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6 Truths About Being A Second Wife

No little girl dreams of walking down the aisle to "Here Comes His Second Bride"

1. I never expected to be a second wife. No one does; no little girl longs to grow up and walk down the aisle to the strains of "Here Comes the Second Bride, All Dressed in an Ivory Suit." But here I am, married to a man who was married before. I am the grown-up woman he married as a grown-up man. We have an ordinary life. It’s not a series of glittering evenings drinking martinis in smoky bars. Instead it is the familiar routine of waking to an arm around your waist, the companionable bathroom talk with mouths full of toothpaste, and the idea that someone will know if you don’t make it home at night. Yet even though we have gallopped past our twentieth year of marriage, I am still considered The Second One by certain of our acquaintances. Go figure.

2. Not many people like a second wife. Not the wives of college friends, not old relatives who can't remember new names but who remember that they shelled out good money for a fancy gift the first time around, and especially not the original wife, who thinks of herself as the bona fide wife. But when a man marries for the second time he knows what he's getting into. He enters willingly, eyes open, arms spread--he's the emotional version of a skydiver. Emerging broken, bruised and bleeding from a previous fall when the parachute didn’t quite open, he is nevertheless willing to do it again and at an even greater risk-- everyone knows second marriages are risky. The surprise is this: when the moment comes, the man jumps with alacrity.

3. So why is the phrase “second wife” so unnerving? When even used-car dealers don’t regard themselves as purveyors of second-hand merchandise, when second-hand clothes stores are now consignment shops, why should I stick with the second-wife moniker? It’s not like I wasn’t married before, too. My husband is as much a second husband as I’m a second wife. In part, this is due to the fact that there is still a contingent for which a marriage without children is only slightly more honorable than a series of one-night stands. Yet we make as felicitous a stepfamily as you are likely to find.

4. Being a second wife and a stepmother is rather like learning to perfect a set of aerial maneuvers. There are seriously complicated stunts involved-- trapeze artists have less difficulty in learning when to disappear and resurface at exactly the right moments than your average second wife. And there remains a slight sense of imbalance. His first marriage counted. My first marriage--even though it lasted five years--did not. During my final two years in my first marriage, I was constantly telling my friends how I wanted to make my relationship work. Then I learned that marriages aren’t like cars, independent of the people in them, to be fixed according to an owner's manual.

5. I realized, several years after I remarried, that one of my oldest friends never quite forgave me for getting on with life after my divorce. Treating me with the resentment of a union official watching a house being constructed with non-union labor, my erstwhile friend watched me build up and remodel my life. She has never absolved me from the sin of being happy.

6. To sum up: I am married to a man I love and am lucky. We’d both been married before, but does that really matter? Should second wives post billboards proclaiming that we are not necessarily women who flounce through life wearing ankle bracelets, feather boas, and alligator shoes? As some statistics have it, we are one in every four married women you will meet. Yet we have to shake off the stigma attached to being The Second Wife and say, with a smile, “Yes indeed, I’m his second wife. But I’m his last.”

More from Gina Barreca Ph.D.
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