On Being a Second Wife
I thought it a long time before I said it.
I was sitting outside a restaurant with two other single friends in their late 20s. Like me, they had dated, tried, and tried again. We were laughing over the silly reasons we’d broken up with guys, and the serious problems we’d overlooked for too long in order to stay. We talked about the shame we felt as women who were unchosen, even if we knew that was false.
We talked about loving our lives, even if they weren’t what we had expected.
It feels good to have people around you who get it: Other people who have heard the messages that if you were faithful to God, you would achieve marriage, and had found those messages lacking. Other people who knew Ring By Spring as a cruel joke instead of a clever saying. Other people who had felt the long, slow slight of being a Christian woman who would never be taken seriously without a man. Other people who found the Church telling them to be small and patient, when they felt bold and powerful.
It was good to be around people who had suffered broken promises, waited patiently on love that never materialized, who were honest about their current happiness, and their doubt. Honestly, I never really expected to leave those conversations.
I blurted out, that day, that I wanted to be a second wife.
My friends laughed, then were visibly uncomfortable, but I was practicing saying things I actually thought, even if that didn’t make sense inside the moderate Christian bubble of my 20s.
“Yeah, I don’t know, I guess at this point I just don’t think I could respect someone who hadn’t suffered loss, and learned how to live through it.” I remember suddenly becoming sheepish, and stumbling over my words to try to lower their raised eyebrows with more explanation. “It seems like all the Christian guys our age got married a long time ago, or they have other issues. Not all those marriages will work out. I don't think a second marriage would be second best.”
When I met my husband, he was married to someone else.
I won’t try to tell you their story, because I can’t. I had nothing to do with their trying, the end to their commitments, and their pain.
Some marriages just don’t work out.
But I can tell you that when he told me what had happened, the first thing I thought was “Well, I hope now you can be happy!"
As a Christian Youth in the late 90s and early 2000s, happiness was something I was taught to avoid. “Joy is what is mentioned in the Bible,” I was told. “Joy comes through obedience to God’s law.” Joy came through never getting divorced, or waiting for God to reconcile a broken marriage.
Concepts like “fun” and “happiness” were dismissed as obviously worldly and shallow as we sang our stalwart songs with gusto. We were the committed generation, untouched by a worldview of temptations like “love” and “pleasure.”
But two years ago, at my birthday party, when Dan stood in my kitchen and shared a broken and dismissed part of himself with me, all I wanted for him was happiness. I asked him what he needed. He said he was already in counseling, and what he really needed was to have fun, active things to do.
Kids, you know that I am the queen of fun, active things to do. Connecting cool people with other cool people is basically like my spiritual gift. And to a friend in trauma that I couldn't begin to understand, that’s all I could offer. I invited him to soccer games and game nights and everything else I could think of doing.
I didn’t expect to fall in love with him.
I didn't expect to find in him the five things I'd set as my seemingly unreachable standard: smart, strong, kind, funny, and safe.
I didn't expect to have to justify our kindness towards each other, over and over. I didn’t expect to find my job at a Christian organization, or his, to be on the line for not following the unspoken and unwritten rules.
I didn’t expect to have to transition from being a snarky single blogger to a boring married one.
But I did expect that life and love would be different than I thought (thanks, 1999 version of Caedmon’s Call), and that’s what I hope I can keep writing about.
I don’t want to tell you that marriage is perfect or completely fulfilling, because it’s not, even when it's unbelievably happy. I still don’t think getting a Ring by Spring or saving sex til marriage or not dating someone who was married before will save the you that has to look in the mirror every morning. I don’t think that God’s best is to reconcile every broken marriage.
But I do still believe that the best gift we have is to say what we really think about our real lives, and say it aloud to friends who will listen and trust.
I am still terrified of the gravity of building a life-long partnership, moving to a new city in a new state, practicing vulnerability, making friends, saying no to good things like Seminary and yes to other good things like a Master's in Clinical Psychology, writing and speaking, and whatever life holds for me.
So here we are, with no grand conclusions. We’ve made it another week, in a life that is not second-best.
This life is good and we are all together, trying at a holy sort of happiness.