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A Guide to Surviving Divorce in Your 20s

There's a real conflict in the messages that go out to young girls: on the one hand it's study hard, become someone important, invest in your career and be independent, and on the other hand you have the wedding industry and the society magazines saying: get married, that will be the most important day of your life, that will define you and validate you.
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There's a real conflict in the messages that go out to young girls: on the one hand it's study hard, become someone important, invest in your career and be independent, and on the other hand you have the wedding industry and the society magazines saying: get married, that will be the most important day of your life, that will define you and validate you.

The result is girls pushing their boyfriends to "commit" and settle down with them sometimes more out of peer pressure than because they've found a genuinely strong partnership. The boyfriends go along with it because they don't want to lose the girls but often neither of them is really ready. It's predominantly having chosen the wrong person in the first place. Often these young marriages are based on being madly attracted to the other person and believing that those waves of hormones washing through them equate to true love.

Inevitably the rush of attraction fades with time and familiarity and then they find themselves looking at the other person and thinking, "actually, you really irritate me," or, "I just don't think you're really a kind and decent person, or a loving person"; people become cruel and cold because they feel they're trapped with someone who they don't feel very connected to any more and then unkindness, neglect or infidelity begins. I've got to put in a voice for the other side, though. Some of the best marriages I've seen have been between people who met in their teens or at university. I think where there is a real meeting of minds and shared interests, a young couple can grow together and form an exceptional bond of understanding and of mutual loyalty that can carry them through into a wonderful long-term partnership.

It's not getting married young that's to blame; it's getting married in the mad flush of young love rather than being genuinely compatible.

I divorced in my 20s with two little toddler boys. For me, then, and for other women in that situation, I think the huge fear is that at a time when their peers are busy getting married in a competitive dating world, the men among their contemporaries can't easily contemplate taking on stepchildren. I remember one chap I dated remarking that being divorced and having children made me "damaged goods."

The reality is that it's actually a good thing to de-select the guys who don't have the capacity to love both you and those that you love -- but it can, at a time you're already feeling insecure and with low self-esteem because your marriage failed, make you fear you're going to be alone for the rest of your life. Happily, that's almost never true! I think for those who do divorce childless in their 20s it can be relatively easy to bounce back if they keep a clear head. Of course, when you're young you may still believe that you met the love of your life and no one else will compare, rather than, as you get older, realizing that there are loves for different parts of your life. But if you keep steady, just keep moving and focus on your independent future, love comes along again quickly.

Statistically they say those who have been married once are likely to marry again -- whether that's because they're innately among the more attractive people or they just project the confidence that comes from knowing they can get someone to want to marry them is hard to tell. In family law there is a general shift away from the 'meal ticket for life' approach to husbands providing for wives, as the courts become slowly less paternalistic and recognise that women are capable of providing for themselves. The shift is most pronounced in young couples where there are no children. The courts may share out the capital the couple built up during the marriage, if there is any -- often this might mean selling the home -- and then award either no maintenance or, if the wife has been dependent, maintenance only for an "adjustment period" of say a year or two while she gets back on her feet. The message for young women is, don't allow your own work, your independence, to be compromised -- if your marriage falls apart you can't expect that your husband's going to compensate you for what you gave up for him.

The reality is, in my experience, that marriages are less likely to fail if the women stay strong and independent anyway -- they remain both more attractive to their husbands and happier in themselves, and that makes everything work so much better.

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