Canada, North America, Toronto

What I Wish Someone Told Me When I Was 26.

August 8, 2013

This is my own personal spin on the whole “What I wish someone told me” meme that’s so popular on the Internet these days.

It’s also a chance for me to be more personal here on my blog, which is something I don’t do often and would possibly like to do so more. To be honest, I’ve been feeling rather hesitant about publishing this post but am excited at the same time, as I’ve been wanting to take my blog in a new direction and make it more meaningful somehow. Perhaps, this could be one of those ways? 

My Personal Story

Why such a specific age? Well, my 26th year was a life-changing one. I was a mess. I’d even go as far to say that my life was a complete disaster.

A lot of people don’t know this but I married at 25 and a mere 18 months later, I found myself legally separated when a seven year relationship came to a tragic end.

I’m still not sure why we ever married. Our relationship was an unhappy one to begin with and yet somehow we continued blindly down the path that society conditions us to follow “Go to school, get a job, get married, buy a house, have children …”

Cheryl Howard Travels The World

The Engagement

I remember the day he proposed. We’d spent a romantic weekend in Ontario’s cottage country. I’d had a feeling that he was about to propose and was thrilled about the pending nuptials, as any girl rightfully would be in that situation.

The setting couldn’t have been better – it was a crisp, late afternoon in October. We took a long walk together on the beach. He started talking about our future together, expressed his love and even recited a poem he’d written just for me.

Yet when he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him, I felt numb and even dead inside. I dumbly stared at the engagement ring and wondered how many carats were in the diamond, as it was sparkling brighter than any jewel I’d ever seen.

Here I was in the midst of this very special moment and I was simply underwhelmed. I went through the motions, kissing him and of course, saying yes. I didn’t see any other option, even though my instincts were telling me it was wrong. I thought there was no way that I could say no to the man I’d loved for so very long. Wasn’t this the “natural step” for us?

The Parents

Two months later I moved in with him and his very traditional Asian parents. While I appreciated his parents’ generosity to allow me to move in, pay off debts and save for our future, moving in was just another bad decision.

Being a fairly independent and free spirited girl who’d been living on her own since the age of 18, it was a big adjustment to say in the least. I had to keep them informed of my whereabouts at all times. I needed to ask for permission to do things. I was saddled with new and unexpected domestic responsibilities. It was expected that I follow their cultural norms and be obedient and subservient.

As I wasn’t paying rent, I didn’t mind the domestic chores. It was really the least I could do. I liked learning about their culture, especially if it meant that I’d get to eat some tasty Asian dishes or learn about their heritage. I especially adored the closeness of their family, as it was so different than anything I knew from my own experiences.

What I didn’t appreciate was being judged each and every day. They saw me as this white Canadian girl who came from a family that wasn’t any good. We weren’t wealthy and had a long history of divorce. I wasn’t seen as successful as I had debt and wasn’t earning as much as their son. They didn’t recognize that was debt was purely from student loans and that I put myself through school without much support from my family and by working two part-time jobs. Or that I was the very first person in my family to ever complete post secondary school.

Despite my work around the house, trying the language, frequent bowing (yes!) and even converting to Catholicism, my efforts were never enough. I was constantly criticized. I was told I needed to cook and clean more, that I didn’t know the language well enough and needed to go to church (especially confession) more frequently.

There came a point when I realized I’d never measure up to their high standards. I wasn’t Asian and nothing I could do would change this. Hardly a day passed without a complaint that brought me to tears. They resented me and I them. Bitterly, I stopped putting in as much of an effort. They failed to treat me with respect and accept me for who I was. I never asked for so much from my husband so why was so much expected from me? This was the central theme of many arguments (and trust me there were many) we had.

Cheryl Howard Travels The World

The Wedding

A year passed and we got married. Our wedding day was filled with one bad omen after another.

His mother forced us to do a last minute confession with the priest just minutes before the wedding ceremony. The priest asked me a very intimate and very inappropriate question and I lied in response for fear he wouldn’t marry us. Yes, I lied to a priest during confession!

When we tried to light our unity candle, it wouldn’t light.

My husband got so drunk at the reception that he puked all over me and my beautiful wedding dress as we travelled in our limo enroute to our honeymoon suite. When we reached our hotel room, he drunkenly took a shower and forgot to close the curtain. I was forced to clean up a flooded bathroom floor, still sporting my dress and tiara as he passed out for the night in our bed.

Not exactly the wedding day and night that most girls spend their lives dreaming about! I totally deserve a “do-over” someday later in life.

Moving Out

We soon bought a townhouse in Toronto and moved out of his parents’ home. Our lives together only got slightly better, despite the escape from the constant judgement, demands and pressure from his parents.

He told me he hated our new place and would have preferred to live with his parents longer so we could save up and move to a big house in the suburbs.

I responded by saying that if he wanted me to maintain my sanity and our marriage to survive, it was imperative that we move out as soon as possible. What’s more, I never ever wanted to move to the suburbs. Do I really seem like the white picket fence, mini-van owning, soccer mom type to you?

So there we were. We should have been a happy couple, right? Instead, we were the exact opposite. Fights, sobbing, slammed doors, lost tempers were all too frequent. He was almost never home, typically coming home at 2:00 AM on a weekday leaving me home alone, worried and frantic.

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Ending the Marriage

We were out grocery shopping together when he asked me a question. I said “pardon” because I didn’t hear him clearly. I had to ask him to repeat himself again as he was mumbling. Frustrated he began yelling and screaming at me in the middle of the store. Humiliated, I burst into tears and asked that he stop his verbal and public assault. So caught up in his rage, he failed to recognize his surroundings.

That night he told me he didn’t love me anymore.

There was my chance for freedom! Yet, I pleaded with him to stay, work on our marriage, even attend counselling. He reluctantly agreed. Splitting up didn’t seem like an option.

In the months that followed, I lost more than 30 pounds and shrunk four clothing sizes. I slept on the floor in our bedroom as I couldn’t bear being in the same bed with him. I was even on meds to try and stave off the depression.

It eventually came out that he was being unfaithful and he had been for a very long time. Not so unexpected considering the state of our marriage. We very obviously weren’t happy with ourselves or one another. The love and friendship had disappeared somewhere along the way.

During this time, he actually berated me telling me that I was boring, that his new girlfriend was more athletic and better looking. He asked why I didn’t earn as much money as her, ignoring the fact she had a higher level of education, was seven years older than me and therefore had been in the workforce much longer, and of course had a higher income. 

He failed to acknowledge his controlling ways and how I’d gradually lost my identity over the years. How could I manage to be interesting considering he didn’t allow me to have friends outside of work or permit me to do anything on my own. He destroyed any sense of independence I’d ever had.

He left me and moved in immediately with her, something which hurt me quite deeply. It was as if I never meant anything at all. That our seven years had been nothing. 

I was embarrassed that I’d let this happen to me. I thought – I should’ve been stronger. I never should’ve married him. I should’ve stood up for myself. Even now, I’m embarrassed when I think back to that time.

I was also at a loss about how to move forward. How would I survive on my own? How would I support myself financially? How would I ever love someone else? How could I make new friends on my own, friends that weren’t his?

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What I Wish Someone Told Me

What I didn’t know was that a new chapter of my life was about to begin. One that was exciting, fun, and full of adventure. Which brings me to the point of this post “What I wish someone told me when I was 26.”

  1. The pain will eventually dull.
  2. The future’s bright and many good things are coming your way.
  3. The ending of your marriage is one of the best things that will ever happen to you.
  4. That it won’t take long to discover that life without him is better than life with him.
  5. Making new friends is going to be super easy. A day will come when you’ll have more friends than you ever need. In fact, they’ll be spread around the world. You’ll consider some of them family.
  6. You’ll love another more deeply, passionately and joyously.
  7. You’ll own your own home someday.
  8. Your “family” will grow to include an adorable Persian cat named Izzy.
  9. Career advancement will happen. You’ll someday earn more money than his girlfriend.
  10. You’ll be anything but boring. It will start with bartending lessons and salsa classes, to cooking courses and playing sports like ultimate frisbee and floor hockey. It will lead to worldwide travel and amazing experiences like dressing up as a princess to eat dinner in a Portuguese castle, paragliding through the Italian Alps and attending runway shows at Berlin fashion week.
  11. You’ll move halfway across the world to start fresh in Berlin, not once but twice!
  12. Time will pass and you will forgive him and most of all yourself.
  13. Best of all, you’ll find happiness along the way.
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34 Comments

  • Reply Scott Marquardt August 8, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    Really appreciate you sharing this very personal story. I can totally relate, having come out of a 10 year relationship just a couple years ago, then saying “screw it” to everything and traveling the world. Oh the things I would tell my 29 year old self….

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 9, 2013 at 5:25 am

      Scott – Thanks for sharing as well. I think you made a good choice as you’ve been on such an amazing journey!

  • Reply Tristan Cuschieri August 8, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Wonderful post, Cheryl. Thank you for sharing your story. 🙂

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 9, 2013 at 5:14 am

      Tristan – thank you so much for reading. It wasn’t the easiest of posts to publish. 🙂

  • Reply Roma August 8, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Brutally raw. While reading this , I found myself nodding along in agreement. Muttering mm-hmms or ‘yep been there’ or ‘ooh yes I remember that’.

    It hit a raw nerve that has me sitting here with tear stained cheeks, a nerve I thought I’d long buried. You know you tried, you know should have gotten out earlier, but you stayed to try and make the best of it. It wasn’t meant to be… That doesn’t mean you failed, because you tried.

    Kudos for having the guts to open the wound and explore such a personal experience.

    R.x

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 9, 2013 at 5:16 am

      Roma – Awww, sorry to have made you shed tears! And for sure, I think so many of us have stayed in relationships (or other situations) longer than needed. It’s so hard but always for the best to leave an unhappy situation.

  • Reply fotoeins | Henry August 8, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    Cheryl, thank you for your candor. I can only imagine how difficult it was to write this piece, and the time leading to the moment where you finally clicked on the “submit” button.

    As painful as the recollections are, I must say I dig the smiling photos throughout. The photos provide a great counter to the text, and tell me specifically that the new you is much happier. Every new day is a beautiful day.

    Hope to see you in Berlin!

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 9, 2013 at 5:19 am

      Henry – Thanks for reading! For sure, this was not easy to write but it felt good.

      And that’s exactly why I posted those photos – to show what a long way I came – literally! First photo is taken on a beach in the Galapagos, second one at Dead Woman’s Pass along the Inca Trail, third one on the Selaron Steps in Rio de Janeiro and the last one was in the Italian Alps. 😀

  • Reply deborah August 8, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    There’s a lot to that old saying ‘what doesn’t kill, you makes you stronger.’ Had you not strayed off course while you were still young and learning to find yourself, you may never have ended up where you are today.

    But no doubt you did find yourself, and your marriage and divorce was important in the journey. I’m sure many of us expats have similar stories… my own was not far off! It takes a lot of courage to finally jump from the nest!

    Keep it up, living life the fullest. I’m sure you are influencing others who are in their own self-discoveries. No doubt one day our paths will cross and we’ll raise a glass to our wayward, misguided paths… and the fabulous adventures they preceeded!

    A bientot!

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 9, 2013 at 5:24 am

      Deborah – Yes, so very true! I agree completely. It’s very hard to see while you’re in the moment of despair but you come to see it later on. I’ve since been in some other tough situations and I always think back to that time of my life and know that I’ll be able to get through any future things that come up.

      I’d love to hear your story over drinks someday! That would be amazing. Let me know if you ever visit home in Canada. 🙂

  • Reply Andrea August 8, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    It’s so generous of you to share such a personal story and I can relate to a lot of what you said. But in the end you changed your life for the better, you’re stronger and living the life you want. xx

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 9, 2013 at 5:27 am

      Hey Andrea! Thanks for your kind comment. I’m definitely so much happier now and excited about things to come. Hope we can meet somewhere in the world again someday, would love to hear your story. xo

  • Reply Adam August 8, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    Cheryl – you totally rocked this.

    Thanks for sharing your story so publicly. Also: I love your positivity!!! xoxox

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 9, 2013 at 5:28 am

      Adam! Thank you so much. I already miss you. 🙂

  • Reply Jonathan Lin August 8, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Wow this is very powerful. Thank you for sharing.

    I am 3/4 of the way through that list, and would like to add to your note for your 26 year old self that:

    14) one day you will learn to write and communicate with such power and honesty that people from all around the world will want to read and listen to your words.

  • Reply Cheryl Howard August 9, 2013 at 5:29 am

    Jonathan – Thank you for visiting and leaving such a kind comment! <3

  • Reply Leanne Cameron August 9, 2013 at 10:22 am

    Cheryl I can relate and as i read your blog i simultaneously did the yep, yep, yep, akin to the aliens from sesame street. Ending a marriage can be the best thing that ever happens to you once you accept it needs to happen, our stories are obviously different, but i am living a more passionate joyful life now despite financial struggles i never experienced in my marriage. Things evolve and do become better, time adds perspective and peace, its a gift. good luck to you!

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 10, 2013 at 3:05 am

      Leanne, thank you. Glad to hear that you are now leading a happier and more full life.

  • Reply ebe August 9, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    That took a lot of guts to share! You are such an adventurous, interesting person that as painful as this path must have been you seem to have landed in a good place.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 10, 2013 at 3:04 am

      Ebe – Yeah, it was a tough one to publish and may or may not have taken some liquid courage. And thanks for the kind words. I’m totally happy now. 🙂

  • Reply Arienne August 9, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Wow Cheryl, what an incredible post. Thank you for being open, honest, and (I know it’s scary but) vulnerable. I now how hard it is to put something so personal out on the “world wide web” for all to read but in doing so it’ll help someone going through the exact same feelings. It also serves as a bit of a personal release at the same time. You’re an amazing, strong individual and it’s great to see how you can reflect on the situation, forgive yourself, and see how far you’ve come since then. 🙂

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 10, 2013 at 3:17 am

      Arienne – Thank you. For sure, these things are not so easy to post and you’re right, it is a form of release. Hope to see you soon! 😀

  • Reply Scott August 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    Amazing post Cheryl! Brutally honest and powerful, and I think we can all relate in some way. I know I can. Thanks for being so open and vulnerable, as that’s what makes it easier to relate to and so moving. I didn’t get to know you well when we worked together, but your strength and courage shines through all that you have done and accomplished. Keep writing Cheryl and I’m looking forward to reading along.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 13, 2013 at 3:42 am

      Hi Scott! Thank you for reading and your kind comments. Hopefully, this post can be helpful to others somehow too.

  • Reply Sean Bailey August 12, 2013 at 7:59 am

    Fantastic post, Cheryl.

    It’s great to come to the realization that when anything happens in life, it happens for a reason. These events shape who you are as terrible as they can be at times.

    Sean

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 13, 2013 at 3:43 am

      Thanks Sean! You are very right. I’ve come to believe that more and more as time goes by.

  • Reply Berlin Insolite & Berlin Touristique August 13, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    You forgot 14:
    14. Fuck the world – do whatever you want
    I wish you a lot of happiness in Berlin. Where life is easy and happy. Believe a true Berlinerin for that 🙂

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 13, 2013 at 5:32 pm

      Thanks so much! I’m in Toronto now but Berlin will also be my home as well.

  • Reply Amelia August 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    What an incredible story! xoxoxoxo

  • Reply Sabrina August 25, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    Found it, and it was worth the search. I can only imagine how tough it was to articulate this so well. Keep up the great work! xo

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 26, 2013 at 11:47 am

      Sabrina – Aww, thanks for reading. Hope to do more posts like this in the future.

  • Reply Jasilyn Albert October 19, 2016 at 7:34 am

    Some of this I can relate to! I’m dating a Russian and as an American I’m used to my independence and having equal gender roles. When my boyfriend and I first started dating he would make comments about how I needed to cook and clean. It made me so mad. Now, he’s more understanding, but sometimes he will make a comment that makes me red in the face!

    I haven’t met his family yet, but luckily they aren’t so strict. I’m actually terrified to meet his mom because Russian women terrify me. Thankfully, he’s talked about me a lot so I think his parents are excited to meet me one day. I think they might have some ideas of gender roles, but not as bad as what you had to deal with.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard October 22, 2016 at 1:53 pm

      Hi Jasilyn –

      Multicultural relationships are certainly a challenge! Glad to hear your boyfriend has become more understanding over time. I certainly get why you’re terrified to meet his mom, but am sure it will go well. 🙂

      My ex-husband’s parents were good people more or less, but the biggest problem was that together, we weren’t a good fit. Despite this, I wish they’d interfered less in our relationship, and let us work out what was good for us. He was liked cooking for example, and got home a couple of hours earlier from work than me. In those cases, it made sense for him to cook. But of course, as I was the “woman”, that responsibility should have fallen to me 100% of the time from their point of view. Thinking back I certainly don’t miss those times and hope that in any future relationship, I won’t have the same issues.

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