I am a social commentator. It’s what I see. It’s what I write about. It’s what I’m passionate about. Where others may see random events all around them, I see stories. Endless stories. The burden of seeing society’s stories play themselves out around me made me a very melancholy teenager and an adult who loves a good social debate.

Be that as it may, there is always a new shift in society that makes it a difficult animal to ever fully understand. Of all the topics I imagined myself writing about, young divorce was certainly not one. Alas, here I am.

I’m not a romantic. I can’t say for certain that I never was. I can’t be sure. All I can say with certainty is that I am not one now.

I believe in love.

I don’t believe that unicorns fart rainbows or that love conquers everything. Sometimes love is conquered by unfaithfulness, abuse, indifference, lack of effort etc. These are just the heavyweights.

I believe in marriage and in the fact that it takes a combined effort to make it work. In the spirit of making it work, I decided to research it and I found out a few things:

  1. Getting divorced happens. Not only that, a significant number of people who get married in their early 20s are divorced before 30. Take a look at these blogs:
  2. A lot of the reasons why people get divorced, young and old, are reasons we can all pick up a few life lessons from.

To say divorce is a social norm is truly an understatement. Divorce is not news anymore unless you are Kim Kadarshian. What is of particular interest to me is how common it is now to be young and divorced. A remarkable number of people are divorced by thirty. This phenomenon has been dubbed “starter marriages” or “young divorce.” If you doubt how common it has become, I invite you to google the term “young divorce.” In just 0.39 seconds Google will present you with 120 000 000 results.

Still not convinced?

Try googling “starter marriage” instead. Google will present you with this neatly wrapped definition right above the 1.4 million relevant results; “a short-lived first marriage between young adults, viewed as a form of preparation for a subsequent, more lasting one with different partners.”

It’s a thing.

From the numerous blogs, articles and commentary on the subject, it is evident that some form of social stigma is associated with being a younger divorcee far more than it is to being an older one. In response to perceived social judgment for being divorced before 30, one such young divorcee states “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?”

I take her point.

As I read through article upon article on the subject, I couldn’t help but start to pick up a few of the shared reasons why young divorce has become so common.

According to Jessica*, “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.”[1]

Jessica’s reason is by far the most common reason for young divorce. Many young divorcees, male and female alike, married because it was the next logical step. It wasn’t because they particularly wanted to or that they wanted to be with that particular person forever. It was just time to tick that particular box.  And can we really blame them? The social pressure to wed whether you are ready or not is intense. I have heard 24 year olds bemoan the fact that they are still unmarried. 24 is a very young age to worry that marriage is late.

I remember confiding in a colleague who was also a very good friend that I was planning to break up with my then boyfriend. Our problems seemed small but I knew I was not with the right person for me. I was 25 or so. “Don’t be foolish Chuwe!” She said with concern. “Do you really want to start the process of looking for a husband from scratch. Some of us are out here looking for men and you want to give up the one you have? Just get over yourself.” That sums it up doesn’t it?

Having emerged from the other side of attempting to “get over herself,” Jeanne, married for 11 months, makes a strong point when she says “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?” I invite those who say divorces didn’t try hard enough to answer this question. Are the people who suffer through unhappy marriages for longer or forever wiser than those who exit when they realise they are in the wrong place?

This makes me wonder whether it is society’s idea that once you walk into this marriage you are dreadfully unhappy in, you must suffer it forever or at the very least, suffer it through the best years of your life? God forbid you realise you made a mistake and exit stage left?

I don’t know the answer to doing marriage the right way. After all, people who get married older also get divorced at a rate that is just 10% lower than their younger compratriots. It is my quest for answers to how this marriage thing works that led me here. It’s food for thought and certainly long term fodder for my mind.

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