REAL LIFE RELATIONSHIPS: When happily ever after doesn’t include ‘I do’

Illustration by Elizabeth Landt for the AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Illustration by Elizabeth Landt for the AJC

My wedding was the fairytale so many women dream about: the enchanted castle, the Cinderella-style ball gown, the handsome groom, the black Mercedes S-class with “just married” sprayed on the trunk and a bouquet of white balloons securely fastened to the back.

Why am I getting married? That question entered my mind as I walked down the aisle, my right arm locked inside my father’s elbow as he guided me past smiling guests. One hundred and eighty-five friends and family looked on, eagerly awaiting me to say “I do” to the love of my life, my soulmate, my knight in shining armor.

With tears now streaming down my face, I could see how pleased everyone was. They smiled and cried and thanked God I had finally found someone who could tolerate the little tomboy who always spoke her mind. I wanted nothing more than to please them all.

I never thought of myself as a people-pleaser, but when it came to that wedding, I wanted everyone to know that I was trying to get it right. I was 37, a recent nursing school grad and a single mom to a 13-year-old girl whose biological father was absent. It was time to settle down with a man who would love me, care for me and raise my daughter as his own.

The only problem was, I wasn’t in love with the man I tearfully said “I do” to. He was not the love of my life and not some shiny armored knight. I didn’t feel like Cinderella as I stood before my friends and family that day. I felt more like Rapunzel, trapped in a relationship with a man I allowed to control and smother me and my desires.

I wasn’t one of those women who fantasized about weddings and “happily ever after.” Many of my friends were married, and most of them didn’t appear to be that happy. The husbands complained about a lack of intimacy and cheated on their wives. I couldn’t imagine being with the same person for the rest of my life, and I didn’t want to be the wife of a cheating husband.

Marriage, in my view, was a prison sentence, one of the ways women are locked down and controlled by society. I valued my freedom and loved to do exactly as I wanted when I wanted.

I desired both men and women but I didn’t share those experiences or thoughts with my ex-husband. The time I told him the truth about my sexual relationship with one of my good friends, he demanded that I end that 20-year friendship. After that, I decided not to divulge any more of my secrets or past partners to him.

That was one of the many reasons why I could never truly love him. I never felt safe enough with him to share my inner self.

My tearful vows were not from joy but from the fear I was making one of the biggest mistakes of my life. It was too late to back out of the marriage, at least that’s what I thought. I felt obligated to see it through.

He had ended his first marriage and had taken care of my daughter and me while I completed my accelerated nursing program. For most of that year, I was emotionally and oftentimes physically unavailable, which led to arguments and short break-ups. After I graduated, I thought I owed it to him to give the relationship a chance, but things never got better. Once he proposed and I said yes, I didn’t want people to judge me for turning back. I believed my worth as a woman would be validated through my marriage. But it didn’t feel right. It felt forced and unrealistic.

Six months after the wedding, my daughter asked me why I was so mad all the time. That was the moment I decided I’d had enough and asked my husband for a divorce. When our short marriage ended, I vowed to always be myself and to never allow another person to manipulate and change me. Once I started practicing transparency in my relationships, I found true happiness in being exactly who I was sexually and emotionally.

I have been divorced for 10 years, and my only relationship since my marriage was an open one. In that relationship, I found pleasure in sharing my partner with other women. I never thought it was possible to love a person and share his time, attention and affection.

He had no need for a one-man woman because he wasn’t a one-woman man. I couldn’t believe I had finally found someone who understood the necessity of variety in a relationship. That relationship empowered me to be the kind of woman I longed to be.

We can’t be too loud, too proud or too sexual. We must submit and behave appropriately or risk rejection from those we seek to appease. I choose liberation over conformity, freedom over suppression, and fornication over virtue. I don’t need a man or marriage to validate my womanhood. I am the only one who can dictate what love is, what sex means and the role each plays in my life.

I discovered I wasn’t a fan of the monogamous construct, traditional relationships or normative views on how women should behave. I embraced the non-monogamous culture, and it became a lifestyle.

Now, I fashion my relationships around my own needs, and those who wish to be in my life must be on board with who I am. I was lost for the first 35-years of my life. What I’ve found since is the strength to live my life unapologetically while fulfilling my wildest fantasies every step of the way.

Sahar Taylor is an author, media personality and lifestyle relationship coach who curates lifestyle events catering to the Black experience. Sahar uses her own experiences in her books, events and coaching to help others decide if non-monogamy is right for them and to navigate consensual non-monogamy once they’ve begun their new lifestyle.

Real Life Relationships is a monthly reader-contributed essay that explores the many ways in which we are connected and the all of the emotions those connections can bring into our lives. Interested in contributing? Email nedra.rhone@ajc.com with the subject line “Real Life Relationships.” Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/).