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“First marriages in the United States don’t tend to last much beyond seven years,” says Dr. Robert Epstein, a former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today and now a contributing editor of Scientific American Mind. The news is worse for couples in second marriages. According to Epstein, those unions “fall apart two-thirds of the time.” And what does the good doctor say of those intrepid, optimistic souls taking the plunge for the time that is purportedly the charm?

“Third marriages fail three-fourths of the time.”

The herald of doom concludes with this mildly understated salvo: “I think it’s reasonable to say that the way we date and mate is highly flawed.”


Epstein is an expert on online dating. I interviewed him for an article I wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He has also devised a site called AreWeGoodTogether.com, where those thinking about becoming hitched can determine if they should order the invitations or head for the hills. (Brave readers who are interested might consider taking the “Are We Good Together” quiz. The bravest among you might wish to share your results in the comment section, found at the end of this post.)

These cautionary facts and figures can tend to take the bloom off the romance rose, can’t they?

Wendy Swallow, whom I’ll be interviewing in the coming weeks, wrote The Triumph of Love Over Experience. She observes that, because of these statistics, “remarriage never quite steps out of the shadow of divorce.”

Here is a brief excerpt from her book:

Older newlyweds usually bring more wisdom and self-knowledge to the table, but they also bring more complications—teenagers, ex-spouses, houses thick with the memories and flotsam of other lives. And they bring one of the unsettling lessons of divorce: the understanding that you could divorce again, even as you swear you never would.

Remarriage may appear on the surface like a return to normalcy, but it is actually a gamble, a leap of faith. The failure rate for remarriage is enough to make your blood run cold. According to the Census Bureau, two out of three second marriages will fail, compared to about half of first marriages. And for those remarrying with children living at home,…three out of four marriages fail. Dr. Samuel Johnson famously called remarriage the triumph of hope over experience, and when I read those numbers, I understood for the first time how much hope you have to have.…For a woman who prides herself on her pragmatism, contemplating remarriage felt like stepping off a cliff and hoping that, despite my human biology, I would be able to fly.

Years ago, before I ever contemplated divorce, let alone remarriage, I wrote a poem that hinged on the idea of letting go and letting fly. Here it is:


A devil’s advocate once said: “You’re falling fast.”
“Tell me,” I replied, “Is there a way of falling slow?”

Better to tend the soup than speak:
skim the bony foam from the broth—
color of marrow, color of ill-health—
sprinkle the ground peppercorns,
the cleansing parsley,
collect the charming onions—
odd little pearls—
and hum to myself.

Why am I waiting?

That Catholic yearning
to confess
never really left me.
Can I shock the priest?
Is this why I’m here?
To tell? To be forgiven?

Better simply to take a walk.
Breathe for the sake of breathing.
Feel the cold for what it is.
See the dead bird without looking
for signs, for symbols,
without longing
to study its entrails. . .

That other bird, that sparrow, will survive,
filling the trees with its importance.

It knows what it knows,
goes around with a lightness
that is bravery or blindness—
or faith.

Not knowing what it signifies—
that it’s my augury, I can bow to or defy—
it just sings.

My voice should be that easy,
so when I say—
oh, I don’t know—
I love the way you smile

when you think about me,

there is no great
disturbance in the universe.

No variance. No variance at all.

But I know too much
to sing freely
or to watch these birds—

look at them bob and weave!

see how delicately
they land on the wires—

tightrope walkers
in needless equipoise—

when they fall, they fly.


I am writing this post from a hotel room overlooking the San Diego Bay. John and I,  just shy of our 14-month wedding anniversary, flew across the country to get here. The odds might not be with us, but I believe that the gods are. I believe that despite the baggage sometimes weighing us down, and “despite our human biology,” we are flying. And we will continue to fly.

As Emily Dickinson once wrote: “Hope is the thing with feathers.”