Dear Divorced Millennial,
First, I would like to congratulate you on your new life. You went through one of the hardest things to experience in life outside of a loved one’s death, and here you are — perhaps a bit frayed around the edges but full of hope, wisdom and enthusiasm nonetheless.
Maybe you’re reading articles about what you wish you knew before you got married. Maybe you’re even writing them because it’s all too easy to believe, once you’ve been in and out of a marriage, that you finally have love, relationships and marriage figured out.
Please don’t take that as a diss — it’s not. Because I was once a 20-something divorcee and I thought I had it figured out, too. As a matter of fact, I was so convinced that I had it figured out that I missed some obvious red flags when I met, fell in love with and then married the man who became my second husband. Since he had been married before and we both experienced infidelity, I thought he had it figured out, too.
That’s why, after 14 years, he became my second former husband.
Clearly, something was wrong. And what was wrong was me.
It took me two divorces — one in my 20s and one in my 40s — to get it. But get it I did. Here’s what I learned:
- Divorce doesn’t necessarily make you smarter about relationships: Unless you delve deep into the behaviors and patterns you learned from your family of origin so you can understand the stuff you brought into your first marriage that isn’t working well for you, you’ll bring it into the next one. Sure, your new spouse may react differently to it, but you still need to own it. Thankfully, I did a lot of intensive work to understand what I did to contribute to the demise of my second marriage, and I learned how to act differently although it’s a work in progress. I don’t know if I would have done that if I’d stayed married; I think I just might have had to hit bottom first.
- There may not be someone “better out there” for you: I divorced when I was young and cute and again at midlife, which is a lot less cute, and this much I know: there really isn’t a good or bad age to be divorced. But it doesn’t matter — you divorce because the marriage you’re in doesn’t work any more and you can’t make it work, not because you believe there’s someone “better out there for you.” There may be and I hope there is, if that’s what you want. Divorce means you have to accept that you may be without a romantic partner — and you’re OK with that.
- Relationships don’t have to look a certain way: I grew up buying into a familiar relationship scenario — you meet someone, date, fall in love, live together, marry, and then one day have a few kids, a mortgage, a dog and a minivan. And, of course, you live happily-ever-after. If you divorce before your 30s, well, you know that isn’t true. But you’re not alone; 4 out of 10 newlyweds in 2013 had been married at least once before. Marriage isn’t always “until death,” and that’s OK. Plus a lot of people are tweaking what marriage “looks” like — they live apart, they have monogamish arrangements, they have kids with someone who’s a great mom or dad and someone they admire and respect but who’s not a “soul mate” because, well, they just want to have kids and not raise them solo. In other words that traditional love-based model of marriage isn’t all that anymore. And that’s good.
So, what would I tell my 20-something self? Lots of things. All of the above and more. But here’s the problem — I probably wouldn’t have listened. And when I interviewed Elizabeth Gilbert after Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, her follow-up book to her best-selling Eat, Pray, Love, came out, she pretty much admitted that she, too, wouldn’t have followed her own book’s sage advice when she was in her 20s: “I would have read it with such contempt … it wouldn’t have done me any good. … I’m not sure it will do any good for young people. My place is among people who have awareness.”
So, if you’ve divorced by 30, do you want to spend time reading — or writing — articles on what you wish you knew before you tied the knot, or do you want awareness? Being divorced doesn’t mean you have awareness; it just means you’re divorced. Understand your own behavior and patterns, and then ask yourself what you want from a romantic relationship and whether marriage is the only way to get it. Then, you’ll be on the road to awareness.
Vicki Larson is an award-winning journalist, blogger and co-author The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press, September 2014.)
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