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November 13, 2003

He Said: Ready for Second Time Around

http://www.jewishjournal.com/celebrations_simchas/article/he_said_ready_for_second_time_around_20031114

I spent months planning our weekend trip to Las Vegas: from an indulgent massage at Mandara day spa and dinner at Mon Ami Gabi to "Mamma Mia" at the Mandalay Bay. Wendy was having a fabulous time.

But when I suggested we go to the top of the Eiffel Tower replica at Paris, where we were staying, my Francophile stopped me cold at the elevator.

"We need to talk," she said.

My heart sank as I tapped nervously on the ring box in my pocket. She knew what was coming next and suggested we find someplace to talk over dessert. The momentum of the evening was lost.

Part of me wished that she would have stepped into that elevator with me and not looked back, but we're both seasoned veterans. Young and impetuous didn't work too well for our first marriages. We knew that taking that ride up would change our lives in ways that required some deeper introspection. Instead, we kept our feet on the ground.

We talked the rest of the night and into most of the next day about her marriage fears and mine. We wrestled with our anxieties as we strolled through the Venetian and the Bellagio's botanical gardens. Was I ready to become a stepfather? Were we ready to marry again? What would we do differently to keep a marriage together?

Ending a marriage is painful, and difficult to recover from; the term "civil divorce" seems an oxymoron. But like a forest after a wildfire, love inevitably sprouts again from scorched earth. The trick is to keep from getting burned again.

According to the Stepfamily Association of America, 75 percent of divorced people will remarry, but 60 percent of those marriages end in divorce -- it's a statistic that guided much of our discussion. Divorce was hard on both of us the first time around. The last thing we wanted was a sequel.

In her book "Starter Marriage," journalist Pamela Paul interviewed more than 60 GenX couples that divorced after a few years of marriage. She found that many of them were children of divorced parents who still held marriage up as their ideal. However, they lacked a realistic expectation of what marriage can and cannot offer.

We both took our first marriages as far as they were going to go, but that doesn't mean that they were failures. According to relationship expert Dr. Barbara De Angelis, if we had stayed in a failed relationship that would have been a failure on our part. Instead, we look back on our first marriages as learning experiences that teach us how to improve ourselves and our relationships.

Compatibility is key. Wendy and I refer to each other as our "evil twin," but I prefer to think that we bring out the best in each other. It doesn't hurt that we want the same things in life or that I love her kids. We're active listeners and open with our feelings, and we've both been down the same road, so we know what the bumps and the potholes look like.

Our relationship on many levels is so beshert that Wendy once gave me a long look and said, "I waited for you. What took you so long?"

When checkout time came and went, I was left to wonder what the future would hold for us as a couple. As we waited for our bags and our ride to McCarran airport, Wendy turned to me and said, "You should do it now."

Assuming she meant that our bags were ready, I started walking over to one of the attendants.

"No," she yelled, motioning for me to come back to her. "Ask me the question."

I know that when Wendy and I sign the ketubah and exchange our vows and rings, it probably won't go as smoothly as we'd hoped. According to the the Yiddish aphorism: Man plans, God laughs. The cake could arrive late, someone might end up in the pool during the reception or -- please, no -- it could rain.

Things so rarely go according to plan. But if our wedding is anything like our engagement, it will still be perfect to us.

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