Lesson Learned

05/31/2011 07:34 pm ET | Updated Jul 31, 2011

My son is six-years-old. He's the child of my second marriage. Somewhere in my attic are the photos from my first wedding, and envelopes of photos from vacations, family visits, and everyday life with my first husband. Interestingly, even after seven years of marriage I never made an album out of the photos from my first wedding, never purchased final prints, just kept the proofs, never committed to sorting them or making an album. In retrospect, that was a decision in itself.

Because my first husband and I didn't have children, after the gavel fell on our divorce we never saw each other again, except two chance meetings that each lasted less than five uncomfortable minutes.

But sometimes I wonder how I'll explain or describe that marriage to my son. It was a part of my life, not exactly a mistake, but ultimately a waste of valuable time, a relationship that lasted years longer than it should have, years that were eventually endured instead of fully lived. I don't want my son to make the same mistake.

I want him to be romantic, to fall in love, to envision a future with someone before it happens, and then find that remarkable someone to spend his life with. I want it to work for him. I don't want him to have to do it twice.

I want him to get it right the first time, unlike his mother.

He's six, so I recognize that this is a conversation that he and I don't need to have for a while. At this point, it's more of an on-going exercise for me. How did I fall in love with someone (and him with me, presumably) who was so ill suited? How could I have not known he'd actually left the marriage years earlier (via an affair)? Why did I allow myself to get so unhappy?

The answer I've come up with so far is that Stuart was the "right" person. But it turned out he was right in ways that didn't actually matter as much as I believed they would. Or they were insufficient on their own. His background was similar to mine (liberal, Jewish, well educated, suburban, professional, financially comfortable). His childhood home had the same wallpaper as mine. For some reason, I imbued the wallpaper with almost mystical significance. When I was able to be realistic instead of ridiculous, I could admit that our mothers selected the pattern, and perhaps they would have been a more successful match than we were.

For those of us who divorce without children, unamicably and without anything to connect us after the paperwork is signed, there's little reason to talk about our exes, especially years later. But those marriages happened. They happened and they failed. So somewhere within them lies a part of our lives and just as surely a number of lessons.

I'd like to teach those lessons to my son. However, I wish it were easier to learn from other people's mistakes. "Watch and learn" is good in theory, but it's rare that humans do anything other than make their own mistakes (oftentimes repeatedly).

I think when the time comes I'll tell my son that I fell in love with Stuart as much for what was around him - his job, his suburban Jewish childhood, his wallpaper -as for what was him.

Second time, I didn't do that. I fell in love with my son's father while we were ice climbing. Turned out he's a lapsed Catholic. Military family. No idea if he had wallpaper in his childhood home. Doesn't matter. Our relationship is enduring, not merely endured.

We can never know another person completely; we all have secrets. I don't want to prevent my son's romanticism, but I don't want him to force qualities onto someone that might not be there. I have years to help him understand this.

Look at the whole person, I'll tell him. Not just the wallpaper they're wrapped in.