No One Knew I Was Married for 13 Years

Until one little mistake revealed the truth

Photo: Katrin Ray Shumakov/Getty Images

My entire marriage was a lie.

I don’t mean that my ex-husband was a jerk or a cheater. I mean that literally no one knew I was married except for the three people who attended my tiny little ceremony in the snow on New Year’s Eve of 2005.

Not even my mother knew about my marriage. Why? Because she put so much effort and work into planning my actual wedding, and I didn’t want to take that away from her.

Confused yet?

I’m Canadian and I met my American husband many moons ago. We carried on a long-distance relationship for nearly two years before our secret nuptials in the woods.

Everyone knew we were engaged to be married on June 26, 2006. Both families and all our friends looked forward to that day.

We would be marrying here in Canada, so naturally, my mother took the reins with wedding planning. She was over the moon about designing and hand-making all my invitations and decorations. She and I searched for venues together; my sister purchased my wedding dress for me. It was going to be a grand affair, as so many weddings are.

Here’s where the secret wedding in the woods comes in.

Because my fiancé was American and would be immigrating to Canada, we thought it would be a brilliant idea to pull a shotgun wedding just so we could get a head start on the visa and immigration process. All we needed was a marriage certificate to get started.

This secret was going to the grave with both of us.

So, on that fateful New Year’s Eve, he and I, along with a justice of the peace and two of my best friends, found a cold, snowy spot in a city park and tied the knot.

This secret was going to the grave with both of us. Our plan was still to attend our real wedding, six months down the road, and put on a show for family and friends. Only we would know the truth.

Our real wedding never happened because our relationship didn’t last another six months after the secret wedding. This was as close as I’ll ever get to behaving like a celebrity — the shortest-lived marriage ever.

This relationship fallout made me glad no one knew we were already married. My family could just go on thinking we broke up before investing in such a giant leap.

He and I never pursued divorce, though. It just wasn’t a priority and we went on with our separate lives in Canada and the United States. We did stay friends the entire time, though, texting each other every New Year’s Eve to wish each other a happy anniversary. It was our own little running joke.

Shortly after our 13th anniversary, I decided we should probably cut the invisible tie that bound us, so I started the divorce-filing process. It felt weird filing my taxes as “separated” for so long.

It was time.

During the filing process I needed to make a copy of my marriage certificate, so I went to my mother’s house to use her copier while she wasn’t home. When I left her house I forgot one important detail.

I left the original certificate inside her copy machine, and she found it.

If not for that one little lapse in judgment on my part, to this day no one would have known I was married — except for the two friends who witnessed our wedding in the woods.

I never did get the opportunity to wear my wedding dress. Our secret wedding was done in winter coats and boots. I still have my dress and adore it, even though it probably wouldn’t fit me anymore. But in the event that it would ever fit me again… I’m totally down for a “trash the dress” photo shoot.

This story was published in response to Human Parts’ Weekend Writing Prompt, “What’s a lie you told that everyone still believes? Large or small, life-altering or inconsequential, borne out of fear or ego-inflation or the simple pleasure of deception. Chronicle the lie. Share its origin story and where it led. What are you hiding, and why?” To receive prompts like this one every weekend, subscribe to our newsletter by following Human Parts.

Write like no one is reading, because it might be true. Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.

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