It wasn't a club that I ever wanted to join. Only 3.5 percent of married Americans belong. Yet, at 55, I was grateful to become a member of the Thrice-Married Club.
"Third time's the charm," some of my friends assured me when they heard I was planning to tie the knot for the third time. But others were concerned. "You've already made two mistakes," they told me. "Why set yourself up?" A few friends were so alarmed that they responded to my news as if I had announced a cancer diagnosis.
One of the fun things about being thrice-married is that when I meet other members of this elite club, I feel an immediate bond. It's like connecting with the like-minded folks of other unique clubs I belong to. Vegans. People who don't drive. Women without children. We have all made conscious choices to take the road less traveled.
I'll be the first to admit that I didn't enter into my first two marriages with the same evolved consciousness that prompted me to stop eating meat or prefer walking to owning a car. What did I truly know about love, or self, at 23 when I got married in the mid-'60s? Living together was not an option. We were far too middle class. Only the "beatniks" in Greenwich Village were doing that!
Ray and I met in our freshman year at college and dated the whole four years. We referred to ourselves as "HIP," which stood for Humorous, Intelligent and Passionate. Fraternities and sororities were not our thing, The two of us shared many "firsts"—discussions about our intellectual explorations, confessions about our family histories, writing love letters and love poems to each other, and making love all night.
My father called Ray a "Left Wing Cloud Number Niner," but I didn't care. I was in the clouds too.
Ray studied philosophy and wanted to teach. I studied writing and wanted to be a writer. So what if he had a fling with one of my girlfriends while I was planning our wedding? I wasn't without flaws myself. More important, I didn't have enough self-esteem to recognize his transgression as a deal-breaker. After all, he was tall, dark and handsome. And brilliant. I felt I was lucky to get any guy. Besides, we had something special—we were "HIP."
After eight years together, Ray left, claiming he needed to "find himself."
It took a long time for me to heal, but when I met Ravi through my study of yoga and meditation, I was ready to love again. We meditated together, cooked vegetarian meals and discussed metaphysics. Once, making love, I felt such ecstasy that I exclaimed, "I wouldn't mind dying in your arms at this moment."
We thought of ourselves as "cosmic twins." We were both emotional, verbal, creative and unconventional. We cared deeply about our spiritual lives. Our values meshed—we were more artistic than materialistic. He preferred doing carpentry, making jewelry and cooking elaborate Indian meals to working as an engineer. And I preferred creative writing to the teaching that supported me.
So what if he felt like a man without a country? He could no longer embrace the traditional role of the eldest son in India, yet he didn't fit in here, the country where he had always dreamed of living. As a child, he had been taken to study at the feet of gurus, swamis and other spiritual masters in the same way that American parents take their kids to baseball games. But now that he was living in America, he acted like a kid in a candy store, not sure which temptation to sample next. This included, to my dismay, experimenting with recreational drugs.
I had problems too. I was still rebuilding my life professionally and emotionally after losing two years to a serious health crisis. And I felt like an alien in my own country. Unlike my peers, I disliked the typical American diet, rampant consumerism and pop culture. Nor did the fact that I used alternative medicine help me fit in.
Ravi became my second husband. We had three ceremonies—one personal celebration on the first day of spring at the yoga society which had been the catalyst for our meeting (me in a sari with a gardenia in my hair, he in Indian garb), one civil ceremony with my parents and a Sikh celebration in India with Ravi's family.
The delight of loving the most complex, intriguing man I had ever known began to wane as his emotional seesaw became frenetic—one minute he was the serene meditator and sage, the next minute he was hyper or hungover and speaking nonsense.
After six years, I felt I had to leave.
It took a decade to heal this time, but I continued to believe I would find the "right man" to spend the rest of my life with. I don't think it was a coincidence that when I finally learned to understand my wounds and the management of them, and finally believed I deserved a husband who could do the hard work of having a marriage succeed, Lee appeared.
We were both 50. He, too, had been previously married. Like my two prior husbands, Lee was sensitive and open-minded. But unlike the others, he had learned to manage his sensitivity. His out-of-the-box thinking enriched his life rather than destroyed it.
In my fifth decade, Lee's stability was comforting. He knew who he was and what he wanted. He understood wounds, both mine and his—not just personally, but as a psychologist with a passion for his work. He also believed in the possibilities of healing and affirming life—for his patients, himself and me.
I was happy to find that at 50 there could still be "firsts." Lee taught me how to be part of a "team"—to see beyond my challenges and dreams, beyond his challenges and dreams to create that larger entity that is "us." He wasn't a cook like my Indian husband. But he knew the ingredients for a healthy marriage: openness, humor, patience and respect.
This deeply intuitive and patient man proposed three months after we met and waited four years until I was ready to marry. We have been happily married for many years.
"I wish we had met in our 20s," Lee sometimes teases me. "We could have had a whole lifetime together."
"We weren't ready for each other in our 20s," I tell him. "You would have seemed too traditional for me, and I would have been too far-out for you. We had to find our deeper selves in order to find each other."
As our wedding anniversary approaches, I think of all the couples who have been married to the same person for a lifetime, of all of those people who divorce and don't remarry, and of the millions who remain single. The path I have chosen might not work for everyone. But for this humble member of the Thrice-Married Club, I feel incredibly grateful to say, "Indeed. Third time's the charm."