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Second marriage

Divorce was not known to traditional Bulgarian culture. However, even the old-time conservatism allowed for the man and the woman to have a second marriage. How was this allowed?

“First wedding” is like a first dream – there’s nothing sweeter than it in the world”, people used to say in times of old. There was a traditional belief that even after the second wedding, the spouses of the first would gather together in the world to come. In olden times, second marriage was only for those who became widowed young. For those who had lost their ‘halves’ people used to speak as though they were half-dishes mounted on the wall. Hence there was the need for a second marriage but that wasn’t easy. There was a rule that a widower could not marry a maiden while a widow could not marry a bachelor. It often so happened that widows and widowers had to wait about 10 to 15 years to find a partner for a new family. A song however says that each rule has its exception. It speaks about a young girl who is worrying what kind of groom she will find. “If he is a young man, let it be,” because she would give him her white face. But if he is “a widower she would curse the unwanted husband.” Another song speaks about a local widow who is young and very rich. As a token of respect to her, she is invited to be the maid-of-honor at a wedding despite the customs of the best men and maid-of-honors being from prosperous families.

A curious example in a song speaks about second and even third marriages. In it the husband turns to his wide: “My beloved Maria, I’d like to ask you something and I want you to tell me the truth. You’ve had three husbands. Tell me who you loved best?” At first, the wife is worried by the question and tries to avoid answering it by making comparisons. But the husband is adamant and promises not to get angry. Then, Maria decides to answer him. “The first one was a poor man but I loved him most,” she remembers her first marriage. “The second one was well-off and I had good time with him.” “You, Sandyo, are my third husband and you are the boyar,” Maria praises the wealth of her third husband and then she remembers a story from their time together. They are both invited to a wedding. Rich Sandyo asks Maria to prepare a special wedding bread for the newly bread as tradition requires it. However, the rich man greedily makes her use the cheapest rye flour instead of the fine and expensive wheat one. She silently obeys. They arrive at the wedding and the time comes when the guests start giving the richly decorated wedding breads they have brought as presents. Having mustered her courage, Maria releases her long suppressed anger and says, “That’s why, my dear, you are the third and the most cursed one.” When Sandyo hears that he fumes with fury and attacks Maria. At this moment his two arms wither – a sign for a very grave sin that he has committed. In this line an old byword says that despite difficulties, the life of one who has become widowed is better than the life in an unsuccessful and unhappy marriage.

Folk songs tell different stories of husbands who have left their first wives to merry second ones. One song mentions the reason for that being that the wife has grown much less pretty after giving birth to 9 children. Another tells the opposite, a man wants to leave his wife because she cannot bear him a child. In both cases, the man leaves far away and chooses a new wife. When he returns with the new wife, in the first case, the first wife has dressed in her best clothes. When the man sees her he falls in love with her again and goes back to her. In the second case, upon the man’s return, he finds out that his first wife has miraculously conceived. He goes back to her as well.

English version: Delian Zahariev

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