I got divorced at 27 years old. It would be pretty easy to tuck that experience under my hat and pretend it never happened. I relocated to a new city, attended university again, made entirely new sets of friends — all as a 20-something. I hit the reset button and largely pretended the marriage never happened at all.
That’s not entirely fair to me, the experience, or to others who have survived the same. It was a painful four years that ended in a rubble of emotion, lost time, and the occasional smattering of ramen noodles against kitchen walls. Fortunately, I also made it out with a handful of gold — in the form of lessons that have guided my life choices since.
1. How to walk away.
And I’m not talking about walking away from the marriage itself.
In a surprising turn of events, even for me, I was engaged quickly after my divorce — under two years quickly. In my mind, the relationship was always supposed to be a fling. But my laissez-faire attitude in my 20s left me saying, “okay,” a lot.
He asked me to dance. “Okay.”
He wanted to move in together. “Okay.”
He asked me to marry him at the end of a marathon with numerous local news cameras pointed in my face. “Okay.”
That final, “okay,” triggered the panic button. I realized the mistake of my previous marriage was happening all over again. Shortly thereafter, I terminated that relationship, recognizing that being in the wrong partnership is a devastating isolation I never wanted to experience again.
I learned how to walk away. Since then I’ve been able to walk away from many situations, as painful as it always is. It’s never fun, but better to have the courage to walk away from the wrong person early instead of slowly slaughtering each other in a drawn-out, doomed relationship.
2. Laissez-faire has no place in relationships.
This was my attitude toward relationships. It’s not a good thing, and exactly how I kept getting engaged to the wrong men. I cared enough about them as people, absolutely. But my passivity was a poison that wasted both my time and theirs.
I get that we live in a hookup culture where we’re not supposed to care quickly or deeply or express true emotions. But i’ve learned I would far rather care genuinely and honestly — or forget it and enjoy time on my own.
3. The importance of emerging adulthood.
For most of American marriage history, women moved directly from their parents’ arms to their husband’s, without a period of self-exploration. This was what I did. I stayed home for the first two years of college, lived with roommates for a year, then was married. This wasn’t nearly enough time for me to figure out who I was, and I ended up fighting against my husband to become my own person. Had I given myself adequate time in the stage modern psychologists are calling “emerging adulthood,” I would have known that this person wasn’t right for me, and that I needed time to keep looking for myself.
4. A deeper respect for marriage.
One could read this article and easily surmise that I hate marriage. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I wouldn’t have married in the first place if I wasn’t a fan of the idea. Then having lived it for a number of years, I learned how rewarding it can be. It’s amazing to have a permanent farmer’s market buddy, someone who always gets your coffee right and someone who adores you unconditionally. I also recognize how critical it is to take your time and make damn sure to marry the right mate.
5. A new approach.
When I was in my early 20s, not even Satan himself could have stopped me from getting married. That’s what I was going to do and my stubborn, arrogant self was going to have her way.
That said, the biggest thing I took away from my divorce was how to approach marriage the next time around — that is, if marriage is in the cards for me. A lot of that depends on who I meet in the future. That person may not be a big marriage fan. Or maybe they will be. The point I’ve learned is that forming a partnership with another person truly exists outside the confines of our, dare I say, antiquated approach to marriage. The approach that marriage is for everyone.
Marriage is just one possibility, one option for how to live life. A big reason for its existence is we all have this drive to leave something behind. A legacy. May it be a book, a collection of photographs, a thesis, or a child. Something that proves our lives mattered.
All of these things can be done without marriage. And with! Some of us are explorers who have no business marrying anyone. Some of us are well suited for marital monogamy. Personally, I hope I’m a hybrid of the two, and can explore mountains and Netflix catalogues with someone who laughs at my stupid jokes for the long haul.
If not, exploring independently is already proving to be a fun adventure, too.
If you divorced in your 20s and learned a lot about love, life and yourself in the process, we’d love to hear your story for our series, Divorced By 30. Send us a 500-800-word essay or an idea for a blog post to
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