Divorcee Sarah Ivens on why tying the knot for a second time is a very different ballgame
A second marriage is a big deal for Meghan Markle. I know this, because I too am a second-time bride and, as an obviously jubilant Meghan Markle and Prince Harry made their first appearance in public together after the announcement of their engagement in the gardens of Kensington Palace back in November last year, there were a number of reasons to rejoice. Here was a very successful 36-year-old mixed-race feminist with her own kick-ass career who had won the heart of a prince over the parade of privileged aristo-clones he’d dated in the decades before.
But it wasn’t just these things, or her humanitarian work, or even her wicked sense of humour, that had me excitedly poring over every snippet of news about the wedding as well as commending her achievements with my colleagues. Meghan’s engagement represented a watershed moment for women or, more pertinently, for divorced women like me. I know first-hand the journey she must have gone through to get to the place she was that day. Her inclusion into our stuffy monarchy highlights just how much times have now changed for female divorcees, who even a decade ago would be regarded as soiled goods to be left on the shelf.
Although second marriage after a divorce is common in the UK, and despite some statistics telling us that a second marriage is more likely to be successful, a second-time bride has always carried a stigma.
I remember meeting my second set of future in-laws for the first time. On top of the usual nerves, I was petrified about the judgment I might receive. My partner’s parents knew only a handful of things about me, one of which was that I’d been divorced four years earlier, having married in my twenties. At 34 years old, I felt like an imposter as I walked red-cheeked into a Hertfordshire pub to meet my future mother and father-in-law (who, incidentally, had been childhood sweethearts and married for decades). Would they think I was second-hand goods, ensnaring their innocent son Russell (who hadn’t even lived with a girlfriend) into a trap? Or did they presume that I was just no good at commitment, or that I was hiding some dark secrets about my past?
‘Like all divorcées, Meghan knows what she wants from a husband’
Desperate to address the elephant in the room, I decided to confront my insecurities head on with Russell’s mother and sister the second time we met. ‘Ask me anything you want,’ I pleaded with them, telling them no subject was off limits. They stared at me wide-eyed as I summed up five years of drama about my previous relationship, including how opening my decree nisi and seeing a thick rubber stamp invalidating the hopes I once held so dear, made me cry for three hours straight. Finally I told them why, having gone through the whole rigmarole of a big wedding before, like most second-time brides, I was now more focused on the marriage and the man than the trappings of the day. I remember his mother taking my hand in hers. ‘We’re just happy Russell is happy,’ she smiled. I was overwhelmed with emotion.
Only a divorced woman can truly appreciate the hours of self-reflection that will come with getting yourself ready for a second marriage. They know that delving into the psychology of relationships brings many positives to the next attempt, which far outweigh the social stigma and sniggers of observers. Like all divorcees, Meghan knows what she wants from a husband and, more importantly, what she doesn’t. Her experience makes her confident she’s making an informed decision this time. I can tell you that when you make a public mistake like marrying the wrong person in front of everyone you love, you’ll do everything in your power to make sure it never happens again.
‘I entered my second marriage knowing I never want to leave it’
Like most second-timers, I entered my second marriage knowing I never want to leave it, that I will fight for it with therapy, honesty and realism, till death do us part. I’m not expecting a fairy tale, and neither will Meghan – despite her new marriage beginning at Windsor Castle. To marry again; to reveal your feelings to the world again, after the failure and heartbreak of a divorce – means you really do believe in love. Making a mess of it the first time only made me more determined to find the right partner and give marriage a second chance.
‘The biggest benefit of marrying for a second time is the self-awareness that it brings,’ says couples therapist Katherine Loyd. ‘It means we are making the decision to love and trust again, choosing to appreciate the reality of being in a relationship, rather than pushing for things to be exactly the way we want them to be, as we may have done naively the first time. In choosing to appreciate what is actually available to us, we release ourselves from dwelling on fantasies of what should be, and see life as it really is.’
‘Make sure you’re truly over your ex’
Hannah, 35, remarried six months ago, after careful contemplation about what to change in her own behaviour and expectations. ‘There was deep self-analysis after my first marriage broke down,’ she says. ‘I realised I’d chosen my ex based on who I thought I ought to marry, who could give me what I wanted at that time. Going into my second marriage, I considered in much more depth whether we worked well as a team, with shared interests and ambitions that we both want to achieve together over the long term.’
Gabrielle, 41, is currently planning her second wedding, and agrees that failing the first time around makes you think more about the lifetime commitment you are making. ‘Second-time marriages are less about Beyoncé’s Crazy In Love and more about The Beatles’ When I’m 64. You are more mature, and understand that partnerships are about hard work, time and energy if you want them to last. Relationships feel more considered and communication improves, too.’
‘What can you change ahead of your second marriage?’
However, if you’ve been through a divorce and are considering marrying again, make sure you’re truly over your ex before committing, advises Trevor Silvester, author of Lovebirds: How To Live With The One You Love. ‘The key thing to watch out for is that you don’t bring your last relationship into the new one,’ he explains. ‘Resist your brain’s natural inclination to search for old, negative patterns in this new situation, and see your new partner for what they are – unique. And if you realise you’ve married – or are about to marry – the same person again (which is more common than you might think), then get some therapy to explore why that is. Change you first.’
As for going low-key with a second wedding, although many opt for it, it’s not obligatory. On my second wedding day, I wore white because I knew Russ wanted me to. I had to be mindful that this was his first nuptials and he wanted it to feel special, too. I also had eight bridesmaids – real women in their thirties, who’d stuck with me through the turbulence of my previous decade, rather than the pretty little cousins my mum had persuaded me to have for my first wedding. A few people made sarcastic remarks about my luxuriant choices, as if I didn’t deserve a second shot at a glorious day. But I had earned this celebration more than I had the first one. And so had my husband. I’m pretty sure Harry and Meghan have, too.
The divorcee’s guide to a happy second marriage
Taking the plunge for a second time? Here are a few things to consider before you say ‘I do’.
Have you given yourself enough time to really get to know the person you’re about to marry?
Could you be rushing into a decision based on craving security, a fear of getting old, or missing out on children? Make sure you know everything you need to know about your partner, and that you’ve met their friends and family.
If it’s the second time around for both of you, mull over what your relationship is like with their ex and/or children.
Consider how everyone feels about you, and how you feel about them. If kids are involved, it’s vital to maintain a good relationship for happy families on both sides.
Take time to decide who is going to play a big part in your wedding day.
Be wary of asking the same people to be bridesmaid or maid of honour, in case any remarks about your first wedding are made.
If you’re using a wedding planner, tell them this is your second time to avoid any awkwardness.
They’ll need to be aware for paperwork purposes, and they can give a heads-up to anyone else involved on the day.
Avoid comparing this wedding to your last, especially in front of your partner.
Comments like, ‘we can’t have that cake because I had it the last time’ are a big no-no.
This article originally appeared in the February issue of Marie Claire