When I brought my boyfriend to Florida along with our four young children to visit my mom, things went sideways pretty fast. Dan and I made the mistake of traveling to Florida by train, foolishly imagining that our kids—two boys and two girls, then ages 5, 6, 7 and 8—would entertain themselves by watching the scenery rush by.
Instead, the girls just wanted to play Polly Pockets and the boys wanted to play with their Matchbox cars. Dan and I took turns entertaining them until the kids finally passed out around midnight, at which point Dan looked over at me and said, “Ah, the romance of train travel.”
Things did not improve at my mother’s. Dan’s son caught a stomach bug and spent the day vomiting. My son and Dan both came down with strep throat. Dan’s ex-wife called to say she’d forgotten to tell us that their kids had lice. After a mere 24 hours, my mother found me weeping on the front steps after putting everyone to bed.
“You can’t marry this man,” she said. “He only wants you to look after his children, you know.”
My mom wasn’t the first person to try and discourage me from marrying Dan. Most of my friends couldn’t fathom why I’d rush into another marriage. Even my therapist was puzzled. She was also quick to unblinker my eyes with divorce statistics: while nearly 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce, the divorce rate for second marriages is even more dismal—about 67 percent.
With two kids each, Dan and I would be creating a new family and literally bringing baggage from our old families that included bikes, stuffed animals, and Game Boys, not to mention ex-spouses. To complicate matters, we needed a bigger house because neither of us lived in a place large enough to accommodate us.
“You could just keep dating,” said a friend. “Once you’re living together, all of that romantic stuff will fall by the wayside. And right now you’ve at least got some weekends to yourself,” she added wistfully.
True. With my ex-husband taking the kids every other weekend, I had more freedom to write, or even to just nap. Having Dan and his kids on weekends when I didn’t have my own children meant I was playing happy families with people whose rules and rhythms were different from my own.
Yet, I loved Dan, and I loved his children, too. I married him anyway, on the day after his divorce was final, in a backyard wedding where half of our 96 guests were children. There were so many knee-high guests that we hired a pair of clowns to entertain them. The DJ quickly learned that the Chicken Dance was the most popular song he could play to avoid chaos.
Two years into our marriage, Dan and I decided to have a baby together because it was just too weird having children with other people but not with one another. This set our clocks back by ten years, but it was a happy decision for all. We’ve moved households twice in our life together—once, because our house was too small, and another time because our house was too large as the kids started going away to college. We’ve had jobs and layoffs, kid crises and family dramas galore. We’ve celebrated three weddings in three years—our children all seem to be optimists—and the birth of our first grandchild.
And now comes the strangest phase of all: Dan took a job on the west coast, so we’re conducting another experiment in love through a bi-coastal marriage, taking turns flying across the country for long weekends because we want to keep our house but he loves this particular work. It’s a new puzzle and we don’t know if we’ve found all of the pieces yet.
But isn’t that true of every love affair, and of every marriage? You think you’re sailing along, and then there’s a hailstorm or the wind changes or, hell, Moby Dick rears up out of the water and smashes your damn boat. All you can do is keep swimming for your life and hope you make it to shore.
With Dan, I’m happy to say I always know where the shore is, whether it’s on the east coast or the west, or anywhere else in the world.
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.