Journist Pamela Paul interviewed 60 young divorced women and men for her new book The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony. In it, Paul claims that Gen Xers are getting married and quickly divorced, before they have kids, at a surprising rate. Read the excerpt from The Starter Marriage below.
Isabel always wanted to get married. A twenty-nine-year-old public relations executive from a New York suburb, she never lacked for male attention, though she says, "I mostly dated the wrong people. I just dated whoever liked me instead of trying to find the best person for who I am." Despite a steady stream of monogamous relationships, Isabel was afraid of ending up single. "That's why I married my husband," she explains with a wry laugh.
At twenty-five, she decided to marry a man she'd been dating for eight months. "My friends were starting to get married, and they had had their boyfriends for years before," she explains. "I felt like they were moving on with their lives, and I wanted to as well. I was pretty sure this was the right person, and I was tired of getting screwed over by men and at least he wasn't doing that. We were both sick of the New York dating life, so we were pretty relieved to be getting married." Marriage was something Isabel felt she was supposed to do. "You're expected to get married, buy a house, have two kids. I think everybody gets caught up in that, and I definitely did. When you're twenty-five suddenly you think you're old and the thought of being twenty-seven or twenty-eight and still being single is such a bad feeling. You think everyone is judging you."
After she got engaged, Isabel noticed several of her friends doing so quickly thereafter. "It's like this snowball effect. Once one person gets engaged, everybody has to get engaged. And then you get so wrapped up in whose ring is bigger and who's getting married where and how much everything costs."
Isabel expected her marriage to be "a nice life with nice things," but mostly she devoted her attention to the wedding. Over her year-and-a-half-long engagement, she and her fiancé planned the big day, which she now describes as "a three-hundred-person circus." During the engagement period, whenever she and her fiancé fought, which was often, Isabel wrote it off as prewedding jitters, assuming that once they were married, things would change. They didn't.
"Everything was a problem,' she says. "I don't think we had any respect for each other. I didn't feel comfortable with him. I knew, pretty much right away, that something was definitely not right." Screaming matches and power struggles ensued. Isabel lost weight, grew depressed, and "didn't feel like myself." After only a year of marriage, they decided to divorce. "It was the one thing I hated to do because he came from a divorced family and I don't believe in divorce. But after a while you say, 'I'm too young. This is wrong. This is not what life's supposed to be like."
"I rushed to get married," Isabel explains. "My marriage was an unfortunate mistake, and it wasn't worth saving because we were not meant to be."
Isabel describes a typical starter marriage.
Starter marriages, like all marriages, are meant to last forever. But they don't. Instead, they fizzle out within five years, always ending before children begin.