman metabolises her young divorce through the break-up of Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn. People keep telling me to read Cleopatra and Frankenstein. Miley Cyrus has got divorced. Sophie Turner is getting divorced. Ariana Grande gets divorced. Every time a celebrity who is under 40 announces their divorce people send it to me, like a personalised push notification. The New York-based website The Cut had a special ‘divorce week’, where they only published content about divorce and people kept sending the articles to me on Instagram and I reply ‘ha ha’.
Someone is going through a break-up and tells me they wish it was a divorce instead, because it is a more socially elegant version of sadness. My boss sent me a link to Emily Ratajkowski saying it is chic to be divorced before 30, and I reply ‘ha ha’. Gisele Bündchen looks hotter after her divorce; everyone agrees this to be something that just happens to women when you get divorced. I do not look like Gisele Bündchen.
The TikTok algorithm keeps suggesting videos where American women with beachy waves and absolutely no lines on their face complain about their ex-husbands. Sometimes people don’t know I am getting a divorce, and then the first thing they ask when they find out is: are you going to write about the divorce? ’No’, I say, ‘obviously not. That would be insane’.
Eventually I just buy into the joke. ‘I am a chic young divorcée’, I tell people, to make them laugh. If I can make them laugh in front of me it makes it easier to deal with what they might say behind my back: like that I am a capricious failure who will die alone. Or something like that. I tell my friend I am ‘not so good, I am getting a divorce’ in the funny voice Billy Crystal does in When Harry Met Sally, to make him laugh, and it works. When I make people laugh I think, good, okay. Everything is fine.
I was a non-smoker for five years but I started smoking again shortly before the wedding. Our favours were glass bowls full of Marlboros, like Mary-Kate Olsen or Chloë Sevigny’s weddings might have. I wanted everyone to think it was cool, but actually people thought they were decorations. I had to carry them around, encouraging our guests to take a pack. Everyone enjoyed this. Most of the guests, even the ones who didn’t smoke, spent a lot of the day hanging out the upstairs windows of the castle or sitting on the steps, chain-smoking duty free fags.
Everyone smoked between courses and after the speeches, which were great because everyone cried. My dress stank of smoke. I’ve put it under the bed because it made me sad to look at it, which was silly because it was very beautiful. I don’t know where my ex-husband has put his suit. He looked very handsome on the day. My mother kept telling me to convince him to shave off his moustache for the photos. ‘I like the moustache’, I said.
I got married in 2022 and divorced almost exactly one year later. In the annals of the young divorcée, my marriage lasted longer than Kim Kardashian’s second one, less than Will Smith’s. Longer than Britney’s first, shorter than her second. I collect all these facts about celebrity weddings in the same way I lean into the cultural trope of the ‘chic young divorcée’, because a cultural event is easier to metabolise than a personal one. If everyone is getting divorced, if people are joking about it and writing articles about it, then it makes it okay that I am getting a divorce.
The trend of young divorce – or, at least, the commitment-phobic urge to flee – is three generations deep in my family. My granny was already engaged when she ran away from her betrothed and ducked in a cinema, only to find she’d sat down beside my bemused grandfather, who demanded to know who she was hiding from. She had her new fiancé a fortnight after this first meeting, and they were married just four weeks later (in their defence, the war, like the pandemic, made people act quite strangely). When he died at 43, she embraced being single for the rest of her life. When we’d ask her as kids when she was going to find another husband she’d say ‘I’ll move on from Billy when it snows in July.’
My mother went one step further. She had already planned her wedding when she decided to call the whole thing off. She donated her dress to a Catholic charity and moved back in with my grandmother – it still hadn’t snowed in July yet – who casually informed her that she ‘never liked him anyway’. She got a second job in a Chinese takeaway to pay for the aborted wedding, where she met my dad by chance a few months later, when he got into a fight outside at 3am. They lived happily ever after. Granted, neither my mother or grandmother got quite as far as I did, but it’s an intense inheritance. Neither of them became part of the chic young divorcée industrial complex, but they passed the urge down and let it multiply instead. Perhaps if I ever have a daughter, she’ll come of age in the era of the chic young annulment.
Weddings are expensive. We rinsed our savings. You never really understand how much people can charge you, straight-faced, to play saxophone inside a castle until you organise a wedding. The price disparity between soup and salad as a starter is alarming. Technically, Catholics can’t charge you to get married in your church, but you’re meant to give a donation to the priest, which we forget to do, and which I feel bad about.
I feel bad about people who gave us money at the wedding, bad that they spent money on hotel rooms and flights to see us, and the saxophonist. Home ownership seems further away. Impossible, even. I don’t have any family in this country. My ex-husband doesn’t want to move back in with his mum. We’ve built a life together and now we have to divide it up into two separate lives again. None of our friends are old enough to have houses with spare rooms in. Sometimes people offer anyway.
‘This is embarrassing’, I say, over WhatsApp. I am always saying ‘this is embarrassing’ over WhatsApp. This is my main hobby lately: being embarrassed. People don’t really know how to deal with this. We’re all too young. Some of us have divorced parents – not me, but my husband does – but that doesn’t really count. We become a cautionary tale. Of hubris, or love, or something.
I feel bad all the time for wasting money, my own and my ex-husband’s. I feel bad for our guests, who flew over and gave us money and bought new outfits. I tell my friends I feel bad about wasting their money by making them fly over and give us money and get a hotel room and buy a new outfit. ‘55 per cent of all marriages end in divorce’, they reply, very practically.
My husband asked me not to write about him after we split up. When he said this, he was reading a story I had published in a magazine, about another man from another lifetime. We were still together then, me and my husband. ‘Oh my god, I obviously won’t.’ I said. ‘We won’t split up anyway. Shut up, that’s so stupid.’
Later I think about how this is also a weird thing for him to have asked me because he of all people knows I make promises I don’t keep.