How many ex-wives are too many?

A woman recently mentioned to me that she had a copy of the Beatles’ white album in mint condition. I speculated that it was probably worth a lot of money now.

It took only forty years for the Beatles’ white album to change its meaning from being a symbol of revolution to being an investment; it also took forty years for me to go from being a penniless socialist sculptor to being a semi-retired liberal with mutual funds. Does anyone listen to the white album any more, or do we just save it in a plastic bag?

I am of the generation that invented free love. We used birth control, joined cults, and experimented with mood-altering drugs. We ushered in new perspectives on love, life, and family. We rejected the notion of pre-marital celibacy, and we discovered that it was possible to have multiple partners. Some of us had more than one partner at a time, and some of us practiced serial monogamy.

At some point, though, our lives turned out to be a lot like those of our parents. We fairly quickly found that where there is sex, there are children, and where there are children, there is a need for childcare. We left the cults and the commitment-averse roommates and chose instead nuclear families and homes in the suburbs. It became claustrophobic at times, and sometimes the partners just lost interest, but we found it was possible to reinvent ourselves.

We are a healthy and hard-working generation. We have had multiple children, multiple careers, and multiple partners. As such, I expect any single man whom I date to have an ex or two and, in fact, I’m a little suspicious if a sixty-year-old has never married. To me it seems as though they may never have left the “free love” sixties. It also tells me that they may still be that commitment-averse roommate we left behind.

On the other hand, though, I am also a little suspicious of a man who has had more than two wives. I say two, because that allows me to feel as though my two ex-husbands are a reasonable number to have had. I also say two because, strangely enough, we still count the marriages but not the lovers. It is still unclear to me at what point a person considers a live-in lover to be a common-law spouse, but in the dating world lovers are not counted. Only wives and husbands are counted. So, if we are counting, how many is too many?

When I met Doug, I really enjoyed his company very much. We had been corresponding online for about a month, and we had some mutual interests and understandings. The first date was, in fact, the best first date I have had. During the third date I learned that he had four ex-wives. I was stunned. Four! That seemed to me somewhat excessive. I asked him if he had an understanding of why his marriages had failed.

He said, “That’s easy. Infidelity.”

I asked, “Yours, or theirs?”

The response: “In three cases, theirs.” That gave me plenty to think about.

On the fourth date I discovered that two of his four adult children had not talked to him in years, and he didn’t feel it was his job to generate a connection. I was beginning to understand why his marriages failed. After I realized he knew everything and was going to lecture me about all of it, I knew the relationship was over. But even if he had not been pompous, would the fact that he had four ex-wives have been enough to call it quits? For someone of my generation who is more likely that not to have had multiple partners, why should it matter that he married four of them?

I now know that I am logically inconsistent about this.I don’t have any particular fondness for marriage, and I have no particular aversion to a person having had several lovers, but somehow having had four wives is still bewildering, and wrong.


  1. Hm, maybe it’s because it implies he made a legally binding, long-term commitment to the wrong person, four times. Just sleeping with, or even living with the wrong person is nothing compared with having a ceremony to declare you’re going to spend your life with them, and then finding out you were wrong. It either says he jumped the gun a lot and didn’t properly analyze his feelings each time, he was really unlucky, or he just gets married all willy nilly and doesn’t have strong feelings about it. Maybe.

    I enjoyed this post by the way!

  2. My take on this is – making a marriage commitment and failing 4 times means they may not have learned anything. Then again, maybe they did and you won’t know because he was unwilling to talk – then you were right. 4 times would scare me. Maybe he was in love with being in love instead of the person and what the future could bring. I hear that happens a lot to people. Having been a person with many lovers, no commitment and no guilt – I think it was the way to go. Nothing held me back (except myself now and again); I succeeded and failed on my own; and I am pleased I have no one to blame. Blame makes for a lot of negative energy and a waste of time. AND I did learn new things from each of them that made the next relationship a bit better. Full time commitments just seem like so much work. When I encounter the old flames – they are still interested, I must have done something right or wrong hmmmmmmmmmmm

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