The first two marriages are only practice

    I always wondered about women whose second marriages ended in divorce. Were they unworthy of love? Incapable of loving? Either way, clearly something was wrong with them. Then one sunny June day, a New Castle County, Del., judge officially ended my own second marriage. At just 34 I, too, was a double divorcee.

    Naturally, I wondered — what was wrong with me?

    Divorce once time, let alone twice, revealed serious character flaws. To me, it meant selfishly turning my back on someone I had professed to love forever. It meant not having the fortitude to honor my commitments. It meant being a quitter and — with a second divorce — not learning from my mistakes. I carried the shame of my two divorces deep within me.

    So how did I end up here?

    Marriage No. 1: I really didn’t know any better. My mother had died. She was too young, her death too painful. And the adhesive that held our family together was ripped away. I had just graduated from high school and felt I had nowhere to go. Husband No. 1 took charge, but the shelter he provided soon felt like confinement. When he forbade me to get a master’s degree, I pulled away. I felt bad about leaving, but my friends told me I did the right thing.

    Marriage No. 2: I should have known better. The signs were all there, but I ignored them. At first, husband No. 2 was a happy drunk. But as his relationship with vodka on the rocks made him increasingly icy towards me, I came to realize he was never going to quit. Once again, I knew it was time for me to move on.

    I moved to Center City, Philadelphia, and met new co-workers and friends. Sometimes I mentioned I’d been married before. I just never said how many times.

    Then I met John. He was in his late 40s but had never found the right person. When I told him about my sordid past, he laughed and said, “The sadder but wiser girl for me.”

    After a while, we realized that we wanted to be a family and have children. So I decided to give marriage another try.

    Second third chances

    Even though I’d been married twice, I wanted John to have a “real” wedding. I bought an off-the-rack wedding gown that was suitably simple and intentionally off-white. We reserved in the Unitarian Church where we met and ordered traditional ivory embossed invitations.

    Several days before the wedding, my future in-laws arrived to host the rehearsal dinner. It was an event designed to impress, and no expense was spared. Many out-of-town guests were to meet my family for the first time. I remember a blur of new people who were thrilled to see John “finally” tie the knot.

    Toasts ensued amidst friendly chatter. The best man, matron of honor, father of the groom, and several others gave us their best wishes. Then, my younger brother Gunnar took the mic with an amusing story about how he was looking forward to attending his sister’s third wedding.

    John’s mother gave me a horrified look and gasped: “Is that true?”

    My sister, who was sitting next to her, tried to reassure her.

    Obviously, John had failed to mention this one little detail to his family. I wanted to disappear, but instead I had another glass of wine and smiled like this was no big deal.

    Not just a ‘third husband’

    The next day, I stood at the back of the church in my wedding gown. My soon-to-be mother-in-law made her entrance in a burgundy Dior suit and stared coldly at me as she went by. My heart sank.

    My older brother Eric was to escort me down the aisle. He was the kind of brother who always looked out for me and never minded when I hung out in his room when he was in high school. When the church organ trumpeted the processional, he leaned over and whispered, “This is the first time I am walking you down the aisle, but it is your only wedding where I would have wanted to.”

    We hugged, then he took my arm and we were off.

    During the ceremony, John and I planned to read vows we had written to one another. I had spent considerable time composing just the right message about how much he meant to me. But instead of turning to him and reciting my well-rehearsed speech, I turned to our guests in the pews.

    “Those of you who were at the rehearsal dinner last night learned that I have been married not once, but twice before. It’s not something I am proud of,” I said. “But I tell you this: I would repeat every single thing that has happened in my life if it has brought me to where I am today. John isn’t my ‘third husband.’ He is the love of my life and I would do it all again if it meant I would be standing by him today.”

    I don’t know how they responded, but I didn’t care. All I remember is John taking my hand, and the look in his eyes when, a few minutes later, he officially kissed the bride.

    Eleven years later, this marriage has outlasted my previous two put together and is still going strong. My mother-in-law proudly introduces me as her daughter-in-law and the mother of her two grandchildren.

    Now I’m happy to say I’m a double divorcee. The third time was the charm.

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