Sali and Dan
Sali and Dan (Picture: Nicola Ridiings Watson)


On marriage – the second time around

After a divorce, Sali Hughes was battle-scarred and thought she’d never marry again. But then she realised that love will always come with risk

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By Sali Hughes on

I’m getting married again. I might as well say it here, since I’ve failed so pathetically to make a proper announcement for the past couple of months. It’s easier to type it on a black and white Pages document than it is to say out loud that I’m rolling the dice again, having truthfully sworn I never would, after my first marriage ended pretty agonisingly in divorce. Announcing it is just so… optimistic, isn’t it? There’s a vulnerability in going public in your belief that everything will be OK this time, that love and humanity will prevail when you know it so often doesn’t. Safer to stay in the bunker. It’s the reason I refused to join the right-minded chorus of “Trump will never be president! Britain will never leave Europe!” for a full 18 months until, well…

It may seem an unromantic analogy for such a personal and extremely happy development, but it’s also impossible to disentangle my decision to remarry from the global and domestic events of the past couple of years. When untouchable chaos rules, one wants to shelter under the wings of what is meaningful and true: my family, my friends, our collective kids, new puppies, daft jokes, birthdays, walks to town for a new pencil case or to cafés for scrambled eggs. I can no longer believe in much else. As the news got worse, my boyfriend’s solid goodness became even more pronounced, an increased sense of permanence became more appealing. And so I finally said yes to the man with whom I already intended to grow old (who also had no intention of getting married himself until last year), and swapped the ring I didn’t quite love for one I very much did, and kept it in a drawer until I could bear to admit to anyone but my kids that I was putting myself back on the line.

I know how unromantic it sounds, but my fellow first wives will understand. It’s not that you lose your sense of romance or sentiment when divorced. You still cry at the films, books, other people’s weddings (even if you do shamefully wonder which 50 per cent the happy couple will ultimately fall into). You still squeal when your friends become engaged. You certainly still glance over to your boyfriend on the sofa and feel purest love and exciting lust, or across a restaurant table and think how lovely this is, how much more often the two of you should do it. But these are moments, not a longterm reality can you invest in without considerable risk. You don’t fantasise about a proposal, or see it as the grande finale of a dream courtship, but as the beginning of a bigger challenge the past has told you you’re not up to. You immediately wonder how you’d cope if it went wrong. However truly happy, you’re battle-scarred, reluctant to reopen the wounds.

One should never be without a prenup and running-away fund, whether the first, second or eighth time down the aisle. But I’ve decided that cynicism is no longer a place of safety

Besides, my boyfriend and I were already married, for all intents and purposes. We’d happily accepted this was it, so there seemed no point in expensively gilding the lily just because society expected it. Nothing was broken. We are one another’s favourite person. We laugh at exactly the same things and respect one another’s careers. I like big noses; he likes small people. We both love doing nothing as much as – if not more than – doing something. We already share a home and just bought a massive new telly from which neither of us would ever blithely walk away. What would really change? Statistics show that, more than ever, divorcees choose cohabiting over marriage and, for several happy years, I’ve been one of them. My children are happy, settled and secure in their two blended families, with parents, a stepmother and stepfather they love. I don’t believe in God, will never again want a joint bank account and white clothes makes me look like ham. Why mess with as close to perfection as I can imagine?

This is what I said to myself for several months, during which time my youngest son got gravely and terrifyingly ill, and stayed in hospital for a month. At Christmas, when he was home and well, and I finally began to process the trauma, I recalled my son lying weakly on Dan’s lap in A&E, looking up at him gently catching Pokémon on his behalf with one hand, stroking puke-clumped hair with another. It was this memory that made me realise he deserved to be a legitimate part of our family, how lucky we’d be to welcome him, and how much we all needed a party.

And so we’re doing it, this autumn. Not that I’m ignoring past lessons or throwing caution to the wind. Just as one shouldn’t take love and time for granted, let tiny resentments fester and breed, allow sex and jokes to dissipate or problems to go undiscussed, one should also never be without a prenup and running-away fund, whether the first, second or eighth time down the aisle. But I’ve decided that cynicism is no longer a place of safety, and fear should never drive major life decisions – it’s never been allowed to in any other area of my life, so it should no longer have a casting vote in the most important. While I firmly believe it’s healthier to know that bad endings lurk in the bushes than it is to dismiss them as an impossibility, I’ve decided that I can no longer carry around the weight of divorce on my back. Yes, divorce should be scary and no one should imagine themselves so in love as to be above it. Romanticised complacency, not marriage, is the real state of danger. But fear of divorce should only make us try harder, not refuse to get into the race.


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Sali and Dan (Picture: Nicola Ridiings Watson)
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