I Agreed To Meet My Ex-Husband's 2 Other Ex-Wives. I Did Not Expect That Decision To Change My Life.

“'Did you know John and Wendy divorced?' a mutual friend asked. I did not. 'Well I ran into Wendy, and she asked me to relay a message to you.'"

I was the first wife.

John and I dated for only six months before he popped the question. Just a few months before we began dating, my previous boyfriend of five years, Tayloe, and I had broken up. My relationship with John was a rebound, and it should have stayed just that. Instead, at age 21, I walked down the aisle the same year Princess Diana and Prince Charles married, wearing my mother’s satin wedding dress with a long train trailing behind me.

Days later, we packed up a U-Haul and drove from Mississippi to Montana to finish our college education.

During our first Christmas together, John bought himself a new pair of downhill skis. He presented his old pair to me with a big bow tied around them. I excused myself and fled to the bathroom to cry. Not only was his re-gifting hurtful, but I still missed my old boyfriend and the way we had given each other thoughtful gifts and spent the holidays with either his family or mine. That was the first sign that our marriage was not a good one.

The author and Tayloe, her boyfriend of five years. "This photo was taken in 1980, a year before I married John," she writes.
The author and Tayloe, her boyfriend of five years. "This photo was taken in 1980, a year before I married John," she writes.
Courtesy of Frances Scott

John did make one dream come true: He bought us a cabin at the foot of a mountain. It was 30 minutes from town, and since we only had one car, I was often alone at night while he worked at a restaurant. Loneliness crept in while he was at work and making friends.

It wasn’t long before I began to suspect that John was being unfaithful. My suspicions were confirmed when I phoned a waitress from the restaurant late one night.

“Is John there?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied and handed him the receiver.

I was sure my inadequacies had caused my husband to step outside our relationship for other women’s company.

This was not the fairy tale I so wanted to believe in. His affairs put an end to our two-year marriage. I felt inferior, disheartened and confused. I wanted to die, and tried to.

Not long after our divorce, John began dating Wendy. He and I hadn’t seen each other in months, so I wondered what was up when he called to ask me to lunch. After we ordered, John blurted out, “Wendy is pregnant, and we’re getting married.”

Thanks to my therapist, who had helped me to see that John’s infidelities were not all about me, my self-esteem had been restored. I was able to take this news gracefully. John also shared that Wendy had asked him to show this respect to me, so I would hear it from him instead of someone else. I liked her already.

The author at her 1981 wedding to John.
The author at her 1981 wedding to John.
Courtesy of Frances Scott

Wendy and I first met when she and John came by my place to grab the canoe that he and I mutually owned. She reached out her hand to introduce herself, and as our hands touched, I picked up on a warm friendliness about her. While John loaded the canoe, she and I chatted like friends. After all, she was not the one he had cheated on me with, and I felt no ill will toward her.

During her pregnancy, Wendy and I frequently bumped into each other in our small downtown. We’d greet each other and make small talk. In May 1985, her daughter was born. Because Wendy was new to our town when she met John, she didn’t know many people, so she asked if I would babysit for her on occasion. I saw no reason to say no, since I liked Wendy and I was over John.

“I think we shocked your ex-mother-in-law by having you watch the baby,” Wendy later said with a laugh.

Not long after, I moved out of town and didn’t stay in touch with Wendy. Then, 12 years later, a mutual friend called me.

“Did you know John and Wendy divorced?” she asked. I did not. “Well, I ran into Wendy, and she asked me to relay a message to you: ‘Tell Frances it’s not us, it’s him.’”

In 2010, I moved back to that small mountain town I loved so much and opened a consignment store. Wendy heard I was back in town and came into the store to welcome me. We were thrilled to see each other, and it instantly felt like we were old friends. She had remarried. Her emotions were raw as she told me about her husband’s recent health issues. Hugging her, I said, “Let’s have a coffee date and catch up.”

Wendy (left) and the author, out on the town in 2017.
Wendy (left) and the author, out on the town in 2017.
Courtesy of Frances Scott

A month later, we sat drinking coffee and sharing stories. I wanted to hear how her daughter was, and she wanted to hear about my life. Eventually we discussed what had happened between her and John. He had been unfaithful to her, too. And apparently we weren’t the only ones.

“John got married — and divorced — again. He cheated on her, too!” Wendy said. “I like Suzy,” she added. “We should invite her to join us sometime. We could share our stories.”

A few months later on a chilly winter evening, the three of us sat at a round table in a dimly lit restaurant. The small talk lasted for only a few minutes before we shared similar stories of our marriages to the same man. Being the first wife, I began. Then Wendy opened up. Then Suzy.

“I didn’t know he had been married twice before!” Suzy revealed. “I was standing in my soon-to-be mother-in-law’s kitchen, and I asked her if I should register for wedding gifts. She said, ‘Well, this is his third marriage.’ Of course, I knew about Wendy, but not you, Frances.”

As the restaurant began to close, we were still chatting, each of us amazed at the similar themes of betrayal and so many of the same lies that had been strung through each of our marriages. Hugging as we prepared to depart, we made plans for a “to be continued” get-together.

Never in a million years did I imagine I would be sitting at the same table with two of John’s ex-wives. Sharing our stories validated each of our experiences. It was clear his betrayals weren’t about us. Suzy had remarked, “At least he has good taste in women!” On that we all agreed.

The author (left) and Suzy at Wendy's daughter's baby shower.
The author (left) and Suzy at Wendy's daughter's baby shower.
Courtesy of Frances Scott

It had been 30 years since my short marriage to John. During those years, he and I met for lunch a few times. I was always comfortable sitting across the table from him. I realized I had never been in love with him. At 21, I had been grabbing at the chance to save myself, especially after, as a teen, overhearing my father remark about a family friend, “I wonder what is wrong with Ann that she never married.” Ann seemed perfectly fine, but I didn’t want anything to be “wrong” with me. I thought getting married was the only way forward.

John never apologized for his infidelity, but I didn’t care. I didn’t need his apology.

Six months after our first gathering, Wendy, Suzy and I sat at Wendy’s dinner table. Our laughter filled the room when she suggested we call ourselves The Triple X’s (XXX) and that we should open a fine lingerie shop called XXX. We made plans to gather again in a few months.

During our third meet-up, the subject of our ex-husband didn’t come up once. We had other things to talk about: books, music, our work and the going-ons in our community. Suzy asked, “Should we go out dancing next week? There is a good band playing downtown.”

Eventually we were no longer three women connected by the same ex — we were friends. It’s been 10 years since our first meal together. We now care for one another and enjoy spending time together. We’ve held each other up through hard times: Wendy’s second divorce, Suzy’s stressful job, my cancer. I lived with Wendy for a summer while in between residences. They have both trusted me for their house- and pet-sitting. The first time I dog-sat for Wendy, I felt right at home when I reached into the kitchen cabinet for a plate and found my everyday china from my marriage to John! I started writing this essay while dog-sitting for Suzy.

When Wendy and John’s daughter got married in 2016, she invited Suzy and me. We had each touched her daughter’s life, and she wanted us there at the beautiful outdoor setting along with her other fun-loving friends, as well as John, his new partner, our ex-mother-in-law and ex-brother-in-law.

I was excited and honored to be invited and had no concerns about seeing John, but Suzy was nervous. This would be her first time seeing him and his new partner, whom he had divorced Suzy to be with. Wendy and I reassured her we would be there for her. We told her that our mutual ex-husband would witness our connection and see three good choices that ended due to his bad choices.

The Triple X's: Suzy (left), Wendy and the author, at the wedding of Wendy and John's daughter in 2016.
The Triple X's: Suzy (left), Wendy and the author, at the wedding of Wendy and John's daughter in 2016.
Courtesy of Frances Scott

On that sunny fall day, John, who, despite his infidelity, was always a good father, gave his daughter away. After the ceremony, the bride’s grandmother — my ex-mother-in-law — spotted me, grabbed me and insisted I find Wendy and Suzy for a photo.

Thirty-five years later, I was experiencing a redemption I never imagined: My ex-mother-in-law had sided with her son during our divorce, but now she was hugging me and asking how I was. She never verbally apologized for how she treated me all those years ago, but her actions were apology enough.

As Wendy, Suzy and I smiled into the camera, a piece of each of us was healed. Our ex-mother-in-law had recognized her son’s part in our failed marriages. If there was any bit of us that still felt inferior because of how we had been treated by John, it disappeared that day.

Since my marriage to John, I’ve been married two more times, and they both also ended in divorce. I’ve finally come into my own and no longer feel I need a man to be complete. Therapy helped me realize I was never actually afraid of being alone, I was afraid of “something being wrong with me” if I didn’t get married. But there isn’t — and there never was.

I love my autonomy and I love my life. Now, at 64, I know it’s my friendships that sustain me, and, really, they always have. I’m grateful for Wendy and Suzy and all that we’ve experienced together despite the unusual circumstances that brought us together, and I look forward to sharing many more years of fun and adventure and support with them.

Note: Some names and details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals mentioned in this essay.

Frances Scott lives in Montana, where she writes essays and memoir. She is a professional pet-sitter, and when she isn’t reading, writing or caring for pets, she loves to explore the outdoors, hike and float the river. Her essays can be found in the New York Times, Next Avenue, Insider and Her Story.

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