After the “conscious uncoupling” (i.e. separating) announcement a few years ago, we are probably quick to cringe at Gwyneth Paltrow’s choice of words. So, when last week she said she was going to “give [marriage] a go” again, maybe we rolled our eyes a bit and thought the words told us everything we needed to know about typical celebrity flippant-ness towards the union.
But I don’t think anyone approaches marriage without a big, heavy dose of seriousness. Starting with the tens of thousands invested in the wedding itself and followed by the hardly unambitious goal of living happily ever after, it couldn’t be much more loaded.
So, if like me, you know what it feels like to embark on a second marriage, you might think that “give it a go” instills a bit of refreshing lightness into proceedings - and that, in my view, is heartily helpful for anyone starting again.
First of all, “give it a go” means having the courage to try – and fail - again
Gwyneth has spoken about overcoming feelings of failure resulting from her divorce. Any marriage - celebrity or not - that doesn’t work out feels like very public failure. Most of us don’t have to endure having our marriage breakdown discussed online, but we still feel that everyone (from the school gate acquaintances to your parents’ friends and distant relatives) is talking about it and speculating on what went wrong.
And that’s all just amplified when you do it a second time. I remember a twice-divorced friend ruefully telling me to be “sure” when I embarked on No. 2, because “people forgive you your first divorce, but the second is definitely you”. Unfortunately those words, and knowing that many would brand me a failure, only made me resist for far too long the difficult truth that I had to leave my second husband.
Second, “give it a go” is realistic
While we may be older and wiser, sadly the odds of “not-first” marriages lasting are against us, with an estimated 67% of second and 73% of third marriages ending in divorce.
There are lots of reasons why. For a start, children (usually from a first marriage) create glue and a shared bond. One of the saddest things about a divorce is that you no longer have someone to share your limitless (and often pretty boring to others) interest in your children. This unconditional love (and the inevitable time and attention involved) is a complicated rift to navigate with a new partner because it is so hard for them not to feel excluded.
Another thing is that while an early marriage sees us growing up and moulding together, when we are older compromise is less easy. Prue Leith, for example, has spoken about how she favours living separately (usually not financially an option but one that many of us can see the attraction of) from her second husband so that she can live the way she wants to and doesn’t have to put up with his “clobber”.
Third, “give it a go” acknowledges that we don’t know what life will throw at us
I hope Gwyneth’s second shot at marriage goes well but if it doesn’t, it may well be little to do with “her” or “him” and be simply because difficult stuff happens in life. Disability is one of the things that makes divorce more likely. Redundancy (not likely, I know, to hit Gwyneth) can also increase the odds of divorce. These things are out of our control but put massive pressure on a relationship through absolutely no fault of our own.
Despite all this, I take inspiration from of friend of mine’s mother who, now in her mid-80s, finally found lasting happiness in her fourth marriage with a man she met on the internet ten years ago. If she hadn’t kept “giving it a go”, she would be alone and lonely. Instead, to the joy of her children, she is happier than she has ever been.
I haven’t given up on love and hope one day to be married again and if I do, I’ll be going into it with Gwyneth’s realistic words ringing joyfully in my ears. And that, I think, will be giving it the best chance of success.