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Divorced Under Thirty




Excerpted from
The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony
By Pamela Paul

Americans are afraid of divorce. We fear it because we've assigned a host of social ills to its fallout. We fear it because it runs against our deeply ingrained idealism. If marriage means everlasting love between two fabulous, accomplished individuals; a two-car, four-bedroom home; obedient children and happy, multigenerational family gatherings, then divorce means all that is lost forever.

Most of all, we fear divorce because we fear that it will happen to us. Every time someone gets divorced, each of us is forced to acknowledge its proximity and frequency; each of us is forced to realize, if only fleetingly, "Oh God, it could happen to me."

Divorce is one of the most painful experiences a human being can undergo. "I had no idea how awful a divorce was until I went through it myself," says Yasmin, a psychotherapist who divorced after two years of marriage. "It was the worst thing I ever experienced, the worst two years of my life. I was in shock." According to psychologists, divorce results in a process of mourning similar to what we experience with the death of a loved one. In its own way, divorce is a kind of death-the death of a marriage, the death of love, the death of one's place in the world. "Divorce felt very odd to me," Helena, a travel editor living in Washington, remembers. "I felt like I didn't have an identity anymore. I'm not somebody's wife. I felt lost."

Young divorces I interviewed tell stories of insomnia, migraines, weight loss, and panic attacks. The words they used to describe themselves during the aftermath were "lost," "lonely," "alone," "devastated," "shocked," "bereaved," and "hopeless." Most of them began therapy afterward and said it took a year or two for them to get over the pain; some said it took up to three years, and most felt they still hadn't fully recovered. "You don't ever really get over something like this," several people explained. A few became clinically depressed and even felt suicidal. One man admitted, "Before the divorce, I had never felt that sense of being overwhelmed by guilt and anxiety and depression. Anxiety to the point where your mind shuts down and you can't do anything. That happened frequently during the first few months."

Perhaps the best reason to discourage a "divorce culture" is that, quite simply, divorce hurts. And it's a form of pain many see as entirely avoidable." It was searing for both of us," George recalls. "I was absolutely devastated. It was agonizing-by far the most painful thing I have ever gone through."

The pain of divorce exists on three, interwoven levels. There's the pain to the self-the fact that one is now alone, unloved, vulnerable, depressed. The pain of the other-losing someone who, even if unwanted now was once the pivotal center of one's life. "When you marry someone and take seriously their well-being, their hopes, their past, their ideas about the present, and your mutual future, you permanently draw an emotional line between yourself and another human being/' Melissa says. "And when you lose that, it's absolutely devastating-more devastating than I can describe." And there's a third pain, the social pain-one has sinned, failed, screwed up. "I felt dirty and tainted after the divorce," James remarks. 'Even today I don't like to hear myself say that I'm divorced."

If marriage is for winners, divorce is surely for losers. For people who are meant to be in the prime of their lives-when everything's supposed to come together-divorce shows a life that is falling apart. As Michael describes it, 'Divorce seemed like a black hole to me. I did not want to be a divorce. I had no idea what to do with my life or what would happen to me if I got divorced. It just wasn't an option. It seemed like I had been on a railroad track all my life, proceeding, proceeding, and then all of the sudden I derailed."



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