Since I am a multiple marrier, also referred to as a serial marrier (a person who has been married three or more times), I have often had to play the numbers game – like it or not.
When I am the recipient of the dreaded question, “Pam, how many times have you been married?,” my fight-or-flight responses kick into action during the nanosecond it takes for me to find the "right" answer to this impertinent inquiry. But, since I am an admitted People Pleaser, I feel compelled to give the questioner a truthful answer rather than snidely replying, “None of your beeswax.” So I command my ever-declining brain cells to go into overdrive doing a variety of marriage calculations. I tell my mind (as if I'm addressing the computer Hal from the movie 2001, A Space Odyssey) to offer me a response that will satisfy the questioner.
In a stressful situation like this, I could have a knee-jerk reaction and just throw the dice, take whatever number appears and put it out there as the "correct" answer to the question of how many times I've been married. But, knowing that I’m in control and have “free will,” I can choose the number of marriages Hal reports back...give or take a few.
Don’t get me wrong. At my core, I’m an honest person. I really do want to tell "the whole truth and nothing but the truth." However, experience has proven that if I give someone the "wrong" answer to this question, I could be ridiculed, judged, talked about or, even worse, dismissed as a person who lacks credibility, not to mention character, honesty, and values. As one can imagine, this uncomfortable scenario has played out for me in social situations countless (no pun intended) times. Becoming my own personal marriage “bean counter” when this happens is now old-hat. I should have studied to be a CPA like my Dad; those number skills would have come in handy!
And, since I don’t like surprises except for Christmas and birthdays, when I’m totally taken aback and have no time to wake up my brain, I might respond, “Well, to answer your 'How many times have you been married?' question, I will only say, more than one and less than five.” Then usually the questioner pauses, somewhat satisfied. We both smile and change the conversation. The super-persistent, though, will insist on pressing the matter, and then I’m forced to return to my complex counting exercises.
I’ve often asked myself, “Why would someone want to put me on the spot with such a question?” OK I’ll admit that in a private discussion, it would be acceptable to ask a question like this. But in the middle of a cocktail party, when the cast of characters may include your friends, your enemies and other outliers, is this conversation really necessary? I have to wonder, is the questioner trying to see if I will pass their values test? Is he seeking a tantalizing tidbit to confirm his initial assessment of me? Does she wish to explore my personal life to see how it compares with hers? Is he trying to embarrass me? I never really know the motive behind another person’s need to pry.
After decades of justifying my checkered marriage record to others in various social settings, I finally decided to peel back all the layers of my life's "onion." Once and for all, I just had to find out why I, unlike my friends who are not in the multiple marrier category, feel compelled to explain my past life. After all, I'm not deceased yet! One day I awakened, like the character Doug in the movie The Hangover (there are sequels, too) and asked myself, how did I become a multiple marrier?
I just came across an article in the March 2013 issue of More magazine entitled “9 Ways to be Married,” by Doren Allen, about nine women who had chosen to tie the knot in sometimes unconventional ways. One was a “serial marrier” named Cindy; she seemed like someone I could relate to! For that matter, I had to applaud Cindy for her courage in“coming out of the closet,” as I did in my new book, Ring EXchange – Adventures of a Multiple Marrier. In plausible reasons, Cindy explained why she had chosen to marry three times. I’m happy to report that her present marriage is a "lucky charm,” as she is now in a healthy, balanced relationship with her third spouse.
My third marriage was far from a lucky charm, and my fourth marriage resulted in failure, too. But for the last 13 years I have been single, which has given me time to reflect. Cindy's reasons for her first two marriages were: desire to leave her parental home, and, seeking security. Those same two reasons are also on my list below, although the other motivators for my decisions to marry were different from hers.
Reason for my first marriage: Wanted to leave home
Reason for my second marriage: Wanted social status
Reason for my third marriage: Loneliness
Reason for my fourth marriage: Seeking security
My first step in discovering how I qualified to wear the multiple marrier's “scarlet letter” for a fourth time was understanding the reasons why I had chosen to marry each time. Beyond that, it was critical that I did some self-discovery, exploring my personality type and behavioral patterns that ran even deeper than the motivations themselves. Interviewing other male and female multiple marriers was part of this exploration process. When I learned that deep in my psyche was a basic fear of loneliness, a spiritual need to be a Good Samaritan, an inability to set boundaries, a lack of a sense of belonging that went back to childhood, along with a Pavlov’s dogs-type of impulsive behavior thrown into the mix -- well, that was my real aha moment! I discovered I could actually break the patterns that had contributed to my poor marital choices and impulsive decisions, if I understood and addressed the personal traits that set me up for repeated, disappointing outcomes in my marriages.
I finally realized that in each of my four marriages, I was the one constant that had needed to change! My husbands certainly shared accountability for the divorces, but had I taken more ownership for myself, I could probably have saved two of my marriages and prevented the other two from happening altogether.
In terms of conquering a feeling of loneliness, as much as I truly am a people-person, I’ve finally learned to relish solitude. I gain peace and strength from the ability to enjoy being with ME. I don’t see myself as an emotionally needy person any longer. What a freeing experience that is!
Yes, I’ll admit that I’m a giving, helpful person by nature. But I look at my motivation for once being overly generous and nurturing, and now I balance that against my own needs. I don’t neglect myself anymore.
My sense of belonging comes down to defining myself through myself first. In the past, I defined myself through my spouses, hoping their happiness would boomerang back to me and make me/us whole. I no longer feel the urge to solely link my happiness to another’s well-being, lifestyle, wants or needs. I make my own sunshine!
Finally, I still purchase a dress or pair of shoes on impulse from time to time. I like small rushes of joy, I suppose. But when it comes to major decisions, I study, I gather information, I step back, I think analytically (I don’t lead with my emotions) and most of all, I take time to make sound and practical decisions. I don’t have too many more years to make big mistakes, as I won’t have time to correct them. Smile.
Finally, here's a question I’m starting to get, now that the cat is out of the bag about my being a multiple marrier: “Pam, would you marry yet again?" My politically correct response is, "I’m open to the possibility," because I've learned that flexibility in life is key. But, if and when I do decide to marry again, I will base that decision on thoughtful consideration and true awareness, so that "taking the Fifth" will be my very last walk down the aisle!