HOW ALIKE are my husbands? One recent weekend, when my ex came to pick up the kids, he showed me the new blue and white seersucker suit he had bought. The next morning my husband wore a blue and white seersucker to work. Odd? To some, maybe. But not to me. Once you have been divorced and remarried, you discover that "odd" is the only game in town. Cardinal rule: Nothing gets better; it just gets different.
Divorce is, surely, nothing new. What is new is its acceptance; there is no stigma attached any more. Which is good. What's bad is that there are no guidelines either. How are you supposed to feel? Circumstances vary, but whether you are the leaver or the leavee, the problems and emotions encountered during the various stages are basically the same.
The week before I told Larry I wanted a divorce, I could have sworn that we were one of the happiest couples I knew. We had been married for 12 years and, like most couples, had shared good and bad times. We had spent some time in a psychologist's office learning to communicate and understand each other's needs; I needed more affection, he needed less complaining. And I thought we were fairly successful. I liked Larry. I liked our home in the suburbs. I liked our children. I liked our neighbors. And I was bored silly.
At this point I can hear you all saying, "Silly spoiled girl. She doesn't appreciate a nice life and thinks the grass is greener elsewhere. Everyone is bored at one time or another, but that's no reason to break up a family." My sentiments exactly, and if I were reading this story I'd fully agree.
It's difficult to explain why something clicks in your head at a certain moment, but when it does, you know that you have to take action. I suppose my discontent was brewing for quite a while, at least since the late '60s when The Revolution was taking place outside, and I was inside with two young toddlers. I sulked like a voyeur, someone who was peeking at the action and partaking in benign ways -- like visiting Arthur's Disco in Manhattan, going to an occasional pot party and buying Mick Jagger records. But I never really plunged in. I always felt like an outsider, like I was missing something.
I had been discontent and that led me to an encounter group in the early '70s. When two couples happily announced they were involved in affairs with each other and the group leader congratulated them on their honesty, I knew that this was not for me and I left.
I guess it seems strange that since I tried most everything I never tried an affair. I did come close several times, but each time my guilt would surge and remind me that I can't handle clandestine betrayals. I don't like sneaking. And I especially didn't like the idea of just anyone touching my body. Besides, I had several friends who took this route and it never helped them. They just attracted more problems. I knew an affair was not the answer, but what was? I was 35 and feeling that if I didn't do something fast, life would pass me by, that I'd spend it always being the voyeur.
I had once read that when older people looked back on their lives, they never regretted what they did, only what they didn't do. I was determined not to be one of the Regretters.
I debated about telling Larry my decision for two weeks. During that time I was consumed with guilt, something I never handled well. How guilty was I? I couldn't sleep; I was sure I would awaken blind or paralyzed or both as punishment for breaking up a family; I feared that one of my children would die from some horrible disease. You name it. I thought it.
Larry's a nice guy, and that was a problem. He seemed to be nicer than ever those two weeks, which was damn rotten of him. Why couldn't he have beaten me or confessed that he was involved with a transsexual? But there was nothing but niceness. (He was also nice throughout the separation, nice throughout the divorce proceedings, nice after I remarried and he's still nice. No cracks, please, about Nice Guys Finishing Last, or my guilt may burst loose again.)
The night I told Larry I wanted a separation, I had devised a test to determine whether I was making a wise decision. I rubbed Larry's back; if he responded I would stay; if he didn't I would leave. (I never said it was a smart test, just a test). He responded: "Don't do that. It bothers me." (Aha! A sign from heaven.) "Larry, I am not happy." "What can I do to help?" (I told you he was nice.) "I want a separation." "Okay."
And that's how it happened. Simple, with a minimum of hysterics; those would come later.
Telling the children was hard. It was so difficult that I chose the coward's way out and had Larry tell them. I stayed home pacing, while he took them out for lunch. They returned and looked the same as usual: ketchup stains all over their shirts. I was relieved. "They're fine," I lied. "Children bounce back," I lied again. "And besides (the lies were really coming easy now), you can't stay together for the children. It's my happiness that counts."
The children didn't really react. I really didn't let them. My oldest son, who was 12, cried. My youngest son, 6, stared. We avoided discussions. This method was wrong for the children and for me. It was cruel, and I had never meant to be cruel. It just seemed easier, and I was desperate for simplicity and lack of conflicts. I felt that I wasn't strong enough to handle any confrontations.
I would not have changed my decisions, but it would have been better to discuss my plans first and give the children a chance to vent their feelings. Instead, everything was a fait accompli. I sold the house, got remarried, bought a new house and informed them of each event afterward. My defense, perhaps shoddy, is that during this period of limbo, I was totally selfish. Only my needs seemed to count; there was no room for anyone else's.
I started dating someone almost immediately. Actually he was a person I had known for years, but never thought of in that way. It started with a simple luncheon date, a date where I rehearsed the entire car trip downtown how I was going to tell Dick that this was a simple luncheon date, nothing more. I wasn't ready for any new relationship -- not yet. It was somewhere between the martinis and the tuna surprise that we both fell apart.
Our affair officially began that afternoon. It was intense from the beginning; so intense that we almost burnt out from lack of food and sleep. (I was never bored.) After a month, we were madly in love, and planned to marry. The odd thing was that although I wanted Dick, I was also comfortable with Larry and wanted him too. (Later my psychologist would tell me that my problem was that I wanted to experience life, while everyone I loved remained frozen in their respective places.)
From the day that we had lunch, Dick and I were together constantly. I couldn't handle time alone; it seemed to creep by and I could never relax. The nights especially were horrible for me, so Dick ended up sleeping over most of the time and the children never knew. We had devised a plan which worked because my bedroom was in a separate wing.
After I sent the kids off to school, watching them the entire time to make sure they didn't end up in my bedroom, I would drive Dick to his car. It was an incredible schedule and looking back I wondered how I did it. It's something I'd never want to go through again.
Why all this sneaking around? It wasn't my idea, it was Dick's. I would have let him move in, because I needed his physical presence so badly. I was not sensible, rational or capable of considering what was best or what was right for the children. Luckily, he was.
We really thought that we had gotten away with this plan until recently when my youngest confessed to me that he had once wandered into my bedroom looking for his shoes and saw Dick on the bed reading the newspaper. I tried to make light of the situation and glibly asked, "Why didn't you say something to him?" His answer: "Why should I? He didn't have my shoes."
I did other things during this period that i did not know I was capable of. I lived with Dick three months before marriage and never felt guilty about it. After I sold the house I couldn't decide where we wanted to move, so the kids stayed with Larry while I stayed with Dick. This was the best time for us. In fact, it was so relaxing that I thought for a while that it would be best if I let Larry have custody of the children. I had no patience around them anymore, and besides, if I left Larry with the children, I wouldn't be so guilty about breaking up this family. He wouldn't be lonely. Larry would have loved to take them, but Dick warned me that I would regret the decision. He wanted our marriage to be a success and felt that ultimately this decision would destroy us. I'm glad that I listened to him, even though the kids had been our biggest problem. Dick would never have been able to compensate me enough for giving up my children. It would have eventually destroyed us.
I did emerge from this period of separation a more tolerant and accepting person. I try not to judge anyone's actions anymore.
All the women I knew proved to be wonderful friends. They were supportive, kind, understanding and always there for me no matter when. Divorced women, whom I only knew slightly from the tennis courts, called to see if they could help. Good friends listened patiently to the same stories for hours and never judged me. For that I will be eternally grateful. I don't think Larry was as fortunate. A basic truth: Women bleed for each other; men only buy each other martinis. a
The men I knew were quite hostile to me. Some were angry because I didn't play the game according to their rules. "Don't you know," one confessed after a few too many at a party, "that you're not supposed to leave. The men get bored, and they leave. You may give our wives some bad ideas."
Other men were angry because after years of fighting off their advances, I was involved with someone else. "Hey, if you were so hot for a new body, what was wrong with mine?" asked one man.
It was March. I was in love. I was separated. And I needed a lawyer. I didn't think so, but everyone else did. "Get an attorney. Find out what you can do." Actually in Florida, you can do most anything. You're separated when either you or your husband leave the house. There are no papers to sign -- no formal documents -- only common sense. (For example; If you want to keep custody of the children you wouldn't turn your home into a bordello). Your husband is still resposible for the finances, and everything can remain pretty much the same, if you take no action.
But keep in mind that Dick wanted to marry me. I wanted to marry him, and I had a game plan to follow which was already behind schedule. I didn't have time to think things over or reconcile. Right?
Totally Wrong. You do need time to yourself; time to sort out feelings. Going directly from one marriage to another, although more secure and less lonely, is not the best way. Problems that develop later on might have been avoided if you had taken time to clear your head. At that time, however, I could foresee no problems. After all, I was going to be a bride, and brides have no problems. What I didn't know was that they also have no honeymoon the second time around.
To accomplish my plan I needed an attorney to file for divorce. I called a friend who had been through it, and she recommended T.S., a big-time attorney. "He's good for women," she said. I made the appointment.
T.S. was a combination of Big Bird and Big Hawk. He was big. His office was big. He sat at a big desk. All the secretaries scurrying around looked like Barbie dolls. He talked nonstop for one hour. I told him everything. ("If you lie," he warned, "I won't help you.") He outlined some basic rules (don't stay out all night drinking); some basic plans (prepare to pay $100 for the first hour of advice. "The advice I just gave you is worth 100 times that," he said.) His fee was $3,000 -- double if there is trouble and the case has to be taken to court. You feel safe with Big Bird and sign on the dotted line.
Our divorce was -- as they say in the trade -- a friendly one. Larry and I were never out to get each other. I tried to be fair, and only wanted enough to be able to maintain my present standard of living. I mean not for me, but for the sake of the children. Big Bird agreed. Larry didn't think it was fair that his standard should continue when he was not in the home anymore. I could contribute. His attorney agreed. The battle was on.
Letters were written back and forth. New terms were offered. New terms were rejected. It looked like I would never get my divorce, One day when negotiations were getting too heavy for me, I announced, "I accept the terms. I think they are generous (which they were); I think they are fair (which they were); and I don't need every item written down. I trust Larry. He's a good father and that will not stop." I was right. He has never failed me or the children.
I didn't need a $3,000 lawyer. He didn't get me anything extra for the huge fee. In the long run what kind of settlement you get depends on what your husband is willing to give.
I remarried three days after the divorce. "Why wait?" I asked. "Why wait?" Dick repeated.
So we tied the knot in his office. His secretary, who is also a notary, was so nervous that Dick had to read the ceremony. That afternoon, he both Giveth and Receiveth. He continued working. I returned to the conjugal apartment alone and waited. We went out to dinner. We were both silent, the mood unfestive. We watched TV; he fell asleep. I objected. "I need more affection," I said. "You complain too much," he answered. Married life had officially begun.
What no one understands about second marriages is that you are trading in one set of problems for another -- sometimes even more complicated. It's not easy riding into the sunset with Prince Charming when there is a mob of kids with dirty hands and runny noses trailing behind.
During a second marriage, you are defensive about your children. My biggest complaint (yes, I still complain) was that Dick was not fair. His retort, "Who said life is fair?" I felt that there were two sets of standards: one for his children and one for mine. Dick demanded perfect behavior and neatness from my children.
It was during spring vacation when his children, 14 and 17, came to visit that this problem surfaced. Being that they were Dick's, I expected perfect children. I was not prepared for sloppy, ill-mannered, mischievous -- in other words, normal -- teenagers. And I was definitely not prepared for Dick's permissive attitude toward them. It was laissez-faire for his children vs. Hitler Youth Camp for mine. This conflict exploded during the Green Towel Incident.
Our green bath towels were not allowed in the pool area. Period. Dick's son took a green towel outside and it was okay because he asked permission first. The Green Towel Incident made me see red, and almost blew our marriage. "You don't understand," he said, "they're only here to visit. Circumstances are different." "Rules are rules, and kids are kids," I answered. "And there shouldn't be any difference." "But you don't understand," he repeated.
What we both failed to understand during the first year was that we all -- the kids, Dick and I -- needed time to adjust to one another, and a looser atmosphere all around would have been better. Dick had to work out feelings of regret that my children, and not his, were living with us. He could not be angry at me for that. I had to understand his feelings of guilt when they did come to visit. The magic word was acceptance.
My oldest son (the one who cried) became a problem. He was never an easy child to raise, but he now refused to go to school. My cries for help always seemed to lead to PET (Parent Effectiveness Training). I signed up for the course. Like all divorced parents, I was super-guilty about the kids. I blamed most of my son's problems on the broken home. "If he still lived with his parents -- where God intended him to be -- there would be no problems," I thought. But if I was right, how come the room was filled with loving couples from first marrigages who couldn't handle their children either? And they were as guilty as me. I felt a lot better.
Unlike other women in second marriages I have never encountered any problem with Dick's ex-wife. She lives out of the state and his only contact with her is weekly child support checks. Not so with his ex-girlfriend. They had lived together for three years, and throughout our courtship and marriage she continued to call and send cards, but only at the office. The problem became mine when he changed jobs, and she was forced to call our home since she couldn't get his new number at work. She called several more times. I finally had to be the one to tell her never to call again, for her sake as well as mine and Dick's. It was not a pleasant task. I did not like Dick for dumping this responsibility in my lap, but I would have liked him less if he had helped her. Basic Rule for Ex's: Your're Damned If You Do, And Damned If You Don't.
It's normal, but deadly, during the first year, to compare your first and second husbands. This usually occurs after arguments, when your first is remembered as a saint.
When you marry for the first time, your only model of what marriage should be is from your parents. When you marry for the second time, your expectations of how a husband should behave are usually based on your previous experience. Dick was used to giving relatively nothing. I was used to getting relatively everything. Even though he gave me more than he ever gave anyone (so he says) I had to learn to erase my previous expections, understand what he was capable of, appreciate his efforts -- in other words, accept him for what he was.
We fought about money; his hero was ben Franklin, mine Jackie Kennedy. He shuddered from the sound of the garbage disposal because it meant food was being wasted. His motto: Waste Not, Want Not. Mine: If I Have One life To Live, Let It Be In Anne Klein. He thought I was a spendthrift. I Thought I was sacrificing because I read the paper on Thursday and clipped coupons. He thought I spent too much on clothing: "What does a person need with more than one pair of jeans?" He reminded me that before we married I promised that I wouldn't buy anything for at least two years. "I need nothing," I confessed to a friend. "I'm in love."
I didn't intentionally lie. At the moment I honestly felt that way. What I couldn't evision was that two years later, standing in a department store, I'd be tempted by Gloria Vanderbilt. We will never agree on the necessity of more than one pair of jeans, but we discovered that it's not important. There are no winners and no losers in our life, and we are allowed to be different; we accept our differences. We love each other and do not want any problem to be so heavy that our marriage will collapse from its weight. And we never stop talking the secret for any successful relationship, be it first, second of 50th. No matter how difficult, discuss your feelings, listen to one another, and I promise an acceptable solution will unfold.
The problem I had about my feelings toward Larry required a different kind of listening; that of a professional, so it was back to my trusty shrink. It seemed that after two years I was still feeling affection for the man, and this produced a great deal of guilt and anxiety in me.
"You're not supposed to feel that way," people would say. "Why?" I would ask. "After all I bore his children, we grew up with each other, we shared good times, he has been kind. I just can't close the door on that." "But it's just not done," they'd continue. "I mean everyone hates their first husband."
After a few sessions with my psychologist -- who only listened -- I realized that it was okay to still like Larry, maybe even love him in a way, and the words, "supposed to" and "everyone" were banished from my vocabulary. Here are some other don'ts that I discovered are okay.
"It's okay to have found memories of your first marriage.
It's okay to have regrets once in a while.
It's okay to buy your ex-mother-in-law a more expensive Mother's Day gift than your current one. But it's never okay to needlepoint a pillow that says, "Love is lovelier the second time around." That's too tacky.
It was New York's Eve, when I made the resolution that I was going to take the bull by the horns and toughen up during my second year of my second marriage. Up until then, I had been afraid to really assert myself; afraid of breaking up another relationship and being a two-time loser. I was not afraid anymore. I was taking charge of my life and instead of crying silently in my room when his son rode my son's bike into the pool -- with my son on it -- I would take action myself. I did not need Dick's consent to deal with problems and punishments. I was all grown up.
It was the end of a hard year, and I was just feeling the pressure subside. I had reduced my expectations of being one big happy family; this is a myth in a blended family. It is always "his" and "hers" and you always love yours more, but you do learn to really care. I was feeling confident that we would all survive, that we enjoy this new family situation and flourish as healthy individuals within it.
The balloons descended on Times Square, "Auld Lang Syne" emanated from the TV, the noise-makers were on the pillow, everything was ready to usher in 1979, but Dick was missing. "Where are you," I yelled. "In the bathroom," he answered. "But it's midnight," I wailed. "What am I supposed to do about it?" he replied. I didn't cry. It was then that I knew we would make it.