Second-time-around bride Emily Bryce-Perkins says you need not compromise on the wedding that you want
When Meghan Markle marries Prince Harry two weeks today, it won't be her first trip down the aisle.
Divorce rates are the highest they've been in a decade. The Office for National Statistics announced this last year, adding that the average UK marriage lasts just 12 years. It was cheery reading for my fiance and I, fresh from posting our Save the Date to friends and family.
In Kensington, a similar tale played out - minus the trip to the post office. The royal household announced that our zingiber [ginger] Prince was, like me, to marry his sweetheart later this month. And our wedding date is not the only thing Miss Markle and I have in common.
No, I'm not a princess-in-waiting with crossover on our guest list. I, like Meghan, am a divorcee.
Like her, too, I was with my ex-husband for seven years before getting engaged.
You'd think seven years was enough time to be sure I was doing the right thing - it turns out marrying at 24 isn't a smart move if you haven't yet grown into the person you'd like to be.
In the UK, there are still only five ways to get divorced. The process is archaic and it takes much longer to get out of than a wedding ceremony, even if you share no children or assets.
Grounds of adultery, or unreasonable behaviour, are the fastest two options. It's baffling to think, in 2018, that the reason (most people) get married - falling in love - cannot be reversed as the reason to get divorced.
Heading into a second marriage, surrounded by statistics that say how unlikely it is to last, how expensive it'll be to perform - at least £15,000, which is presumably why more than 50% of couples now ask for cash as a wedding gift - isn't a decision I take lightly.
For Meghan, the pressure is even higher. Even if the aisle is beautifully nestled within the grounds of Windsor Castle and you don't have to pay for your dress, walking down any aisle again, let alone walking down to meet a Prince on the world's stage, is not something you could do without a lot of soul-searching.
Second-timers tell me the second one is the best (I tell them not to gift my never-been-wed-fiance with this insight). And although saying "I do" almost a decade after "I tried" felt like an easy decision initially, the months that followed were filled with questions and self-doubt.
The crippling sense of failure you experience as a divorcee-to-be is horrible and unexpected. Declaring "I do" in front of all of your loved ones is a big deal. To then say "I can't - or, in my case, "I won't" - can be extremely difficult.
The shame and uncertainty that filled my head back then appeared in the months after I became engaged for the second time. Was I making the same mistake again?
When a mother holds her newborn child, the halo effect is attributed to the euphoric feelings that magically wash away the pain of the labour.
I had a similar experience, but for me the birth was my Decree Absolute. And the labour was my divorce.
My pain is not forgotten. It's still there and as accessible as Netflix, but it's a manageable pain. A place I draw strength from to protect myself. A place that allows me to say, hand on heart, in front of everybody I love, that I am utterly in love with the man I'm marrying. And I know, I've been there.
The differences between Meghan's second wedding and mine are many, as are the differences between my second wedding and my first.
My new love and I met on an old-fashioned app called Tinder (these days it's all about meeting people in a gender-fluid changing room, or an Uber pool). That alone is a world apart from how I met my first husband (as a teenage waitress in my local village pub).
This time, I'm a grown-up and in my self-imposed don't-let-history-repeat-itself quest, I will be doing a speech.
I love my father dearly and I can't wait to dance with him (again) at my (second) wedding, but the thought of him using the same speech content as before was a bit much.
My decision to talk at my second wedding is more than an excuse to make my friends laugh. It's a sign to show all of those present that I'm not passive. That I have found my voice and I'm entering this marriage being heard.
Most couples in their thirties - even those who look miserable - are incessantly questioned about when they're going to get married.
The average age to marry in the UK is 28, so by the time I hit 32 I'd been asked a thousand times when I was going to settle down. If I was in a good mood, I'd reply, "Well, I've done it before and he's in no rush, so ...", leaning on my past as an excuse for my future.
Drawing up my guest list was an interesting way of reassessing who's still in my life and who I want in my future.
I can't imagine Meghan has much say on who's invited, but I hope, when she scans the room, she'll see the faces she needs to make her feel grounded. When you go through a big life change, you really do work out who your friends are.
In lieu of a hen party, I recently filled a room with my favourite humans to throw a big party and say a big old sloppy thank you.
It's not an easy thing sticking by somebody who's newly divorced, in pain, partying and living like they're 18 when they're 28, but my friends did just that - and I love them all the more for it.
Like Harry, my partner has never been married before, claiming he'd never found the right person. We did speak at length about his feelings around my previous marriage - okay, I spoke at length and tried to coax out his true feelings through humorous bullying.
He said it honestly didn't bother him at all, noting that if I hadn't ended the marriage, or if I clearly still had feelings for my ex, or we'd had children together, it would perhaps have been different.
For me, coming out of a divorce was a liberating process. The world outside looked brighter and I immediately moved from Cambridge to London to start my new life. The blossom sparkled and I warned my best friend not to come and stay with me for a while, because my happiness had reached Disney levels of insufferable.
But behind my new smile, I did feel tainted. I imagine Meghan feels similar. Divorce scars you, but it also makes you stronger. There's no compromising this time around. No inviting people for the sake of politeness. Weddings naturally bring about enough pressure, money, family, the bloody cake, without the added need to please others outside of the newlyweds.
When you strip it right back, there are only a few elements you really need for a fun wedding. Good music, enough food and drink to make those invited feel special, and a happy couple.
The circus that surrounds a royal wedding is not something I envy in the slightest. There's enough pressure as it is, without knowing your every move will be projected on a global scale the moment it happens.
I hope within the circus Meghan feels comfortable and wears exactly what she wants. I'm wearing Ivory (again). But I'm not wearing a dress.
This is for no reason other than I'm wearing exactly what I want and I'm not feeling any sort of pressure to look like a typical bride.
Like births and marriages, no two weddings are the same.