Monday, September 19, 2011

A Sweet Second Chance at Love

I just got an email from my college friend Lisa that she is getting married next Saturday.

Under any circumstances, this would be a cause for celebration.  But this news is extra special: she is marrying her first and sweetest love: Jack,  her boyfriend from high school whom she continued to date for the first two years of college. They re-discovered each other after many years apart, long marriages (she's divorced, he's a widower), children and grandchildren. They're living the dream of recapturing that young and passionate love to give special joy to their later years.

I was a bridesmaid at Lisa's first marriage on Thanksgiving weekend of 1967 and it was the most gorgeous and lavish wedding ever.  She and Peter had met the previous summer while both were working as camp counselors. He was a teacher, too. It seemed a good match. And it was in many ways, producing two beautiful and accomplished daughters and allowing both spouses the freedom and support to build very successful careers.  But Peter's depression and alcohol abuse were issues, even in the early days. They were devoted to their children and to each other. But the relationship was a difficult one.

After their retirement, things got much worse. They left Michigan for Florida and Lisa settled happily into a new life. However, Peter hated retirement, hated Florida, and drank more than ever and verbally abused Lisa non-stop. Finally, after a frightening and humiliating episode where he was arrested for public drunkenness and fighting with police, Lisa decided she had had enough. After 42 years of marriage, she filed for divorce. He moved back to Michigan. She stayed in Florida, optimistic about building a new life on her own and relieved to be living free of the shadow of his verbal abuse and alcoholism.

A year later, just out of curiosity, she searched online for her first love Jack, the sweetheart of her youth. Neither can remember the reason they walked away from each other all those years ago.  What matters is that after many years of separate joys and heartbreaks, his wife's death and her divorce, Lisa and Jack have found each other again.

They are beating the odds in making the fantasy of re-discovering a young love a warm reality.

So many times, our fantasies of getting a second chance at young love or of a new start remain simply fantasies -- or the fantasy disintegrates in the face of reality. An old love may not be free or willing to get involved once again. And a new romantic start may begin to look, after some time has passed, like that tired old marriage you thought you had left behind.

In a recent blog on the Huffington Post regarding marriage and divorce, novelist Gigi Levangie Grazer raised the excellent point that many women divorce their imperfect husbands and, down the road, end up marrying men very much like them. She questions the wisdom of leaving a non-abusive marriage, especially with children, in search of someone better

It's true that, during a difficult patch in a marriage, it's all too easy to fantasize about how different it might have been with a former love or might be with a new and different love while struggling with what is.

During a period, many years ago, when I was going through a difficult time in my life with some attendant marital tensions, I developed a crush on a smart, attractive and charming man who was making a name for himself in New York publishing.  Nothing ever came of my fantasy-crush for three reasons. First, I love my husband. Second, the man of my fantasies was -- and still is -- an important business contact and I was afraid to upset the lovely balance of our work relationship and warm friendship. Third, he had a serious girlfriend he loved dearly who eventually became his wife. So the fantasy, save for some mild flirtation on both our parts, stayed a fantasy and diminished over time.

Once, over lunch in New York, I expressed a hint of jealousy as he was telling me how he and his girlfriend had spent the weekend.  He smiled, reached across the table for my hand and told me something I've never forgotten: that our relationship was perfect because we could always be at our best with each other without life's daily realities intruding.  "We meet for lovely lunches or dinners, all dressed up and on our best behavior," he said. "You haven't seen me at 6 a.m. You have no idea how I really do dishes or what my apartment looks like. So we can always be just perfect together." I smiled, realizing the foolishness of my fantasy, the sweetness of this friendship and, not so incidentally, my enduring love for Bob, whom I had pledged to love and to cherish, for better or for worse.

Another friend I'll call Susanna never got over Sam, her high school sweetheart, who dumped her one summer in favor of someone he had just met. Both married others soon after graduation. Both were divorced by midlife. Filled with longing for the sweet and innocent love they had shared, she looked him up and they started talking on the phone. She finally moved from California to Virginia to live with him. But, while Sam still had many wonderful qualities, there was an intractable bitterness that had crept into  his character. Never a drinker in college, he drank far too much now. She found that his finances were chaotic as well. And he came with three battle-weary and sullen teenagers who had no interest in seeing their Dad find a new love. After a short time, the fantasy died, their ardor fizzled and Susanna returned to California.

But Jack and Lisa are different.

They have beaten so many of the odds against their re-uniting. At the time they got re-acquainted after 45 years apart, both were free and willing to start over again. After long marriages with others, raising children and managing demanding careers, they have the patience, the communication skills and the wisdom of age that eluded them in their youth.

They have perspective and maturity to know that they're hopelessly human, that they won't always agree, that while their basic selves may be very much the same as all those years ago, time and life experiences have brought changes. They realize that they are the same -- and yet not the same.  They have spent the past year getting reacquainted as lovers at another life stage -- while re-discovering the joy and optimism that they shared in their youth.

In honor of that youth, Lisa and Jack, together with their families, are traveling back to Illinois, to marry at the chapel at Northwestern University this coming Saturday.

They don't regret the time in between, those years apart. The years of loving others, raising children, experiencing loss have added to the richness of their lives and the depth of their joy in finding each other again.

And on Saturday, Bob and I have promised to toast them from the west Maui shore with tropical drinks raised and many good wishes for a lifetime of love and happiness.


  1. What a beautiful example of love and life as it really can evolve. Not always as we expected but rewarding in so many way,s sometimes coming full circle .
    A similar thing just happened with a couple of my high school friends. Having graduated during the last 50's they recently reconnected through a website and newsletter for our classmates. They just married last month, each in their early 70's.
    I was fortunate to have found the right one 53 years ago. Life has not been perfect but it has been good, very good. We were fortunate that we did not experience many of the issues that render some relationships unbearable. Some things are deal breakers and we didn't experience those.
    Enjoy those days on Maui with your love and your friend.

  2. I love this story! Bravo to Lisa and Jack and their willingness to take the risk to love each other again. I wish all the best for them both-

  3. Isn´t it funny how something comes full circle sometimes? It feels like this was meant to be. I hope Jack and Lisa will be happy together.

  4. This posting is a deeply thought-out and perceptive tribute to Lisa and Jack. It is, I believe, your wedding gift to them.


  5. Thanks so much, Ginger, Shelly, Betty and Dee for sharing my delight at this news. Guess it is a bit of a wedding present to them, thou they don't know about it yet and, concerned for their privacy, I changed the names of all concerned.

  6. This post gives me goosebumps! It's also nice to think that people can see past the visible physical ravages of the years back to their glorious youth.

  7. I have a friend this same thing happened to, only she and her old boyfriend had both enjoyed happy marriages that were ended by cancer. They rekindled at a reunion and are now very happily married.
    The romantic in me thinks this is totally doable and I wish your friend all the blessings my friend has recieved.
    Arkansas Patti

  8. Very interesting! Good for her/him. Marriages at a later age probably work better, as the couple is more realistic in their expectations, and the regular stresses of raising a family are not there.

  9. Oh, Kathy, this isn't the first time I have heard of long ago romances rekindled in middle-to-later age, but it is indeed one of the nicest. I send to them my best wishes that the rest of their years together will be joyful and continue to be filled with the love they have rediscovered.

  10. How lovely for them! Thanks for sharing this.

  11. Life is funny sometimes.
    But why not?
    Having someone to share life with is nice.
    I don't think I would remarry.I'd probably be like G Cloony lol
    but I certainly believe in second chances and finding love again is certainly special.
    So I wish them the best on the road they will be taking together. :)

  12. Our newly-married 71 year old friends met in high school, always felt a pull, but never dated. They connected two years ago through the internet and married this past July. It's a joy to behold, but it's an uncommon story and not a template/answer for most of us. In fact, I imagine it would be very hard to adapt to someone new at that age...even if that someone new is someone you've carried a torch for through fifty years.

    So glad to have found your blog. I'm a retired psychotherapist from the South. I'll look forward to my visits with you.