What It's Really Like: To Be Young and Divorced

We’re not sure if there’s some unofficial but agreed upon correct age to get divorced. 35? Is that it? Is it the same as the requirements to be President?
Publish date:
December 17, 2012

Being a young divorcee always surprises people. It’s like a carnival game. You might be able to guess our age and weight, but you probably won’t guess how many times we’ve been unsuccessfully married! (Just once.) When you’re in your 20s, you don’t LOOK like a divorcee, apparently.

People who we’ve just met are shocked to hear that we’ve been married, let alone divorced. "You were married for HOW long? That's it? How OLD are you?!” We’re not sure if there’s some unofficial but agreed upon correct age to get divorced. 35? Is that it? Is it the same as the requirements to be President?

Sometimes people just don't know how to react. They think we’re joking and they laugh. And then when they find out it’s not a joke, they apologize and get all uncomfortable. Or they'll just look at us and try to decide whether we’re angry or bitter or both.

But really, as far as divorces go, we don’t really have anything to be angry or bitter about. No one’s life was ruined. Or, at least, our lives weren’t ruined. (We assume that our ex-husbands continue to live and be well, though we haven’t stayed in touch, so we can’t be 100% sure.) Neither of us had any children during our brief marriages, something people are always relieved to hear.

But as much as it wasn’t a life-ruining experience, we were both scared to get divorced. We worried about how our families would react. We worried it would get really ugly. We worried that people would think less of us. Fortunately, our families didn’t disown us and nothing got too ugly. But, as for what other people might think of us? That may have been a valid concern.

A woman we know was recently considering dating a divorced man when one of her co-workers cautioned her against it. "A divorced person is divorced for a reason. Something is wrong. Don't get involved in that," she was told.

As divorced people, this is an alarming opinion to hear. That's quite the stigma to live with for the rest of your life. But we’d like to convince you that there isn't anything wrong with us. Or at least, not that wrong. We made some errors in judgment. We thought we were in love when we didn't really know what that meant.

But what happened? That’s what people always want to know.

What could have changed in such a short period of time? You can’t fall out of love that easily! You have to wait for a mid-life crisis! So, what happened? Well, the short answer is nothing. But we’ll give you the longer answers, too.

What happened, Jessica?

I always knew that I would get married, because that's what you do. I'm not really one to rock the boat. I didn't drink until my 21st birthday. I stop at stop signs -- a FULL stop -- even when there are no other cars around. I follow rules. So when I had been dating my boyfriend for three years, and he asked me to marry him, I said yes. That is the next step, after all.

Who cares that we had nothing in common? Or that he didn't make me particularly happy. It was time to get married. So we did. And then we got pretty swiftly divorced. People would often ask me afterward why I got married in the first place. The real answer is complicated, but I can simplify it: You'd be surprised the damage turning down a proposal can do to a relationship. I wasn't ready to marry him, but I also wasn't ready to break up with him. And turning down a proposal, in most situations, is going to result in a break-up.

What happened, Jeanne?

Unlike Jessica, I did not always know that I'd get married. But I met a guy my freshman year in college and before I knew it, we were that couple. By the time we graduated, it seemed almost inevitable. We got engaged when I was 24. At the time, I didn't think I was too young. But looking back on it, I was too young.

I don't think there's a magic age at which it’s OK to get engaged or married or anything, but I just wasn't ready to be married. More importantly, I wasn't ready to be married to him. In a more perfect world, I might have realized this before we went through with that whole wedding thing, but unfortunately, this is not a perfect world.

Also, I’m extremely impatient. Once we were engaged, I wanted to hurry up and get it over with. Had I been using my brain, this might have served as a clue that I shouldn't be getting married. As I understand it now, when one wants to get married, one does not dread the actual wedding. But I never considered that I might not want to get married. Planning a wedding is stressful. It made sense to me that I would just want it to be over.

So I got married, and 11 months later, I moved out.

We were both divorced at 26. It’s not the norm -- we know. And we’re not offended when people find it funny. It is kind of funny, because it’s unexpected. Like when you see a dog wearing a raincoat.

But we’re not monsters. We don’t marry men and divorce them for sport. We’re not that into sports. We both enjoy wearing sweatpants, but it ends there. The most common misconception that we’ve encountered since becoming “those divorced girls” is that we didn’t try to make it work. We didn’t “give it a shot.” But, how long do you have to try before it counts as giving it a shot?

For some reason, people assume that we both got married expecting that we would get divorced. But, why would anyone do that? We’re not celebrities. (Yet.) We don’t do publicity stunts. (Yet.) Getting divorced is hard work -- you have to fill out papers, and sign stuff. It’s terrible. It’s all the inconvenience of doing your taxes, but with the added bonus of feeling like a total failure at life.

When you get divorced at a young age, you might come to believe it is your new, defining characteristic. But it's not. It's also not something to hide or of which to be ashamed. Sure, some people are going to judge you for it. But some are also going to judge you because you wear navy blue and black together or because you wear socks with sandals (this is both time saving and comfortable, in our opinion).

The point is: let them judge. If your marriage isn't working, it isn't working, regardless of your age. Regarding love, people often say things like, "When you know, you just know." Guess what? Same goes for the end of love. You know when it's over. What’s the difference whether you pull the proverbial trigger now, or 20 years from now?

To us, the difference is that we didn't waste any more time than we needed to. Judge us if you want to. But we're happier now.