Who doesn't remember the 1996 revenge fantasy, "First Wives Club," as Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton cook up an elaborate scheme to make their husbands pay for dumping them--for younger women?
I recall enjoying the movie, and at the time, I was married. Little did I know that a few years later I'd be divorced, broke, and raising kids on my own. No end in sight to dealing with losses, and my ex--relocated, and quickly remarried.
Now I'm not complaining, mind you. But as a veteran of the online dating merry-go-round, I'd urge us all to chuck our checklists and axe our assumptions when it comes to Good Providers or Good Lookers, Bad Boys or Boy Toys, and any other posturing that pits Types against Individuals. And if you're a woman over 40, or God forbid over 50, consider yourself lucky if you can find a decent guy to date, preferably with a pulse.
In light of my own single mother experience, I took exception to author Pamela Haag's approach to the Just OK Marriage, concerned that this grass-is-greener stance is foolhardy, if not destructive.
I expressed an opinion that we should focus on going for good in relationships, rather than some pumped up, trumped up, steroidal version of Who-To-Hold-Out-For. And that means appreciating what we have, accepting reasonable compromises, and if we are on the market for mates, setting aside unrealistic expectations.
What followed was unanticipated feedback--women generally agreeing that "good" could be great, that stability matters, and men taking the other side. But one comment was startling, as a single dad suggested that divorce is the "natural order of things."
We all concede that men remarry faster than women, and more of them do so. Second wives are frequently younger than the first. Could I assume from this that the starter marriage works well for men, but for women, not so much? Or does any marriage work well for men, including a series of marriages moving to increasingly newer, shinier models?
Specifically, my reader states:
... maybe we are supposed to get divorced. Maybe that is the natural order of things... Maybe the mother of your children doesn't have to be the love of your life. What if raising your children as a team, where you each get a few nights a week to yourself to enjoy a social life, explore your sexuality, go back to school, read a book or whatever.... is a good thing? ... It's what we do anyway.
The comment goes on to say:
Our first mate is usually a good mother, she cooks and cleans and is maternal. Once those things are no longer in demand (the kids are grown) we move on to search for a mate who has other traits we desire. Younger, hotter, more sexually open perhaps... usually someone who doesn't challenge us as much.
Now before all the ladies decide to skewer this divorced dad (might I have that pleasure?) let me clarify that he seems to be a respectful man who has responsibly co-parented for years. I may be stunned by his remarks, but I also admire his willingness to make them. And I'm guessing he's not alone in his convictions.
As for the supposed upside for the gals? The benefits of divorce, providing single mothers--as it does single fathers--a few days off to explore their sexuality? I daresay I haven't enjoyed that sort of arrangement, and if I suggested that the fairer sex required time off for extracurricular maneuvers--then I'd be the one who was skewered.
Still, I can't believe that millions of men consider their (first) wives to be disposable. Did I miss the memo?
I bristle at the premise that first wives are good for mothering, cooking, and cleaning and then the so-called natural order of things kicks in, complete with the Guilt-Free Younger, Sexier (dumber?) Missus-Number-2.
And then what? Bye Bye, Ms. Original Bride? And where exactly do we store the discarded models?
Do we pose questions, or just say why bother? Does a woman's behavior change so radically during marriage that her husband no longer knows her--or desires her? Is motherhood a romance-killer, or is that a convenient excuse for men as they set their sights on the new target? And do we care that women still raising children have a narrower window of opportunity - with time and timing not in their favor, especially over 40?
Is it motherhood that ruins us for some husbands, and just age for others? Is it too much emphasis on parenting, and not enough on coupling? Is it growing distance, independence, toilet seats and toothpaste caps, or is monogamy the problem?
Are first wives disposable, no matter what we do?
If that's the case, then what are we teaching our children about the value of women, much less marriage? It may be time to trot out Revenge of the First Wives - complete with a reunion tour for Bette, Goldie, and Diane. But in lieu of that, maybe we float the idea that there is no natural order of things. It's up to us to construct our own, and find a way to make it stick.