What It's Really Like To Be A Divorcée At Age 20

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woman touching her wedding band
Heartbreak

When I first said "I do," I was 2 months and 13 days away from my 19th birthday. I stood as an 18-year-old girl swallowed up by an all-consuming desire to have a real home, but I ended up divorced at 20. 

I left "home" as soon as I was able to move out. (Belts, paddles, and hands across a face don't make a child feel loved.) I got married and started my freshman year at the local university.

I worked, went to school, and came home to a boy who didn't know how to love — or be loved.

I filed for divorce a little over a month after I turned 19.

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I had to leave. Abused women seek abusive men, and this is exactly what I found in my first marriage.

He controlled, degraded, and isolated me from the world. It wasn't a hard task to achieve since we had rented an old two-story farmhouse. It sat on a beautiful piece of land and didn't have any neighbors to hear my screams when he blacked both my eyes.

It took a year before I was finally granted my divorce.

I entered my 20s as a divorced woman. I felt broken, cracked from the inside, and never deserving of love.

It started a pattern of seeking love and throwing away my self-respect in order to be granted love.

Many call a first marriage and divorced at a young age a "starter marriage." Mine was exactly the starting point in figuring out what I wanted from a marriage — and what I didn't want.

It took a few months, but by the time my 21st birthday came, I knew exactly what I didn't want anymore:

I didn't want to be hit.

I didn't want to be controlled and told what to do.

I didn't want to be used for pointless "quickies" before a boyfriend had to leave for work.

I didn't want to have to pay for every dinner we enjoyed and have them be called "dates." (They never felt like dates when the young man ordered steak with a side of lobster while I footed the bill.)

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When you're scared of never being loved while carrying a suitcase full of emotional baggage, you tell yourself that you're damaged goods.

I walked into my twenties thinking I didn't deserve love that was kind and devoted to me. I was too messed up and scarred to deserve real love.

I deserved only half-hearted attempts at being loved. I deserved something so much less than I actually was.

Then I met a man on a hot August night. He was intelligent, educated, and kind. He took me to dinner.

When I told him about my "starter marriage," he shrugged it off and said he liked me anyway. He said it was the past and we shouldn't live in the past.

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We forged ahead, and after eight months of dating, he proposed. I said, "No."

I didn't want to marry another stranger and I wasn't ready to accept his love yet. Mostly, I didn't think I deserved it.

I waited another seven years before he proposed again. He proposed after turning down my proposals three years in a row. 

I deserved the opportunity to make a home and try to have a family, one where abuse wasn't consuming my life. It took almost eight years after my divorce from my first husband to believe I deserved a healthy self-esteem.

I ripped that "damaged goods" label off a long time ago.

I'm not damaged; I'm not less than. I'm deserving and I accept what I deserve.

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Rachel E. Bledsoe is a writer whose work has appeared on Thought Catalog, Ravishly, Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, and more. Visit her website or follow her on Twitter.