Each passing season brings with it an opportunity for reinvention, and this year, I’m choosing to mint an entirely new persona: that of the Second Wife™. I know the name might be confusing at first, but to be clear, the Second Wife is not a back-up plan, nor is she anyone’s second choice. Instead, she’s something else altogether; something simultaneously harder and breezier and (let’s just say it) hotter. She’s the bitch you hate, the woman your dad cheated on your mom with, the dreaded stepparent who got you something totally lame for Hanukkah, and guess what? She doesn’t care what you think, because she’s thriving.
Perhaps the finest example of the Second Wife I can summon is Meredith Blake from The Parent Trap, the steel-nerved, red-lipped, always immaculately clad nightmare of a dad’s-new-girlfriend who greets Lindsay Lohan when she comes home from camp. Meredith is objectively the movie’s villain, but I always had a special fondness for her. No, she wasn’t friendly, and no, she didn’t care to hang out with a tween, but also…relatable? Sometimes you just want to marry a hot guy who owns a vineyard and have that be the end of it! (The proto-Meredith, of course, is Baroness von Schraeder from The Sound of Music, who will always be remembered for praising the virtues of “a delightful little thing called boarding school.”)
Another Second Wife prototype I’m obsessed with is Sarah Jessica Parker as the dreaded Shelly in The First Wives Club. Her vapidity and penchant for spending are played for laughs, but Shelly gets more than a few wisecracks of her own in, and she does so while being a) hot and b) dressed in designer finery that her new man bought her. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!
A more recent example of the Second Wife trope is Lake Bell as the beautiful, extremely overwhelmed Agness in It’s Complicated, Alec Baldwin’s much-younger wife with whom he dared to cheat on Meryl Streep. We’re not instructed to feel much sympathy for Agness—she’s portrayed as a needling harridan constantly forcing poor dear Baldwin to, I don’t know, parent?—but I do anyway. Imagine trying to raise a five-year-old with a man whose ex was Meryl Streep (and not just Meryl, but a Nancy Meyers vision of Meryl who speaks fluent French and knows how to bake croissants). Agness needed to leave that man and find someone halfway decent to bring up her kid with, IMO.
Not to make wanting to be hot and unbothered into a feminist screed, but I do find something empowering about rooting for the Second Wife. She’s decidedly the whore in the “Madonna-whore” paradigm, but at least she’s not stuck in the role of the perfect, obedient, nurturing woman who does everything for others. The Second Wife is allowed to be selfish, to go shopping, to paint her lips red and arch her brows and want things that don’t necessarily benefit anybody but her, and to be honest, that’s sounding more appealing by the minute. Who wants to be the dutiful, self-sacrificing first wife, anyway? I’ve never been married, but you don’t have to be in order to access Second Wife™ energy; all you need is a good outfit, a scornful expression, and a “me first” mantra. Go ahead, be a bitch!