Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. How many ex-wives?: I’m a 41-year-old woman, never married, but with a string of long- and short-term relationships in my past. I started dating a man (he’s 39) a few months ago who is great! We have a lot of the same interests, live close to each other, are intellectually and physically compatible—I’m over the moon. I’ve always wanted to find a true partner who I felt I would eventually marry. Now, it is certainly premature to put him in that realm, but I have started thinking that he might be a great candidate. But, when I start thinking down this road, I always come to the odd roadblock in my mind that he has been married twice before. (They both ended with his wife cheating on him and leaving him for another man.) I would be his third wife. This just seems incredibly unromantic and anticlimactic to my partner search. But then I realize this is ridiculous! He is great and I should just calm down. And this is all an issue for the future (but, then again, I’m 41!).
How can I feel this is a romantic and special relationship if it seems like he might just be willing to marry anyone?
A: There are two really different issues here. One is how to overcome your disappointed romantic hopes, and deal with the reality that you are contemplating marriage later than is traditional, and with someone who is coming to the table with not a few trammeled hopes. The other is whether your boyfriend really is “willing to marry anyone.” Are you saying that because something about him seems compulsive or anxious about the prospect of being single, and you’re afraid he’s less interested in you than he is in having a warm body nearby? Or are you saying that because you’re judging him for having been married twice? You don’t say anything about your boyfriend having low standards or being willing to marry anyone, so I’m inclined to guess it’s the latter. He’s not “willing to marry anyone.” He was married and his wife left him for someone else. Later, when he found love again, it happened a second time. That’s sad, and painful, and he is to be commended for taking an emotional risk and trying again. Whether or not you two do get married, don’t think of yourself as an “unromantic, anticlimactic third wife.” It’s not unromantic or anticlimactic to get married in your 40s, or to get married more than once. But you will have to let go of the dream of marrying someone with no romantic or emotional baggage, or of getting married at 25, or whatever other ideas you’ve been carrying around, if you want to appreciate what you have now.