When my 88 year old father-in-law announced he was marrying his 82 year old girlfriend, the response fell squarely into a gender divide. "Oh, how cute," said most women. "What the hell does he need to get married for?" asked most men.
My husband and I found this fascinating. We are each other's second spouse, and marrying as we did in mid-life, were mostly greeted with support and happiness about having found one another, rather than the sweet and slightly condescending sentimentality displayed by women or the pragmatic and a romantic skepticism displayed by men in response to the octogenarian wedding. My husband and I had a fairly extravagant wedding, our children were our attendants, and we danced into the night with joy and abandon. For the most part no one questioned our decision to marry, to have a large wedding, or my choice to have a lingerie and sex toy bridal shower.
My husband's response to his dad's plan to marry has been complex. He is glad his dad has found someone, but on the other hand his mother is dead not quite three years and the impending nuptials seem both sudden and jarring to him (despite the fact that we can all acknowledge that at the age of 88 there is not much time to waste). And there are questions. Is he supposed to call this woman his stepmother? Are her children his stepbrothers and stepsisters? This woman seems so other. My husband's parents were both holocaust survivors, distant cousins who met in a displaced persons camp after the war and married after one had been relocated to the States and one to Canada. Because of the tragedies they had endured-- loss of most of their respective families and the horrors of a concentration camp and a labor camp respectively, they clung to one another and to a community of other survivors. They loved their new country, but in many ways hung onto the values of the old one (Poland) along with their thick Polish accents. The new bride is born American, a southerner with a honeyed accent, interested in theatre and music and art, things that never had a place in my father-in-law's life.
My husband's sister had a rough reaction to the mere idea of her father dating when the now affianced couple took up with one another almost two years ago, refusing initially to meet the woman when her father asked, coming around only when the now soon-to-be-bride moved in with him after three dates and was clearly going to be a fixture. (And let me digress to say, yes, we were all a little bit surprised at the rapidity at which she moved in with my father-in-law's home in Beverly Hills, leaving five children and two grandchildren behind in Florida with barely a backward glance. But then again, when you're in your eighties, with most of your life behind you, what reason is there to pussyfoot around?)
Navigating as my husband and I are the blend of our four teenagers (or should I say three, as one of our teens has refused to blend at all, insisting on being at our house when no other teens are and adamantly resisting any attempts to integrate), we are no strangers to the mixed emotions that arise when a parent remarries. I have empathized with both my children and my step-children, telling them that I understand divorce and re-marriage are two things which impact children greatly and over which they have no or little control. Happiness at your parent's happiness (if you can even get that far) can be mixed with feelings of loss, fears of abandonment, jealousy or resentment. What is remarkable is that those emotions can be as strong in a man in his fifties as they are in a boy of 16.
The wedding plans for our octogenarians are in full force. We are now counting down the days to what has turned into a four-day extravaganza of dinners and parties. When the marriage was announced, my husband and his sister had one request: that the ceremony be restricted to just children and grandchildren gathered in the rabbi's study, with any kind of party the couple desired to follow. A simple enough request, respectful to their feelings about their mother while allowing the bride and groom the celebration they wanted. This plan was agreed to at the time, but subsequently abandoned and now it appears a mob of people will be in attendance (including my father-in-law's doctor, dentist and possibly several random acquaintances whose names he may not be sure of, but of whom he is convinced emotional devastation will result if not invited). Never mind the 120 people who are joining after the ceremony for a dinner at a high-end restaurant.
My father-in-law announced the expanded attendance at the ceremony on Mother's Day, at a brunch to which we had invited him and his fiancée out of kindness as all of her children are, as previously mentioned, in Florida. Needless to say, the timing was terrible and emotions ran hot, with my father-in-law laying on the guilt: "what, I shouldn't get married?" And my husband then feeling like he needed to point out that it was he and he alone who had negotiated with the restaurant for the party, advised on the menu and chose the wine, referred the woman who did the invitations, found the musicians, etc., and I who had taken my future mother-in-law shopping for a wedding dress. No one objects to the marriage, the celebratory party, or even quite frankly the expanded list for the ceremony (except for the fact that the agreed upon small private ceremony was so belatedly and unceremoniously abandoned).
But as we get closer to the wedding day, everyone around us seems to have an opinion, and the initial gender divide of opinions seems to have shifted around the details. One friend of my husband's took him to task for even asking for the smaller ceremony in the first place, taking the position that it is his dad's wedding and he should do whatever the hell he wants. My husband was dismayed at his friend's ardor on the subject. One friend of mine could hardly contain her laughter upon learning the bride and groom wanted cocktail napkins with their names on them and the wedding date, joking that they needed them because most of their elderly guests wouldn't know where they were or what they were doing there otherwise (poor taste on my friend's part, I know). Yet another friend thought it ridiculous that the couple decided to forego language on the invitation requesting charitable donations instead of gifts: "what do they need," she chortled, "a blender?" My reaction to this barrage of opinions has also been mixed. Having married just over a year ago, I can certainly understand wanting to celebrate love at any age, and in any way the bridal couple desires. On the other hand, I certainly understand the emotions my husband is experiencing. When my stepson (he who refuses to blend) spoke up with his opinion, saying he can't understand why my husband cares if his father is getting married, I wanted to say, (but didn't), that he cared plenty when his father got married, and that regardless of age, watching your parent marry someone new is challenging, raising all the complicated emotions all weddings seem to bring and then some.
Let's just hope my future stepmother-in-law doesn't request a lingerie and sex toy shower, because that is where I would have to draw the line.
Here are some valuable resources for family blending: