My Turn: Six Marriages Between Us

My wife and I met on Aug. 2, 2007, became engaged on Nov. 10 and were married on Jan. 26, 2008. We began merging households in earnest when Candy sold her home in May, and hope to be completely unpacked by August—of 2012. While our challenges are similar in many ways to those faced by other middle-aged newlyweds—melding furniture, flatware, art and appliances acquired over a combined 75 years of adult life—Candy and I have had some additional considerations. So would any two people who think they're only combining living spaces when what they're really doing is placing highly diverse, often opposing, ingredients into a cosmic Cuisinart and hoping the results will be savory.

This is the third marriage for each of us. That makes our experiences sound similar, but our relationship backgrounds are profoundly different, except for the fact that our first marriages were relatively brief misjudgments.

Candy's second marriage ended many years ago, after her husband—enraged by a number of professional and personal disappointments and fueled by booze—took her hostage, at gunpoint, in their home. Candy managed to escape through a window while a retinue of sheriff's deputies talked her husband out of the house.

My second marriage, on the other hand, lasted nearly 29 years. For the first two decades it was a lively, loving relationship, further enhanced by the birth of a daughter when we were both 35 years old. But the last nine years constituted a slow descent into hell: Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent continuous treatments, each one prolonging her life but diminishing her. Our love went through a number of transitions, and in the last two years I was a full-time caregiver. By the time Candy and I met, both of us brought complete, though not completely matching, sets of emotional baggage to the party.

Strangely, I was the one who'd become cynical about relationships, even though (or perhaps because) I'd had a successful one until its tragic, extended coda. Candy, meanwhile, was the optimist: she wanted to believe in relationships. Whenever we hit a bump in the road, I considered canceling the entire trip. For her, that was never an option. I might be older by four years, but Candy remains the ever-present grown-up, declaring that this, too—the combination of survivor's guilt and jealousy—will pass.

That jealousy, by the way, came as a shock to me, since it has reared its unattractive head only a handful of times during my 57 years. I suppose I resented the fact that in the insulated years I spent caring for Jane, Candy had dated a lot. I came to realize that my emotional growth had, to some extent, been placed under house arrest when I was 27, the year Jane and I first started to live together. Newly widowed in my 50s, I was plunged into a world I didn't recognize, one in which some people fell in and out of love sequentially.

I also wasn't sure how to be a middle-aged widower with a middle-aged girlfriend. Were we supposed to go to early-bird dinners? Just how lustily was I permitted to speak without crossing the line into the dirty-old-man zone? And if I playfully lifted Candy into my arms, would she tell me to mind my sciatica?

Candy had her own jealousy issues, but they weren't about my late wife. They were about my having had the sort of life she'd always wanted: a long, loving marriage, a child and the sometimes stifling but mostly comforting sense of being a we instead of an I.

Then there were what one friend dubbed "overlapping realities." Candy and I got married one year and 16 days after Jane's death. We live in the same house I lived in with Jane, and sleep in the same bed. While I never forget who and where I am, I occasionally lie awake at night, secure in my new wife's arms, and wonder: what just happened?

So we're unpacking. We're hanging the art Candy collected during her 53 years next to the art Jane and I collected and painted during our 29 years together. We've begun to make the house our own.

Recently, Candy and I were at a bank. The teller, who was in her early 20s, admired Candy's wedding ring. We said we were newly married. "Oh, I've been married for three years," she said. "You're gonna love marriage." Candy and I looked at each other and smiled. Between us, we've been married six times—yet this young woman was encouraging us as though we were two kids just getting started. The thing is, we are.