There are lots of different reasons why couples call it quits but no matter how or why, all divorced people have one thing in common — being asked, “So, why did you get divorced?”
It isn’t necessarily a bad question: sometimes the answer helps people gauge their own relationships. Often, the answer illuminates the divorced person’s character and “issues,” especially to a potential new love. As a journalist I’m used to tough questions, but that one is particularly awkward for me because of how I have to answer: “Which time?”
I have been married and divorced more than once — twice, in fact — and that alone is enough to give many people pause, without even knowing the whys. They’re quick to assume what they consider the obvious, that I must be pretty crappy marriage material because I “failed” at two of them. Perhaps I fall for the “wrong” kind of men. Or, more likely, something must be very “wrong” with me. Or I don’t understand what commitment in a marriage means. Maybe all of the above.
Serial marriages aren’t that uncommon, especially among celebs — Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney and Larry King come to mind. But, we know that the rich and famous are not like us — we expect all sorts of marital drama from them, and are more surprised by a marriage like the late Patrick Swayze’s, who was together with wife Lisa Niemi for 34 years before he passed away.
Still, even they’re not exempt from raised eyebrows.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s rocky marital history — he’s now on wife No. 3, Judith — was well known when he he threw his hat into the presidential ring in 2008. “I’m a human being. I make mistakes. I’m not perfect,” was how he explained things. Poor Judith, however; her admission that Rudy was her third husband set the tabloids on fire. That’s why she waited until after he announced his intention to run for president to mention it. She feared judgment; she “failed” two marriages, after all — what’s wrong with her?
Which is why I find answering “So, why did you get divorced?” so awkward.
People tend to blame divorces on the women, just as surely as they notice a messy or dirty home and fault the wife for her shoddy housekeeping. Aren’t wives the ones who say “I want a divorce” two-thirds of the time? Don’t women have unrealistic expectations about marriage? Aren’t unhappy wives who want a divorce selfish for putting their needs before their children’s? And aren’t all ex-wives psychos, gold-diggers, princesses and all-around b-words?
OK, some are. But most aren’t.
All people who have been married and divorced a few times are suspect, but women perhaps a little more so — just like women who sleep around are considered sluts or cougars while men who do are called, well, lucky. And about 20 percent of us marry more than once.
I feel a lot like Rudy when it comes to explaining my first marriage. I wed just a few months shy of my 21st birthday, a Starter Marriage (which we talk about in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels) — what did I know? “I’m a human being. I make mistakes. I’m not perfect.” I married way too young for all the wrong reasons because I didn’t have any reason other than, “But we’re in love!” That’s not enough to sustain a marriage.
When I married again several years later, I thought I was a much more mature and self-aware woman. Evidently not, although somewhere between 60 percent and 70 percent of second marriages end so the odds were stacked against me anyway. But that marriage lasted 14 years and gave me two wonderful children. Although I didn’t want to be a cliche — a 40-something divorced mom — stuff happened and we couldn’t work it out. So we split, our own version of conscious uncoupling because we’ve been kind to each other and ourselves so we could co-parent our boys well.
It’s easy to point the finger at the former spuse — once. But if you’ve been married and divorced several times, people are onto that game. Just like it takes two people to make a good marriage, it takes two to make a troubled one. So I’ve spent a lot of time since my second divorce looking at what I’ve brought to the marital table and why, and what I want to change. Now I truly am a more mature and self-aware woman.
Which, obviously, makes me poised to be The Perfect Wife. Too bad I’m not going for marriage No. 3.
- Have you been divorced more than once?
- What kind of comments have you heard from people about that?
- Do you believe people who are divorced more than once are somehow damaged?