On Second Weddings

There are a lot of weird goings on in the wedding web (and I’m not just talking about bloggers here, I’m also talking about brides and wedding forums, which quite often is it’s own special kind of hell). One of the goings on that I find particularly troubling is the way brides having their second wedding are treated as second class citizens. I once had someone email me saying she’d love to submit her wedding, but since it was her second wedding, she ‘wasn’t sure people wanted to hear about it.’ And it broke my heart.

In Dan Savage’s excellent book Commitment, he talks about how in our culture we view marriages as being successful if they last until one partner dies – no matter how miserable the participants were. I’ve been thinking a lot about that in my newlywed state, as I ponder the meaning of marriage, and I’ve been thinking about how sometimes, divorce is a certain kind of bravery. The ability to say, “I made a mistake” and then the bravery to say “And I’m willing to try again,” is a kind of bravery I can only hope I have. That’s not to say divorces are good things (of course) or should be taken lightly (of course). But that is to say that I have a place of respect in my heart for women in this community who are honestly and bravely getting married again, this time a bit wiser. So, I’m lucky to get to share this guest post by Brandi of The Day After (you can see her wedding graduate post over here.) She wrote this post when her friends announced what would be a second wedding for both of them. So, this one’s for the second time brides. Take it, Brandi:

Two friends, Mary Beth and Brad, announced their engagement at the party we threw a couple of weeks ago. I am ecstatic for them. They have decided that they will be having a short engagement period and will tie the knot in October. It’s the second wedding for both of them.

When discussing wedding plans with Mary Beth, she had appeared to try to downplay the whole thing. She talked about handing over the event, in its entirety, to a friend who had offered to throw them an engagement party. I’m not sure if this is still the plan, but it sounds like things are starting to develop into a bit more than she first had in mind. I think she’s enjoying the turn her thoughts have taken.

Our wedding was my second wedding. I struggled through an extra helping of bridal guilt as a result. I felt like there had to be a justification for our desire to celebrate with those that we loved. One of the first questions I received after announcing that Seena and I were engaged was “Are you just going to go the courthouse and get it over with?” followed closely by “Why now?” It made me feel like I needed to downplay the importance of this very special ceremonial moment. I’m so glad that I worked through it.

Seena, this morning at brunch, told Mary Beth and Brad about his feelings on the most important thing to do in wedding planning. Edit. I agree with him wholeheartedly, though there is thought I want to add when the second wedding layer is added. Do not let talk of what is or is not appropriate for a second wedding, a second marriage, make you feel like you have to diminish the significance of the commitment you are making to each other. Just because you’ve done it before does not make this relationship that you have now any less meaningful or sacred. Odds are, though they may tell you differently, that friends and family want to celebrate the both you and the life you intend to share as much as if you were marrying for the first time. Maybe with fewer gifts, but that’s not the point of this ritual. The point is to voice your commitment to and love for one another in front of the people who matter most and will hold you accountable to your words when you may have trouble remembering why you said them. The best part about the second go round the wedding track is that you can remove all that you feel is unnecessary and have the day as you wish it, whether that is the courthouse or a church wedding for 200.

This isn’t your second wedding, it’s your last. Should I have the honor of receiving an invitation, I’ll be there with bells on and help you celebrate, however you choose to do so, in the fullest manner possible. You deserve it.

As a postscript, Brandi emailed me this: “We did get to go to the wedding, by the way. It was beautiful and they were obviously just as ecstatic and overwhelmed by the whole thing as if it were the first time. It did my heart good to see.

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  • My wedding was my second wedding, so i can identify wholeheartedly with this. The short engagement, the "why now?" inquiries… From comments people don't realize are hurtful:

    "Well, here's hoping this one sticks!"

    …to the idea people get that somehow they suddenly know everything about you:

    "Oh, so that explains why you're not doing it in the church."

    You know, I considered spending tens of thousands to throw a huge party JUST TO Eff WITH THOSE PEOPLE. But in the end, you gotta do what you want to do – what's best for you and yours… not what people think is "appropriate".

  • I struggled with this too. It's my second wedding and my fiance's first, so it's extra tricky. Several people have made the comment that "this one's for real", as if I was just screwing around the first time, which is just an unbelievable thing to say, really. In the end it doesn't matter what anyone thinks, and we're thrilled to be getting married regardless.
    We're having the wedding we want, and that's that. :-)

  • "Just because you've done it before does not make this relationship that you have now any less meaningful or sacred".

    Amen to that, sista!
    Although I have no experience with the subject, I have noticed how often second weddings are treated as something less than first weddings and that ticks me off. If what the couple wants is a simple court house wedding then that's great, but that decision shouldn't be based on the fact that it's a second wedding for either person involved. It always saddens me to hear people say "oh, well, you shouldn't spend so much money on a (insert wedding item here: dress, venue, cake) because after all, it's your second wedding". So freakin' what if it's the second wedding? Like Brandi said, it's just as special this time, so why not celebrate it that way?

  • MWK

    Amen. I'm hoping to only have the one wedding, but the only thing I have written that has even been published was an angry letter to a magazine when I was oh, I dunno, 12? There had been an article about divorce being the worst thing ever and I had written in angrily, telling the magazine that I, a child of divorce, was really happy my parents had decided to end their marriage. Of course it was horrible and hard, but it allowed them to stop being miserable and had also freed them both to enter into marriages with other people who made them happy and provided me TWO examples of loving and functional partnerships instead of one example of a unhappy marriage. I know that isn't exactly that you were talking about in your post (sorry) but I wanted to add in my two sense, in support of the idea that second (or third, if you're my mom) marriages are JUST as beautiful and amazing and powerful as "first" ones.

  • Thank you for writing this! This is my 2nd wedding and my fiance's first wedding and I have a huge amount of ambivalence about it all. Not about marrying him but about the ceremony and the pomp and circumstance of it. I feel like when I tell people I am marrying that I always have to follow up with "well, I'd just go to the courthouse and do it but he's never married before and he wants the whole big wedding deal" – like I need to apologize for wanting to have a wedding with HIM. And then my mom will say things like "you know, there are people who came to your first wedding who may not want to feel compelled to buy you gifts so I don't think you should register for much" – no matter how many times I say I'm not doing this for presents, it doesn't seem to absorb.
    It's a challenge to balance at best but thank you for this — I needed to be reminded that I didn't need to feel guilty about celebrating my marriage.

  • "This isn't your second wedding, it's your last. Should I have the honor of receiving an invitation, I'll be there with bells on and help you celebrate, however you choose to do so, in the fullest manner possible. You deserve it."

    That's probably my favorite part, because it is so true.

    The idea makes me think of the Sex and the City episode "post it note". Charlotte is engaged but tries to downplay it because it's her second wedding and she reasons that since she had the big wedding already then she doesn't need it again.

    At the end of the episode, the girls are in a bar and Carrie and Charlotte run into some other girls at a bachlorette party. Carrie pushes Charlotte to them and they get all giggly over her wedding and tell her that a second wedding is just as amazing as a first.

    That's probably in my top five favorite episodes because it doesn't treat the second marriage as second class.

    Kudos to you for posting this!

  • Sometimes people suck.

    I mean, REALLY suck.

    Who SAYS crap like that, especially when dealing with such a happy occasion?
    You wanna be snarky? Fine. Do it behind closed doors, like everyone else in the world. Don't say crap like that to people's faces.
    How do you know that someone didn't LOSE a partner, not to divorce but to death? I had a friend have to get out of a marriage, not because they weren't in love or she didn't try, but because he was an abusive alcoholic. You're gonna tell me SHE doesn't deserve a second wedding, must less a second marriage with someone who'll treat her right?!

    That's just G-D ridiculous.

    Second brides, I wanna see your wedding. I wanna see people having a second chance at happiness. (Plus I want any excuse to see another pretty-princess bride in a wedding dress. Even if it's a pantsuit.)
    And you tell those asshats to suck it. Like Brandi said, this isn't your second wedding, it's your last.

  • I agree with Lyssachelle. People who say anything about people's responses being different because it's a second wedding are asshats. (note to self: use "asshat" more; it feels good)

    For my recent second wedding (his first), I did find myself dealing with internal struggles about planning an even that was so similar to my first but I found that when I talked about it with the support network that I've been developing in my single life, folks were really understanding. They also made me realize how few people who are important to me now were important to me then. So, to them, this wedding was their first for me.

    And Amanda, I'm so sorry that your mom can't get her priorities straight. You probably won't get gifts from SOME double attenders. But you get their time and their enthusiasm and their travel budget. This is a lot. AND, registering is simply about letting people who want to celebrate with you given you something that is actually useful. There should be no obligation. You stick to your guns and your principals.

    So, Meg, you'll be getting my second wedding soon, as per Lyssachelle's request. Because she reminded me of the word "asshat" and that makes me grateful. It's not a pantssuit, but I promise you, it is an anti-ballgown and it rocks. Because it was my second wedding. :-)

  • LPC

    Society tries to prevent divorce. That's an admirable goal. However, as in almost everything, I wish we would exhaust the productive methods of preventing divorce instead of focusing on shaming. Help couples stay married by allowing open discourse of the difficulties, by opening the closed doors maybe, by building an infrastructure of support. Divorce shaming behaviors, the denigration of second weddings among them, seem to do little but make decent people terribly unhappy.

  • I'm currently planning my second wedding. It is my fiance's first wedding. Our wedding going to be a big ole party, but the convenient thing is that my fiance has a lot of ideas about what he wants for the big ole party- so I can use him as an excuse. Of course, it sucks that I need an excuse to celebrate just because it's my second wedding.
    Thank you for this post and for mentioning the bravery aspect of getting married again. I do think that divorce can, in certain circumstances, be a good thing. Leaving my ex-husband was hands down the best decision I have ever made. It was also the most absolutely painful experience I have ever had to bear. I feel very brave for agreeing to get married again, now that I know just how destructive a force a bad marriage can be and how much pain there is in divorcing someone. And I think it's a testament to how much I love my fiance (and to how wonderful he is) that I am willing to get married again.
    I've been thinking about this a lot lately. The benefits of having a second wedding are that I feel free to ignore traditions I don't like and add things that I do like and just generally plan this wedding my way.
    The downside is that I keep getting reminders of my last wedding, and that bums me out. I don't want to think about it b/c that marriage ended very badly and I just don't being reminded of my first marriage.

  • I want to push on one thing you said in the post just a bit. You said something about the ability to "recognize that you had made a mistake," but I don't think that marriages that end in divorce were usually mistakes in the first place. Part of what I think Dan Savage is saying is that a marriage doesn't have to last a lifetime to have been worth it. So, I would dispense with thinking about first marriages as mistakes all together.

    Rad post overall, though. Thanks for keeping this whole wedding world just a little saner and more thoughtful.

    • Sarahkay

      I want to second this. My first marriage ended in divorce, but it was not a mistake. I loved my husband, the marriage was real, valid, important, and helped me become the person I am today. Our relationship didn’t last, but it was not a mistake and I am not a failure because of it.

      My relationship with my partner is wonderful. He’s the love of my life and I cannot wait to marry him. I’d elope with him tomorrow, but having a small wedding is important to him and he deserves to have his joyful celebration of love as much as any groom, and so do I.

  • I was sort of struck by the way that the author had to come back to assure us that "It was beautiful and they were obviously just as ecstatic and overwhelmed by the whole thing as if it were the first time".

    Well why wouldn't they be? (This coming from a "second" wife, mind you)

    The author's statement is testament to the fact that as much as we try to dispel these norms and throw away these preconceived notions, they still lurk.

    Nonetheless, a very intriguing post.

  • I am planning my 2nd wedding and it's my fiance's first. To me this kind of is my first wedding (although not my first marriage) b/c I didn't have a full shebang wedding the 1st time around. I found myself even questioning if I should wear white and felt like I shouldn't make a big deal about anything b/c it's my 2nd. Then I realized that this marriage is the one that counts and I will celebrate it as if I've never done it before because I haven't. At least not with Mj so it may be a second wedding but I am treating it like it's my first. It's the one that matters so it deserves all of the hoopla, care, and attention that I want it to have. I'm finally doing it right this time and that is worth celebrating.

  • I love the line, "…It did my heart good to see."

    How lovely a friend she is.

  • @Lyssachelle, I love you.

  • Thanks, Ms. Grrrl. You're right. Even though my first marriage was a mistake (if unavoidable), there was value in it and I like where I am today because of it.

    If I want to be honored by my ex (fruitless but it should be named) for what I contributed then I should be willing to honor him for what he contributed.

    And then do all sorts of honoring of my husband for how much more he contributes. We'll honor in the living room. We'll honor on the kitchen table. We'll honor in the hallway.

    You get the point. And thanks again.

  • Meg

    I don't think she meant it that way at ALL. I think she was just saying after all their worry it was a wonderful day. Brandi, after all, had a very joyful second wedding herself not so long ago :)

  • This is a second marriage for both of us. I had the big to-do wedding the first time, but he did not, so if you want to go on number of weddings, we will be 2:1. Either way, whether it's grand scale or intimate, it's more about the marriage than the wedding. I know there is the stigma of multiple marriages, but everyone is different and every story is different. I got married the first time very young, before I had lived really, that played a large part in our split. My mother once told me a long time ago that I would outgrow him and it happened, in what seemed like overnight. For my FH, they were married for ten years, legally, with a couple of splits in that time and had two children. He was only 17 when he met her, she was 19 and ended up prego. Had the baby not been on the way, I think the truth would have come out a lot sooner and things would have been clearer for him. Adn sometime, no matter how old you are or smart you are, sometimes, it just doesn't work.

    My mother has asked me, "are you going to wear a wedding dress?" my aunt asked, "are you having a real wedding?" None of them meant to be mean and I can chalk it up to our ability to speak out freely, it's more of a curse sometimes, but they don't mean harm and I know it.

    The great thing about the divorce rates being so high, it has opened the door for us repeat/encore brides to be more creative and enjoy the things we want instead of feeling quite to hush hush about everything. I do feel the need to justify everything, but in the end, it's what we want and that should be good enough reason for anyone.

  • Thank you Meg, and thank you Brandi for sharing this…it's important!
    The wedding I'm planning right. now. will be my second, and his third.
    Oddly enough, in the beginning, *I* was the one with the reservations (no first dance/tossing of things/registry), but as I've worked on this, I've come to learn that THIS wedding, is about the life we have NOW, not what went before. The more I understand that, the more comfortable I can be with what our little backyard celebration is becoming, and I. Can't. Wait.

    This is our chance to say a big "EFF YOU" to all the "have to"'s, and "you'll regret it if you don't"'s, and craft a celebration that is authentically ours in every way.
    (BTW, can we stop saying "encore bride" please? It's a little retchy)

  • My wedding is 60 days from today. It's my second, his first.

    Suddenly, I have found myself with all sorts of wedding related decisions to make. (I only just ordered the paper to make the invitations!) I realized yesterday that part of the reason I have been putting off many of these things was because I was trying so hard to downplay the fact that we’re having a wedding.

    Yes, I have been divorced. But that doesn’t mean I take marriage lightly. I made a poor decision years ago, and though it was scary to become a divorced person (thus “admitting failure”), I came out of it with a new perspective on marriage and relationships.

    My fiancé and I became friends when we were in our mid-20's–almost 15 years ago and long before my ex came and went. We lost touch for a few years, and then started dating a few months after my divorce because of the serendipity of being matched up by an online dating site. We are planning a wedding rather than a private, small ceremony because we want to celebrate, with family and friends, how happy we are that we finally figured out what a great team we make.

    Thanks for your blog. It is just amazing the way your posts provoke me to think more deeply about the importance of people and relationships. (And I love how it encourages me to focus on planning my wedding based on our feelings of love and excitement and to forget the stuff that, at the end of the day, just won't matter.)

  • Liz

    i feel like all of the annoying issues discussed on here have the same root.

    people assume they KNOW.

    "well, obviously since this is your second time around, you wouldn't have a NORMAL wedding…"

    "well, clearly, my husband is an oaf that i boss around, so that's how your marriage is going to be…"

    "of course you'll want to lose weight before the wedding, dear…"

    they don't.

    we're individuals. um. yeah. remember learning that in kindergarten? some of us get married twice. some of us wear white. some of us aren't as interior-decorating-inclined as our male counterparts.

    they teach that on effing sesame street, people.

  • @Lyssachelle: My mom, that's who asks those questions. I could brush them off from other people, but from her, it was tough.

    I've seen several commenters who mentioned that they are using their fiancĂŠ as an "excuse" or reason to have a wedding because it's his first wedding. You don't need an excuse. I did that for a while (my second, his first, he's an only and his mother used to be a nun. No, I'm not kidding) because it lessened the number of questions I had to field. After a while, it began to feel like I was doing a huge disservice to myself and us by saying it's okay because it's his first wedding. It's okay simply because it's okay. Some people don't show up for reasons they feel the need to share ("you were living in sin" was one of my favorites) and that made me so much more grateful for those who did show up.

    The process of wedding planning again also helped me work through some lingering issues surrounding my first marriage and whether marriage really was the right thing for me in the long run. I was so much more present for the whole process, and the day itself, this time. I'm also much more present and a whole lot more proactive with the state of our household this time. Complacency and lack of communication has no place at our table.

    It took me a long time to not view my divorce as a failure of some kind, to believe that I wasn't damaged goods. I got through that and now can't imagine the person and partner I have become without that experience. Mistake? Yes, but not one I'm ashamed of, nor do I consider myself a failure any longer.

    So, yeah, don't throw a party to eff with people. Don't make excuses. Wear your dress (or pantsuit or whatever) proudly simply because you want to.

    I'm Brandi, by the way.

  • I think this comes back to how some of our more selfish and often opinionated guests and family members take a hold of our weddings and try to control them. The struggle that so many of us have is how to reconcile what we want with what our guests and society and the WIC say we should have. It's as if they are saying if we don't do it their way, we are simply damaged goods and not good enough – especially if you do it twice. I think that's why after two separate marriages each, my parents (mom and step-dad) didn't bother getting married – they've been together 20 years now, so how's that for dedication?

    And let me add that it's only the public act of a wedding that makes people think they know you. It was ages ago now but I was in an eight year relationship with a man I thought I'd marry; I had started planning the wedding and then it ended. The whole relationship was a learning experience (for good or for ill) but because I hadn't said "I do" to him I got to keep the appearance of, what, innocence? Ha!

    To all of you lovely brides on your second weddings, I wish you strength to put up with those rude people and I would love to see your weddings.

  • Thank you, Ms. Grrrl. That was my reaction too. I'm glad my parents split up; it was the right decision when they made it. But the years they spent together were not a mistake.

    And even if H and I split up tomorrow–for reasons I cannot fathom–I could never call our marriage a mistake.

  • @PrincessMax – YAY!!! And to be fair, though I've used asshat in the past, its resurgence is due to a post or email of Meg's, I forget which… But it's fun, isn't it? Let's bring it back, full force….

    @Kyley – No, I love YOU, because I just checked out your profile and blog and left you a comment.

    @Brandi – Ah. Parents or parent-like people whom you've known forever are an entirely different animal. They forget that you're not nine and they can't make comments or statements on your life or your body the way they used to. Though not in the same vein, but I've had to have a couple of Come to Jesus meetings with my mom about stuff she says and even though we went through the whole, "I didn't mean it like that," and "You're too sensitive," I think she got it. I hope yours did too, and if not I hope you were able to get in enough hubby cuddle-time (and possibly chocolate) to get you through it.
    And awesome blog, btw! I came over through this post and decided to stay and subscribe. Not only because of this and other posts, but the fact that you love Lady Gaga even though you REALLY don't want to. (She does that to you, doesn't she??)

  • Meg

    @eastsidebride @MsGirrrl
    I think it sort of depends on the situation. Sometimes it is a mistake, sometimes it's not. Our friends that divorced young… I'd say 60% would consider the marraige a mistake 40% would not.

  • Jen

    It is your FIRST wedding to this partner… so enjoy and celebrate that!

    Even if it is your second wedding to the person you already married once, it is something to be celebrated. This world has enough to be down about, we all need more reasons to celebrate love — our own and others.

  • Brandy

    I've gotten a lot of "I think you got it right this time". And really, I just take it as a compliment that I've grown and am capable of making far better choices than I once was. Yes, while planning, divulging that I'd had a wedding before felt like some dirty little secret that needed to remain hidden. But generally, I let people know it up front. I figured that if I let the cat out of the bag myself insted of waiting for someone to stumble upon the knowledge, it someone lost its oomph.

    Here's to the guys and gals that are not so jaded by their bad experiences and are willing to still believe in love and commitment!

  • Can I just say that the thing I love most about this post, and well the comments, is that all these women still believe in the importance of marriage. Whether it is their first or second time round they still want to stand up and publically declare – I love this person! TV, films, books etc. show people so jaded by the pain of divorce that they can never consider love or marriage again – good to know that this isn't a true reflection of real life – not that I really believed it ever could be.

  • I do think there is a stigma to a second wedding. But I think it is getting better everyday.

  • Sarah

    i'm having trouble editing my thoughts today for some reason! anyway, first off, i just wanted to say that my parents divorced when i was really young. my mom left my dad because he was emotionally and verbally abusive, and she could just see us going down a horrible path if she stayed. while having divorced parents was hard growing up, ultimately, i am glad that my mom was able to find the strength to leave my dad. i think we all ended up having better lives because of it, even though it might not always seem that way. should they have gotten married in the first place? probably not, but sh*t happens, and i wouldn't be here w/o that. i'm glad i'm here, but i'm also glad that divorce was an option!

    on another note, i also wanted to add that my dad was remarried about 8 years ago and his 2nd wife is catholic. it was her first marriage, and her parents really wanted her to have it in the catholic church. but my dad would have had to have his 1st marriage annulled, which would basically say that i was never born! my dad & i haven't always seen eye to eye, but obviously he wasn't going to do that! but my stepmom's parents have never gotten over it, and they hate me because of it! i feel like that is one reason why 2nd marriages become fraught w/ difficulties, and it surprises me that people can be so close-minded, even in today's modern society.

  • Cate Subrosa

    Excellent introduction, Meg. (And great post.)

  • I wish I could convince my boyfriend of all of this…since his first marriage failed, he's very hesitant to ever get married again.

    My first marriage failed too, and I was initially against remarriage. But these years with him have made me realize that marriage doesn't have to be the way it was the first time around. It can be GOOD. It can be loving and compasionate and considerate of one another. It can be open and loving. It doesn't have to be "my way or the highway", like it was with my ex. (Obviously, I eventually took the highway.) Life with him would be good.

    I feel, though, that I havent' measured up. That he will still think it will be as bad to be with me as it was with her, that I'm no different, that if he can't be married to her then he'll never be married at all. I'm past all my hurt and willing to give it another go, but apparently, I'm not enough to make him want the same.

  • zsgirl

    I am just so happy that a friend shared this with me. I too have felt this way and the comments are so encouraging. When she gave me the link, she said, “Here, read this. Every last bit of it.” So I did and I am SO thankful that I did. It makes me feel that at least some people are happy and understand the whole thing, instead of acting like it’s no big deal. Because to me, marriage is a VERY big deal and just like I promised in my first vows in my first wedding, it is NOT something to be taken lightly. I don’t think I took it lightly the first time and I stayed in that marriage because I had made a promise and took it very serious. Although I tried to make it work, it didn’t. God gave me permission to get a divorce in the Bible so I did. I don’t think anyone else’s approval matters or is needed. He ranks pretty high up there on my list and I don’t think anyone is higher, so no further negative opinions are needed. Thank you all again for the sweet words and even for the sweet tears streaming down my face as I sit here at my desk looking at places to elope. I think I’ll close those windows now and get back to the planning. :)