Divorce - Are Two Husbands Better Than None?
( Originally Published 1952 )
We suggest that no men read this chapter, though they won't believe it if they do, so it doesn't really matter. For we are about to start off with the statement that most widows and a good many divorcees don't want to remarry. Far more men are ready to try again and there are those among them who keep on trying right up to the end. There are, of course, some women who do this too, but quite a number of them do it from economic necessity, which has always been an unfortunate factor in too many marriages. And if you don't think we are right about the larger pro-portion of remarrying males. perhaps you aren't remembering that far fewer survive to be widowers or divorced men of the age bracket now under discussion.
As for the women, they have learned over the years that marriage is a lot of work successful marriage, that is. Many women practically make themselves over to fit their husbands' picture of a Perfect Wife, and more at least make a try at it. There is no more compensating job in the world when you do it for the right man, but there is a limit to the number of times you can do a complete remodeling job on anything, yourself included, and a more stringent limit to the number of times you want to.
This is a problem completely absent from a man's life. He's what he is and satisfied to be just that, and you can take him or leave him. A lot of women take him and wish they'd left him. Even more take him and try to change him, a dim project when he's young and a hopeless one when he isn't. (Perhaps we should add that a good many take him and are very glad they did.)
In general, though here again there are exceptions, it can be said that the widower who has been happily married usually begins to Look Around fairly soon, while the widow not in crucial need of support thinks a long time first. Those who were happy are afraid it can't happen twice; those who weren't are afraid it can. Both know that readjustments get harder as you get older and that they'd better be the ones to make them. Also, deep inside, they have a loyalty and sentiment that few men have in quite the same degree, some-times even for a man who made them bitterly unhappy.
All this applies to women of middle age and older, need-less to say, and not to young ones. Young widows usually do want a second husband and a normal married life, quite understandably. One might think this less understandable in the young divorcee, on the principle of the burned child dreading the fire, but they seem equally hopeful. Some, in fact, make a habit of remarriage, flitting from oak to oak and often leaving one with an eye already on the next. To be honest, some of these cockeyed optimists eventually make a success of matrimony, but we will skip a discussion of them, partly because we don't understand them and more because they are well able to take care of themselves.
To turn to those to whom marriage is a matter of permanence and importance, the truth is that they are pretty choosy about a second one, when possible. A marriage that lasts through even a few years makes a deep and lasting impression on a woman of character. She is not sure that she wants to close a door on memories of warmth and happiness and shared affection, or even on small, intimate recollections. If she has any wisdom at all, she knows that she must if she remarries and plays fair. Halfway measures are poor ideas in most things; in marriage, they're cheating. Besides, what man wants a wife with her mind on someone else, or would enjoy feeling that he's not measuring up to a former model?
We believe that the marriages that are made after the first flush of youth—both first and second ones—have a high percentage of happiness and we're going to talk about them later on in this chapter. For the moment, we stick to our story that, contrary to masculine opinion, not all widows are in panting pursuit of a second mate. We think a lot of men who will never admit it have discovered this to their startled amazement and more would get the surprise of their lives if they halted in their flight from some quite uninterested female to pop the question. Perhaps they're wise not to, for their own self-esteem.
It may be that you are a woman who is an exception to all that we've said and have in mind a specific male you would like to pursue with serious intentions. In that case, our advice is to go right ahead, but it's a good idea to be a little less obvious than in your angling for a mere addition to your collection. Maneuver to see him as often as you like (or can), but do it with and through friends, with an occasional well-spaced exception. These exceptions are, of course, important and should, if possible, be in your own surroundings. After all, by the time you are a widow or divorcee, it is probable that the gentleman involved, if available at all, is as interested in a homemaker as he is in your romantic charms, which is not as cynical as it sounds.
Actually, the role of a charming hostess is fun to play. You can do it as well in a small—even a tiny—establishment as in a large and handsome one. (Sometimes better, as many men like the munificent feeling of giving the little woman something she couldn't have without him—a nice and much-appreciated point of view.) We hope that by now you have made your own setting as attractive as you possibly can, for your own morale, and in that case, all you have to do is to see that it's at its best, add flowers and preparations for tea or cocktails, don your most becoming costume, and prepare to listen sympathetically while he, encouraged by you, sounds off on his favorite subject. While this recipe is not infallible, in cases where anything will work, this rates pretty high.
Incidentally, we advise this procedure even if you're not sure that you want the gentleman as a husband—that is, if there's any question at all in your mind. It's often an effective cure, especially if lie shows the common signs of masculine wariness. Playing hard to get is an old and excel-lent plan when applied by a woman to a man, but practically never successful (after adolescence) when the positions are reversed. What every woman wants is devotion, and she's quite right. Warmth and responsiveness are perhaps the two most important ingredients of a happy marriage, and the prospect of a long and dreary stretch of matrimony with-out them (or, even worse, of constant struggling to achieve them) is something we can't imagine any intelligent woman trying unless she's on the brink of starvation.
To return to the less eager women, matrimonially speaking, many who have been widowed for some time will tell you that if you're going to marry again, you'd better do it in the first couple of years or pretty soon after. We think they're right. In the first difficult period of loneliness, you are more open-minded. The pattern of your life is so completely changed that you're at sea and your instinct is to get back to what it once was. You're used to doing everything as part of a couple; most of your social life was planned around pairs; you don't know what to do as an odd number and you feel unwanted and doubly, unhappy. Even through the first weeks of grief, you find yourself looking instinctively at every unattached man you meet and comparing him with your former husband to see if he would do. At this stage, of course, you feel that lie won't, but the unformed thought is in your mind out of sheer loneliness.
This is a phase and it doesn't last. In a few months, you stop looking them over, unless they give you good reason, and eventually you may not care very much whether they do or not. As time goes on, any woman is likely to dwell on, and perhaps to exaggerate, her husband's best points and the small things he did that gave her pleasure, and to forget the rest. Sometimes her memories eventually give him a fictitious perfection, which is a pity, since no one around her can hope to match it. We have known divorcees too in whose mind events of their early romance had wiped out much that came later.
All this increases the choosiness we've already referred to. And every woman soon finds, as we've implied, that there's been a decline in both the quantity and the quality of what she has to choose from. Some premarriage acquaintances that she liked very much have grown pretty stodgy with the passing of time. Some, to be honest, haven't grown as stodgy as she thinks; their habits and interests are just different from hers, and she, too, has become a shade settled. Perhaps even hers aren't just what they were in her premarried days, but she adapted herself to her husband's way of life and followed it for so long that it seems the best one now. If you're one of these women, it may easily occur to you, about the third time you go out with one of the gentlemen out of your past, that your own resources are a lot more fun than his discourses on the state of the nation and that the schedule on which his life is run wouldn't suit you at all.
He will be only one of the so-called eligible men who pre-sent themselves, or are presented by mutual and eager friends, who aren't as eligible as they're considered. One group includes the ubiquitous older man with a pet ailment, if not several. If he's too well into the older class, you'd better watch out. With invalidism a probability, he's a pushover for the marrying widow, but if she takes him, she'll be a nurse more than a wife. She may care enough to be glad to—devotion combined with sincere affection can be very rewarding—but she'd better be sure. There are a lot of men who come into this class. Just as more men than women die early, so more give out early and have long illnesses or years of retirement in the semi-invalid class. And masculine invalids, or even semi-invalids, can be much more trying than most feminine ones. A really sick woman puts up the best front she can when her lord and master comes home from the office, but a sick man is a twenty-four-houra-day job and in a tizzy most of the time, as even a young wife knows if her husband has had so much as a pain in his toe. (Though we hasten to add that there are a few men whose patience and courage through serious illness puts most women to shame.)
Still another ineligible type is the man who has been tied to his desk for so many years that he's lost touch with the amenities of life away from it, though he's the last to suspect it. He is usually a businessman, rather than a professional one, with work not directly involving people, except his own staff which he hasn't seen as people for years. He is often the man who has always expected to marry when he got around to it and still has it vaguely in mind, but he'd be a complete washout as a husband. He may be kindness personified, in intent, but he would nevertheless hurt your feelings repeatedly through the mere fact that he is now unaware of what does hurt a woman's feelings. Look on him as a friend, not a possible husband. Life will give you bruises enough without trying to cope with a man who mislaid what flair for romance he had somewhere in the dusty archives of his office. Besides, after six months of marriage, he'd hate it.
There is also the philanderer who begins to feel tired and thinks he wants to settle down, but seldon quite does, even after marriage. He, however, at least has the practice and skill to make you feel as desirable as a debutante when he is concentrating on you, which is something. If he's the type you will have to work hard to hold, it's a good idea to be very sure you want to hold him enough to take the trouble. The older you get, the more trouble it will be.
One more ineligible is the man who is always late, not having had the domestic training to appreciate the havoc this habit can cause in the home, or being too selfish to care.
Either way, you can't train him now. He'll go right on being late half the nights in the week, not excepting the nights you're expecting guests or the cook is upset. He'll do it from habit and not from necessity, though he'll firmly believe it's the latter, having built up that fiction in his own mind to an indestructible point. He will not reform at the altar, and if he's attractive, you'd better remind yourself that repeated lateness is a discourtesy under any circumstances and that courtesy is far more important in marriage than out of it.
A final group to be wary of falls into two classes, though the effect on the lady involved is the same. First, there is the man presented as eligible who turns out never to have divorced a wife married in his dim, dead past; and second, the man who has no intention of marrying anybody. There are a good many of both in the over-fifty bracket and they are delighted to find an attractive woman who will let herself drift into becoming what is commonly (in more senses than one) called a steady lady friend, tying up her evenings to meet his convenience. It is possible that this plan will suit you too, we can't think why, but it's a good idea to be very sure that you won't get hurt and that you can avoid being talked about, or don't mind it. After that, it's your business and you should do as you please.
By the time you've looked over these pretty poor pickings (poor as husbands, that is, but often splendid as friends), the chances are that you've adapted yourself to your new life anyway. You no longer worry about many of the things discussed in the early part of this book. Your circle of friends, both masculine and feminine, is adequate, your interests are sufficient to keep you busy, and a second husband is not all-important. If this goes on too long, he may seem definitely unimportant, if not undesirable—which is why we agree with the widows who say to remarry soon if you want to remarry at all.
For, contrary to all our carping, we don't know why you shouldn't, if you find a really eligible man you can care about, and we see every reason why you should. A con-genial marriage offers the most satisfactory life there is. And we have no patience with people who assume that all marriages made after misty-eyed youth are merely congenial and made for companionship only. Companionship is important at any age, but so is romance and the latter is not unattainable up to a pretty good age. This seems impossible to the young, of course (how many times have you heard a girl say, "How could she marry that old thing?), but by the time you've reached a suitable age to marry him, you are wondering how the young thing could marry her under-done fiance and what in the world they find to talk about.
Actually, the years should bring increasing wisdom and understanding of what is necessary to make a happy marriage. And happy marriages are made; they don't just hap-pen. The older you are, the more you know the value of a happy marriage and the sorrow when a marriage ends. You are readier to make the sacrifices that have to be made and more appreciative of the rewards. If you are wise, you know that you must really start all over, making a new pattern of life to fit a new personality. This is true of first, second, and even third or fourth marriages, and if you can't accept that, you'd better not accept him.
If you do remarry, we don't go so far as to say that you should ban all mention of your former husband and your life with him from your conversation, which would be unnatural and a definite strain, but we do say you should discuss them seldom and casually. And certainly, you should never put a comparison into words and should keep it from your mind as far as is humanly possible.
If we are not as long-winded in favor of remarriage as we were on the other side, it is only because, if you find the right man, you will need no persuasion from anyone. The right man is the one no one can stop you from marrying. We have a deep conviction that if you do go to the altar, you leave a far better chance of living happily ever after than the charming young brides who flutter so hopefully, but unknowingly, down the aisle in a cloud of white tulle.
CASE XXII.: Mrs. M—Mrs. M. has been a widow for some years and is in the middle sixties, though she doesn't look a day over forty-five and has the figure of a sweet young didn't have any children. Both Mr. and Mrs, Y. were crowding sixty when they met as widower and widow, respectively, and renewed their romance.
Mrs. Y.'s children, now married, thought the whole affair ridiculous, if not slightly indecent. Mr. Y.'s nieces and nephews shared their opinion. (Mr. Y. had accumulated a substantial fortune through the years.) Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Y. cared what anyone thought. They both knew their marriage was doubly romantic because they'd waited so long and learned its value the hard way. They couldn't be happier than they are right now and we hope they live for a long, long time.
CASE XXIV.: Mrs. MacB.—Mrs. MacB., who is not very adaptable, was completely at sea after her divorce and could scarcely wait for someone to Turn Up. Someone did fairly promptly and he seemed to Mrs. MacB. to be the perfect answer to a divorcee's prayer. He was handsome, popular, and had never been married before.
Unfortunately, the gentleman too thought he was the perfect answer to a divorcee's prayer, or anyone else's. He'd done just as he pleased for some fifty years and his habits were as set as well-dried cement. He was accustomed to large doses of flattery and no criticism. He'd lived at a club and knew nothing of the problems of help or housekeeping. The thousand and one hostesses who'd entertained him had a thing. She lives in a neighborhood thickly populated with other widows, each one of whom has her own apartment, large or tiny, and is as busy as anyone you know keeping up with all the others. They give each other luncheon and cock-tail parties, go together to the theater or on a cruise, meet for dinner and the movies, and never have a minute to spare.
Mrs. M. gets around a good deal outside of this circle too, and people frequently wonder why she is still a widow. The women are heard to say, "Jennie's so popular—I wonder why she never remarried." The men are heard to say, "I wonder why no one ever married Mrs. M. She's still attractive." If Mrs M. were to speak up, she could tell you that a number of men would have liked to marry her. But why should she oblige? She did a good, complete job as a wife for thirty years and did it very happily. She readjusted her-self with all the difficulty of anyone else. Now, she's having a very pleasant life. Why start a third one?
CASE XXIII.: Mrs. Y.—Mrs. Y. was engaged to marry Mr. Y. in her teens, but a misunderstanding caused her to marry somebody else in a moment of pique. Mr. Y.-married some-body else too, and they all regretted it.
Mrs. Y.'s first husband was too fond of his highballs and only hard work and a really beautiful voice enabled Mrs. Y. to support herself and her two children, to say nothing of their father. Mr. Y.'s first wife was shallow and spoiled and seemed to him to do it effortlessly, at odd hours and a moment's notice, and why couldn't his wife? She's trying, but it's pretty hard going.