It’s a different topic than being a stepparent. Because being a second wife is all about your relationship to a woman who used to call your husband hers. And it’s a completely surreal experience – it bears no relationship to anything I’ve ever done before, and it’s one of the hardest things I do. I’m exceptionally happy in my marriage. Marc is perfect for me. He’s brilliant in all the ways that I really respect and admire, he’s much, much nicer than I am, his first instinct is always to do the kindest thing. He’s patient and calm where I’m impatient and emotional, he’s relies on me to be exactly who I am. He values most the things I like best about myself.
But he used to be married to someone else. He used to share a life, a bed, a home, with someone else. He still shares children with someone else. And that’s just… hard. Because she’s still here. She still yells at him like a wife. She still gets to determine all sorts of things about his life, and as a direct consequence of that, she gets to determine stuff about my life. About my kids’ lives. She’s still at family functions, she’s a factor in almost every huge decision we make. Where we live, how we spend our vacations and weekends, etc.
When you are with a guy, you know he’s dated before. You know he’s probably even been in love before. You almost certainly know that he’s had sex before. But in most cases, these women are in the past – you don’t confront them all the time. You aren’t barraged with evidence of their love and life together. And after more than seven years together, I’m still baffled and confused about how to handle that.
I think we have a cordial relationship. I spend almost as much time with her children as she does, after all. She has to not hate me, just because otherwise it would be utterly intolerable for her. So we’re polite, warm, even. At times. We married the same man – in theory, we’d have a lot in common, wouldn’t you think? In reality, I feel as though we couldn’t be more different. She’s organized, structured, very focused on what’s proper and appropriate. She puts a much higher priority on cleaniliness than I do. I think dirt is okay and even desirable when you’re a kid. I think a grubby child is a sign that the kid played hard, had a blast, and will sleep well tonight. She thinks a grubby child is a sign of neglect. I think. I don’t really know her that well at all. She’s ten years older than I am – I feel a lot of times like she’s the grown up and I’m the teenage babysitter. Or at least I think she thinks that.
I stay as far as away from my husband’s relationship with her as possible. He makes plans with her re: the girls. Even though it makes things a lot more complicated, he’s much more prone to let her make the decisions and tell me after the fact, I don’t want to get in the middle of it. The child support is handled thru the state, and comes out of his paycheck before either of us see it. Which makes it a lot easier on a day to day basis. The custody agreement gives Marc unlimited visitation, so we see the girls as often as possible. Marc’s always been adamant about keeping his relationship with her as calm and conflict-free as possible, because that’s what’s best for the girls, so on the surface, at least, everything is lovely.
But underneath it all, I’m pretty sure she’d much rather I be on the other side of the earth. And I know that underneath it all, I’d much rather pretend that she lived in China as well.