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Coupling

Don’t call it ‘remarriage’

It doesn’t matter if you’ve walked down the aisle before. Each marriage is unique.

By Jim Morrison
February 21, 2010

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Until I got engaged last year, I’d never used or even thought much about the word “remarriage,” so it surprised me just how immediately and sincerely I was offended upon hearing it being applied to my life.

Luck was as kind to me as it could have been the day I met (and soon after fell in love with) a beautiful, brilliant, kind, strong, and funny woman who also happened to be single and to feel the same way about me. Kelli is unlike any woman I’ve ever known, and we are unlike any couple I’ve ever heard of. Men discover courage they never dreamed they could possess for women like her. Astronomers name their long-sought-for distant constellations after loves like ours.

Nobody was surprised when I asked Kelli to marry me in May and she said “Yes!”

Announcing our engagement to family and friends catapulted us into a minor form of celebrity. Older women’s faces would brighten and the corners of their mouths would extend to the farthest reaches. They’d ask to see the ring, demand that we recount the entire proposal story in full detail, and, as often as not, feed us something tasty. Younger women would sit up close, wide-eyed and silent, drinking in every detail and imagining the day it would be their turn to be swept off their feet. Older men would grin as they recalled their younger selves making the bold gestures of newfound love they’d all but forgotten. They’d sit me down, pour a glass of something, and tell me how things were when they were young. It was grand. Then there were all of the e-mails, phone calls, and cards and the stream of unexpected, unfailingly thoughtful, and touching engagement gifts. It was pleasantly discomfiting, and it still warms me to reflect on that time.

Newly engaged couples bring out the innate graciousness in people. Well, not quite in everyone. You see, 17 years earlier -- nearly half my life ago -- when I wasn’t even old enough to rent a car, I married someone I shouldn’t have. I took the commitment seriously in every respect, but despite my very best efforts, the inevitable happened, and after a prolonged and anguished deliberation, we split up. While everyone was happy to hear that Kelli, who had never been married, and I had found the “Big L” at long last, more than a few unenlightened folks managed to work the phrase “second time around” into the conversation when referring to me. It was somewhat deflating to hear then, and it still bothers me to hear it now, regardless of whom it is in reference to. My marriage in December, the lifelong partnership Kelli and I have started, was an extraordinary and unique event. Second time around?

Nobody wants to be referred to as a “second husband” or “third wife.” If we’re lucky, each of us gets just one at a time, and they are simply called “husband” or “wife.” Telephones have numbers. People have names.

Kelli and I even found that ministers in most of the churches we looked into have specially prescribed and ordained procedures for the ceremonies they call “remarriage.” Remarriage? Have you ever re-peed after drinking a lot of coffee? Are you forever re-having sex after the very first time? After their first child, do parents re-deliver the next baby? No. These are similar but distinct, individual events that may recur but can never be replicated. When couples announce they are expecting another child, we might think but would never say: “I hope this one turns out better than the last one!”

Every relationship, every marriage is unique, born of unrepeatable circumstances, regardless of how many times one or both of the principals might have tried it before, or how successful they’ve been. Shoot, I’ll bet that even Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton felt like it was the real thing both times they married each other.

People don’t re-wake up each morning, nobody re-goes to work, and there are no remarriages -- only two people coming together with good intentions and high hopes, every time. Calling it a “remarriage” isn’t intentionally cruel; it’s simply thoughtless, and it’s time people rethought it.

Jim Morrison, who lives with his wife and sons in Charlestown, is a home inspector and freelance writer. Send comments to coupling@globe.com.

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  • february 21 globe magazine cover
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