And They Lived Happily Ever After – For a While
Published December 13, 1990. If current trends continue, second marriages could become more common than first marriages during the next two decades. Currently, nearly half of the marriages performed in the United States each year involves a bride or groom, or both, who have been previously married.
In his book, “It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It,” Robert Fulghum writes about marriages, particularly second marriages. He notes:
“Weddings are usually thought of as fairy-tale times, when Real Life is momentarily suspended. And they lived happily ever after seems possible if only for a day. When my children were small, and their daddy tried to end bedtime stories with the happy ending, one of them would always say, ‘And THEN what happened?’ How could I tell them that Cinderella discovered that she was married to a guy with a foot fetish and that glass slippers hurt like hell? How would I tell them that the frog who was kissed by the princess might have turned into a prince, but still had a personality of a frog and ate flies for breakfast instead of cereal? What I know about real life suggests those are not unreasonable answers to the and-then-what-happened question.
“I tell couples, in mock seriousness, that the warranty on the wedding license is only good for twenty-four hours. The odds on a marriage lasting are 50/50 now, which means that a minister is often asked to perform a wedding wherein one or both parties have been previously married. They did not live happily ever after the first time around. But they know something now – about themselves, about real life, and about marriages. And their weddings reflect their wisdom.”
Fulghum then relates the following true story:
“Two brothers married about the same age – early twenties – over in the Dakotas somewhere. One brother was handsome, the catch of the two. The other was a real toad, short and squatty, and he loved to sing in a toady voice. The handsome brother married a beautiful woman, and the toad married someone less attractive. The couples lived close by one another and raised families together. Neither couple was really happy – they had workable marriages, but not satisfactory ones. But an outsider to the relationships would never know the truth. The children grew up and made marriages of their own. The handsome brother died of a sudden heart attacked at age 50, and the wife of the toad was killed in an automobile accident.
“After the two deaths the surviving brother and the surviving wife began developing a liking for each other. The toad brother had started coming to his sister-in-law’s house to keep a little company, and they would have supper together and would do the dishes together in the kitchen, singing old hymns while they worked together. They sometimes worked in her garden together, pulling weeds, talking for hours about life in general.
“Neither one would say anything about feelings – in a small town there was something not quite right about a couple of widowed in-laws being in love or doing anything about it. But one night he was drying the plates and started singing ‘I Love You Truly.’ She chimed in and he looked her in the eye and she looked back, and they knew.
“For years now, I have told this story to couples who are making a second marriage. The point of the story is not that it had a happy ending, which it did. The point of the story is that getting married for lust or money or social status or even love alone is usually trouble. The point is that marriage is a maze into which we wander – a maze that is best got through with a great companion – like a toad that sings while he washes dishes, for example. Or a beautiful woman who makes a toad feel like a prince when she holds his hand.
“That’s the kind of fairy tale you can believe in.”