I stood at the altar in a lavender dress, clutching a bouquet and watching my best friends. I had been there to witness them meet, fall in love, and now marry. I joked that if I hadn't been a bridesmaid I wouldn't have known which side to sit on, as I considered both the bride and groom two of the dearest friends in the world.
I had stood in weddings before, and I had observed more ceremonies than could be counted. But I had never seen one like this. Not where the love of the bride and groom was so palpable, where their eyes spoke forever and it seemed to be just the two of them up there at the front of the church. In a room full of people---a church so packed that the upstairs gallery was full---their presence was all that mattered, they alone filled the space. I knew their love to be true, the truest I had ever known, and I stood awestruck, tears in my eyes, incapable of looking away.
I knew I didn't have what they had. Not by a long shot.
I spent the night dancing away with my boyfriend, a man I tolerated but didn't seem to like all that much. I heard the jokes and the laughter, the "you're next," and "soon we'll be dancing at your wedding." And it struck me hard then---this was true. If I kept on this path, it would happen. I would stand up there in front of everyone and cheapen what I had just witnessed by vows that could only be half truths.
It was as if he had just appeared in my life, and I hadn't wanted to experience the inconvenience of getting him out of it. After a history of falling for bad guys, I promised myself I would keep a good guy around, no matter what. No matter if I really loved him. No matter if I cringed when he kissed me. I was tired of being the girl who attended weddings alone. I was weary of the grandparents' laments of my singleness. When I began dating him, suddenly everyone was happy for me, seemed more comfortable with who I was---my status in life---and my value in others' eyes appeared heightened. Not because I was any different. Just because I was in a relationship.
I woke up the next morning, feet sore from the high heeled dancing, groggy from the mimosas I'd imbibed, but certain of what I had to do. Two days later I broke up with him. Though I felt bad hurting him, the moment it was done, I felt a flood of relief enveloping me. I was happier than I had been in months.
Watching my best friends wedding ceremony, I took my own vows along with them. I promised myself that it would have to be love. Real love. If it wasn't love, I wouldn't be with a man. And if that meant I never found a man, that was the way it was going to have to be. I ached to think that would also mean no children, trembled at the thought of a life all alone, winced at the pity of others---but I stuck to it. God didn't want me living a lie. He had better plans for me than that.
Years passed. My mother would listen as I critiqued my latest date. And if he was a good man, or even halfway okay, she would inevitably remind me that there might not be many more chances. Why don't you like him? He's a perfectly good man. What is the matter with you? A few times I tried to make myself feel something I couldn't. But forcing myself never worked. I always returned to the promise I had made myself, that I had made to God as well.
I watched as other girls married because it was the required next step in their relationship. Because they were afraid to be alone. Because they wanted children. Because often a life with someone is easier than one alone. (I said easier, not better.) But I held fast to my decision.
And then, one month from my thirtieth birthday, he arrived. He was better than anything I could have imagined or hoped for. I had never hoped for so much. Suddenly the waiting all made sense. What some might have seen as my gamble, others the power of my convictions, paid off. There was somebody for me out there. I found him. And I loved him.
Funny thing is, he was present for that wedding, too. He was also a member of the wedding party. He witnessed that undeniable love just as I did. I like to think being present in that moment---together even though we were unaware of it---we took our first steps toward the great love we now share.