I've been married and divorced three times, which makes me one of those people the Wall Street Journal describes, delicately, as having "a complex marital biography." For most of my life, this has been a source of shame. But lately I've begun wondering if I'm really the one with the problem.
I'm certainly not alone. Among people ages 50 and older, the divorce rate has doubled over the past 20 years, according to sociologists Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin of Bowling Green State University. Further, having been married previously doubles the risk of divorce for those ages 50 to 64, while for those ages 65 and up, the risk factor quadruples.
The most obvious reason is that people are living longer. My three marriages took place over a 30-year period and produced three children -- not exactly a night in Vegas. My mother, also on marriage number three, followed an early divorce with a successful 30-year marriage to husband number two. Several years after his death, she tied the knot with a fellow retiree -- again, not what I would call party-girl behavior.
So here's a revolutionary thought: What if marrying more than once was actually okay? What if we (and by "we" I mean people of any gender, or as I like to call them, "people") could enter into legally sanctioned relationships with individuals we loved -- and then, if the unions no longer served us or our families, end them?
I have this fantasy of sitting on the couch with my kids, leafing through the family album. "Here's Bob," I might say fondly, patting a photograph of a hippie-haired young man in ripped jeans. "We spent 12 great years together, writing music and traveling all over the world."
On another page, a smiling man on roller blades, flowers peeking from his leather backpack. "This is your father the year I met him," I would tell my daughter. "He taught me to skate, and brought roses every week for no reason." And here, my sons' father, sturdy and tall just like they are. "Remember our summers in Montauk?" I would ask. "We'd sing for hours on the drive out."
Do I regret any of these relationships? Not for a second. If I met these men now, I would probably make different choices (as would they). But I can't imagine my life without the experiences we shared or the children we created.
After all, what makes a life well lived? Taking chances. Making mistakes. Loving others. And maybe even marrying the wrong person.
So let's try looking at marriage as an exit off life's highway, rather than an irrevocable dead end. Maybe it will lead to a road we want to follow forever; that would be a great blessing. But if not, we should be free to head in a new direction without feeling like we failed.