Being the second wife is not something you set out to do. When picturing the man you are going to marry, typically women imagine characteristics like “funny”, “responsible”, “sexy”, “owns something without a parental co-signer”. Not a big list-topper? “previously married” or “already has kids”.
Not that the latter are bad. They just aren’t the leader of the ‘wants’. They are more like facts that you have to weigh when considering going out on date #2.
For me, I was just looking for someone solid. Someone not still connected to his mommy. I wanted someone who would take me out on public dates and not just a booty call. I wanted a guy who wanted to open my door and hold my hand. Someone who might have a job and could pay for a date. I wasn’t on the hunt for a husband. This became a chuckle for my now husband.
“What do you mean you just want a boyfriend? Do you want to just date indefinitely? Are you not looking for a permanent relationship?”
“Jeez, man, I’m not going into a date thinking ‘Can this be my husband?'”
I was only 25, afterall. What the hell did I know?!
Here’s what I thought I knew:
I don’t need a guy, but a good one would be nice
I’d like a man, not a boy
I’m invincible and will be young forever
I don’t want to live in a San Pedro studio apartment forever
I am getting really tired of Top Ramen
I can certainly finish community college
That was the sum of the important stuff. When I started dating my now husband I knew what came with the relationship. A first marriage. Kids. Some life experience. The benefits that came along with these things were confidence, he’s responsible, not afraid of commitment, stability. Those are huge pluses. I thought I could manage whatever feelings would pop up regarding being a stepmom. A second wife.
Boy was I an idiot.
I’m sure there are huge amounts of functional, loving, inclusive, co-parenting families out there. That’s just not my story, and it’s not the point of this post. My focus right now is on how hard it was because I was unsuspecting of the little creepers. Those feelings that waited until the exact perfect moment to rear their heads and spew jealousy, insecurity, doubt, anger. I thought because I had a stepmom, I knew what to expect. I had a blueprint afterall, right?
My husband had small kids. Great kids, don’t get me wrong. But they still had their whole childhood to grow and learn and develop into people. They did this while I watched from the sidelines as my husband and their mom made choices and decisions for them all while I was expected to just open-armed accept and and agree with all of it. I was 25 when we started our relationship and I had not much adult life experience myself.
The first surprise came when I found out I was pregnant with my first. We had left things open to the possibility of getting pregnant. We were already engaged. When I found out, it was like having a tiger in a crate. A lion in a cardboard box. I was elated and excited and terrified and thrilled all at the same time….. but we couldn’t say anything right away. But I knew, and he knew and I wanted to tell everyone I bumped into.
This secret I had was only mine. The wonder of all the firsts; the first appointment hearing the heartbeat, the ultrasound, the kicks, the cravings, the barfing, it was all new to me, but not to him. He had done it before, and not just once.
The “newness” of this huge world-shifting event was something I had to understand and experience alone.
He already knew what was coming. He was there for me, mostly, sure. But not in a way I imagine a couple who would share this first with each other would be.
He was easily distracted by his very stressful and high-priority job. I understood, mostly. I felt alone regardless.
This was something I couldn’t see coming. It was our first kid together afterall, so why so many feelings about it? Who knows?! I was pregnant, you don’t discuss logic with a pregnant woman.
I ended up on bed rest for blood pressure concerns. Was he comparing how my pregnancy was going to his ex wife? Was she better at being pregnant than I was?
Crazy-making stuff for a woman on bed rest for a month.
After our son was born, I was so thankful my husband was not the blundering ball of nerves I was. He handled those first diaper changes like a champ because I was too nervous what with the circumcision, the belly button, the poo. His experience was priceless those first weeks.
Life rolled on with it’s own velocity. I coped, he made it work, we moved on. Throughout our relationship there have been a lot of positives and fun and firsts for us both, but from time to time it will hit me that this is not the same for him. My side of some big things are mine alone to understand. He’s already figured it out.
Does it mean it’s bad? No. Would I do it again? Probably. Would I use more caution? Hellz yes.
When you are the second (or third or fourth) wife, you bring extra people into your relationship. It is not just the two of you. It is the two of you, the ex, the kids, and whoever else is hanging around. Our homes have always had to add the consideration of that extra space for when the kids would visit. Our cars always had to have the extra consideration of ‘what if all the kids are here together’. Our vacations always need to be considerate of the first family. Our news always takes into consideration feelings of people not under our roof.
It rarely goes the other direction. The first wife does not need to keep a spare room for my kids. She does not need to be sure her car can accommodate a car seat for my child. She didn’t have to tip toe around hidden mines when choosing names for kids because he had that with someone else. She doesn’t stumble over pictures of his new life. There are no ghosts or skeletons in the closets of her home. She does not have to explain to her friends who the extra kids at the party are. There’s not a dynamic switch in her life that is constantly on a dimmer setting of off/kinda off/a little on/full blast. Her life isn’t affected by whether my kids go to a private school or public school.
None of these things could have been factored into those first dates and debates on whether or not having a relationship with someone who has already been to all these places would matter.
From time to time, usually when we are arguing about something, I will see a couple with a little newborn. I will see the dad proudly pushing the stroller and the mom tired but elated. I see this family and I have a twinge of jealousy. Jealousy for never getting to experience that feeling of diving off a tall dark cliff together, holding hands, facing down whatever comes flying up at you. Experiencing it, making decisions from the same place of ignorance on how to proceed. Making mistakes innocently with the best of intentions with no baggage or strings attached. Sometimes I’ll watch a family navigating high school choices or driving tests and i’ll envy the closeness that experience brings them together because it is new to all of them. No one can raise their hand and say, “Wait… here’s the right way based on this same experience I already had with these other people over here.”
Our relationship has the potential to be stronger than most because of these struggles and pits and problems, but it takes work. Lots of work and trust and security.
To the people out there who are faced with the choice in life to go for the second/third wife/husband slot, I would just say go in with your eyes wide open, your heart wide open, your therapists door wide open and make sure your partner is really worth it. If you have seen the worst in this person and the best and either way you still want to talk to them and have an adventure, you might just make it.
This December my husband and I will celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. I love that he is a responsible, caring, loving father. I love that he is a stable wonderful husband who is not scared off by my mood swings, flaws, lack of domestic ability. I love his girls from his first marriage and only want them to grow into independent strong women the same as I want for my own daughter. I am thankful for this man. I am appreciative that we are both willing to work so hard on our marriage. I’m also happy that I have the bigger ring.