My husband and I recently watched the movie, We Bought a Zoo, for the second time. Although I wrote the first draft of my novel, Joy after Noon, before seeing the movie the first time (at least I think I did), one aspect resonated with me this time. Benjamin Mee, the character played by Matt Damon, is grieving the death of his wife. At one point he remarks to Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) that a love like his for his first wife only comes along once in a lifetime. By the end of the movie, Benjamin and Kelly have not exchanged more than a kiss. Still, the question comes to mind: What would it be like to be the second wife to someone who had loved that deeply?
On the one hand, you might think he’s capable of great love and would make a wonderful husband. On the other, you might fear you would never be able to live up to his expectations. How can you compete with a ghost? I have not experienced this situation myself, but some of my readers undoubtedly have. I would love to hear of your experience.
In my novel, Joy is the second wife of a widower. Not a great beauty, Joy lacks self-confidence, especially in the domestic realm. Much of the plot hinges on her failure to express her fears and Ray’s failure to articulate his feelings. Like many men, he assumes she knows how he feels, and she’s not secure enough to tell him that she needs to hear it from his lips.
This type of communication problem isn’t limited to second marriages but extends to many first marriages (or even third) as well. Nor is it limited to one sex or the other. Too often we assume our partner knows our needs, or knows how we feel; and, too often, they do not.
Another complication that often arises in second or third marriages is the relationship between the children and their new step-mother. Ray’s step-daughters resolve to bring Joy down, and for a time their plan seems to be working—until it backfires with dire, unforeseen consequences.