Lord of the Rings

Times staff writer Dan Neil can be reached at dan.neil@latimes.com.

OK, my story: Six years ago this August, I discovered my then-wife had been cheating on me. That sort of hurt my feelings. Forty days and a thousand nights later, the separation papers came through. I abandoned the cot I had set up in my home office--all good stories of cuckolding

at some point involve a cot--and moved into an empty house with my 16-year-old son from my first marriage, from whom I began to borrow Marlboros at an alarming rate.

I sat on the porch of that house for a month, smoking and crying. When I had finally had enough, I made a decision. I was through with marriage. My first had ended as tragedy, the second as pants-dropping farce--and not my pants, either. Moreover, I had nothing to offer a woman so misguided as to be inclined to marry me. I was jinxed, a heartsick two-time loser, a 42-year-old freelance writer--which is to say, unemployed--with a teenage son. Dad was a wreck. Dad was no help at all.

I wasn't giving up women. Oh no no no no. . . . I was soon back in action. Men are such pigs that they can be emotionally devastated and still be horny--indeed, that might be our defining characteristic. But I had pretty well concluded that a lasting monogamous relationship, with or without benefit of clergy, was not in the stars for me.

Giving up on marriage was hard. It felt like the end of youth, the opening stanza of a pessimistic middle age. To get married is to embrace an exceptionalism that says, despite everything informed people know about the odds and the perfidies of the heart, we're good. We're together for life. Anybody who gets married with less than that total conviction--paging Pamela Anderson --is deranged. If the fools are under 50, they should probably be sterilized.

In most other respects, I was pretty sensible. I was (and am) hostile to notions of the supernatural, i.e., that God, karma or some other celestial magic has a hand in people's lives. Rubbish. I had also studied literature and knew that Petrarch--the 14th century Italian poet--was responsible for more divorces than alcoholism was. It was Petrarch who codified Western culture's absurd, you-complete-me expectations of romantic love. Far from there being only one true love for every person--the needle in life's haystack--there are thousands who are potentially fit mates for one another. Love isn't destiny. It's epidemiology.

I could apply such reasoned skepticism to everyone's relationships but my own. In my own skin, I was surprised to find a deeply traditional person who wanted a soul mate to last for life. When that didn't happen, I was crushed. Then it didn't happen again. That was that. I became resolved. I will say "I do" no more, forever.

What strikes me about this story as I tell it is just how magnificently wrong I was. Wow. No sooner had I sworn off love and marriage than I fell deeply in love and found myself back on a trajectory toward the altar.

Tina was an acquaintance. She worked for my friend at his veterinary hospital. When he told her what had happened between me and my wife, she was surprised because I seemed to her like a good guy. She told my friend she'd like to go out with me. I was agreeable on the grounds that--I am chagrined to say it, but it's true--she was the most beautiful female I had ever laid eyes on. We made a dinner date.

We saw each other for about a week before we concluded, mutually, that it wasn't going to work. She was 30, ready to marry and have kids. I was an emotionally shattered husk of a man spiraling into despair, the dictionary definition of a rebound. For your sake, I told her, it's better if we break it off early.

A week went by. The phone rang. "Why haven't you called?" Tina asked. "Because we decided I shouldn't," I said. "That doesn't mean anything," she said. Ah, right, I see.

We've been together ever since. I proposed to her one night eight months after we met. Actually, she was crying over a fight she'd had on the phone with her sister. I couldn't bear to see her upset, so I handed her the ring, telling her, "Please, if you'll stop crying, I'll marry you." Upon reflection it might be the most articulate thing I've ever said.

We got married at the Beverly Hills courthouse four years ago. Last year, our two baby girls, Rosalind and Vivienne, were born. We're ecstatic. Everything that marriage is supposed to be--passionate, profound, fun--ours is. No one is more surprised than I am.

I'll tell you this, young lovers: Life has a way of taking your most earnest pledges and folding them into funny hats for you to wear.

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