When I walked down the aisle in spring 2008, little did I know when I said ‘I do’ I should have repeated it two more times. I wasn’t just agreeing to marry my husband, I was also agreeing to take on board his ex-wives.
All the signs were there, I just hadn’t clocked them: the first ex wrote me a ‘good luck card’, while the second threatened to send me ‘a present’.
Most of us are familiar with ‘Second Wife Syndrome’. She’s usually a second-class citizen who pales in comparison to the first wife. But what happens when there’s a second ex with a superior ranking level?
Welcome to Third Wife Syndrome.
Always coming last
Those two exes had my husband in his prime. They got to enjoy his six-pack and roared around on his motorbike. They enjoyed all of the ‘Firsts’:honeymoon, mini breaks, romantic meals. If I suggest we do something different, you can guarantee he’s done it with one or the other already.
Pascal and I fell head over heels in 2007. While I was seduced by his Latino charm, I never thought to ask about his relationship with his exes. Did either of them still hold a torch for him?
It’s a question I’d advise any woman to ask, because when women have unfinished business with your husband, the interference, jealousy and one-upmanship are constant.
My first brutal welcome into the world of the Third Wife came when my honeymoon was abruptly cancelled. Two weeks in Cuba, costing a hefty four-figure sum, was cast aside when relations with my husband’s second ex, mother of my youngest step-son Antonio, broke down.
She’d launched a custody battle demanding her son live with her full time. Leaving the country was out of the question. While I was the girlfriend, it was fine for my husband to have shared custody, but when I became the wife, I was permanently on the scene and she didn’t like it.
My husband, rightly, wanted to maintain shared custody, having Antonio live with us one week in two. It took three years to rubber stamp it. Throughout that time it meant we couldn’t risk going away.
As Third Wife I knew my husband’s children would always come first. He has a son Helios and daughter Joelle with his first wife and Antonio with his second. At the time we married, they aged in range from 10 to 22.
All three resided in France, so a country I’d never fancied living in was to be my new home. When you’re Third Wife, zero thought is given to your work, social life or family. Which makes it all the more poignant that I didn’t get to have children.
No kids of my own
The painful fact is us Third Wives often don’t. We married late in terms of
baby-making years – I was 37 and my husband Pascal was a decade older. By the time the custody battle had been settled, I was knocking on 40.
Unsurprisingly, Pascal was of the sheepish opinion, “Do we have to? I’ve done it all before”. Even though we did eventually unsuccessfully try, today I’m resigned to my childfree status. But that doesn’t stop the ‘Golden Uteruses’, a phrase I freely and meanly use to refer to the exes, from pulling rank.
As mother of his children they initially always had a hand in our lives. If they wanted to attend social functions with my in-laws, they did so. A year after I married, the first ex-wife came on a weekend camping trip with my in-laws. I was expected to suck it up.
Even as step-mum, my role was continually diminished. When Antonio was at school I’d drive him to birthday parties where his mother would be waiting to resume the starring role.
So why become Third Wife? There came a moment when I was heartily sick of being referred to as ‘the girlfriend’. As ‘wife’ I was recognised in law, in my gossipy village, and with the exes too.
It certainly wasn’t for the money – unless you have married an A-lister, the reality for us ‘Thirds’ is that we’re never going to be rolling in it. There are the thousands of pounds you are expected to pony up for your step-children without so much as a thank you.
In 2009 my eldest step-son needed a car. So we bought him one. It took us a year to pay it off. There were the post-university, pre-first job emergency funds sent to my step-daughter, and the endless mobile telephones that Antonio steam-rollered through. All of this extra money I found while my husband was
ill and unable to work for much of 2009.
The following years my life revolved around my step-family. I was their cleaner, cook, taxi, confidante. One Christmas we even had the surprise of Helios arriving with his mum’s dogs for a week. Then there were the dozens of meals I cooked whenever all the children stayed. I cooked 105 meals in one week. I counted every single one.
But fast-forward past those early angst-ridden years and this spring I celebrated my seventh anniversary. Far from suffering the clichéd itch, I’ve got very good at being Third Wife.
Laying down the law…
I have moved the exes to the periphery of my life. I spent the first four years in tears over their behaviour. Then I finally realised I can’t change how they are, but I can change how I react to them.
Since then I’ve imposed very clear boundaries about what I am prepared to accept. I’ve also made it clear to my in-laws it’s either one of the exes or me on holidays or social occasions.
Given almost half of marriages end in divorce nowadays and two out of three ‘blended families’ don’t make it, I frequently give myself a pat on the back for having got this far.
I’m even somewhat skilled at ensuring I’m treated like a princess. We have ‘our’ holiday destinations, we have carved out a new life in an area where neighbours only know us as a couple. I’m focussed on creating our future. We have plans to eventually move to the coast in France.
Nowadays I’ve got the Third Wife role so sussed that the only thing my husband regrets is not having met me sooner…