Twenty-Something and Divorced: Maybe all the talk about starter marriages is true. Every time I turn around I am meeting another twenty-something divorcee, what are we doing so wrong that we can’t get it right the first time?
There is a very popular cable show called the Starter Wife. I’ve never actually watched this program but I am beyond clear on the premise. A rich Hollywood wife is left by her husband of almost a decade for a younger woman and she is left to pick up the pieces and raise her daughter. In true Hollywood form, a friend comes to the rescue offering her exclusive Malibu home as a place of refuge, and as the tag line states, “Wife Goes On.” Indeed, I thought this was a scenario contrived for TV audiences until I overheard a young woman in a bar. She was being hit on by a man of equal age, perhaps 24 or 25, when asked by the inquiring gentleman if she was married, she promptly responded, “Thank God, I went ahead and got the first one out of the way.” In short, she is a true starter wife.
This phenomenon is by no means exclusive to women or Hollywood – although Tinseltown is probably ground zero for incubating these types of short-term connections. Take for example my friend James, who upon finding his high school sweetheart was expecting their first child at age 20, he did what he thought was the right thing: asking his girl to marry him, finding a small and comfortable apartment where they could raise their child, working two, sometimes three jobs to make it all happen. They get married, baby Sarah arrives, and all is well with their new family. Except the wife isn’t content being married. It turns out that she’s a lesbian and she wants out of their marriage. So at 26, James is a single father of a beautiful first grader, and has “gotten his first one out of the way.” Except in James’ case, his experiences as a starter husband haven’t left him longing to love again. He’s pretty bitter and broken, and convinced any woman over the age of six is evil. He hopes to love again, one day, but he no longer sees marriage as the answer. He thinks he’ll try being a womanizing man-whore for a while and see how that turns out. “Better than my starter marriage, I’m quite sure,” he quips.
Retreating back to the opening narrative, Faye is in her mid twenties, and her story is much less dramatic and much more common. She married out of high school for love, only to realize it wasn’t love at all she was feeling, maybe hormones. Faye’s not sure anymore, but she’s glad she’s been freed. Her once perfect man turned into a nightmare overnight, deciding that since he had his “girl” at his side, there was nothing more for him to accomplish in life, ever. To be honest, it feels like I meet a lot of Fayes and James. Men and women who married on a moment notice, for love or for baby, only to find out a few short years later (in my one friend’s case it only took eight whole months) that they’ve married the wrong person. What I don’t understand about these scenarios is their increasing frequencies. What I do understand is the folly of youth, the fact that love is blinding, but marriage? How are so many young people entering into this portal of commitment and not understanding what it is that they are getting themselves into? I don’t know anyone who gets married with the intention of being single again, but divorce isn’t the taboo travesty it was fifty years ago. It’s a morning after pill.
Author Pamela Paul breaks it down in her 2002 book, The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony. In short, Paul defines a starter marriage as one that last five years or less and doesn’t produce any children, her research was mostly based on power couples and Hollywood celebrities, however, she also reviewed the idea that many couples get married because they have been together so long its much easier to get hitched than break up (huh? what?) or that younger people see marriage as a way to escape their parents homes, or out of fascination with the idea of being married. Her final synopsis is while young people are marrying pretty much on par with rates of people of the same age group from 100 years ago, their reasons for doing so rarely are strong enough to support a long-term commitment. To Paul’s research I would like to add, that 100 years ago, marriage was much more about survival in a vastly differing socioeconomic climate from what we experience today.
Pamela Paul also goes on to note that there is life after the starter marriage. She is a proponent for divorce especially if no children are involved. I couldn’t agree more, the upside to the whole idea of being a starter husband or wife, is while you’re still young and dumb, you haven’t invested your best years into a failing marriage. So like Faye, the first one is out of the way and you are free to move on, and hopefully get it right the second time around.