I found out on New Year's eve. In an email. Just a couple of sentences to tell me that the "fairy tale" was over. As was the marriage. I felt completely sideswiped.
But after five years of writing the Vows wedding column at The New York Times, it was inevitable that one of the couples would eventually get divorced.
I found myself taking the news to heart. I remembered the wedding vividly -- the buoyant bride with a radiant expression on her flushed face, the earnest guitar-playing bridegroom eager to start a family. I know the divorce statistics in the U.S. but statistics are cold comfort when a relationship ends. I had so many questions: When did the feelings change? Or were they never real to begin with?
Though I'm a single man who has yet to wed, I consider a marriage vow to be a commitment "till death do us part" (which might explain why I'm still single). I felt personally disappointed, as if in selecting people for the Vows column I was also determining which people would sustain their relationship. Finding out this couple's marriage had failed made me feel like I had also failed, and it made me question if I had been accurate in my "reporting" of their love.
At the Times, it makes no difference if you're writing an article about a wedding or a Page One story, you're expected to do thorough investigating and rigorous fact-checking. But can love be fact-checked?
I often spend 80 hours working on a wedding column. I do lengthy interviews with brides and bridegrooms, their friends and family and even their officiants. I'm always on the lookout for inconsistencies or embellishments. Stories that are too good to be true usually are, and when I hear someone describe their mate as "perfect," it's a red flag. "Perfect" is not an option in politics or marriage. People with strong, healthy relationships acknowledge that. I steer clear of the others.
Admittedly, I favor stories of grand passion, and I gravitate toward couples who overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to be together. Not everyone is fortunate enough to find a "big love." But these are the people who do. Their weddings give me hope. What did their divorce give me?
If I couldn't accurately identify true love when I was in the role of objective observer, I doubted my ability to recognize it if and when I found it for myself. As a journalist, my job is knowing when people are lying to me -- and when people are lying to themselves. I didn't understand how I could have missed the signs. Unless I didn't.
Maybe I preferred to believe I got the story wrong, because the alternative was to acknowledge something even worse: Love that comes only once in a lifetime doesn't always last a lifetime.
It violates the premise of every romantic comedy ever written. Naïve as it may seem, I sincerely believed that love can conquer all (and maybe that's why I'm still single). I'm sadder but wiser now, and the next wedding will not be the same as the ones that came before. For better and for worse.