I’m getting married in less then a month. It’s the second marriage for both my fiancé and I. And it’s a very different experience from my first.
In contrast to my first marriage, my second is a lot more complicated – and a lot more meaningful. While my first was defined by the naïveté and lightness of youth, my second is defined by the heft of my midlife emotional and material accumulations.
This isn’t to say that my second marriage is inferior to my first. If that were the case, I wouldn’t do it. It’s just that it requires me to answer a more mature set of questions.
First of all, I had to get clear why I wanted to re-marry. My fiancé and I have successfully lived together for the last 10 years, so why would I want to change things? We don’t plan on having any more children and our families are definitely not pressuring us. So why go through all the fuss? Why deal with all the bother? Why risk the chance that by formalizing our relationship, we’ll destroy it?
My answers to these questions did not come quickly or easily. They were found in private thought, in loving conversations and angry debates with my fiancé, in frank conversations with friends, family members, ex-wives, and in tear-filled sessions with a gifted therapist. In short, they came by having the courage to ask hard questions and being willing to live with the answers. And the answers I reached told me to dive deeper into my relationship and wade through the uncertainties and certainties of the second half of my life – not alone, but in a religious, personal and social commitment to another human being.
My answers also showed me that while my first marriage was defined by the expansiveness of life, my second marriage is bound by an awareness of its termination. When I first married in my 20s, death was a distant and abstract construct. Now in my 40s, I’ve experienced the fragility of life concretely. In midlife, the vows I’ll take “until death do us part” resonate with a pitch that I wasn’t able to perceive fresh out of college.
While there is a great deal of joy in my midlife marriage, there’s also a fair amount of sorrow. The joy comes from my experience of loving and being loved, the acceptance and participation of our mature families, the ability to stand before God and the willingness to commit to my partner completely. The sorrow comes from knowing that just as things have beginnings, everything comes to an end, and the people who are with us today, may not be in the coming tomorrows.
This focus on the end is the most distinguishing feature of my midlife marriage. It puts into sharp relief the preciousness of life and the value of being able to share that preciousness with another person. I’m incredibly grateful for the chance to love and commit again to another person and for the awareness that comes from my midlife experiences. This time when I walk down the aisle, I’ll do so with a greater respect for the swift rush of life and gratitude for my ability to savor its bitter sweetness.