The Second Wives Club

Isn't it time we finally get the respect we deserve?
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The Stereotype

On July 10, 1999, I happily became a statistic the moment I uttered "I do" -- I was now in a second marriage, along with some 20 percent of 40-plus men and women nationwide. Life had thrown me a curveball just four years earlier, when my first husband suddenly died. In the depths of my grief, six months later, I was reintroduced to an old acquaintance, the man I married that summer afternoon. As it turns out, he and his first wife had legally separated the same time that my marriage had ended so differently.

We popped corks, celebrated with our closest friends and enjoyed a luxurious honeymoon in France. When we returned, I was in for somewhat of a rude awakening. Although I thought of myself simply as a wife, I quickly learned that the "second" amendment in front of my title spoke volumes to many people. When I showed off my new ring to an acquaintance, she told me I had no business marrying a father, strongly implying that I had destroyed another woman's life and contributed to the abandonment of an innocent child. I was shocked that my happy news could be interpreted so falsely. My husband's ex is the one who initiated the divorce. He's a great dad, and my stepdaughter doesn't even hate me. She gives me presents on Mother's Day.

Say the words "second wife," and what comes to mind? A home-wrecking, younger tramp, that's what. Forget that statistics show the age difference between spouses in second marriages is a scant 3.4 years, or that, at 44, I'm older than my 41-year-old husband. Common wisdom is that we're home invaders, using youth or glamour to insinuate ourselves into otherwise happy marriages and cut men off from their children.

I'm not saying that doesn't happen now and then. On any given day, you can read tabloid stories of older men jumping into younger women's arms. From Marla Maples to Suzy Wetlaufer (who allegedly lured former GE CEO Jack Welch away from his wife -- his second wife, actually), such sexy scandals feed a stereotype I think is long past due for a decent burial.

But it just won't die. Maybe we're still harboring resentment for what happened to many divorced women of my mother's generation, who made sacrifices for their husbands' careers only to be left high and dry if the marriage ended. The First Wives Club tapped into the anger of women who ended up in that situation. But I found the movie, with its slimy husbands and predatory women, to be curiously out of date. The women I know who have divorced in the past 10 years or so have benefited from changes in divorce law that provide for a more equitable split when one household becomes two; in a couple of cases, they even secured the lion's share of the assets. It's tough on everybody as we navigate this brave new world of blended families, with its foreign and emotionally tricky terrain. Tired stereotyping doesn't help a thing.

Continued on page 2:  A Reality Check


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