FsFTB readers: Every so often my fiancé Steve will be chiming in with a post of his own—this is his first!
Hello. My name is Steve, and I’m a fifty-something second-time groom.
I’m honored but somewhat intimidated to be invited to guest-blog here. I write a lot as a member of the forestry faculty at a state university, but what I write for work is mostly scientific and technical stuff about maps and carbon sequestration. Don’t worry—there won’t be trees or maps in this post! For balance, my forty-something first-time bride, Sandee, has invited me to tell my story, that of the fifty-something second-time groom. With two grown sons. And a dog. So to start: how can I discuss what the “second time” means without acknowledging the first time?
I was married in 1985 to Karen, a forester who worked in South Carolina when I worked in Georgia. We became engaged less than a year after we started dating, and there were fewer than six months between engagement and marriage. Quick, huh? I’d gotten a job offer in Alaska, which meant a compressed schedule for the wedding. We married in March in upstate New York, and our honeymoon consisted of a cross-continent roadtrip in a pickup truck with her golden retriever, followed by a three-day ferry ride from Seattle to Haines, Alaska, and a two-day drive from there to Anchorage. (Sandee and I don’t know yet where we’ll be going for a honeymoon, but let me go on record here as promising it won’t involve a dog and a pickup!)
Karen and I had twenty mostly very happy years together. The last twelve were under a slowly darkening cloud after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She died in January 2006, closing a chapter in my life and changing the nature of the family that remained: I became a single dad raising two teenaged sons. As it tends to do, time has healed wounds and filtered memories, so that most that remain are the good ones, and I look back on what we had with fondness, love, humor, and gratitude.
Fast forward: there’s this house on the end of my street. The yard is not very well kept. Holiday decorations appear only sporadically. Three guys, plus one canine (born male but subsequently modified), live there. Two of the guys are recovering adolescents; the other has gray in his beard as a result. It’s a testosterone-rich, estrogen-deprived zone, and you can tell it by the décor. And the state of the bathrooms. So, who is the guy who owns that house?
Well, I guess that would depend on who you ask. My neighbors see the guy with the unkempt yard. My students see a professor. My sons see a father, and my dog…well, judging by his greeting, I think he sees me as the center of the universe!
As I left my teens and progressed through adulthood, I tended to identify my “self” with the primary role I was playing at the time. I was a flannel-shirt-clad forestry student during college and graduate school. When we moved to Anchorage and our initial friends were all from Karen’s recreation-league soccer team, I became “Karen’s husband.” To those in the forestry company, I was the guy in charge of the number-crunchers in the technical department. When my boys started playing sports and joined scouts, I became identified as “Tucker’s Dad” or “Dusty’s Dad.” Returning to academia as a professor, I was the guy going up for tenure in his forties. Later, I became the guy who lost his wife.
I was all of those people. But when you’re young, it’s easy to let the roles you play shape, even subsume, your identity. If you marry before you have a strong sense of self, like I did, it’s easy to “fuse” with a spouse to become a new unit. The idea is biblical: from early in Genesis and repeated throughout the bible, we see “the two shall become one flesh.” During my first marriage, I bought into that concept; it even sounded romantic. It seems harmless, until the time you are parted from that other—then what, or who, are you?
After Karen’s death I struggled for a while with identity. I became aware of this the first time I attempted to fill out an e-Harmony profile. When the dating site survey asked how important this or that belief was, or how often I engaged in this or that activity, I had to pause and think hard. I wasn’t totally sure anymore whether the activities I’d engaged in for the past two decades were because I enjoyed them or because we enjoyed them. And what things might I have done, but didn’t, because of the couple I’d become part of? I used to backpack a lot, but only once or twice since I was married. Did I like to go to concerts? Well, I hadn’t in decades.
It took a while, examining individual pieces of my life, much like I did the knick-knacks on my shelf, to decide what would remain going forward. For example, my house was full of artwork focused on northern loons. Karen loved loons, so we’d acquired numerous prints and carvings with loon motifs. Did I like loons? I didn’t dislike them, but alone I might not have collected them as we had. Eventually, I became okay with leaving behind some of the pieces of my life that had marked my identity as “Karen’s husband” and picking back up other pieces I’d neglected, like hiking and backpacking. After years of this sifting, I now know who I am, what is important to me, and who I want to be with. Just in time for Sandee.
This, then, is the biggest difference for me as a second-time groom. I know myself better, and I will retain my separate identity even when I assume the role of Sandee’s husband. Part of the house will have as much cat-themed art as I used to have loon-themed art, but part will not. Our lives and home will reflect the fact that it’s okay for each of us to have non-overlapping interests, friends, hobbies, and time. I’ll be the person I rediscovered, and she’ll be the woman that man fell in love with. Beside me, not part of me. Nobody is completing anybody here—we are two complete (flawed, a little scarred, and perfectly imperfect) individuals making a choice to enjoy a shared life.
I finally know all the answers to that e-Harmony profile quiz. But I’m immensely happy that I no longer need to take it!