THIRD TIME LUCKY? as Paul McCartney Weds Again, LINDA KELSEY on Why More and More Double Divorcees Are Giving Marriage Another Go

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Byline: LINDA KELSEY, Additional reporting: SADIE NICHOLAS

ACCORDING to Dr Johnson, a second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience -- so what on earth might he have made of Paul McCartney's decision to tie the knot for a third time? The triumph of madness over reason, perhaps?

And yet it would be impossible not to feel pleased for Macca and his attractive fiancee, 51-year-old Nancy Shevell.

When it comes to romance, the Beatle -- who crooned All My Loving, P.S. I Love You, All You Need is Love and countless other loving sentiments -- clearly does believe that love conquers all.

But even his daughter Stella, who is extremely fond of Ms Shevell, is reported to have asked: 'Do you have to marry every woman you meet?'

For a romantic like Paul McCartney, clearly once bitten is not necessarily twice or even three times shy. You could even say that marriage has become a bit of habit for him.

According to Susan Quilliam, relationship psychologist and author of Staying Together: 'McCartney is a man who thrives when he loves and is loved.

'His original relationship appeared solid and he seems capable of great devotion. I'm sure Heather Mills, in overcoming her disability, was an inspiration -- the problem was that she wasn't capable of loving him back.'

Few of us would rather be alone than in a loving relationship but, for most of us, the idea of multiple marriage is difficult.

A second marriage may be generally acceptable these days, but while some celebrities seem to keep on marrying with impunity -- Joan Collins five times, Elizabeth Taylor eight -- for most of us ordinary mortals to marry more than twice would seem a huge leap of faith.

From the moment my first marriage ended in divorce, when I was in my mid-20s, I became sceptical about the importance of marriage in the modern age.

MY FEMINIST consciousness having been raised, I was inclined to agree with Gloria Steinem's view of marriage as 'mating in captivity'.

While I was eager to find new love, marriage seemed outmoded; the certificate not worth the paper it was written on.

So when, in my early 30s, I met the man I was to live with for the next 23 years, co-habitation seemed the obvious route.

Even when our son was born, I was reluctant to wed again. We seemed so secure in our love for one another and our child.

And yet, 11 years later, when our son was old enough to be the ring-bearer and serve as best man, we found ourselves at Westminster Register Office in London -- the location where Paul is planning to wed -- exchanging marital vows, surrounded by a close-knit group of friends and family, feeling so happy we'd made this choice.

What prompted us finally to marry was not a born-again belief in matrimony, but the celebration of our ability to survive some pretty tough times: my two-year clinical depression, my partner's deepening problems with work and the direction he wanted his life to take.

There were practical and financial considerations, too, based on warnings from our accountant about inheritance should one of us die.

In the end we said, hey, it's time to celebrate our union. But, a decade on, here I am separated once more, and with divorce pending. Twice married, twice failed.

Even as I write these words I find myself flinching at my failure. If marriage couldn't help cement our commitment what, I sometimes wonder, was the point of it?

And yet, despite my ambivalence, I still can't shake off the notion that marriage is the ultimate expression of love.

As Susan Quilliam states: 'Culturally, the majority of us are still buying into the idea that marriage is the highest form of commitment.'

So what does drive some people to marry not just once or even twice - but for a third time as well? Like McCartney, Rosalind Butler, 53, has been divorced once and once widowed. …