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.