The Case For The Starter Marriage

Second Time's The Charm: The Case For The Starter Marriage

Story courtesy of YourTango

By Sascha Rothchild

For every email or comment I get thanking me for writing my book, How To Get Divorced By 30, or for expressing in articles and blogs how a first marriage can be a positive rite of passage, I get an angry email or comment asking, "How dare you destroy the sanctity of marriage!?"

To those irate people I say, thanks for giving me all the credit and power of destroying an ancient institution. (In truth, my contribution was hardly necessary; there were major matrimonial problems long before I came into the picture.) I'm not causing divorce, I'm just relaying my own divorce experience, which has been overwhelmingly fantastic.

The first time I got married, I was 27 and made many of the standard mistakes, including adhering to an arbitrary timetable. I thought dating for three years meant it was time to get married, and marriage at the time seemed easier than breaking up. I also believed that opposites attracted, and I was a type-A, neurotic go-getter and he a laid-back, lovable stoner. At first we complemented each other; I helped him get motivated to put down the video game controller and actually pursue an acting career, and he helped me calm down and enjoy the quiet moments between stressing out about my writing career. But after awhile we both just resented the other's very different attitude, rhythm and personality. We were also so conscious of never stepping on each other's toes that we ended up compromising to the point that we were both miserable. I loved Hollywood; he loved Venice Beach. So we bought a condo in a place we both hated: Sherman Oaks. This sense of democracy just left us feeling unfulfilled.

My ex and I had a very small nontraditional wedding, too embarrassed and cool to say words like "love," "forever" and "'til death do us part." We thought by laughing in the face of tradition we were being original, when really we were just setting ourselves up for divorce. I bought my own engagement ring and walked down the makeshift aisle to Joe Jackson's "Is She Really Going Out With Him," and, at our reception in a friend's back yard, the best man's toast was "to the best five years of your life." He was off by two-and-a-half. While I was planning my 30th birthday party, I realized I didn't want my husband on the guest list. I wanted to start this new decade of my life single and free. I was way too young to be stuck in nuptial mediocrity, and getting divorced would be better than spending the next 50 years in a hell of my own making. I now see that divorce isn't an evil at all.

My definition of a starter marriage is one that lasts less than five years and in which there are no children. But based on my experience, I coined the term "learner marriage"--the kind that helps keep you from making the same mistakes the second time around. It's true that second marriages have an even higher divorce rate than first marriages, but that's because many people don't investigate why things went wrong and instead repeat the same self-destructive patterns.

I wasn't emotionally available in my twenties, but instead of confronting that, I married a man who was even less emotionally available. I tried to hide my own issues behind his. Once married, I realized that keeping the knot tied is a lot of daily work, which only just begins with "I do." I made the mistake, as do many women, of focusing on getting married rather than on the actual marriage. It wasn't until it fell apart that I forced myself to look inward, went to therapy, spoke honestly with friends about my fears and feelings. I also decided that instead of being bitter and baggage-laden, it was time to be a more independent, wiser, and all-around happier person. In a radio interview about my book, a DJ said I sounded cheery for a divorced lady. I replied, "Divorce shouldn't make you depressed; it's being unhappily married that does that."

More than 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, yet the wedding industry is booming, which means the belief in nuptial bliss remains. And so it should! If you find yourself divorced, as I did, and actually take the time to dissect the death of your marriage and make some needed changes in your life, then learning from that starter marriage can prove to be a crucial step towards happiness.

I recently got engaged again, but rather than living like glorified roommates and watching TV every night, my fiancé and I actually spend time together out in the world (snowboarding, trying new restaurants, going to concerts and actually holding hands). Sure sometimes I have to sit through a Cubs game and he has to watch me try on shoes, but we don't avoid conflict by losing ourselves in compromise. We moved to a neighborhood we both enjoy, communicate by expressing actual feelings rather than just saying, "OK, whatever," and combined our books on shelves knowing we will never have to separate them. Our wedding will be filled with family and friends, traditions and the word "love." We have a wedding planner, I will wear an actual wedding dress and we'll say vows that are emotional rather than snarky. But most importantly, my second marriage will work because I'm armed with the knowledge gained through my misguided first.

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