"We Can't Get Over Our First Marriages"
Her Turn, continued
"Two years ago, four years after Alan's death, my good friends Maddie and Ed insisted I join them on a trip to England. That's where I met Jeff. Maddie, Ed, and I were having tea at Brown's Hotel in London; Jeff was at the next table with some friends. We started chatting and he told me he was a freelance photographer from Maryland. Somehow it came out in the conversation that he'd lost his wife and he was living alone. They had never had children. Jeff was so easy to talk to; we sat at the table talking for so long that my friends left us alone and the waiter had to ask us to leave so he could set the tables for dinner!
"Jeff asked if he could call me when we got home, and though I was nervous, I said yes. Before I knew it, we were having a long-distance relationship and visiting each other frequently. We always had fun together, and he made me feel good about myself for the first time since Alan died. By the end of the year, he asked me to marry him. I said yes and, after a small ceremony, he moved into my house in Massachusetts. He still owns the home he built in Maryland and likes to visit his relatives down there. My house, actually, was a problem at first: It was built in 1850, and it's filled to the rafters with antiques. Jeff prefers spare, modern furnishings, but he's come around to graciously accepting my things and living without his.
"We've been married for two years now, and while they say opposites attract, I'm not so sure anymore. Jeff grew up in the South; I'm a New Englander. He has a master's degree in fine arts, did a stint in the Navy, has lived all over the world, and loves to go out. I'm much more of a homebody: I like to garden and bake, and I rarely travel. I've always been very child-centered. He and his first wife, Maryanne, led a very social life, filled with film screenings and fancy cocktail parties. Often, I feel that I'm not good enough for Jeff, like he's out of my league, so to speak. He wants to travel abroad all the time, but I'm not comfortable leaving my family and going far away -- especially with the world situation the way it is today.
"Besides, I'd rather be home with my kids and grandkids, which is another problem. They visit frequently and are always underfoot and noisy. I know Jeff resents the time I spend with them and the lack of privacy; he hates the 'chaos,' as he puts it. But I love all the commotion.
"Jeff has also become increasingly critical. He'll complain that I'm using the wrong pan to bake the chicken in or say the spices I used for the marinade didn't work. Well, Alan always ate anything I put on his plate and without complaint. Jeff also doesn't like the way I iron his shirts, so he'll instruct me on how to do it better. Once he got so aggravated, he grabbed the iron and said he'd do it himself. When we were packing for a trip to Italy last year, he had a fit about the way I was folding and packing our clothes. I usually keep most of my feelings inside; it's hard for me to express how I feel, so I prefer to let things blow over. But Jeff's nitpicking that day made me go ballistic. 'I'm not an idiot!' I screamed. 'I've packed suitcases for years. It might not be your way, or Maryanne's way, but it's my way!'
"You know, I've struggled so hard to be independent after Alan's death. I got used to being alone and doing as I pleased. Now, Jeff wants to know where I go every time I put on my coat. It seems reasonable to check in with him, but at the same time, it makes me bristle inside.
"I could go on and on with the small-potatoes stuff that fills our days with tension. I thought I knew how to do marriage. Maybe it's me, maybe it's him. But whatever is wrong, it's making me doubt 'us.' I don't think I can ever live up to his memory of Maryanne."