When I looked out my bedroom window at the black Jaguar making its way down the driveway, the license plate finally disappearing behind the closing electronic gates, I pinched myself to make sure it was real. Hallelujah, I was free, and could now check off "Rebound Marriage" from the "To-Do List" of life.
I went downstairs to my garden terrace and poured a glass of champagne to celebrate closing the book on four years of "unhappily-wedded bliss." The glass was still half-full when my elation turned to wonder. Why had I just put myself through that song-and-dance with a second husband?
Was I an emotional masochist? Um, no. Was it his nonstop charm and sparkling wit? You're joking. His constant help around the house? Not a chance.
I could clearly recall why I got married the first time -- in 1992 -- to a handsome Englishman named Mark Burnett: We were madly in love, we shared dreams, we mapped out goals and together, it seemed there was no mountain that we couldn't conquer. The smashing success of our first big venture, "Eco-Challenge" -- a 10-day adventure racing event that ultimately unfolded on five continents -- snowballed into "Survivor", Mark Burnett Productions' first mega-hit and the reality TV show to which I gave the name. Just when everything that we'd fought for had manifested, our once-invincible relationship crumbled, unable to survive the weight of success.
For this second go-around, however, it had been different. I hadn't been giddy in love, and The Replacement had no mountains to conquer; for that matter, he had no concrete goals for the future beyond watching scheduled ESPN games and plans, perhaps, for our next movie date.
So, I wondered, taking another sip of champagne, why I'd endured a decade of a less-than-riveting relationship with my future ex-husband.
The answer is the kids. Even if our family portrait had changed, I wanted them to have a solid frame and a safe, loving home environment with a male figure around. Being the product of a broken home myself, I knew how it felt to grow up in an empty house with a working mother and an absent father, and I didn't want my kids to experience the same void.
I tried to keep my divorce from Mark amicable, making it cut-and-dry with the lawyers and keeping it out of the courts, where I never wanted our children to appear. I was willing to forfeit a fortune for the sake of keeping peace in the family, and I was happy that Mark wanted to share custody and stay closely involved with the kids. His work, however, kept him constantly zipping around the planet, and I wanted to ensure there was another man there -- one on my turf.
It might have been different if I'd had daughters, but with two boys, aged 4 and 8 when I first separated from Mark, I felt they needed a mentor and confidante; I could only kick around so many soccer balls. Good-looking and as fit as a personal trainer (his profession when we met), "The Replacement" immediately stepped up to bat. I knew he was interested when shortly after we began seeing each other, he had the tattoo on his arm (emblazoned with the name of his ex-fiancée) lasered off. The kids initially mistook him for my assistant, but he became as familiar as a piece of furniture -- notably, the couch where he was most often found.
For years, The Replacement and I kept it casual. But when Mark began seriously dating a glamorous TV star -- and when, after four years of separation, our divorce became final, and he announced they would soon marry -- I needed to balance the equation. "Daddy plus new Mommy = Mommy plus new Daddy" seemed to be the only way to proceed, and the Replacement tattooed my name, and the initials of the boys, where his ex's name used to be. The kids served as best man and ring bearer when Mark married Roma Downey in April 2007, and played the same roles in my wedding to The Replacement the next month. They appeared to take it all in stride; well-adjusted and used to change thanks to our frequent world travels, the boys just wanted their parents to be happy.
The Replacement excelled in his new role: He played basketball with the boys, he coached their baseball teams and he watched endless movies cuddled up with them in the oversized TV chair. But while his relationship with the boys blossomed, his relationship with me wilted on the vine. I grew annoyed with his constant arm-flexing in the mirror, his focus on little but his body, his lack of ambition and his avoidance of any meaningful conversation with me. He felt less like a husband and more like a roommate who didn't pay rent. My father called him, "The Guest."
I moved him out of our shared walk-in closet; I began taking down photos of The Replacement from the walls. And I began discussing divorce, although it took me years to finally commit to the idea, by which time my eldest son was entering college and my youngest son was starting high school. I recently asked the boys how those years had been for them, and the way their eyes lit up as they reflected on their time with The Replacement made me understand that there's no such thing as a mistake.
That day not long ago when I asked him to leave for good, I felt only relief -- about as much sadness as one might feel when the babysitter went home. As I poured another glass of champagne, I realized that while my first marriage was for love, my second had been to keep up a family; my third marriage, well, should I give that social unit a final try, I hope it will be with someone whom I adore, trust, and respect -- and vice versa -- and with whom I can simply savor the rest of my life.