I am currently reading a novel called The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls. Bess, the main character, meets a nice Irish musician named Rory only to discover that he’s been married eight times—and he’s only about 45 years old.
Bess also has a neighbor, Cricket, who has lost his partner of many years and a pair of grandparents who have been married 65 years who have a dreadful marriage. Together, they are all driving a car to take the grandparents to their retirement home in Tucson. In the process, Bess is going out of her way to meet Rory’s eight previous wives.
The book poses some interesting questions about what makes a good marriage. Can Bess and Rory get it right and have a good life together in spite of his past? Should Millie and Irv, Bess’s grandparents, have gotten a divorce long ago? Will Cricket survive the loss of his partner, Darren, whom he never married? Three relationships, depicting marriage and togetherness from a lot of different angles, form the basis for this book.
I know something about multiple marriages. My parents, between them, were married nine separate times to different partners. Unlike Rory, they had kids, myself and my three half-sisters (four, if you count the one I’ve never met who lives in California), which made the divorce soup even messier. Oddly enough, despite seeing so many marriages cast off during my youth, I still believe in the institution. If something happened to my husband, I don’t see myself living with another guy unmarried. I like marriage because it binds you together legally and financially and makes it a hell of a lot harder to extricate yourself. The security of marriage is definitely for me.
On the other hand, I would advise Bess and Rory to live together for a while first. They’re mature adults who need to test-drive their relationship before they jump into what would be his ninth marriage. She deserves the chance to bail quickly, and he is obligated to a period of experimentation considering his past. I don’t see how their living together beforehand would violate the institution of marriage. If they decide to get married later, then they’ll be going into the situation with their eyes open.
I also really hurt for Cricket, who has lost his partner of many years and who only remained unmarried because of archaic laws that kept him from matrimony. The sanctity of marriage, to me, is not defined by which genders participate in the union but by the commitment and the effort that they put forth to make the relationship work.
I’ve been married for twelve years (today is my anniversary), and I believe that long-term marriages have developmental stages just like the human psyche. David and I have changed a lot since we first married, yet we work hard to stay connected and to evolve together. Marriage is about sharing the days and nights together as well as sharing dreams and goals together. For example, I’ve given up my retirement vision of traveling around the country in an RV—David gets carsick. I’ve traded it for a dream of going to London to see Wimbledon after our kids graduate from high school because that works better for both of us.
People should enter into marriage with both eyes open and stay married by re-negotiating their roles and dreams as needed. Rory and Bess may live together before they choose to get married so that they can better respect the institution of marriage. Long-term marriages like Millie and Irv’s may sound great, but if the relationship is poisonous, then they are violating the so-called “sanctity” of marriage.
A good marriage, then, is not about how you get there or about what gender mix goes into the relationship. It’s also about more than just making a commitment to stick it out no matter what. I want my kids to look at our marriage and to believe that long-term love is possible. I also want them to understand that marriages last through individual change if you work differences out in good faith. I want them to believe that they can find someone that they can trust to spend their lives with, if they choose to.
I may be a hopeless romantic, but I still believe in marriage.