In Chapter 5 of Pamela Paul’s book The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony, Paul recites reasons given by several of the people she interviewed explaining why they felt their starter marriage fell apart. These reasons include:
– I wasn’t ready for marriage
– I thought marriage would change things
– I thought he would change
– We had different ideas about marriage
– Money was a major issue
– We couldn’t communicate
– She didn’t know how to compromise
– Our relationship was completely unequal
– I got depressed
These are common reasons for the breakdown of a marriage, no matter the length of the marriage. But I imagine that not being ready for marriage and having different ideas about marriage would be more prevalent in people in their twenties, then people who got married later in life.
Do any of these reasons explain the demise of your own starter marriage? What factors do you think led to the end of your starter marriage? I loved to hear your story.
After six months of a bit of a hiatus, I am now reading Chapter 2 of Pamela Paul’s book The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony. In Chapter 2, Paul provides an historical overview of marriage and divorce in the United States, going back as early as 1870.
According to Paul, in the 1970s, a fundamental shift in public opinion about divorce took place in the United States. New favourable divorce laws emerged and divorce became more publically accepted as a means of getting people out of unhappy marriages. Paul explains a truism emerged that “People should not stay married if they are not happy”.
Divorce rates surged during the 1970s. In 1979, there were 23 divorces per 1,000 married couples. According to Paul, of the couples married in 1970, 25% were already divorced by 1977. According to the Census Bureau, by 1975 half of all divorces took place within seven years of marriage.
Paul compares these statistics with those at the time of writing her book. She explains:
“Marriages are ending in divorce even earlier; the average marriage that ends in divorce lasts 6.3 years, and most marriages end within two to five years, with the chance of divorce highest during the third year.”
Later Paul elucidates: “One of the lessons the divorce epidemic taught was that marriage is disposable”.
This statement, in particular, resonates with me. I feel one of the reasons why the divorce rate is so high and there are so many starter marriages, is because in North America we live in an era where everything seems to be disposable and something bigger and/or better is always comes along.
Cell phones and tablets are a prime example. Apple and other manufactures like Samsung and Blackberry are constantly coming out with new and improved products. How many people do you know that have upgraded to the latest iPhone or iPad each time it is launched, despite the fact that the version of the cell phone/tablet they had was perfectly good and functional and may have been less than one year old.
Don’t like your job anymore? Just quit and find another. House too small or not modern enough? Sell it and upgrade.
In my view, the same philosophy of disposing of something you don’t like or want any more, has transcended into the realm of marriage. It’s even easier in some States in the United States, then in Canada, to get a divorce. In Canada, the primary ground for divorce is one years’ separation. In some States in the U.S. you can get a divorce after being separated for only a few months.
I certainly do not advocate staying in an unhappy, abusive or destructive marriage. But sometimes I wonder if couples don’t put in the effort that their grandparents and parents put in, to try and make their marriages work, because marriages have become so disposable.
Care to share your thoughts?
It was during a conversation with classmates while attending the second level of my collaborative family law training when I heard the term “the starter marriage” for the first time. Based on my recollection, my classmates and I were discussing the increasing number of twenty and thirtysomething year olds who were retaining us to commence divorce applications after being married for only a few years. Fellow Toronto based family law lawyer Alessandra Goulet described these marriages as “starter marriages”.
Intrigued, I decided to Google the term “starter marriage”. It turns out the term warrants its own Wikipedia page, that Pamela Paul, an American Journalist and Editor at American Demographics who got married at 27 years old and then divorced a year later in 1999, wrote a frequently cited book about starter marriages in the United States back in 2002 called The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony.
Eager to read what Paul had to say about starter marriages, I purchased The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony from Amazon, along with How to get Divorced by 30, by Sascha Rothchild, which I will discuss in future blogs.
I intend to blog about Paul’s book as I plow through it. So far, I have read the Introduction and Chapter 1.
Paul’s own experience compelled her to explore and understand the significance of starter marriages within a broader social and cultural context and to write a book about them.
In writing her book, Paul interviewed nearly sixty men and women from across the United States who had starter marriages. Those interviewed were between 24 and 36 years of age.
Paul honed in on what starter marriages have in common, and what distinguishes those who entered into and exited their marriages so quickly. Paul discloses those interviewed shared several general commonalities, including:
- The majority married for the first time between the ages of twenty-two and twenty-seven
- Most were college-educated and some had graduate or professional degrees
- They were predominately white, mostly-middle to upper class
Paul’s research led her to define a “starter marriage” as a marriage that fizzles “out within five years, always ending before children begin” (p. 4). She explains starter marriages usually start young and that the spouses are typically divorced by their 30th birthday.
According to Paul: “Divorce has long been common within the first five years of marriage, but today’s marriages are ending progressively earlier”.
I have personally never been married, so I cannot commensurate with the experiences of Paul or the 60 ex-spouses she interviewed. None of my close friends or family members got married and separated by the time they were 30. But I certainly have had a number of clients who fall under Paul’s definition of “starter marriage”. The shortest so far being approximately 9 months in length.