“The desire to get married is a basic and primal instinct in women. It’s followed by another basic and primal instinct: the desire to be single again.” – Nora Ephron
HH and I got married exactly a year ago. 365 days – that makes it 8,760 hours of “being married”. Maybe that’s what makes it still feel a little new, a little strange. 10,000 hours of practice forms the foundation for the phenomenal success of athletes, artists and businessmen claims Malcolm Gladwell. What about successful marriages then? Is there a minimum span of time beyond which you can be declared as “having made it”, like a quarantine period for diseases? Or is there a qualifying exam that requires a high score to graduate? What about a quality metric that aggregates behaviors, gestures, words and feelings to predict success?
The first year is a tough one for any transition, whether it follows the arrival of a new child, a wedding, a job change, a move or a loss. For us, it has been a year of all of the above. By choosing to get married, we embraced each other, one child each from our previous marriages, a job change for HH, and a new country for all of us. And yes, there was loss too. We left behind our old way of life, the cities we lived in, friends and comfort zones.
Getting married a second time is not hard. Being number 2 is. I was the second-born child and spent most of my childhood wondering why I was not the first. I hated using the same schoolbooks that my brother had used. He knew the alphabet, how to ride a bike and the route to school well before I did. It bothered me not because I couldn’t do those things, but because there already was a benchmark for what I could achieve. While others considered securing a second place in a competition or being placed in the top three in school as an achievement, I rated them as failures. Number 1 is what I thought I was and first place is where I wanted to be.
While this marriage is the second one for both HH and me, the prefix “second” bothers me more. I chose to walk out of first my marriage. HH did not. How can I match the ideal of a deceased spouse? It is an impossible situation that I have voluntarily walked into.
My drive to excel served me well for many years but now in the second half of my life, I can see that I learnt more when I missed the top slot. Failing my driving test the first time, made me a conscientious and cautious driver. Enduring a first trimester miscarriage the first time I conceived, made me genuinely appreciate not just the miracle of a baby but the road to motherhood as well. Not getting the first job that I interviewed for turned out to be a blessing in retrospect as the perfect work environment came my way a few months later.
I have learnt more from failed recipes, difficult coworkers, unreasonable clients and unexpected events than from the easy, predictable, controllable variables in my life. I like a smooth ride like everyone else but failure has been a better teacher than success, not because it saps my confidence but because it forces me to grow, to adapt, to mature.
Marriage is not a competition and having failed the first time does not preclude a successful second innings. A second marriage starts with a clean slate as a couple. But what happens to our individual pasts? The years where our memories do not overlap? It’s neither easy nor right to make the entire past irrelevant. Each of us brings our experiences and expectations to this union. At times, it seems to be of no consequence as we seek to build a new life with those parts of ourselves that we want to preserve. At other times, we consciously choose not to repeat past behaviors and attitudes that didn’t serve us before.
“It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness – Chuck Palahniuk
The template for happiness that we carry within us comes from a selective memory of things that brought us joy. It originates from the past and gets modified as we actively add to it, moving pieces, rearranging colors and shapes. We get to redo the map of our life. And therein lies the gift of getting to do it again, a second time. I am lucky to have this gift. The path stretches out ahead, silent and mysterious. I may be the second one to hold his hand, but I am the only one now. We walk confidently ahead with these words to guide us.
Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand, and Stars
Happy anniversary my dear husband!