My husband recently said something that I’m finding difficult to process. We were out one night and chatting (he had also had a bit to drink) and he blurted out “the love of my life is married to someone else.” Prior to me, he was married for nine years. And we have been married now for a year, together for seven.
Is this something I should look past? I feel like he may still be pining away for his previous wife (who has since remarried — to her high school sweetheart), and I feel like I am second-best, a consolation prize, that he has settled for me but still has not gotten over her. I would like to think I’m with someone who looks at me as their number one. I’m not sure if this is something I should learn to look past, or if it is a bad situation.
Dear Anonymous – my sad, disappointed dove,
First, let me get this out of the way: Your letter broke my heart. I can completely understand how devastating it was to hear your husband utter that horrifying sentence. I’m surprised some angelic corps on high who monitor “Insensitive, Apocalyptically Stupid Things Husbands Say” didn’t swoop down and smack him hard on the back of his skull. (Me, I might have used a baseball bat. Probably why I won’t make angel.) Maybe they were so dumbfounded with incredulity they were too stunned to swoop. I can empathize with what you’re going through, and I know if I were on the receiving end of this statement I’d be tortured by feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, confusion, and yes, anger. No one wants to feel like they’re number two and no one deserves to feel like a consolation prize.
But to answer your question, I feel like I need so much more information. After he sobered up, did you confront him with what he’d said? (I certainly hope you did.) What did he say? This is crucial information we need to know if his pining is real and if so, to what extent. I’d also ask what was the nature of your husband’s relationship with his ex and why did they get divorced? Did she leave him for her high school sweetheart or some other man? Was his misbehavior the reason for their break-up? Or did they just fight constantly? I’m asking because he may not be pining for her and he just felt that pathetic kind of self-pity that afflicts some people when they get drunk. Maybe he is turning a loss – she rejected him, his bad behavior caused the breakup — into a big tragedy that doesn’t feel so histrionically tragic in the sober light of day. Naturally this is the most comforting scenario because it has less to do with him being intoxicated with love for his ex than just being plain intoxicated.
I’d also ask you how soon you started dating your husband after his breakup. Was yours a rebound relationship? Did your husband have a chance to heal or get any closure after his divorce? If not, he may be idealizing a situation that wasn’t all that great in reality. He might still be labeling her as “the love of his life” out of habit, even though his feelings and his life have actually moved on. While I can easily and without hesitation state that the impact of hearing those words from one’s partner would be devastating, it’s hard to diagnose the seriousness of the statement and its impact on your relationship without more information.
That said, let’s look at the whole “love of my life” concept. While 16-year-olds, the recently widowed, and the grievously inebriated may think there’s only one “love of my life”, life shows us otherwise. Take Elizabeth Taylor. Her third husband was theatrical impresario Mike Todd, a very charismatic man whom she absolutely thought of as the love of her life. He died an untimely death in an airplane crash. She was devastated, so much so that soon after she married Mike’s best friend (and Debbie Reynolds’ husband), Eddie Fisher. Trust me, marrying Eddie Fisher was the act of a woman crazed with grief. (And frankly, just crazed.) Now as we all know, she later married Richard Burton, twice. Did Liz ever ugly-cry about how much better Mike was than Dick in one of the Burtons’ many screaming matches? Probably. Though Taylor married 8 times, a biographer or BFF would likely claim both Mike Todd AND Richard Burton were the loves of her life. (Taylor would later say that Mike Todd was one of the three loves of her life — alongside Richard Burton and jewelry.)
While just about none of us can claim to be at all like Elizabeth Taylor, we all have something in common with her. All of us are capable of having more than one “love of our lives”. We all have different chapters in our lives, and these chapters often have different casts of characters, and within each are different starring roles. It may be that your husband is mourning a chapter and cast that are long gone. While this is really hurtful to you, it’s not doing him any favors either. He should think about getting some counseling. He may be pining for an idea more than he is a woman. And he may not be pining at all – again, we need more information.
IF it turns out he is genuinely pining away for a woman his heart can’t let go, then it would be you that should seek counseling. No one wants to come in second; I certainly wouldn’t want my life partner to be a man I was always thinking was thinking of someone else. The thing is, until you get more information, you’ll be wondering and suffering. You deserve to feel like number one. At the very least you deserve to feel like number one in this new chapter of his life, a number one about whom he should feel adoration and gratitude. If you don’t get the information to make you feel that way, or you get information that will keep you from feeling that way, then you do have a problem. Perhaps a problem that can be solved, but a problem no one should counsel you to ignore.
In a nutshell, I feel like I need more information, and I feel like you are an incredible prize — and should be made to feel like one.
Please follow up and let me know additional information that might help me advise you better, and let me know how things are going. Just know that everyone who hears your story can feel your pain, and you’re not alone and not crazy to feel betrayed. I hope one way or another we’ll find a way to get you to feel you’re solidly on that first-place trophy shelf.
Much love (and still ready with that baseball bat),
Email your questions to Dixie at dixie [at] jumbleandflow dot com. We may feature your question and Dixie’s advice on jumbleandflow.com. You can choose to remain anonymous or provide your name — totally up to you.
Dixie Laite has been a second-grade teacher and mechanical bull operator, and for the past 25 years she’s worked for a variety of TV networks as a writer, editorial director, trainer, advice columnist, even an on-air personality. But primarily she’s trotted around New York City in one cowboy shirt or another, lurking around flea markets, gyms, and anywhere they’ll hand her French toast. Currently she lounges around her apartment with one husband, one dog, five parrots, and roughly 2,000 pairs of shoes. Dixie is the main lady behind Age Against the Machine, a column about empowering women over 50. Sign up for the Jumble & Flowdown newsletter to stay in the know about Dixie’s latest columns.
Follow Dixie on Instagram @dixielaite
ON THE BLOG
In My Prime: interviews with women thriving in midlife
Pregnancy test and pregnancy over 40
Pelvic health: Everything women need to know
Adventures in Perimenopause, essays by women in perimenopause and menopause
What is perimenopause? An empowering guide to everything you need to know
Jumble & Flow art prints, home decor,
and apparel on Society 6
36 gift ideas for every Zodiac sign and horoscope-loving friends
Women's Health Glossary of Terms
6 of the best self-care techniques you’ll never find on Instagram
Ageism in the workplace
What are the best blenders according to ratings and experts?
What is middle age, and what age is officially old?
We're building The Midst
Because over the hill is so over and done with