By Esther Mann, LCSW
When I saw “Meri” at a wedding two years ago, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life. Looking back, I think I was stalking her all night, following her around, checking her out. I asked some of my friends if they knew who she was, and finally one of them told me, “Yes, I know who she is, but I don’t think she’s for you. She was briefly married and divorced.”
I can’t say that this bit of information came unexpectedly. But I almost felt like I was under a spell and no matter what anyone might have told me about Meri, it probably wouldn’t have mattered very much. I desperately wanted to meet this woman.
I finally got my friend to figure out a way to set us up, and we went out on a date. It was fabulous. Her personality and middos matched up to her outward appearance. I thought she was too good to be true.
When I finally built up the courage to tell my parents that I was dating a divorced young woman, their reaction was something like this: “Shlomi, what are you thinking? You are a 22-year-old ‘A‑list’ young man, from an ‘A‑list’ family. You’ve gone to the best schools and camps, have a fine reputation, and come from a solid, well-respected family. Why would you ever consider a ‘B‑list’ woman?”
Since I was still smitten with Meri, I didn’t take their message too seriously and I made it clear that she was the love of my life. I can’t say they were thrilled, but ultimately they got to know her and I think they were able to see why I was head-over-heels crazy about her.
So we married about a year ago, and during the past few months, I find myself, for the first time ever, thinking nonstop about the fact that she was with another man before she was with me. Whereas initially I gave the whole thing very little thought, suddenly I need to know everything about this awful guy she was married to. Was he taller or shorter than me? Funnier? Smarter? What was it like being married to him and finding out the awful stuff that ended their brief marriage?
Besides the fact that I find myself twisting and turning in bed at night, unable to sleep, because I can’t stop picturing Meri with someone else, I’m torturing her with all of my questions. At first, when I started questioning her, she was patient with me and answered my questions. Now she is getting downright angry. “Get over it,” she screams at me. “You knew what you were getting into. If you didn’t want to be married to a divorced woman, you shouldn’t have chased me and proposed to me.”
Intellectually I know she is right. However, emotionally, I can’t seem to turn off the switch. It’s like I’m having a delayed reaction. I love my wife very much and still believe she is as wonderful and beautiful as I thought she was when we first met. But this is a real problem for me and I’m driving both of us crazy.
Let’s start with the good news, which is that you still love Meri as much as you did when you first got to know her and all the reasons that attracted you to her are still in place. That’s a wonderful beginning.
And now the bad news. Though I know many people will disagree with me, a 22-year-old man is often not fully baked. Not truly developed to the point where he has enough insight into himself to truly know who he is, what he is, and what he really wants in a marriage. Furthermore, a less mature person is often more impulsive and sometimes acts and reacts on a whim, without the necessary patience to delve into situations and carefully weigh the pros and cons needed for a meaningful decision on a life-altering matter such as choosing whom to marry.
This is not to say that choosing Meri as your wife wasn’t a brilliant idea. She sounds wonderful and, no doubt, like many other young men and women, found herself in an irreparable situation and quickly got herself out. It happens, and certainly she deserves happiness like anyone else.
The problem here is that you made decisions impulsively and without tapping into the wisdom of people older than you and very likely wiser than you when it comes to certain realities of life. The spiel about A‑lists and B‑lists certainly doesn’t resonate for me, but perhaps what your mother was trying to say is that you needed to consider how you might feel down the road, when the romance and excitement has dwindled, and the reality of the situation becomes clearer to you.
What you find yourself doing now is something that you should have been doing during your dating process. That was the time when you should have been asking yourself whether it would be a problem for you living with the fact that Meri was previously married. That was the time to determine whether you couldn’t care less or whether it would come back to haunt you.
And if her previous marriage was a problem for you, you needed to use the time while you were dating to attempt to work it through, with the help of a therapist, a confidant, or even Meri herself. It would have been an easier journey for you to experience then, because at that point you still had options. If it wasn’t working for you, you could have moved on. Having this conversation with yourself now must feel frustrating, because you have already sealed the deal. No easy options.
Though frankly, it doesn’t sound as though being married to Meri is really the issue here. The issue is that you’ve kind of woken up from some kind of coma, and suddenly now find yourself obsessing over her previous marriage and getting all hot and bothered about it. Maybe because it’s the first time you are really thinking deeply into it. Or maybe because you are suddenly in touch with your feelings. Yes, I agree, it’s a delayed reaction. Or maybe a reaction that you weren’t mature enough at age 22 to connect with.
But we can’t rewrite history. If we could, we’d all do quite a bit of tweaking here and there. I sense you realize how unfair this behavior is to Meri and even to yourself. And all the questions and wondering aren’t going to do you or Meri any good anyway. Basically, you’re just feeding the fire.
I think you need to run, not walk, to a good therapist, with Meri. Together I believe you can at this stage still work through all of your feelings regarding your sudden preoccupation with her previous marriage. You’ll have the opportunity to once and for all get it out of your system, and finally find the closure that you should have found before you proposed. This is certainly not the optimum time—but better late than never.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.