Q: My fiancé and I are sixteen years, one marriage, one divorce, and two children apart. He is a forty-year-old father of two wonderful boys while I, on the other hand, am a recent MA graduate in my mid-twenties who’s just coming to terms with the fact that I actually do want the “happily ever after,” marriage and all. In all the important ways, he and I are on the same page. We are both eternally committed to each other, and are enjoying this time planning for a celebration of us. And yet, I still find myself thinking, he’s already done this once. All of the milestones I’m looking forward to and planning for—the wedding, our first child, our first home—are and will be brand new to me, while this is his second chance. While I know our relationship is fundamentally different than that with his ex (i.e., it’s an equal, loving partnership), and I know he would erase most parts of it, save his children, how can I avoid comparing the two?
A: Dear AAS, Easy peasy. They’re completely different things, not even the same animal. I mean, sure. I guess in every relationship there are some basics that overlap. There’s often two people, for starters. But after that, the dynamics are completely different from relationship to relationship, making them entirely distinct, apples-to-oranges sorts of things. So what’s your concern? That his past experiences are a threat in some way? That it won’t be special this time around? That you won’t compare favorably to the past relationship that he’s already left?
Take another peek at this post over here where we talk about the fact that the places we’ve been and the things that we’ve done (and alright, even the mistakes we’ve made) lay the groundwork for where we are right this minute. This means that possibly dreadful first marriage wasn’t just a bunch of milestones, negating any others to come. It was a series of events that made your partner into who he is, and prepared him to be with you. That means he might have some valuable insight to offer. He’s had kids? He’ll know how to change some diapers and pick out schools. He’s bought a house? He’ll know logistical aspects of inspections and taxes and things. Instead of wishing that away, benefit from it, lady. Take advantage of that extra experience.
There’s a weird sort of myth (that can be kind of damaging, frankly) that “firsts” are magical, glittering, best. But firsts aren’t innately special. My first kiss was terribly cringe-worthy. And while I was disappointed at the time (and even still can be a little rueful), it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, because now I have terrific, wonderful make-out-fests on demand (thanks, marriage!). That’s the part that matters.
And though we’re not all marrying partners on their second marriage, we all are entering relationships where we have different levels of experience for different things. How many dates you’ve been on, how many relationships you’ve been in, whether you’ve lived with someone or on your own or just freshly moved out of mom and dad’s, those things vary from person to person. It’s pretty rare to have a partner who has the exact same level of experience in every facet of life—and frankly, sounds a little boring. All of us could probably waste away our days wondering, “Is he thinking of that ex?” or “Is she comparing this to before?” Each of us (not just those on second marriages) has to rest in the reassurance, “This person is with me now.” Because that’s what matters.
Team Practical, How does the past factor into your relationship? How do you avoid comparison?
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!