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After the Split: Tie, Tie Again : Our loving lips may murmur 'Till death do us part,' but more often it's divorce that separates us. Undeterred, many keep tying the knot. Why? Some observers say we're all just old-fashioned romantics.

April 21, 1993|BETTIJANE LEVINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

So you're in love. Again.

You've even popped the question. Again.

No big deal. Almost half the 2.4 million couples who say "I do" this year will not be saying it for the first time. And 15% of those will be taking their third, fourth (maybe even sixth) stab at wedded bliss, according to government figures.

Some may not be able to keep a straight face while mumbling " till death do us part," since they know it's not death but messy divorces that split them from prior mates.

After all, this is America. You do it over until you get it right, right?

Not exactly.

Since marriage is not scientific, there is no provable method for "getting it right." And no figures to show that those who keep trying ever do . Furthermore, there's dispute in learned circles as to what "right" is, in the context of a long and successful marriage.

Is it happiness? Love? Companionship? An absence of pain?

And why is it that so many smart, sensible people--who have learned how not to repeat other kinds of mistakes--keep marrying again and again? Psychologists, divorce lawyers, anthropologists--even those with multiple marriages behind them--don't seem to know.

But, of course, everyone has a theory.

Helen E. Fisher, an anthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, wrote more than 400 pages on the subject in "The Anatomy of Love," published last year.

After surveying courtship, sex and pair-bonding from prehistory until now, Fisher believes that "love is a primitive but elegant emotion, like fear or surprise."

Brain physiology plays a big part: "There are two stages of love--infatuation and attachment. The infatuation stage is associated with a natural amphetamine high, caused by a chemical produced by the brain. After that comes the more calm attachment stage--an addictive need for the other person, produced by a morphine-like substance released in the brain."

The reason for the high divorce and remarriage rate in America, Fisher says, is that "when the infatuation stage wears off, there's a natural weak point in the relationship. Rather than recognize this weak point and work through it, we tend to abandon the relationship altogether."

(And because divorce laws and social mores have been so liberalized in recent decades, it has become easier than ever for mates to shed and rewed.)

Lee Lacey, a three-time husband with five children, says he didn't realize that shared interests were a key until the third time around.

He was rarely at home when his first wife needed him, because he was building his film production company into a business with offices around the globe. His wife, stuck in Los Angeles with the children, couldn't tolerate his absences and what appeared to be his lack of interest in family life.

They divorced and he soon fell "desperately and passionately in love" with a fashion model, who traveled the world with him. "We had great chemistry--as exciting and fulfilling a relationship as anybody could want for about four years--until we married."

That's when the model decided she wanted a doctorate and a different career. Like his first wife, she no longer traveled with him and was not involved in his day-to-day life. "She was here; I was on the road. I wasn't an available mate. She got her doctorate and left me in the dust. It was the most devastating moment in my life."

When Lacey met his current wife of 14 years, he says, he finally knew what was needed. "Obviously, the bed is an important part of a relationship. But love cannot survive on that alone. In addition to great chemistry, we had an incredible amount of mutual interests and things in common. We could collaborate in life as well as in love."

Lacey's advice: "Be aware of why things didn't work out before, so you don't keep making the same mistake." And have courage, he says, "because there is magic out there, and we never know when or where we'll find it."

Magic? Too poetic a concept for scrappy divorce lawyers, you might think. But you'd be wrong.

Stuart Walzer, a Century City divorce lawyer who's seen thousands of marriage hits and misses, says remarriage is "the triumph of hope over experience."

No matter how many times a man or woman fails at matrimony, Walzer says, most "maintain the fantasy, the unquenchable hope, that the next spouse will be the one who makes him or her feel complete--as if he has finally found the missing half. And sometimes it really does happen on the third or fourth try," Walzer says.

"No one wants to be an isolated and lonely spirit, wandering through the universe." Walzer believes too many people focus only on "what they can see, touch taste and feel"--rather than on their spiritual needs. The superficiality of their search is what leads them to make mistakes, he says.

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