This Isn’t a Fairytale

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Mandy Dawson of Mandyland


Mandy Dawson is the author of In Mandyland, a nicheless blog where readers may find anything from a craft tutorial or recipe to a story about her two adorable children, what it’s like to go through a divorce or the ongoing fictional serial Hidden Hollow. In addition to In Mandyland, Mandy also writes for Momtastic, Aiming Low, and Makes Fun of Stuff, has been featured on Mamapedia and BlogHer, and is an assistant editor for the writing community Write on Edge.


The picture hits me harder than it should. The words cut the not-quite-healed wound in my heart. The “likes” and “repins” and comments make my stomach clench.

It is innocent, sweet, romantic.

It is an assumption.

An elderly couple walks on the paved path beneath an avenue of trees, holding hands. The script proclaims: “Back in my day, if something was broken, we fixed it. We didn’t just throw it away.” The assumption is that a divorce means you gave up on something that was fixable when in reality, it’s realizing that something is broken beyond repair.

I didn’t intend to divorce when I married my husband on that spring day almost ten years ago. I didn’t expect to become a single mother when we celebrated a positive pregnancy test with sparkling cider, tears, and kisses. I didn’t anticipate dividing our furniture and decor when we wandered through the store picking it out. The thought that this decision was the easy way out is almost laughable.

It’s anything but easy.

The decision to divorce was not rash. There was nothing either of us could do to salvage our marriage, though we hoped, at the time, that we might be able to somehow remain friends. But I wasn’t prepared for how it would impact the way others might view me.

Because I’ve opened myself up on my blog, I get emails from well-meaning readers suggesting I try therapy, work harder, remember that men sometimes need more patience, that my children will suffer, that I’m consigning them to decades of therapy and the inability to ever be able to commit to someone.

The emails send me into a backwards slide of worry and anxiety.

The first time I got one, I texted a friend, sobbing and spinning. She told me to take a deep breath and drafted an email response.

“Thank you for your concern for my family.”


“I believe in marriage,” a friend told me, saddened by the news. While she continued on in supportive language, those first few words echoed hollowly.

I wanted to interrupt, to scream, to shout, “I believe in marriage too!”

I don’t think marriage is a fairytale. I know there’s no such thing as happily ever after. I know when Cinderella and Prince Charming came home from their honeymoon, they had to adjust to a life where birds didn’t sing as she walked in the door, pumpkins stayed pumpkins, and they argued over who had to put the mice to bed.

But my marriage was far from even that version of a fairytale. My ex isn’t an evil villain twirling his mustache and threatening to tie me to the metaphorical tracks. He’s a good man who is still a daily part of our children’s lives. He comes over every morning to get them ready for school. He stops by on his day off to mow the lawn, help with any heavy lifting, or take my car to the carwash. I repay him by loading him up with leftovers and canned goods.

We’re finding balance, working our way through our own expectations, emotions, and hopes for a future where we can truly be friends.

Our friendship confuses people. They can’t seem to understand that some people make better friends than spouses and when he’s in a manic mood, the only way I can cope is to tell him to go home.

Because most people haven’t lived with someone who struggles with addiction and mental illness.

They see him on his medications and don’t understand the constant upheaval in our lives that ate away at the love we once had. They don’t understand living in a marriage while walking on egg shells, determined not to set of your partner off. And they don’t understand the darkness and weight hanging over your every action. When my ex finally gave me an insurmountable reason, an unfixable reason, the feeling of letting go was almost relief.

They’ve never pulled into the garage, turned off the car and sat staring at the door, summoning the energy to walk into the house, the loneliness of a home filled with anger and frustration rather than love and affection. They’ve never felt the heaviness of struggling to fix a marriage for five long years only to discover it wasn’t fixable.

Divorce wasn’t the easy way out. It was the inevitable end to a path that started sunny and ended strewn with potholes and dark spaces.

Even with every reason to be jaded, I still believe in marriage and fairytales.

Acquaintances have suggested I not even bother trying to date until the kids are grown and out of the house. Others have told me that no man will ever love my children the way I do. Still others have said that a single mom is a turn off to a man.

Those are the easiest to ignore even though they whisper to the dark corners of my heart. Because the man I call my father isn’t my father biologically. He fell in love with my single mom when I was four-years-old and my sister was eighteen months. And he fell in love with us at the same time. There has never been a moment when I felt he loved me less than his biological daughters. There’s never been a time he’s treated us differently. To him, we’re his and that’s that.

I know he may be an exception to the rule, but I also know I’m willing to wait until I find an exception.

I look at that picture of the elderly couple and see a vision I still ache for and want with all my heart.

I read the sentiment and want to add, “And sometimes, if it’s broken in too many pieces, you have to let it go.”

Visit Mandy at her blog, Mandyland.

Follow Mandy on Twitter.

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  • Mel

    I just want to hug you. Thank you for sharing this! It sounds like you made the best decision possible for your family and your life. Good for you! Hang in there.

    • Mandy Dawson

      Thank you. I really believe I did, WE did. :)

  • Nancy M Campbell

    Beautiful words. Mandy, you’re just a wonderful person.

  • Vidya Sury

    Oh Mandy! This made me cry. I want you to know I understand your pain and I just want to give you a huge hug right now. I believe you did what you thought was best. You rock. And you write beautifully. I need your blog on my reading list! :-) Love, Vidya

    • Mandy Dawson

      Don’t cry! I’m okay, really. There are just moments when I want to rage against the assumptions. Thankfully, Erin shared her space so I could do so.

  • Kirsten Anne Kovaleski Piccini

    OH Mandy. I love you, you know that and I love you even more for writing this, for sharing it, for pouring that BIG amazing heart of yours out for us today.

    I know what you believe in, I know that it’s more than DNA and LOVE is LOVE, in any form. I know that there is a heart out there that loves yours the way it deserves and it will find you. Love always wins Mandy. Always.

    You have me swimming in tears today, for the beautiful, amazing woman you are. xoxo

    • Mandy Dawson

      SWIMMING in tears, Kir?? I hope you put on your swimsuit. :)

      Don’t worry, sweetie. It’s all going to be okay.

  • The Dose of Reality

    This is a beautiful post. On every level. Your honesty and strength show. Thank you for sharing this. I have no doubt you have helped people.

    • Mandy Dawson

      I hope so. If nothing else, I hope I helped people who are helping friends through divorce to think twice before offering well meaning advice.

  • Angela Amman

    Love you dear. I think your words will help so many other people who saw that same photo and felt the same way. Are some divorces unnecessary? Maybe. Are some the only answer, even though they leave the people involved hurt? Yes. And you gave a voice to that.  Marriage isn’t always the best way to be a family.

    My uncle married my aunt when her daughters were six and five. I’ve never felt they were any less my cousins, because he has never felt they weren’t his daughters.

    • Mandy Dawson

      Thank you, dear friend. You know it was necessary. I just wish others wouldn’t assume it wasn’t.

  • Jackie

    I love this so much. The honesty… everything about it really.

    I’m divorced too and we remain friends and help each other out with the kids when needed. I’m sure that it looks a little odd when 4 of us show up at parent teacher conferences (we’re both remarried) or sit together at the kids sporting events. But it’s what works for us.

    • Mandy Dawson

      That right there is my dream, my vision for the future. No matter how much it weirds other people out.

  • Terri Sonoda

    Excellent post!  Thank you for sharing with us!  I have been through two divorces, both while my kids were growing up.  I have remained friends with each ex-husband, and there was never a tug-of -war regarding the children.  We put their interest and well-being first. It all worked out, but you are so right.  It was not easy.  It was damned hard. But if a couple no longer belongs together, I believe  more damage can be done by staying together.  I’m no authority. That’s just my take on things.  Thanks!

    • Mandy Dawson

      And I think that’s key, putting the interest of our children first. My kids are well-adjusted, know they never have to feel bad for wanting to stay an extra night with me or with their dad, never have to choose, never have to split up holidays. We’re making it work the best we can and that’s all I can do.

  • Tracy Morrison

    Beautiful and honest. I’m so glad you’ve shared your story here. xo

    • Mandy Dawson

      Thank you so much.

  • Ami Spencer

    Wonderful, heartfelt piece. While my opinion doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things–I’m a complete stranger, after all–I applaud you for your honesty and willingness to do what YOU needed to do. Thank you for reminding me that I need not judge the steps that others take. We are all walking our own paths.

    • Mandy Dawson

      That’s one fo the biggest lessons this whole thing has taught me. I’m on a path that seemed, at first glance, to be the same general path my friends were on. Now, I realize all of our paths are so different and filled with different roadblocks and hurdles. I used to say never give up, never surrender. Now I say, is this even possible to win? (I was going to use the Kobayashi Maru as an example, but honestly, that might make me a bigger nerd than I thought possible.)

  • Julie Gardner

    Oh Mandy, I’m so glad you wrote this, although I’m sorry it’s a post born of pain inflicted upon you by others (even if unintentionally).

    I’ve had several occasions where I felt impelled to write positively about love/marriage on my blog and I struggled (long and hard, truly) to put myself in the place of those I care about who have gone through or who are going through divorce.

    My grandparents recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary and I wanted to share the joy/achievement, but wondered if I were somehow suggesting to everyone that if they didn’t stick it out for seven decades they were somehow a failure.

    I hope hope hope that this is never the impression I give. I try to say lovely things about love without judging the times when love isn’t enough. Of course it can’t always be. Of course.

    So thank you so much for sharing yourself here, for being honest, and for giving me food for thought in future posts, comments and conversations with my friends who had to let go of their marriages…

    Much love to you.

    • Mandy Dawson

      But the thing is, I LOVE love stories. I love hearing about love and the length of that love. If you wrote a post about celebrating a 70th anniversary, I would tear up and comment, “How wonderful!” And positive posts about marriage don’t hurt. Well, they make me a tiny bit jealous, but they don’t sting or make me feel less.

  • Shoshana Martyniak

    Maybe I spend too much time reading women, but it’s good to read a post about how male mental illness also creates eggshells. We have one life and to waste that life on society’s ideals of what life should be is a shame. I applaud you for making your life your own.

    • Mandy Dawson

      I feel the same way. I have one life and I refuse to have a bad or tragic one. I want my life to be filled with joy and postive energy and chocolate.

  • Alison Hector

    Truly heartfelt.  I thank you for presenting the hard reality that many often don’t take into consideration.

    • Mandy Dawson

      Thank you.

  • Kim

    First time commenting. Hi, Mandy and Erin!

    Mandy, this is an excellent post.

    When it comes to marriage, I am a firm believer in trying everything possible to make it work.


    I am also realistic. I know that in some marriage there is no making things work. It is what is and you have to let go. Divorce is hell (I know, I’ve been through one) but sometimes it truly is for the best. In your case, you did what you could and instead of being looked down upon for your choices, you should be treated with respect and understanding, even if you don’t reveal the circumstances involving your divorce.

    Keep your head up high and ignore those who are either insensitive, clueless, or both. I wish you all the best during the healing process and beyond.

    • Mandy Dawson

      I’m so glad you commented!

      You’re right, you know. Even without revealing the reasons behind my divorce, I would hope that I would receive understanding. And I do. A lot of it. But at the same time, there are those who judge. But isn’t that always the way?

  • Cameron (CDG)

    Remember how I said I hold you up as an example of how to live with grace? This. Right here.

    Also? My Mom’s whole family is built on remarriages and blended families, and I certainly don’t think of my cousins as less-than in any way, and I know the same holds true for the parents, siblings, aunts and uncles involved. Love is love is love. Biology is just cells.

    • Mandy Dawson

      Are you sure you’re not referring to grace as in the opposite of clutzy?

      I know you’re right, dear friend. After all, as the country song says, “Blood is thicker than water. Love is thicker than blood.”

  • J Steinberg

    I kinda want to give you a hug and a) I don’t know you, b) I’m really not a hugger but still, thank you for your honesty…

    • Mandy Dawson

      Thank you for wanting to hug me. Even though you don’t know me. Erin’s place seems to call for honesty. It’s a good place to write.

  • kathleen

    as a grown daughter of a very strong divorced (and later very happily remarried) woman I salute you.  I am now happily married (14 yrs) and I will say that my parents’ divorce was a brutal necessity and that it kept me safe.  Marriage is the hardest relationship in the world, and that is with positive mental health, and no one can tell you how or when or why or why not.  I am sick of the condemnation of my fellow Christians, the cutie-pie pinterest people, the FB friends, the reposts, the pictures, ick and ugh.  The reason people are so drawn to that fluff is that their own reality is so painful.  Good for you for speaking your truth and showing your children what a responsible adult looks like, tears and all. I am a fan!

    • Mandy Dawson

      Thank you so much. Really and truly thank you. I hope my children will look back and realize I – WE – made the best decision for our family.

  • Renee Jacobson

    “They can’t seem to understand that some people make better friends than

    Even without the mental illness component, I believe this is a true statement. And I am always amazed that so many people DO stay married because – frankly – marriage can be exhausting if you are with someone who doesn’t allow you to be your best self. So many people stay together because it is actually the easier path. They don’t want to deal with what you are going through: the doubt, the pain. I have several friends who are separated right now. I don’t know how things will end up for these folks, but I do know everyone is going to be okay. And so will their children. And so will you. One year after the papers have been signed you will breathe and wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

    At least that is what my divorced friends tell me. And they tell me about dating and first kisses. And I am happy that their courage is bringing them sweetness and peace.

    What a great post.

    • Mandy Dawson

      Going through this, watching others go through it, I can’t help but wonder how differently it would all be if, in fact, people knew when to stop. It seems, for the most part, couples keep going until they pass the point of being able to remain friends, which makes the whole process so much more difficult and painful for all involved.

  • Julia

    Thank you so much for writing this. I appreciate your honesty and your strength is inspirational. I am glad you were able to come to a decision that was the best choice for you, and it sounds like you and your ex are maintaining a good relationship. I love your ending line, as that is something I am pondering myself. Thank you for sharing your story. 

    • Mandy Dawson

      You’re welcome. It was, for many reasons, the only option available. And, in so many ways, I know both my ex and I will be happier for having made it.

  • mrs.d

    There’s a huge difference between ‘believing in marriage’ and living in a marriage that is tearing yout to pieces.  No one can put themselves in your shoes – no one suffered exactly what you suffered for five long years.  No one but you struggled with trying to ‘fix’ it, to try and salvage something for the sake of yourself, for the sake of your children.
    Honestly, while I ‘believe in marriage’ I also think that there are limits.  There are things that I would not put up with – that would cause me to walk away from my marriage.  They are major things – horrible things I try not to imagine, but there are limits.  I would love to say ‘I’m never getting divorced’ but who knows what choice I would make faced with certain situations.
    And, in all honesty, you made the best decision for your children.  Living in a divided home that is happy is better than living all together in misery.  You also are giving an amazing example to both your kids – but especially Elizabeth – that you can be strong and know you deserve more, you deserve better.  And that in the end, their mother loved them so much she chose the best life for them.

    • Mandy Dawson

      You hit the nail on the head. When I thought about what I’d tell Elizabeth if she was in a similar marriage, I realized it would tell her to run, leave, let go. How could I not give myself permission to do the same.

  • Mad Woman

    Oh Mandy, I couldn’t agree with you more in your views of marriage, self preservation, and recognizing irreparable damage. And my heart has hurt for you as I’ve read your words over the past year. 
    I also know about the joy you’re experiencing since the break and am more than happy for you.

    You are a brave brave woman and I admire you more than you can know.

    • Mandy Dawson

      I’m hoping, one day, the joy will out weigh the sad. It just makes sense, right? Joy is chocolate and cheese and bread and wine and jam.

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  • Libby

    Made me cry as it hit so close to home…Love your blog