On the surface, Modern Family’s Gloria Delgado-Pritchett checks off many of the boxes of the “second wife trope” – like being a stunning, suspected gold digger. But as the show progresses, we realize that Jay and Gloria are incredibly compatible and in love.
Modern Family’s Gloria Delgado-Pritchett gives the second wife character a voice—and a soul. When it comes to women we “love to hate,” the second wife is usually near the top of the list. In most films and TV, she’s a caricature—often an opportunistic or airheaded gold digger used to signal her husband’s midlife crisis, as seen through the judgmental eyes of his ex or older kids. But Gloria reimagines the trope.
While on the surface she checks off many of the boxes of the “second wife cartoon,” as the show progresses, we realize that Jay and Gloria are incredibly compatible and in love. And Gloria is an irreplaceable part of the show’s central “modern family,” with so many gifts, a brave openness that the Pritchetts need, and a one-of-a-kind personality that’s hilarious to watch.
Gloria: “When you’re married to me, you’re going to get yelled at many times! And you’re tough enough to take it.” - Modern Family
Here’s our Take on how Gloria Pritchett tore up the second wife playbook, showed us all those caricatures aren’t real, and gave us hope that sometimes you really can get it right the second time around.
Gloria vs. The Second Wife Cartoon
At the beginning of Modern Family, there’s a lot of dancing around the idea that the family views Gloria as a gold digger, or that they’re dismissive of her as not particularly deep or intelligent.
Manny: “He said you were a coal digger.”
Phil: “Okay, I think we can move on.”
Luke: “That’s what my mom told me.” - Modern Family
But as we get to know her, it quickly becomes clear there’s really no basis for these implied slights. They’re projecting our culture’s cartoonish idea of the second wife onto her: someone beautiful, but not particularly smart, educated, deep or nice; someone much younger than her husband (and sometimes even his kids!); and always the butt of the joke.
So where do all the fears and assumptions about second wives come from?
The very existence of a second wife means something has to have happened to put the first wife out of the picture. And there’s something inherently unsettling for a kid about the idea of a woman taking over from your mother, thus disrupting the sanctity of the original family. So in plenty of movies and shows, the second wife or stepmom has been portrayed negatively, sometimes as a villain. See: Cinderella’s wicked stepmother, a second wife who causes misery by abusing the first wife’s child, or The Parent Trap’s scheming Meredith, an almost second wife who wants to send the kids away from their father.
Meredith: “The day we get married is the day l ship those brats off to Switzerland. Get the picture?” - The Parent Trap
Meanwhile, women instinctively feel a fear of replacement in a society where men are implicitly encouraged to seek new, younger female partners.
In Agnes Varda’s Le Bonheur (or Happiness), after a man tries to convince his wife that his taking a lover is a good thing for their family, she kills herself, and he eerily welcomes the lover into their home as essentially a replacement. This tension is at the core of why Jay’s first wife, DeDe, can’t help hating Gloria, even when she tries to listen to her better instincts.
It’s not an unfair stereotype that the second wife in pop culture is often younger. Actually, a 2014 analysis of the census undertaken by the Pew Research Center showed that one in five men who remarry go for a second wife at least ten years their junior. This shows the Gloria and Jay dynamic is realistic, and if we listen to what DeDe says, we can easily imagine why it would feel so terrible to watch your husband move on with someone like Gloria.
DeDe: “Jay moves on so easily, and-and not with just anyone: with a young and smart and beautiful woman.” - Modern Family
It’s also hard for Claire, a Daddy’s girl, to accept that Gloria is younger than her and attracts so much attention from men (including, in brief moments, Claire’s own husband).
A second wife like Gloria embodies a youthfulness that the first wife has surpassed, and can never get back—but it’s also more than that. The second wife might be portrayed as cooler and edgier, too—making her a harsh reminder of something bold and contemporary the (often more domestic) first wife might feel is out of reach to her. The first wife might also be cast as a complaining, bitter shrew, while the second wife (without any of the baggage) gets to be framed as a beacon of hope.
Barry: “God, I can’t wait to meet my second wife. I hope she likes me better than this one.” - This Is 40
In Mad Men, Megan Draper is the quintessential example of how the second wife offers this exciting spiritual appeal. While Don’s first wife Betty is firmly entrenched in the style and decorum of the 1950s, with her white picket fence, nipped-in waist, and perfectly coiffed hair, Megan looks like a 1960s free-loving flower child of the sixties, in bright colors and stylish clothes with sharp angles. She’s a visual representation of Don leaving behind his old-fashioned perfect domestic life (and wife) for more modern pastures. Similarly, in Modern Family, Gloria is a fun and bold Colombian who’s lived an eventful, interesting life and brings a different set of experiences and gifts than DeDe to the family—so these differences make her more existentially threatening to DeDe.
Another key stereotype is that the second wife is a “bimbo”—not smart or with solely vapid interests like money and shopping. She might be assumed to be lazy or taking a shortcut—marrying a richer, older man to get an instant comfortable life instead of working to build it herself and unfairly reaping the rewards of the first wife’s “labors.” But the truth is, most second wives don’t have it easy. By the time you’re the second wife, it’s likely that both you and your husband have some baggage, in the form of existing children, ex-partners, or alimony payments. And emotionally, a second wife may have to work a lot harder to cultivate a positive environment in her complicated family situation. Like Gloria, she probably has to integrate into a fully-formed adult family that might be primed to dislike her, while starting her own. Often in films and shows, if the first wife is deceased—as is often the case in older narratives, such as Rebecca (1940), Jane Eyre, and The Second Wife (1930)—the idea of the first wife might haunt the marriage, as if no woman can ever live up to her. If she’s alive, she’s frequently shown to be a little imbalanced or resentful, intent on meddling in her husband’s second marriage—much like DeDe, such an example of the “crazy first wife” that even her own kids can’t really stand her.
Megan: “If you call her, you’re giving her exactly what she wanted. The thrill of having poisoned us from 50 miles away.” - Mad Men
Also disproving the “taking it easy” stereotype, Gloria’s life up to this point hasn’t been glamorous, which is part of what makes her so charming and relatable. Gloria’s backstory proves she isn’t a gold digger—Jay is her second husband, and her first husband didn’t support her at all. Her feckless ex put in minimal effort with Manny, so for a long time, she worked incredibly hard to support him on her own—with street smarts we still occasionally glimpse.
Adjusting to a blended family isn’t (at first) easy for anyone. However, since Gloria wants her relationship with Jay to work out, she’s determined to build a bond with Claire and the others. This situation—of older kids disliking their dad’s new wife—is one that repeats across pop culture depictions, but it rarely has a successful resolution. That’s what makes Modern Family unusual: it grapples with why the family might want to judge and dismiss Gloria, but ultimately shows that they shouldn’t.
So how does Gloria do it? Here are her new rules for the second wife playbook.
Voice Your Emotions
Suzy Brown, the founder of Midlife Divorce Recovery, says that despite second marriages being more common today, there can still be a social stigma around being the second wife. It could be worth talking about that. When Gloria opens up to Claire about being seen as the “hot mom” at school, Claire immediately realizes that Gloria isn’t this perfect, invulnerable woman Claire imagines her to be; she’s human, with worries and pain.
Gloria: “You think I don’t know what they’re thinking? Ah, here comes the hot one with the big boobies that is gonna steal my husband.” - Modern Family
It can be fun to view the other Pritchetts through Gloria’s eyes. Because she’s such an open person, she’s baffled by their strange ways of handling situations—how they bottle their emotions, and allow toxic behaviors to repeat time after time. Fellow Pritchett spouse Phil might talk privately or under his breath about his gripes with the family, but he’s not outspoken, and when he does call Claire or others out, it’s often because he’s pushed into an outburst of bottled-up feeling. Gloria, on the other hand, regularly calls the family out on their behavior, sharing how she feels or how she can see others feel, with a tone that’s not nasty or loaded (because she’s not holding things in until they explode). In this way, she brings a lot of love and openness to the group, and teaches them basic emotional communication skills. It’s her who reveals that Jay really loves Phil, for example, after years of Phil resenting their dynamic and feeling that he’s not good enough for Jay.
Phil: “Since when do you care what I think?”
Gloria: “Always! He thinks you’re the life of the party, he wants to be more like you.” - Modern Family
Much like an informal therapist, Gloria helps the Pritchetts bring a little more self-reflection and intentionality to their relationships. We’re shown that Jay has been repeating the same toxic-masculine mistakes of his own dad, and Gloria forces him to consciously re-evaluate his behavior with his children. She recognizes that her husband is far from perfect and pinpoints the issues that he has created for his kids—and empowers them to speak out about it.
Through these actions, Gloria brings out a sensitive, flexible side of Jay that it’s implied his children haven’t even seen before. The partners are shown to be equals—they’re both quite fiery and can fight each other, but always make up, and that security stems from knowing that you can always express whatever you feel, and the other person will still love you after.
Take Up Space
When they’re in a situation where they know they’re being scrutinized, many people try too hard to be easy going and affable. Gloria doesn’t obsess over what others think because she’s too busy being herself, and we (and her family) love her for that. Sometimes, new family members might feel displaced by you, and while that’s something to explore together, their complaints or battles with you might not even be rational. A lot of the time, we see this in Gloria’s relationship with Claire, who struggles with how Gloria makes her feel inadequate, but that doesn’t mean Gloria can fix this by trying to bury her own light.
Gloria: “Your thunder is your thunder, and my thunder is my thunder.”
Claire: “I know. It’s just that God gave you so much thunder.” - Modern Family
Set the Agenda
While she may appear unpredictable or impulsive in her emotions, Gloria is in control at home. She runs a tight ship, and both Manny and Jay defer to her.
Gloria: “You’re just tiny, little men to me right now, and you need to leave this house and come back with more respect! And a pizza.” - Modern Family
She’s also extremely brave, and this shows in the way she moves through life.
Gloria: “Are people going to like me? Can I handle the challenge? You can ask these questions forever. Or, you can just take the first step.” - Modern Family
Know You’re Not a Cliche (And You Married for Love)
Sure, Gloria seems relieved to lead a comfortable lifestyle after all she’s been through, but Jay’s appeal to Gloria isn’t that he’s a rich guy. It’s that he’s reliable and wants to take care of her and Manny—something she’s never experienced before. Gloria also needs a guy with Jay’s temperament—calm, dependable, and considered—because she can be impulsive. Gloria and Jay are shown to be in love, and while he enjoys her looks and she enjoys his money, this is far from the primary basis for their attraction and deeper compatibility.
Jay: “You’re so much more than how you look. These have been the best ten years of my life. I’m in it for every pound, every wrinkle, every gray hair.” - Modern Family
Both Gloria and Jay are aware of how their marriage might look from the outside, but they’re so secure in their relationship that they joke about the clichés others see them as.
Gloria: “You’re too funny. I’m gonna share that one with my next husband when we’re spending all your money.” - Modern Family
Stay Away from Second Wife Syndrome
In an article entitled “9 Challenges of Being the Second Wife,” relationships writer Rachael Pace discusses “second wife syndrome.” She says that second wife syndrome can involve feeling that your partner puts his previous family first, feeling insecure, comparing yourself to the ex, needing to control your partner, and feeling as if you don’t belong. Gloria banishes second wife syndrome by getting friendly with Jay’s kids and grandkids, talking about her insecurities, and forging a completely different life to the one Jay had with DeDe.
Another side of second wife syndrome involves having issues with the first wife—which is definitely part of Gloria’s initial experience in the Pritchett family, through no fault of her own. At first, DeDe is furious at Gloria’s very existence, as it throws her into a personal crisis, and she laughs at the pair of them when she finds out they’re having a baby.
DeDe: “Oh, you’re going to be a father again at your age. And here, you were thinking you would just sail off into the sunset with your beautiful, young wife.” - Modern Family
But actually, the birth of Joe, though unplanned, takes Jay and Gloria to a new place in their relationship, and shows exactly that Jay wasn’t just in it for Gloria’s beauty and youth; he wanted the whole package. Surprisingly, this even softens DeDe’s feelings towards Gloria.
Accept a Non-traditional Relationship
Part of being the second wife involves accepting a relationship or family that looks a little different to the picture-perfect imagination many might start out with. But Gloria accepts that—and reinforces the beauty in it, which in turn spreads out to the rest of the family.
While it’s regularly implied that the non-biological mother can’t or won’t love her stepkids, often this is unfair and untrue. Gloria enters Jay’s kids’ lives when they’re adults and they aren’t looking to her to “mother” them, but she does try to bond with them. And just as her positive presence softens Jay, she influences him to have a better relationship with his children—especially Mitchell, who didn’t have a great time with his father as he was growing up. While DeDe deliberately sows unrest between her children and their dad to get back at him, Gloria encourages them to build the relationships up and contributes to a blended family that may be messy but is full of real love.
Own Your Gifts
Gloria isn’t trying at all to fill a hole left by DeDe—she knows she offers different strengths, and anyway, this is a different moment in the family’s lives, calling for its own set of solutions. We see something similar in Stepmom, the story of a soon-to-be second wife being initially rejected by her partner’s kids and their mom, the first wife, because her attempts never measure up. But in the end, like Gloria, Isabel really wants to be close to her stepkids—and (due to her different age and strengths) she can offer them different gifts than their mom does, which adds a lot to the family’s lives.
One of Gloria’s gifts is that she’s way less judgemental than Jay, and helps him to consider new possibilities—something his kids didn’t think was possible. When Jay shows his homophobic tendencies towards Mitchell, Gloria is quick to reprimand him.And unlike with pretty much everyone else in his life, Jay actually listens to her.
And Gloria’s positivity inspires Jay to want to be better for her. Despite joking about it, Jay genuinely sees his relationship with Gloria—the way she makes him behave, and how she makes him feel—as a second shot at doing marriage (and life) well. Even if he’s not exactly young, he feels his life is ahead of him.
Jay: “It felt like my life was ending. And now you’re telling me that I get to have a new start with the woman of my dreams.” - Modern Family
And he’s learning what it means to support the person he loves. In season six, we see Gloria get upset when Manny and Jay laugh at her mistranslations.Like many second wives and immigrants, Gloria gets tired of constantly being underestimated and seeing her intellect wrongly diminished. But in the last episode, we see exactly how far Jay has come when he reveals he’s learning Spanish, one of the most important and special things he could possibly do for her.
Tell Your Story
Part of the reason the second wife is so maligned is that she rarely gets her own narrative—which is why it’s so groundbreaking that Gloria is such a fully formed and appealing character, with a past and a perspective of her own.
It’s easy to understand why people fear, resent, and feel jealous of many second wives. It’s wonderful for Jay and Gloria to get this second chance, but it can be hard for the first wife (and sometimes children) to see that happening and not wonder why they didn’t get to be with this amazing husband and father. That’s especially true because most first wives re-enter a dating market that’s heavily biased in favor of young women. Films like The First Wives Club and The Women (1939) put an important spotlight on first wives, affirming their value as smart, savvy, and a big loss to their husbands.
Elise: “We helped them rise. We can help them fall.” - The First Wives Club
Still, that message doesn’t have to be at the expense of turning another woman into a cardboard antagonist. And ultimately, Modern Family underlines that DeDe’s projecting a lot of baggage that’s not really about Gloria herself.
Jay: “Gloria didn’t steal me, DeDe, and you know it. We grew apart for years. And you left to find yourself, remember?” - Modern Family
It’s important to see this picture from both or all the women’s perspectives.
Gloria Delgado-Pritchett is the representation of a second wife we never knew we needed—a strong, capable woman who works hard at her relationship and can handle a complicated blended family with ease. She shows us that sometimes, the best things come the second time around.
Brown, Suzy. “How to Deal with Being a Second Wife.” Midlife Divorce Recovery, 31 May 2019, https://www.midlifedivorcerecovery.com/second-wife-challenges/.
Ingraham, Christopher. “Study: Men Who Remarry Really Do Prefer Younger Women.” The Washington Post, 8 Dec. 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/12/08/study-men-who-remarry-really-do-prefer-younger-women/.
Kurtzleben, Danielle. “When Men Remarry, They Go Way Younger. Women Pick Someone Older.” Vox, 9 Dec. 2014, https://www.vox.com/xpress/2014/12/9/7332691/men-remarry-younger-women.
Pace, Rachael. “9 Challenges of Being the Second Wife.” Marriage.com, 5 Nov. 2020, https://www.marriage.com/advice/counseling/8-challenges-of-being-the-second-wife/.