At cocktail parties, it's not unusual for Tom McCormick to complain about his first wife or for his spouse Laurene McKillop to grouse about Husband No. 1. He was so immature, she'll say. She was so narrow-minded, he'll counter. Then they'll eye each other and exchange a knowing laugh only they and a few friends understand.
That's because Tom's first wife was Laurene and Husband No. 1 for Laurene was, well, Tom.
The couple tied the knot in 1977, untied it in 1982 and tied it again in 1987.
"Our romance had a second birth," Ms. McKillop, 38, explains with a laugh.
And you thought it only happened in the movies . . .
Actually, the he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not scenario is happening in the movies, specifically in the new Neil Simon comedy, "The Marrying Man," in which a Las Vegas singer (Kim Basinger) and a toothpaste magnate (Alec Baldwin) divorce and remarry four times.
While many may think it sounds like pure Hollywood scriptwriting, or a feat only Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton could accomplish, Tom and Laurene are living proof that remarriage to the same person is alive and well in Chevy Chase.
In general, remarriage is on the rise -- with nearly half the marriages in this country last year being remarriages for at least one partner, according to the National Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville. It's unclear, however, how many of those involve ex-spouses finding each other again.
But local psychologists say such reunions are highly uncommon.
"What makes it so rare is that it's not easy to take back the things you've said," says Dr. Janan Broadbent, a psychologist in Cross Keys who specializes in couples therapy.
"When you have a nasty divorce, the chances of this happening are very, very low. When there's been an amicable divorce and hTC when there are children involved, the chances increase. The bonds are already there and children provide a pretty strong tie."
People often view stories of duos giving it a second try as the epitome of romance, she says. "It gets into that idea of eternal love. We all tend to believe that there's one person and you fall in love and you see stars and it lasts forever," says Dr. Broadbent.
For Gloria and Tyrone Mason, excessive drinking, parental interference and immaturity doomed their first marriage, which lasted only three years, she says.
"I was young and selfish," says Ms. Mason, who was 20 when they married. "We were both riding in fast lanes -- socializing, drinking, partying. We were not paying enough attention to the marriage, and I don't think we were really considering each other."
Over the next 11 years, they were able to iron out their differences. She grew less "flighty"; he became more responsible. And in 1979, they remarried and now live in Parkville.
"It allowed us to make good on that commitment, 'till death do us part,' " says Ms. Mason, 46, a teacher at Rock Church Academy in Parkville.
All the couples interviewed said they approached the second marriage with a more realistic sense of the effort required to keep two people together. During the years they were divorced, many said they sought counseling or did some serious soul-searching about their values and goals in life. And in hindsight, a number blamed external factors -- professional pressures, disapproving parents or shaky finances -- for their first breakup.
For Tom McCormick and Laurene McKillop, the timing just wasn't right during Marriage No. 1. They met as teen-agers and married in their 20s, without having fully explored single life. "There was always this feeling of what else was out there. We were both young, ambitious, highly motivated professionals. We let that take precedence over our personal relationship," says Ms. McKillop, executive director of a non-profit consulting firm in Washington.
After the divorce, she moved to Seattle. Two years later, she and her then former husband met for lunch while he was in town on business.
"When we had initial contact, it was in many ways like meeting a new person," says Mr. McCormick, a partner with a Washington law firm.
K? And although Ms. McKillop had dated many men, she had never
found anyone who understood her the way Mr. McCormick did. Several years later, she moved back to Washington and they began living together. Within a year, they remarried and today have two children with another on the way.
"The first time, I evaluated how the marriage was going," he says. "If it began to come up short, I started to ask whether it was the right thing to be married to this person.
"That question never comes up now. I never think about whether we should be married or not. . . . I acknowledge what the marriage is: It's terrific. I don't say, 'Well, how terrific is it? Should it be more terrific?' "
What they do cope with today is good-natured needling about their unconventional romantic life. When the two playfully disagreed at a recent dinner, one friend teased Mr. McCormick, "Don't complain to me. You married her twice. You knew what she was like."
Similarly, when Neil and Harriette Ambach remarried last year, a decade after their first 3 1/2 -month union, they had to endure a few jokes after the ceremony. "Everybody was saying they wouldn't send a wedding present until we were married for a year," says Mr. Ambach, the 56-year-old president and chief executive officer of M. Ambach and Co., a wholesale distributor of institutional textiles in Glen Burnie.
"I think our relationship is better than it was," he says. "Our communication is much better. We're both more committed to the relationship. And we appreciate each other that much more for having worked it out."
Or, to sum it up another way, he says, "We got it right the second time."