I never thought I’d get married, never thought I’d have kids, never thought I’d get divorced, DEFINITELY NEVER EVER thought I’d get remarried, God forbid.
I’ll take my hypocritical bow as I acknowledge, even after four decades, I know shit about life, which continues to school me and remind me how words like ‘never’ should never be uttered from my pouty lips.
Time can bring with it forgiveness and lessons, which eventually convert themselves to wisdom, much like pasta converts to sugar to give you a gluten high. I have several friends “stuck” in miserable first marriages and I witness them imitate moves of my former self, reviewing flashbacks of a past. I recognize their pain acutely because I have felt it before and remember how it has to get dark enough before you’re propelled to fly to find the light. (I’m not so poetic, but love a good metaphor.)
I liked not being married, calling my partner, “my boyfriend,” even if we were together for a decade and our relationship functioned akin to a marriage. Despite my desire to be a free spirit, I perceived my children also carried the weight of my choice. I didn’t know the liberation my son would feel. Somehow in his head, “boyfriend” still meant “more likely to break up” than a husband, even though he had witnessed the complete opposite. I had divorced a husband after 4 years but had been with a boyfriend for over ten.
My son’s final English project in 8th grade was to write a memoir-style essay about an experience from which he benefited or learned. I was only allowed to read it after he received an A. The story retold his witnessing our engagement on the Brooklyn Bridge, how he was asked to be best man at our wedding, and how he nervously wrote and delivered a best man speech. Finally, the pinnacle of the story was his grand realization moment – when he looked over at my new husband, who had been my boyfriend for 10 years, (since my son was two years old) and realized it was “official” – he was actually his stepdad.
Aside from the pride I felt from reading an outstanding essay my son wrote, I cried tears of gratitude; thankful I could swallow my pride of acquiescing to the “I would never” and instead embracing “I changed my mind.” His essay erased any lingering doubts fidgeting in my mind.
To me, not much changed after we got married on our ten year anniversary. We came back to our same apartment, still had to wake up on Monday to take our kids to school and still had to go to Costco for grocery shopping on Tuesday. But to my son, the ceremonial life event, legitimized, validated and reinforced two relationships: the one I had with my husband and the one my husband had with my son. The wedding liberated any hindering thoughts my son may have held onto about loving my new husband like a father unconditionally because now he could proudly wear his legal, society-accepted title of stepdad.
Second marriages are different for so many reasons. They are a do-over at happiness. They are about forgiving yourself and believing in second chances. They are about validating we are all worthy of love. The second time, we comprehend what we don’t like (as much as what we think we like) and more importantly, we grasp what we need from a partner now that we’ve done a trial run (or two).
Sticking with something broken is pushing a square wheel down the highway when they sell round ones. First marriages aren’t mistakes; they were the best choices we made at the time, armed with the information we had. We can’t play out a total list of hypothetical what-if’s of life before saying “I do” nor can we predict the trajectory life will take. Getting out of a bad marriage is not a failure; it is a success. Regaining control is a victory and a step towards reclaiming your happiness.
I planned on getting pregnant, but couldn’t have imagined 9/11 ravaging our city two months later, obliterating my understanding of freedom, safety, and humanity. Ravaged by the smell of burnt metal mixed with flesh, we moved to New Jersey to bring our newborn baby into “cleaner” air. The day before our closing, at 9 months pregnant, my husband was terminated from his job. A week later his grandfather (patriarch of the family) died and two weeks later my son was born. My ex, silently depressed, overcompensated for his loss of control by becoming an overbearing husband and father.
It took me two years to climb out from a dark hole. For every ounce of love which grew for my son, an ounce of resentment accumulated in the jar against my ex-husband. He was passive aggressive and I mimicked his behavior in a poisonous pattern of fighting. It was my grand lesson for how not to be. First marriages are laden with lessons of how not to behave and how to recognize what’s truly important to you.
The first time around, I imagined I had found someone who wouldn’t cheat on me and would make a great dad. I valued trivialities like how my ex-husband got me ice cream in the middle of the night, opened the car door for me, and graciously played cards with my grandmother. All those good-on-paper traits diluted me from seeing what was missing: the feeling of home, a jovial camaraderie towards life, and most importantly, the spark. The connection. The feeling of everything is best as long as this man is by my side.
I valued loyalty, but having fun together is invaluable. Marry the person who you’d pick first for anything. Choose the person you’d want on a desert island because you can dance, play tic-tac-toe in the sand, swim in the ocean together, or if necessary, huddle in the tent together to stave off fear. You want to find someone who you want to stare at more than your own reflection their face makes you happy and brings you internal peace. You want a touch that melts into yours, eyes that stare into your soul and leave themselves open to dive into. Most of all, these romantic notions encapsulate one theme, a partner who is a match, not just a mate.