I wish my fiance had never been married

I know he loves me, but I can't help comparing myself with his past.

By Cary Tennis

Published January 24, 2005 8:00PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I am engaged to a wonderful man. We are both 30 and pretty secure in our careers and lives. He has been married once before but it only lasted a few years and he's been divorced now for about three years but he has a stepdaughter from the marriage whom he sees a couple of times a year.

I know how fortunate I am to have him in my life, and I feel so blessed that we're together and happy. My problem is, I worry that if we get married that it won't be as exciting to him because he's already been married and had a big wedding and it will be déjà vu for him. I know this probably sounds silly but it bothers me to no end and I find myself thinking about his ex-wife and comparing myself to her in every way. I've never met her but I've seen her picture, including their wedding photo, and they looked happy and she had this beautiful dress and he looked so handsome. I've dreamed of my wedding my entire life and I would hate to walk down the aisle with someone and accidentally bring back memories of my fiancé's past. I have talked to him about this and he says I have nothing to worry about and that when we get married, that will be his true first wedding and that all the past events were just bullshit. I do believe him but I can't seem to get this woman out of my mind.

Her family has money and threw this big, expensive wedding. Mine has none so we'll be budgeting a bit more. I want our wedding to far outdo his first and I fear that with the financial concerns, we won't be able to. Sometimes I compare myself to the way she looked or how she did her hair. Maybe I'm jealous of his past life or maybe I just want to be better than his ex-wife.

Any advice you could lend me in eliminating this from my mind would be greatly appreciated.


Dear Overcome,

I'm touched very much by your letter. Part of it is how you reveal so plainly, so unself-consciously this longing that is unutterably sweet but also has some teeth in it, some fierce protectiveness and competitiveness. That's a nice combination, sweetness and fierceness. And there is sadness, too -- the sadness of not having as shiny a car or of not being able to offer your loved one all that you would like to offer him in the way of material things. In that sadness is a bit of humility and goodness. And perhaps there is a bit of rank social envy as well. Who among us doesn't want to be at the top of the heap, and show it with every public gesture?

So all these things together make me want to be of help in some way, although, thankfully, I do not feel as though you are in any major trouble, and any help I offer will just be in the way of reassurance. I feel that you have a great deal to look forward to, just that at this crucial point in your life you are understandably having heightened emotions and have wisely chosen to put them down on paper. One thing I could suggest off the cuff is that if you just show this letter to your husband, he may be so charmed that right on the spot he'll forget all about his ex-wife and their fancy wedding. It will just vanish from his mind!

As to your fears: Don't try to outdo her wedding. Save your money and your dignity. Have a wedding that says who you are. I get the feeling you're not a glitzy dame living in the fast lane. I get the feeling that you're down-to-earth, but that you feel a little insecure about being down-to-earth in the midst of our materialistic and fast-paced culture. If I could see you do anything that would make me happy and vindicate my sense of what is good in the world, I would see you celebrate your plain-spoken dignity and your trueness to your own feelings in the way you conduct your wedding. It doesn't have to be extravagant to be beautiful.

In fact, I'll bet that's one reason he's drawn to you -- because you are more authentic and down-to-earth. What he is gaining in this marriage may be the kind of authenticity that he has been thirsting for. It sounds as though his past with her had a surface sheen to it. But I should remind you of the infinitely greater power, strength and goodness that resides in your own honestly heaving little bosom!

You also say that he has a stepdaughter, from which I gather that his first marriage was his wife's second marriage. I find myself lingering on this stepdaughter; why is she significant? I'm not sure, but I sense that she is. Did he form a bond with his stepdaughter? And he only sees her twice a year? Why is that? Is that the wife's choice? Perhaps it is; perhaps the ex-wife doesn't want him in her daughter's life. I feel pretty strongly about kids. Not having any of my own, maybe that's why! But I do try to maintain a connection with the few that are in my life. I guess I feel that children, however removed we may become from them in a formal or legal sense, should never become just a passing concern. If there is anything you can do, once you're married, to deepen and enrich that relationship with the stepdaughter, I hope you do it. (Perhaps that's stirring up a cauldron of trouble with the ex-wife; but I'm just thinking, if that kid's mom has been married and divorced twice already, maybe the kid could benefit from some extended familial continuity and loving stepfatherly attention.)

The only other thing I can think of is: Does your apprehension possibly have any other meaning, any basis in fact or suspicion? Are you getting any signals from him that he truly does feel an emotional tug from this old marriage? It wouldn't be so unusual if he did, nor would it be unusual for him to want to reassure you completely at this particular time, you poor nervous dear. Once you've been married a while, you may find that his feelings are indeed complicated and tinged with nostalgia. That doesn't have to signal trouble. However strongly you desire a completely new beginning, he does come to you with a history. The history doesn't have to be a threat. It can be a source of richness in this splendid new beginning.

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