Judging by the statistics, it's getting harder and harder for people to find their soul mates: the percentage of married households in the US is lower than it's ever been and people are waiting longer to tie the knot. Just a couple generations ago, getting hitched in your early 20s was relatively normal, whereas now it's an oddity; only about 10 percent of women and 6 percent of men in America below the age of 24 are married.
In certain big-city circles, saying "I do" before you're 30 might be seen as rushing into commitment. What's even odder, then, is the people who have already been divorced before 30. Popular culture tells us you're supposed to spend your carefree 20s looking for that special someone—what's it like to find that someone only to discover they weren't so special after all?
Below are three anonymous stories from three divorcees with very different backgrounds. They explained why they got married so young, how it feels to explain to new partners that they've already had a wedding, and what it's like to get back in the dating game.
Current age: 29
Age when married: 24
Age when divorced: 27
I met my ex wife when we were both enlisted in the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton in California right outside San Diego. We were both living in the barracks on base. I had seen her around, and we slowly started hanging out, going on dates—dinners, movies, etc.—and things grew from there. I'd been in the Marine Corps for about three years and was 24 and she had only been enlisted for one year and was barely 20. Any dating prior to when we got married took place at the base.
We started talking about marriage really quickly. As little as a month had gone by before we started joking around like, Wouldn't it be funny if we got married? I was super in love with this chick at the time and I know she felt the same way. We both thought it was the right thing to do. At the same time, when you're enlisted in the military and you're on base, you only get paid a little bit every two weeks. When you get married, you can move to an on-base apartment or get a living stipend to live off-base—a couple thousand dollars a month, which is a big incentive. Plus, you're segregated by gender in the Marines and follow strict daily routines that don't allow for social interactions at all. The thought of moving off base and having a real relationship was really appealing.
When I proposed, it was a really informal thing. I gave her a cheap ring in her bedroom at the base and just asked—it wasn't a surprise or anything. I didn't even get on one knee and I can't remember the anniversary date now. We got married two months after I proposed. It just happened so fast.
I think at first we were really excited and remained excited up until just after we were married. We got an apartment near Oceanside, California, but we didn't know what we were doing and I wasn't prepared this lifestyle change. After four months of living together as a married couple, I started transitioning out of the military. I had thought of pursuing a career in the military and she really wanted me to do that because there was stability to it. Plus, she still had two and a half years to go before she was going to get out.
"Sure as shit, it was a bad idea. I ended up just another statistic."
But my enlistment ended and then my lifestyle changed immediately. You go from having a regimented daily routine to having free time and nothing to do. I applied for unemployment and enrolled in school. I was in my early twenties and making all this government money and not working and partying. She was still in the military and had this cut-and-dry existence. I went from having friends from the Marine Corps to having friends who smoked pot, did coke, saw shows, and all that Southern California stuff. She also started developing her own interests—riding motorcycles, going to bars that played country music. We were on the same page when we met, then literally eight months later I had a completely different agenda and interests, and she did as well. At the end of the day, that was the reasoning behind our separation.
We separated about a year after we got married, maybe less, and then got divorced several years later. The separation didn't include any terrible screaming matches or anything, but we decided to stay married so she could have her off-base apartment and keep her benefits while she finished her enrollment.
As soon as we separated, I started seeing other girls almost immediately. I started dating and fucking around, and even met one girl I had a relationship with for four or five months. Marriage and separation didn't hinder my youth. At the same time, people our age aren't used to hearing from the person they're sleeping with that he or she is married or divorced. I remember telling one girl I was dating what the deal was, and she was super pissed and it became a big issue. When that happened, it became this reality check: Dude, you need to take care of this and get a real divorce, or you will be burdened with this forever.
To this day, I rarely talk about being married and divorced in my early twenties because I think many people in America still have a stigma against it, especially if you're from a small town or secluded place where you're likely more tied to your family. I think the guilt hangs heavier if you're in greater contact with the past generation. In big, progressive cities, you're not influenced by your parents' lives; You're influenced by your surroundings. Luckily, I live in a place where many people are critical of their parents' generation and think the taboos placed on divorce should die with that generation, too.
But, deep down, I was disappointed in myself for a long time because I didn't listening to what my parents and other responsible adults told me: "Getting married impulsively at a young age is a bad idea." And sure as shit, it was a bad idea. I ended up just another statistic.
Current age: 25
Age when married: 23
Age when divorced: 25
I am by no means a traditional person. I grew up in a polyamorous community that traveled by bus around Europe and I now work as a doula, attending births and consulting with women about pregnancy. My understanding of both monogamy and marriage is probably different than most. But still, I got legally marriage in America.
I moved to New York from London because I had some clients there. I met my ex-husband not long after I arrived. Our relationship became super intense almost immediately. After our first date in late summer 2013, I knew I felt passionate toward him like I never had before—and I had already been in love once. We spent pretty much every day together for a month until I had to return to Europe for work. He told me he loved me before I left, and later visited me in London, where unbeknownst to both of us I got pregnant.
I visited him in New York and we talked seriously about marriage. Once I returned and found out I was pregnant, he said he didn't know how he could speak to me again if I kept the baby. Still, marriage felt right for three really intense reasons: I was madly in love with him, I needed a visa so I could return to New York to both work and be with him, and I was pregnant.
We married in February 2014—less than six months after we had met.
We married in the winter, and our relationship began falling apart in the spring. My love for him never faded, but some very intense things happened that made it impossible to be together. The most important factor was that I felt he pressured me into an abortion. I never imagined myself having an abortion. It's so far from who I am. It has nothing to do with shame or criticism of abortions. It just felt wrong that I let somebody make me do it. My husband made it clear that if I had the baby then he wouldn't support us. Money didn't matter because I had the power there, but he had emotional power over me.
Though it's obviously more complicated than it sounds here, the green card marriage idea put extreme stress on him because it jeopardized his career. And the abortion put extreme stress on me because it contradicted my career as a doula. I give life, not end it. So we separated in the summer of 2014, though legally stayed married so I could ultimately get my visa after being "married" for a certain amount of time.
Our relationship hurt me so much and it felt like I lost a huge part of me. I was in shock. I feel like I took out the pain on other people. I can be very emotional, but I can also be very sexual and demand power. After separating, I slept with whoever I wanted, whenever I wanted, pretty much immediately because that's how I always was prior to the marriage. I forgot that the new people I was sleeping with had their own feelings, or that I could even have new feelings myself, because I wasn't allowing myself to move on from the marriage.
"When you admit you've been separated or divorced, it's like admitting you failed."
I would tell the new people I was sleeping with that I was still legally married. It was upsetting to some, but others fetishized it. They thought it was a novelty or something untraditional and therefore exciting. But to my clients—pregnant women and their partners—I couldn't tell them my marriage had fallen apart. When you admit you've been separated or divorced, it's like admitting you failed. I didn't care what the people I was casually seeing thought, but since I work with people starting families and help them actually make that a reality through birth, then it doesn't inspire confidence to let them know it didn't work for me.
This past summer, two years after we first met and a year and a few months since we separated, we got legally divorced. If we were "married" just a little longer, I would be eligible for a ten-year green card. But he fucked me. I deal with his decisions every day. The relationship will always feel like a burden. I'm personally in a better place because I can admit that I lost my best friend, but there's still baggage.
I hope to marry someone legally again one day. I want to have a child soon too. I hope to look back at this experience as a test marriage, even though it was much more than that emotionally. The idea of marriage itself is often a practical thing to me, but the idea of pure love and a partnership that can last a long time is something I believe is real. By the time I do meet the next person who I feel as passionately about, I'll have learned so much.
Current age: 24
Age when married: 18
Age when divorced: 19
I've been happily married since March, and this is my second marriage. My first marriage was nothing formal. We got pregnant then I started calling him my husband out of insecurity. I was terrified to be alone so instead of dealing with my anxiety and emotions, I allowed myself to become some petrified victim and got stuck living with someone who never let me drive, get a job, go to college, or see anyone, hardly. We were both 18 and he was often with other partners and left me in our apartment alone a lot. He controlled everything in our lives and I allowed it. What little family I did have he had me cut out and for the sole reason that if they had been around to see his behavior toward me they would have helped me leave sooner.
Our daughter was born, and about a year later we decided to have a wedding. He got me a ring from a mall jeweler and spent a lot in order to brag, but there was no sparkling, dream-like proposal to speak of. Two weeks before the actual wedding we'd planned, when our daughter was almost one, he cheated on me for the last time. After I stood up for myself, he kicked our daughter and me out. Since I was not only undereducated, but also terrified of everything in general, I had no idea what my rights were so I fought for nothing, left everything, took my child, and never looked back. I even had a "Dodged a Bullet" party on the planned wedding day for my friends and me.
We didn't even talk about the divorce. I simply had to stop using his last name on documents for six months and register my new address, and then the state of Texas finalized us as not common-law married any longer. I got a wonderful form and everything.
I was freshly 19 years old, and it felt both embarrassing and shameful to be divorced at such a young age. It also made me feel less valuable—the thought of being in another relationship was out of the question for a while, or so I thought.
I began catching up with old friends my husband had pushed away. One old friend, in particular, was very hasty and began trying to get my attention. He put his foot in the door I kept shutting in his face. He wanted to be in my life and my daughter's life. It was both difficult and strange to see this new person try repeatedly to earn my trust and love. I couldn't understand how he saw me as a prize, but he did and I'm thankful for that. I first told him we'd never "date" because I didn't believe in it nor did I want to get a babysitter for my child. I told him if he wanted to be with me he'd have to be around her 24/7 as well.
To my surprise he not only agreed, but also said there'd be no other way he'd have it. So "dating" involved Chuck E. Cheese's, dollar movies, zoos, parks, aquariums, museums—anything kid related. It blew my mind that he was acted so natural with us both and it felt like this was what a family was supposed to look and feel like. The previous one was not a marriage; it was more like Stockholm syndrome.
He was nine years older than me and also divorced for the first time at a young age after being in an abusive relationship himself. Many people were judgmental of the fact that we got together so soon after I'd left my ex, but to me it was like being in a totally new life where I was finally happy.
A lot people assume young divorcees are all dumb and uneducated, but many I've met were victims who were predisposed for these abusive circumstances. I would say young divorcees are naïve, not stupid. A ring doesn't mean they're committed—and neither does a baby, for that matter.