This originally appeared on The Huffington Post. Published here with permission.
“The first time you marry for love, the second for money, and the third for companionship.” – Jackie Kennedy Onassis
A couple months ago I was skimming Mickey Rooney’s obituary and came across an ever-amusing Hollywood fact: He was married eight times. I wondered if he said the same set of vows at each ceremony. Perhaps he wrote his own, less-binding version.
In fairness, his fifth wife—Barbara Ann Thomason—did die an untimely death, so he only divorced seven times. Other personalities who have married numerous times include: Zsa Zsa Gabor (9), Elizabeth Taylor (8), Larry King (8), Martin Scorsese (5), Kenny Rogers (5), Christie Brinkley (4) and Barbara Walters (4).
At what point do you say to yourself: This just isn’t my thing? I’m looking at you, Kim Kardashian.
For the record, I don’t think “marriage isn’t my thing” is anything to be ashamed of. On the contrary, it’s dangerous to advertise that marriage is everyone’s cup of tea and wedded bliss is a point at which every person must eventually arrive otherwise life will have no meaning. Have you ever watched someone who didn’t want to get married—suffering apprehension that far outpaced cold feet—go forward just because it’s what you’re supposed to do? It’s painful.
What if we implemented an all-American “three strikes and you’re out” law? The purpose being to unclog the court system and promote less frivolity in this major life decision. To be clear, this would apply to divorcees, not widow(er)s.
I have mentioned this idea at a few dinner parties and someone inevitably says, “But I know someone who is in an amazing fourth marriage!” Under this law, you can still have the relationship. You can even have a party where all of your friends and family celebrate the union. You just aren’t going to involve the state.
If this were to happen, then other laws would have to change—laws that guarantee certain benefits to a spouse and only a spouse. Now is a good time to reexamine marriage laws in this country anyway. As author and historian Stephanie Coontz says, “Marriage has changed more in the last 30 years than in the previous 3,000.” Yet the laws lag far behind the changes.
Three attempts at a legal union is reasonable. First marriages can go awry because people are inadequately prepared for what it entails. Feeling more informed, many embark on second marriages, and sometimes they work well. I know several couples in second marriages that have gone the distance—my parents among them. If a second marriage doesn’t work out, then there’s still one more chance to master the art of matrimony. But if by marriage number three, you still have some semblance of fairytale in your head (care to comment, Ms. Kardashian?) then perhaps this isn’t the institution for you. Statistically, the chances of marriage not working out the second or third time are high. The divorce rate for second and subsequent marriages is 60 percent.
Marriage requires a set of skills—compromise, communication, being able to fight fair, and fidelity among them. By fidelity, I mean trust. Whether you’re in a monogamous or non-monogamous marriage, it’s important to honor the boundaries you and your spouse have set.
The skill set differentiates according to each marriage, but few will argue that skills are needed. Some people don’t have the skills required, despite their best intentions. I have no doubt that Charlie Sheen and Tiger Woods wanted to be good husbands and fathers but perhaps failed to realize that behaviors and personal issues enter the marriage with you. You don’t leave them at the altar.
In fairness, there are plenty of people for whom marriage is their thing. It’s just not their spouse’s thing. They have all the necessary skills, except one—choosing a compatible partner. Repeatedly choosing the wrong partner, however, is a problem in and of itself. It’s one that won’t be solved by entering another relationship but rather stepping out of relationships altogether and doing a self-evaluation.
It’s something Mickey Rooney didn’t make time for. There was nary a year between the majority of his marriages—with many of the new relationships beginning before the previous one ended. It seems, however, that he did learn a thing or two during his first seven marriages. He was married to his last wife for 37 years—longer than all of his previous marriages combined. Then again, they did separate in 2012—two years before he died.
Samara O’Shea is the author of Loves Me…Not: How to Survive (and Thrive!) in the Face of Unrequited Love. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.