By Jennifer Anastasi, BounceBack Editorial Staff
We all know staying in a marriage for the long haul is a challenge. It’s no surprise that over the past decade, we’ve seen more and more young couples entering into marriage with no intention to love, honor and cherish each other until death. If one of them gets bored, falls out of love, or simply grows out of the relationship, it’s easy to make a quick, clean break. No children, no court battle, no problem. If your first marriage began in your 20’s, ended in less than 5 years, and produced no children – chances are it was a “starter marriage.”
Why bother with the hassle, expense, and emotional fall-out of getting married in the first place if you thought there was a chance it wasn’t going to last? We wanted to know more about why a woman would take a “starter husband,” so we sat down with Rebecca* a 34-year old graphic artist who recounts her starter marriage, subsequent divorce, and how she bounced back from the experience.
Rebecca recalls how she joyfully raced down the aisle at age 26. “It was as if Publisher’s Clearing House was waiting at the altar with a million dollar check. I was so eager to say, ‘I do! In hindsight, getting married really felt kind of like winning a contest. I got to wear a princess gown. I got to dance at the ball. And most importantly, I was acquiring a prince charming. I was indeed the envy of my friends.”
The wedding was just how she had imagined it…a fairytale day that required at least a year of planning. According to Rebecca, “I was fulfilling a wish list, but now I realize it wasn’t mine. Everyone told me how lucky I was, and what a great guy he was. Looking back, I got married because it was what everyone wanted and what I was supposed to want. So down the aisle I went! Lovely heirloom china pattern? Check. Monogrammed towels? Check. Husband I really wanted to love and cherish until DEATH? I was too caught up with my “things-to-do-before-30” list … I never gave that enough thought. “
The honeymoon was nice, but Rebecca now admits she secretly felt guilty knowing she would’ve had a better time with her girlfriends. The more time she spent with her newlywed husband, the less interesting he seemed. As the weeks turned into months, she began to wonder if she was ever really in love with her husband. Rebecca became more restless, and her husband grew distant. A few anniversaries passed, and their relationship degenerated into nothing more than a daily exchange of boring pleasantries reserved for roommates.
When I ask about her ex-husband, Rebecca pauses for a moment and then remorsefully replies, “During that time, I was consumed with guilt. I had vowed to love a man I now had realized I never loved at all, but married him because I thought it was what I was supposed to do. I didn’t want to hurt him, and he hadn’t done anything to deserve having his heart broken. He was a nice enough guy, but when you really get down to it – neither of us had a thing in common. Most days, it felt like we were each going in a different direction, further and further away from the life I had envisioned together. I needed something more, something different. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what I wanted, until I knew what I didn’t want…does that make sense?”
Trapped in what she calls “a loveless prison of social convention,” Rebecca needed out. Our wedding day now seemed like the culmination of one really bad idea. I hoped my husband would be the first to say the marriage was over, but he didn’t.” She began sabotaging her marriage with more late nights at work, more dinners with friends, even a separate vacation here and there. “You start taking yourself out of the equation. Your sex life becomes a minefield of complicated issues too overwhelming to deal with. Bottom line, less sex equals more hostility, which equals even less sex.
Although it’s been 4 years since her divorce was finalized, Rebecca tells what happened on New Years Eve during her 3rd year of marriage as though it happened yesterday. “Maybe it was the new year approaching, maybe it was all the talk about resolutions and new beginnings, but mostly I think it was seeing him sitting on the couch in the same sweatpants he had on the year before. We were supposed to be getting ready for a party that night – but we never made it. I had prolonged the inevitable, but it was time to tell him ‘I want a divorce.’ And as soon as those 4 words entered the universe, a wave of relief washed completely over me. I was free to live a life I would choose for myself.”
As divorce proceedings rolled into motion, family and friends gave their condolences. “They all assumed I was a shattered mess, but truthfully, I was happier than I had been in years. Did I feel guilty? Somewhat, but I don’t regret the marriage. I learned invaluable life lessons about living authentically, and on my own timeline. I’m no longer a slave to someone else’s standards and expectations.”
This is a tale told by many upwardly mobile young women who (often unintentionally) use these short early marriages as emotional and sometimes financial stepping stones. Rebecca story doesn’t end there. While she stands by her decision to leave her marriage, is happily involved with a new man, she concedes that the divorce process was a gut-wrenching experience. There was a long drawn out court battle over some investment properties, and her once loving, easy-going husband became a bitter adversary who made it his mission to bury her financially. She says she’s still bouncing back from it all, and has sought help from financial advisors and online divorce support groups. “I take it one day at a time.”
“Starter marriages” may sound in vogue, but divorce is still divorce, and the same rules apply in the aftermath. Bouncing back from a divorce is always difficult – even if the marriage was short, childless, and you’re still in your mid-20’s. You are not any less entitled to feel heartbroken, even if you were the one who wanted out. It’s imperative to take time for yourself, heal your emotional wounds, and avoid rebounding into any unhealthy relationships.
In a “me” generation of notoriously non-committal 20-somethings, some experts say it’s no surprise that the mentality is to bail out of a miserable marriage, rather than fix it. On the flip side, many young divorcees argue there is tremendous value in trying on a first marriage for size. A starter marriage can be a great way to learn what you want from a spouse, from a marriage, and what you can expect from yourself.
Would you walk down the aisle if you weren’t 100% ready to spend the rest of your life with your fiancé? With divorce so prevalent these days, would you consider saying “I do” knowing you had a “get out of jail free card” in your back pocket? We want to know what you think.
Jennifer has produced and written for daytime television in New York and Los Angeles. If you have an amazing BounceBack story you’d like to share, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.