Friday, 14 January 2011

Auntie Seraphic & Pondering Second Marriages

This is an Auntie Seraphic letter right out of the combox, so this is one of the names I made up.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

If you are thinking of marrying someone who is divorced (post-annulment), how much should you ask about their previous marriage? Not to pry into sordid past details, but to try and figure out whether anything could possibly go differently in a new union, or if one's potential husband/wife has learned anything from their first try at marriage.

Perhaps you have written about this already, but I would be grateful for any advice.

Pondering Second Marriages

Dear Pondering,

This all depends. If you are a man (and not formally engaged yet), and you want to ask a woman, "Honey, since we're thinking about marriage, do you have any thoughts on the topic?", then go for it. If you are a woman (and not formally engaged yet), and you want to ask a man that question, it might be better to say, "If you ever want to talk about what happened with [ex-spouse], I'd be happy to listen." Then wait. The idea is to spark the discussion, not to become the Inspector Rebus of the heart.

However, let me tell you: if you really want to hear the horribleness, marriage had better be something you're already discussing. In fact, these are the conversations engaged people have, should have, and indeed have to have in marriage prep class. In many dioceses, previously married people have to go to special marriage prep class. (I wonder if widows and widowers have to go or just us scabby divorced folk?)

Recently divorcing or divorced people are not good candidates for marriage. I remember that a minister's wife told her daughter to keep away from a handsome pal of hers who was divorcing because "divorcing people are crazy." And heaven knows I was pretty crazy myself. I started dating a guy with a history of dating crazy women, and when we broke up, he found another crazy woman. It was one of those things that make you go, "Hmm, am I, perhaps, crazy?"

In an ideal world, divorced-and-annulled people would be all healed by the time they met someone special, but it isn't always that way. However, I would say that the fact that a woman is not spontaneously discussing her lousy marriage is a very good sign, and I suspect the same might be true for men, too.

Incidentally, if what broke up the marriage was your intended's violence, infidelity, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, etc., etc., you need to have serious discussions about how he/she knows he/she will never do such things again. One reason why the divorce rate is so high is because divorced people sometimes (often?) divorce again.

B.A. has never asked me about my previous marriage. Of course, he read my whole entire blog, so he might have been on information overload. On the other hand, men don't usually like hearing about The Other Guy---one of the many ways in which they are unlike women, who sometimes have an unwholesome fascination with The Other Woman.

I don't know about men, but I suspect divorcees are haunted by their first weddings when planning their second. I certainly was. I bent over backwards to have the quiet, tasteful, humble wedding that my culture historically said befits second marriages. The one rule I broke was to wear a white dress, and long afterwards an impertinent person (not family) voiced her displeasure at this. Anyway, I suggest that grooms of previously married women should be prepared for their fiancees to have a bit of a meltdown about their first marriage during the horrific stress of their own wedding planning. I didn't, but after all I had been divorced for 10 years.

Finally, don't marry a man/woman unless you are head over heels with him/her and confident that your marriage could not possibly end in divorce.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,


The Crescat said...

I get grilled all the time when on dates which I think is horribly inappropriate but if the purpose of dating is to weed out bad apples in search for the one then what can I do? If I withhold I look suspicious. So I just say a generic comment and hope the conversation moves on from there.

Pondering said...

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Thanks so very much for this thoughtful post. This and some of your more recent posts (heck, all of them) have been really helpful in keeping my wits about me and being clearer about boundaries in relationships.

This was especially helpful
"Recently divorcing or divorced people are not good candidates for marriage."

I know I'll just keep coming back again and again to your blog for the clear reminders of what's what -- I do forget things easily, and need the reminders repeatedly.

Thanks for being so open and strong and clear about topics like virginity and divorce and living a jolly single life.

All the best,

Gratefully pondering

still pondering said...

P.S. As a follow-on to this question, do you have any wise words about what to do if/while one is waiting for annulments. How to stay on track, especially how to keep chastity of the imagination, and with emotions running about without any obvious outlet.

What kind of friendship is it good to have with someone waiting for an annulment himself? IS it good?
Should one cut off all communication just because we are both aware there are strong feelings behind our friendship?

Or is it okay/healthy/wise to just "stay friends" and avoid romantic expressions (verbal at this point only since we live far away from each other).

Is there a way to simply redirect romantic emotions for now, with the hope that they might be able to bear fruit a while down the line if there is somehow an opportunity?

Of course since there is no annulment yet, it is entirely possible that one might never come through, so there is that factor to keep in mind. (I.e. having to be committed to staying friends forever and nothing more if the annulment is denied.)

I HAVE talked with spiritual advisers (priests in confession) and friends about this, and I've gotten different responses, many of them very helpful. But I'd be grateful for your own unique take on the question.

Thanks for all your continued advice.