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‘I Dove into Polyamory and Haven’t Looked Back’: Young Divorcees On Ending Their Early Marriages

We asked 20-something divorcees what it's like getting married and divorced by age 30.
Arielle Richards
Melbourne, AU

There was a post going around last year that went something like “to be under 30 and a divorcee sounds so chic but then you have to get married and divorced by age 30 and that’s so unhinged”. I remember seeing it and thinking yes… yes… This is exactly what I have been saying. 

As someone in their 20s, a whirlwind romance that’s so passionate and chaotic you end up signing it into law before 30 is irrefutably iconic. Whether it’s for love or a visa, I imagine it as a moment produced from the kind of harebrained delusion I can only dream of sharing with another. And then BOOM. ENOUGH. You divorce. Fuck the conventions of MATRIMONY! 

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It’s so dramatic and unnecessary and probably heart wrenching for most people involved but oh to be a divorcee. Under 30. Chic. 

For millennials and Gen Zs, marriage is kinda out. Many of us were raised to believe marriage to be the great, ultimate achievement in our personal lives, only to see its promise eroded before our eyes. Divorced parents, cheating partners, stagnation, staying together in misery for the kids. Marriage, it would seem, builds a union into an unnecessarily supreme monument, so great that when it topples, it devastates everything around it. Not to mention the god damn paperwork.

So who are the under-30 divorcees? What happened? Would you do it again? 

Mitchell, a 26-year-old divorcee from Melbourne said he got married young almost out of wanting to rebel.

VICE: Why did you get married so young, and did you think it was young at the time?

Mitchell: It was the first relationship I’ve been in that felt really exciting and aligned. It was the first time I felt like I could really see myself having a future with the person I was with. Mind you, I was 19 at the time, so what the hell did I know about what I wanted for my future? But the other big motivator that I realised, in hindsight, was really just wanting to rebel. Coming from a family with divorced parents, it felt like I would be able to show them that in spite of what they had taught me, I was able to have a successful relationship. 

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How do you feel about marriage now as a 26-year-old divorcee?

Before I found my current partner, I was pretty indifferent about it. I could recognise that while my relationship and my marriage didn’t work out well, that was always a very real possibility. Y’know, worst comes to worst, we’ll get divorced, and we’ll live our lives, but fingers crossed that doesn’t happen. But all you can do is hope and try, and that’s what we did. And even though it didn’t work out, I think for many people it does. 

28-year-old Mia, from Melbourne, got married at 20 and was divorced at 23. 

What were your motivations for marrying young?

Mia: We were Christian and didn’t have sex before marriage so that played a part for sure, but there was more to it as well – it felt like a fun adventure, a lil crazy (our parents didn’t entirely approve…). 

We’d also known each other most of our lives and couldn’t see the relationship ever ending once it started. We felt like the only reason we could think of not to was boring stuff like not being financially secure, and we didn’t want to make decisions based on that. We figured marriage was something we could define as we liked; we didn’t always have to live together, be monogamous, share all of our lives, et cetera.

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What happened?

The big learning for me was that social constructs like marriage still have power – you can’t necessarily free yourself from the associations and inherited meaning; so even though we thought we could make it our own, it still brought a fair bit of weight to the relationship – fights feel heavier, the future feels more closed, and your lives become intertwined to the point that your identities can too. As we – particularly I – started to chafe at the constraints of it, unfortunately that played out as expressions of dissatisfaction and restlessness.

Over the course of the relationship we both left the church, too, which eroded some of the reasoning and social pressure to stay.

At first we took a break, and saw a relationship therapist whose overall message was “you’re young, it didn’t work out, it happens, don’t sweat it”, and we allowed ourselves to accept that it could end – on generally good terms – after which I dove into polyamory and haven’t looked back.

Rach, from Melbourne, was 26 when she got married. 

Rach: I was madly in love and had spent 20-26 single and living my best life, so I was sure I knew exactly what I wanted and had found the right one. I wouldn’t have necessarily gotten married though if I hadn’t needed a visa to stay in Australia. I had two options, either go back and get my masters and be in debt back in the States, or try and get a partner visa. My partner at the time was just like fuck it let’s get married! So we did! It was just a cute little ceremony at the treasury building, which was fine with me, as I was never that into the idea of a big wedding. 

What happened?

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We were married for almost two years when my husband just woke up one day and was like I can’t do this anymore. No warning signs, nothing. And that was his final decision as well, he didn’t want to talk about it or fix anything, he had “made up his mind” and that’s what he “needed to do”.

So I moved back to Melbourne and have been recovering for the past year or so. It was hard, but I’m actually so happy it happened.

How do you feel about marriage now as a young divorcee?

I was never really a huge marriage fan, but I have to say it was pretty cute saying I had a husband. I am currently with my new partner who has made me realise how happy I am that my marriage ended. I think getting divorced just solidified for me the idea that marriage is really just for show and doesn’t actually mean much in terms of feelings and emotions. 

My current partner and I plan on running off to Vegas and having Elvis marry us, if we even decide to get married, and it will strictly be for the photos, laughs and the party!

Zara* 28, based in Bangalore, was 24 when she was married. She said she did think it was quite young, but as she was from a small town, a few of her friends were married by that time, so while it was young compared to her friends in the city, it wasn’t that odd.

Zara: I married my highschool sweetheart, so it wasn’t an arranged marriage, it was a love marriage. I married him because he wanted to move to the US, for visa reasons, it was important that we had the paperwork done. So we got married. 

Why did the marriage end? 

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I think it was because we got married very young without really thinking about our goals, individually, for the rest of our lives. And though there was a lot of love in the marriage, and quite a lot of compatibility, the main and fundamental difference was he wanted to continue to live in the US, and his career was there, and I really didn’t like the life there. I wanted to move back to Asia. So I ended up moving back, and I think it was great for me and great for him, and it worked out well enough.

What do you think of marriage now?

As a young divorcee, I think marriage has its uses. I do think it’s a little redundant now for our generation, short of reasons similar to mine – that you need the paperwork to move to another country, or if you’re wanting to have a child – I don’t really see the purpose of it. I wouldn’t call it a redundant institution, but personally I don’t see myself getting married any time soon again, unless motherhood is a goal. Right now it’s not an urgent call, I’m ok to be a single mum, maybe adopt and raise my child by myself if I don’t find a suitable partner. But by that time maybe marriage will make more sense, and seem more relevant.

Stella*, a 27-year-old from Sydney, was 22 going on 23 when she got married. 

VICE: Did it feel young to you?

Stella: I definitely thought I was young. I didn’t get married for the sake of getting married, I got married because it was COVID and at the time the only visa you could get to come to Australia was a spousal visa. I wanted to move home to Australia with my ex partner, and we got married so he could come with me. I never believed in marriage, I’m ironically super anti-marriage. But we got married overseas, did the whole thing. We actually had a huge wedding, it was just a big party and it was a lot of fun, so no regrets there. 

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What is it like getting divorced in your 20s?

Basically we broke up last year in June, we were kinda already a little bit broken up by then. The divorce process has been really slow because of visa stuff, he wants to stay in Australia and I don’t want to stop him from doing that. 

Divorce is pretty awful. It is definitely worse than if we were just boyfriend and girlfriend. Then we could just be broken up and we wouldn’t have to deal with any of the paperwork but we still have to speak because of logistics and all this sort of stuff. I hate that we have to speak, I really hate him, actually, unfortunately, and I’m finding the divorce process really uncomfortable, and time consuming, and emotionally draining, not because I’m upset about the break-up but because it means I have to be in contact with him. Unless we want to get lawyers involved, and that’s costly. 

I will never get married again, I never wanted to get married in the first place, I never called him my husband because I’d rather die than do that.

Anna*, a 30-year-old from Melbourne, was 27 when she got married. She and her ex separated when she was 29 after two and a half years of marriage, and almost 11 years together. She isn’t officially divorced yet because, in Australia, you have to separate for 12 months before you can file for divorce. 

VICE: At the time did you have misgivings about marrying young?

Anna: I won't lie, it crossed my mind and I copped a lot of jokes from friends about being a "child bride". But compared to the age people used to get married 20-50 years ago, I fall somewhere in the middle I think. 

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I also grew up in a regional town, and went to a very small and religious school, despite not being religious myself. I had five girls in my graduating class and I was the last to get married. I'm not really in contact with anyone I went to school with, but being devoutly religious really puts a priority on marriage because a lot of them don't believe in sex or living together without being married (to each their own). 

But, of my friends in Melbourne, my ex and I were the first of our various friendship groups, by a couple of years, to get married. We had been together for six years when we got engaged, eight when we got married, and I felt very sure and secure in my decision to do that. 

As a young divorcee, how do you feel about marriage now?

I still feel positively about it. I'm a romantic at heart. I'd do it again!

I It's so stupid to say, but my wedding day was really one of the happiest days of my life. Not because it was the be-all-to-end-all of my life, I know I will have many more euphoric days and moments. But rarely are you the centre of attention surrounded by everyone you love and care about, making such a public, vulnerable, and exuberant declaration with and to the number one person in your life. My wedding was also iconic, if I do say so myself! We just did what we wanted, and we had guests tell us it was the best wedding they'd ever been to (slay the house boots down). 

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I love love, and have attended weddings with my ex since we separated and it hasn't tarnished that for me. It's not about me or him or us. I get a little sad for a moment at the loss of my marriage but at the end of the day, I'm celebrating the love of my friends, not the downfall of my own. 

I also feel like marriage is a lesser commitment than buying a house or kids, in regards to being able to be “undone”. People get really hung up on it, and yes a wedding costs money, but it's a LOT easier to get out of than a mortgage or a new life you created with someone that didn't ask to be born. 

Why did your marriage end, and how do you feel about ending your marriage? 

I ended our marriage, and I felt (and still feel) conflicted about it. 

We got married in May 2021, literal days before we went back into a big, long COVID lockdown. I felt like being locked down together actually brought us a lot closer, which was amazing! But in 2022 his work changed and became a lot more stressful. 

His days got longer at work, and less time was invested in us. In the six months after his work really picked up I was like "okay this will end, he needs to set better boundaries with work and I'm here to help him with that". We're both very career-focused people, and don't have or want children so I thought of it as just a challenge to overcome. 

We went on a 4-week overseas holiday over Christmas and New Year's and when that last week rolled around I started having panic attacks at the thought of going back home to that environment. I didn't realise how much it was affecting me until then. He promised to be better with work boundaries. 

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Long story short, he wasn't and it actually got worse. His days got even longer and the pressures at work were building and building. We fought a lot. I asked him to quit, but he wouldn't because he needed to see the project through. Male ego lol. Which just communicated to me that work was priority number one, and the rest of life got put on hold. But in a relationship there are two people, and you can't just do that. I just wanted him to choose me and us, make me feel valued for all the work I was putting in. It's give and take, and I felt like I was being taken advantage of and neglected. 

I tried to help, tried to build in positive things but I also felt like I was spending my time waiting around for his work to finish up before I could start living my life, doing things and spending time with him again. I also ended up taking on so much of the emotional weight of our relationship – managing the house, our social calendar, even reminding him to eat at times. I was stressed, anxious and, frankly, depressed. My own performance at work suffered, I gained a lot of weight and withdrew from a lot of things in my life. Eventually I got to a point where I decided I needed to start doing things by and for myself again, and that created a sense of independence in me that I had forgotten about over the last few years. I could go to concerts or drinks with friends without him. 

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One of the hardest things for me was feeling so alone. You don't want to tell your friends, particularly the ones who are getting married soon or who celebrated with you, "hey, my marriage isn't going well. I think it's falling apart and I don't know what to do anymore. I've already tried so hard. I feel so alone. I have no one to talk to". I had a few friends who went through breakups of long-term relationships last year as well (albeit not marriages) and I think that gave me the perspective and maybe the confidence to say "Is this what I want? I didn't sign up for this and I don't deserve to be treated this way. I can leave'.'. Maybe some confirmation bias in their advice, though. 

Making the decision to leave was the hardest thing I've ever done. I felt anxious and sad for months before having the conversation. I mulled on it from July-September. I actually didn't know for sure that I wanted to get divorced, but I also felt like I couldn't make an unbiased decision on whether my life was the one I wanted while still living it. I genuinely didn't know what I wanted, I felt so lost. But I knew I needed to remove myself from it to gain an unbiased perspective of the situation, where the flaws in each of us were, and if it was something I wanted to be part of. Some people called me brave, which I don't think is the right word at all. I just knew I'd rather go through this now than wake up at 40 after 10 years of potential misery and have given away that time. But also, what if I wasn't unhappy? What if it got better? Schrodinger's happy marriage. 

I was on a HUGE rollercoaster until about January. Massive highs and excitement to do things just because I could, but also huge lows just sobbing alone in my fancy new 1BR apartment. Being sick alone for the first time was so unbelievably hard, and Christmas fucking SUCKED. But getting to party over summer and have no responsibility to anyone was very liberating. I've levelled out a lot more now. The contrasting shimmer and despondence of being single has worn off and now it just is. 

People took it a lot better than expected though. The general reaction was sadness, but they also said if you're not happy then you're not happy. So societally people have definitely moved on from the taboo of divorce. 

I still love my husband very much. He's my best friend in the whole wide world. You can't spend eleven years of your life with someone and hate them. At least I can't, and if you do then I guess something has gone really wrong, and I am deeply sad for those people. 

My ex and I aren't divorced yet because you have to separate for 12 months before you can file, marked from the day you're no longer living together. I think this is actually a VERY good aspect of the law in Australia, because I know in the US and maybe the UK you can file immediately. The 12 months really gives you the space to think and reflect. 

We are still in regular contact and working on ourselves separately. I have seen a lot of growth in him but I know he struggles sometimes, as this wasn't what he wanted. I have seen a lot of growth in myself too. I struggle sometimes too. Less now, but when I first left I had a lot of "oh god, I've fucked up" thoughts. My friend who has divorced parents actually gave me some amazing advice that has gotten me through, which is "you made the choice you thought you had to make in the moment. It doesn't have to play out how you maybe thought, but it's the choice you made". She's a real one for that.  

I do question whether this is what I want long term. Will we go through with the actual divorce, or will we reconcile? Who knows, we've got six months to go before we can file, and that's a conversation we need to have and probably a lot of couples therapy. But what I do know is that regardless of what happens, I care about that man with my whole heart. We will be stronger together because of it if we do reconcile, and if we don't I have known a great love in my life and I will be forever blessed for that. 

And to answer the burning question: yes I miss wearing my rings. Sometimes I pop them on when I need to ~ feel something ~.

Arielle Richards is the multimedia reporter at VICE Australia, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.