October 17, 2019

Second Time’s the Charm: in praise of second marriages

My husband and I used to be the only couple at our pub's, mostly male, weekly gatherings. But lately a new female acquaintance (who'd been coming more often, as I have, since we'd connected several months ago) noted there were a lot more women in the group. This had nothing to do with age—which varied from “somewhere in the 20s” to “late 70s”—but rather appeared to be connected to whether or not these women arrived with mates. Men tended to attend alone (even those with wives at home) but all the women (who now numbered about a half dozen) were part of a pair. The women were married or in committed, long-term relationships. Upon further inquiry, we discovered that every single one of these couples also happened to be in second marriages (or “relationships”). No matter what they called them, these were solid, long-lasting unions whose length ranged from five years (for the younger set) to over three decades among more senior second-time-rounders.

Our group normally discussed, debated . . . and loudly argued politics, science, religion —all the typically “verboten” topics that make up the bedrock of conversation among atheists and avid secularists. One fellow was unusually quiet during that night's rant-fest, however, to the point of removing himself from the group altogether. Atheists may not be the most sensitive of souls, but even they soon realized something was amiss. And so while my female friend and I continued to chat amicably about where to buy costume jewelry, family issues and vacation plans (more typical women's concerns), I noticed a few men in the corner (my husband included) forming what can only be described as a “macho support group” around a fellow victim of an “evil” spouse. I admit to being nosy—especially when my husband tells stories about his former marriage—so I edged closer to listen in.

Apparently, the sad guy at the center of their attention was going through an ugly divorce. The men immediately came to his rescue, proffering advice on how “not to be taken” by his wife by hiring a lawyer who goes for the jugular, etc. As a woman, I know there's always a second side to the story, but then again, his wife had never attended our group. This, in itself, might indicate something was lacking in their relationship. And I'm sure if one of our female members were experiencing a similar crisis, we too would be “circling the wagons,” as women generally do.

Men are not often seen as caring creatures—so it was rather nice to witness male bonding in action. What was even nicer, once they'd gotten through all that vicious talk of retribution, was their unanimous agreement that once his divorce was final, this fellow could start his life over. And definitely better. The rosy forecast for his future included meeting a far more suitable mate—just as they had—and living life happily ever after. Their verdict was unanimous: “Marriage is always better the second time around!”

My husband, who'd earlier praised the killer instincts of his divorce attorney, went all soft and gooey upon describing the joys of our super-simpatico union. After three decades together, we can almost read each other's minds, and tend to have the same tastes and reactions (thankfully! because they are rarely common ones) to popular culture, the arts and what's happening in the outside world.

Yet he admitted that a big reason for the success of this second marriage (other than obvious maturity and knowing a bit more about who he was before choosing a life partner—something no 21-year-old is likely to achieve) was his negative experience with his first union. After years of therapy (which his ex-wife suffered through and his next wife, me, benefited from!), he'd become a changed man. And so right off the bat, coming into his second marriage, he was able to be a far better husband, and then father, than he'd been during his first go round. I don't feel guilty about reaping the rewards of his former failure, as it was his ex's decision to call it quits after twenty years. It seemed, no matter how hard they tried, they would never be right for each other. Even their marriage counselor, after countless sessions, finally dismissed them saying he'd never met a more incompatible pair.

Perhaps there's nothing more important in marriage than simply enjoying each other's company. It says something that both myself and my female pub friend (another happily married second-timer) not only go out regularly with our husbands, but also work together as business partners—in effect spending our days and evenings and nights in close proximity. And happily so. Bystanders often remark upon my husband's and my habit of sitting close and holding hands at a cafe or restaurant. They wonder how after so many years together, we still manage to stare lovingly into each other's eyes, and engage in enthusiastic conversation. We always enjoy meeting new people (after a lifetime in journalism, the investigative instinct is set in our bones), but at the end of the day, there's no one we'd rather spend time with than each other.

Young people may still dream of finding soul mates. But at their age, when they feel that mystical “connection,” it's likely due to hormone overload. Long-term unions often begin with compatible pheromones, but they can only develop through a common weltanschauung, shared interests and sources of delight. For a relationship to blossom and last, it must leave room for growth both of the individual and the couple, girding them against the inevitable hardships of everyday life. For obvious reasons, the most sensible action would be to postpone commitment for as long as possible. But as any high schooler knows, we're only human and endowed with an all-consuming biological urge to connect. No young person is going to wait till he or she reaches the ripe old age of 30 before shacking up!

Perhaps things are better nowadays—when it's considered acceptable for unmarried folks to live together. Furthermore, we accept that two people can be committed to one another for as long as their relationship works. Hopefully, when they part, they can do so in a spirit of generosity, thanking each other for providing love and support for a vital portion of their lives' journeys. Ideally, this will happen before they have children, so they can both move on unencumbered and with little baggage to impact their second (or later) marriage that lasts.

For only after having lived for a time on your own, and as a couple, can you begin to know who you are, what you want, and develop the tools for building and maintaining a healthy, growing and ever-evolving adult commitment. Then when you feel you're ready (or even almost ready), ignore any cold feet and jump right back into the water. Because when it comes to marriage, the second time's the charm!

© 2015 Mindy Leaf

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