I love my husband. I love him a lot. He is a sweet and kind and wonderful man, who has the most generous heart I’ve ever known. He’s not perfect, as is nobody, but he’s got all the good bits I admire in people and find rarely in such measure.
AND–and here’s another “and” in my life: he has an ex wife.
Now, I also have an ex-husband, who I haven’t seen nor heard from since we got the final divorce papers about 10 years ago. We married young, regretted soon, and divorced quickly. There was no fight, there was no joint property to speak of, so the process was as simple as it gets: $250 and some online forms later, we were as if we’d never been.
The emotional fall out was another thing, but that’s something for another day.
Back to my husband. He had a long relationship with his wife. They had two children and adopted a third. They made a life together, they had a house and family and connections.
Their divorce could not have been more different than mine. Beginning a year before my now-husband and I met, it took four years and was fraught with almost every bad story you could drum up. His wife turned against him, which made the children turn against him, and his life completely fell apart.
Again, not what this post is about.
This post is about how it feels to be second. I understand that the first wife may be bitter. I had nothing to do with their relationship or it’s demise, but I understand that there may be animosity toward the “new” one.
For me, I get no joy in being the “right” one, or the “best” one. I get no joy in being younger than her (I’m actually not sure how old she is–I never bothered to look at that line of the divorce agreement). I get no joy in anything related to her, actually. I wish she didn’t exist. I wish she had never existed–or at least not in my husband’s life.
And these aren’t feelings I’m proud of. I think they speak to a deep-seeded disdain I have for myself, that I’m not sure how to get over. I should be glad they were together, because if they hadn’t, my husband would never have moved to the city in which we met, and our lives would have never crossed.
Instead, I feel shame when I think that my husband had two children easily and naturally with another woman, while we are struggling to conceive on our own. I feel terrible jealousy and somehow less of a woman than her. I feel shame when I think about them living their best years together while I struggled to find my way through toxic relationships, most notably with myself in my 20s and much of my 30s. I experience deep regret when I think back on the ways I shortchanged myself (should I have just had children when I had the chance? Why didn’t I go out with that really nice guy who asked me? How come I gave up on law school, even though I passed the test? What was I thinking?–I didn’t even get that career in world-hunger-solving that I thought I was going to get).
Being second makes me feel like the first loser in life. Being second means that I couldn’t figure out how to do it properly the first time. Being second means nothing (marriage, children, house ownership) is special and new and precious. It’s all “been there, done that.”
These are not comfortable feelings, and not ones that I would admit to in polite company. They are the antithesis of my belief systems and I feel shame in even feeling them.
I know that neither my husband nor I would have found and stayed with each other if we hadn’t been shaped by those experiences. I know that all the situations I found myself in make me the person I am today, and I know that I’m not too old to go back to law school, to change my career, to kick myself in the pants and actually start writing (hello, this blog), and maybe, MAYBE, have children.
So maybe it’s okay that we are second.
As we embark on our next, and second, IVF round, I vacillate wildly between hopeful anticipation, excitement, paralyzing fear, and grim determination. And fears that the “second” try will be worse than the first.
Though maybe this time the second try will be like it was with our marriages: the one that works. Maybe we will have learned enough and changed enough to make it stick this time. Maybe second is where it’s at.
I have to believe that.