marriage: an investigation

What It’s Like to Finally Find the One, the Third Time Around

They say you can never understand someone else’s marriage. But this week, New York Magazine and the Cut decided to try. We interrogated dozens of couples (and a throuple) to see what makes their marriages work — or not.

Michelle Poston Combs, Married 4 Years; 2 years; 22 Years and Counting

Marriage No. 1

I went to vocational school with my first husband. He had a 1968 Camaro and was very, very handsome. At our wedding, just before I walked down the aisle, my sister told me to run. She said, “Just get in my car. We can get out of here.” I was so mad with her, but she was right. He was a player; of course I was going to get cheated on. But that’s not the main reason I divorced him. I divorced him because he was stupid — really, really, really dumb. Not too long after we got married, I realized there was never going to be any conversation. All he would do was reminisce about drinking with his friends in high school. I got pregnant by accident and caught my husband cheating two weeks before my son was born. We were supposed to visit a mutual friend, and he was so adamant that I stay home, not go with him. We got to their house and the friend came to the door in bathing-suit bottoms. I was whale-size, and here’s a girl with no pants on and normal tits. I didn’t divorce him for two years after that, though. I’d just had a baby.

Marriage No. 2

My second husband was this folksy, hippieish, supersmart pacifist known for being this nice, quiet, together, kinda wealthy dude. But in reality he just wasn’t. He never raised his voice, but he messed with my head. When I started figuring out who he was, it was terrifying. He was a narcissist. When we first got together, he love-bombed me. I had never been treated with so much love, ever, in my whole life. I’d think, Wow, is that what it’s like to be loved? Then he took away his affection and it was like being denied a drug. Once we were married, I hated him. He made me sick. He had money and I didn’t have to work, so I was trapped financially but I went out and got a job so I could exit.

With my first two husbands, I was always acting. My second didn’t even like the way I ate eggs; I also learned that if I opened up to him he’d use anything I’d told him as a weapon. So I closed myself off and projected whatever they wanted. When I look back, I can see quite clearly how horrible the relationships were, but at the time I thought, Well, It’s me. I last five years and then I lose interest and move on. I am broken in some way.

Marriage No. 3

I was not in a good place when I met my third husband, so it wasn’t as if I was in a great position to make a “healthy” decision. It wasn’t like I learned life lessons that I took from marriage to marriage. In fact, the decision to get together with my third husband, who I love more than anything, was one of the dumbest I have made in my life. We were long distance and we’d seen each other a total of nine times before we moved in together. I dragged my poor 7-year-old son across the country and moved in with him.

The first year was very volatile, but I could see that we had so much fun together, so much in common, and we loved being around each other. It was like before I met him everything always felt hazy, unstable. But I felt so secure once I was with him, and I think that allowed me to change. I have never felt even close to leaving him. It’s the one thing in my life I am 100 percent sure will always be there. Someone recently asked me, “How come this one worked?” And I told her I just got lucky. I really do believe that. Who doesn’t have baggage? I don’t buy that argument that you have to work on yourself and be in this great place and you will attract the right person.

6 More People on How They Chose Their Spouse

“I married him because he had a trailer in Montauk. They’re all jerks at the end of the day, but that’s a terrific perk.” —Mia, 62, married seven years

“I don’t get away with one goddamn thing. And I married her for that.” —Mike, 44, married four years

“After four years of dating, I was still sexually attracted to him, which never happened with anyone.” —Annie, 39, married three years

“He loved my daughter and considered her the best thing about me, rather than the most inconvenient.” —Amber, 42, married four years

“I was just bored of being a bachelor.” —Jayson, 42, married eight years

“When I realized he had an enormous penis, owned his apartment, and came from a great family, it seemed like fate.” —Jodi, 45, married nine years

Alyssa Shelasky

*This article appears in the April 1, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

What It’s Like to Find the One, the Third Time Around