When you’re 21 and announce you’re in a relationship, the proclamation is met with joy. When you’re 22 and announce you’re getting married, you’re met with skeptical congratulations. And when you’re 24 and announce you’re getting divorced, you’re met with pity and condescending “told ya so’s.”
As with most life lessons, the ones I learned from being married and divorced in my 20s were better absorbed through personal experience, not by listening to someone else.
I wasn’t exactly the most popular girl in high school and never had any romantic relationships. That bothered me; I felt my aloneness was a reflection of character flaws. Was I too nerdy? Too introverted? Not pretty enough? My family knew about my insecurities, so they were elated when I finally met someone at at 21.
I introduced Scott to my parents after a few weeks of dating and they approved. But it turns out that was the easy part — the initial approval quickly turned sour when I announced we were engaged and getting married just six months later.
I was met with skepticism, to put it lightly:
“You barely know him!”
“You’re too young, you don’t know what you want!”
“You’re making a big mistake! Marriage is a type of commitment you’re not ready to make.”
The conversations were mostly via yelling. Some talking, but mostly raised voices. Eventually, I ran out of energy to shout back.
It took a while for my parents — especially my dad — to accept the reality that I was getting married. Either they would support me or they wouldn't.
In the end, they did support my decision, even graciously helping me pay for the wedding.
It was a small affair, only about 75 people. It went by so quickly, but I do remember dancing with my dad to a song he'd turned me on to. We danced slowly. I put my head on his shoulder, he kissed my cheek and whispered, "I love you and wish you nothing but happiness." I'm fairly sure his shoulder wasn't dry by the end of the song. There was no yelling anymore.
My husband and I were married for two years. The first three months were magical, a honeymoon. Belly laughter nearly every night. Great conversation. I thought it would last forever.
But it didn’t.
By month nine the conversations weren’t as frequent. The laughter wasn’t as loud. Sex disappeared. We didn’t enjoy each other’s company. We grew apart. The marriage was over by the time I turned 24.
Although it ended quickly, I don’t consider my marriage my failure. I learned about love, relationships and myself in the process. But it wasn’t without significant heartache and a near nervous breakdown.
I learned three major lessons from being married and divorced in my 20s. Though ending a non-married relationship could have also imparted these lessons, I’m happy it was through divorce that I learned the following:
I learned what love isn't.
My marriage to Scott taught me that love is not lust or connection. It's deeper, almost metaphysical. Scott and I never had love.
We had a fling that we took too seriously too quickly. It’s what happens when you’re a lonely teenager and find someone who’s into you. You rush into their arms. Looking back, it was predictable that we’d take things too quickly.
I learned the value of being alone.
I wanted a boyfriend all through my teens, but it never came to pass. I had thick hair, rimmed glasses and braces that didn’t come off until I was 16. I was insecure.
Being married and then divorced, however, taught me the value of independence and the strength that comes from having a clear sense of self. Marriage diluted my individualism. My identity became too closely entwined with “being married.” Everything was “us,” never "I" or "me." That was a problem.
I learned patience.
My marriage was a byproduct of impatience, an emotional flurry culminating in a breakdown. Had Scott and I exercised more patience, perhaps we would have realized that making the “ultimate commitment” wasn’t the right decision for us. We were young, impulsive, and most importantly, not ready.
Experience is a wise instructor. I don’t regret marrying Scott. I learned too much from it to consider it a failure. And I'll always remember the words of my good friend Sarah during the engagement phase: “I wish you happiness, joy, and wisdom from the experience.”
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