Test Drive

You'd never buy a car without test-driving it first, right? So why settle into a lifelong marriage before trying one on for size?

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Unhappy Couple
Despite how it sounds, Andi is not a first-class bitch. She's the type who will hunt down the most perfectly thoughtful baby gift or whisk you off to a much-needed mani-pedi after your boss goes nuclear on you. But when it comes to relationships, her attitude is pure pragmatism: Clearly she'd screwed up — best to press delete. And I bet there isn't a married woman out there, if she's really honest, who hasn't flirted with the thought of doing the same. I know there have been days in my own five-year marriage when I've dreamed of reclaiming my freedom. Not many, but a few. But then I wake up, not just because I love the guy — and I'm damned lucky to have him — but because I'm married. That is supposed to mean something.


Andi was my introduction to the concept of an icebreaker marriage, but certainly not my last. Burning through a starter husband is almost becoming a rite of passage: While newly marrieds everywhere fear the one-in-two-marriages-fail statistic, the more relevant stat is that while the median age at which a woman first marries is 25, the median age at which she first divorces is 29. In fact, 20 percent of marriages fail within five years, and of those, one in four end within two years. So much for until death do us part.


I don't have to look far in my own life to find human faces that bear out the numbers: One of my best friends from college barely scratched out a two-year union following her six-figure Hawaiian wedding; my brother managed to eke out almost 29 months before he and his betrothed packed it up for Splitsville. Their divorces were good things, believe me. Still, I was miffed that they got married in the first place. These relationships were never the stuff of happily ever after.


Of course, our generation can afford to chuck the Cinderella story when the glass slipper doesn't fit. While our grandmothers were forced to remain shackled to unhappy unions for monetary reasons, most women today have the financial wherewithal to cry uncle and bolt whenever we get uncomfortable.


For some, a starter husband is like a starter home — a semicommitment where you're willing to do some of the surface work, like painting the walls, but not the heavy lifting, like gutting the whole foundation; he's just not a long-term investment. Others compare a starter husband to a first job, where you learn some skills and polish your résumé before going after the position you really want.


In our everyday life — one where we're encouraged to pursue the bigger, better anything (witness the average college grad who now burns through seven jobs before turning 30 — how can you commit to something, or someone, forever? "That's a huge promise. We live in an incredibly fast-paced consumerist culture," says Pamela Paul, author of the book The Starter Marriage, who herself was divorced less than a year after taking her vows at age 27. "Ours is an H&M culture, where you go out and buy 10 cheap items for the season, then toss them, rather than investing in one beautiful coat you'll wear for another 10 seasons. More and more women have that throwaway mentality with their first marriage — the 'I want it now' attitude." Until, of course, you don't.


And that's just our prerogative, says Generation Me, fingers poised above the do-over button. We can pick and choose among limitless possibilities seemingly unattached to consequence because today's 20-somethings are living out an extended adolescence in a manner unlike any generation before them. We're still knocking around and figuring it out, often on our parents' dime.

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Comments on "The starter husband"

Laura September 22, 2011 | 12:35 PM

This article is fake--first Andi is on her 2d raspberry martini on page 2. And then the last paragraph she's lifting her 2 month old baby to breast feed her? If this is true that's more controversial than her marriages--she's sitting in a cafe drinking martinis and eating fish tacos with a newborn she's also breastfeeding? Or am I missing something?

Lily August 18, 2011 | 6:11 PM

I am at a crossroads in my marriage. Our 1st year anniversary is in two weeks. We weren't an on-and-off dating couple, we were solid, but we did rush into things (1.5 years, and then marriage). There aren't many big problems in our relationship, but i still find myself seriously considering getting out now before i get any more entrenched. Firstly, i think i may be in love with someone else... a friend i met right after i got married, and have grown to know and love. I'm not sure anymore whether my husband is the right man for me. I'm young, 22, and he's 23, so i still have time. I can tell he isn't happy, but mostly because of his job and his goals that seem so unattainable to him right now. I'm not sure if my marriage is the kind I should leave behind, or the kind that you're thankful you didn't throw away later. To be honest, one of the biggest thing holding me back from pulling the trigger is the mess and humiliation. What if i regret it? What if later i decide it was a mistake- that i threw away something wonderful? How would the guy i think i love react? Would i be leaving for the wrong reasons? Would i be able to handle the fall out? (everyone i know giving me that look, my mom saying i told you so...)

re3e May 27, 2010 | 8:13 AM

wow , that sounds like the husband was nothing more then the matching shoes for an evening on town

Colette March 12, 2009 | 11:39 AM

I am disgusted by this article portraying naive, self-absorbed women as pioneers. If someone doesn't have a clue about what marriage is, the solution is not to "test drive" a marriage. The solution is: You aren't ready to get married. How about talking with happily married couples, consulting a therapist or a priest? Or maybe wait until you know your husband better before you wed, it might help you realize you have nothing in common. The idea of keeping divorce in your back pocket just in case the marriage isn't as pretty as your wedding dress is revolting and it gives marriage a bad name. My own husband was reluctant to marry because of all the poor marriage statistics. Had he realized how many of these people never took it seriously to begin with he might have had a different perspective. The line that really irked me was, "I think marriage is the new dating and having kids is the new marriage," I pray for those poor kids who have to grow up with a mom who has skewed priorities.

April August 20, 2008 | 10:31 AM

What a horrifying article. It is too bad how the world has turned up. If only every body would take the Bibles counsel and wait until after the bloom of youth to date. Wait until they are ready for marriage to date and then have a chaperone with them so that they don't do anything stupid. And then if they find someone and they are ready for marriage then also use the bible for guidelines in what to look for in a mate. If you are not sure then don't do it until you are. It helps to have friends let you know of things you wouldn't otherwise see. And once you are married it isn't like a haircut that you are stuck with it is a living contract and if you are unhappy talk about it with your mate. Work things out. If you are bored suggest you do something different. You are married, you are suppose to grow together. There is a lot of variety that can happen within a marriage. Unless your mate commits adultery or is trying to kill you then there should be no reason to divorce. It would help a whole lot if parents help their children along and educate them about what the world is like and help them make good decisions before they get to be considered an adult by their age.

Sandra A Mahyles August 20, 2008 | 10:24 AM

My husband and I have been married For 36 years. I left home at 15 because of my rotten home life. I married at 24. I do not believe in "throw away marriages". I also do not think you should stay in an abusive situation. We did not spend much on our wedding. I sewed my own gown, hubby rented a tux, my mom made my cake. We were married in my home town church, and the church ladies put on the meal for the 85 guests at a reasonable cost. All this was planned in 1 visit home. But that is not what made the marriage work. What made it work was the way we looked at it . This was not so much the "Wedding Day" It was instead the Day We Get Married.I do not remember what we ate, but I do remember going down the aisle with all the confidence in the world and seeing my hubby at the front smiling and waiting for me. When we planned on getting married,we planned on making it work. We never though "I can get out of this if I don't like it" No two people just mesh and live happily ever after in real life . There were differences. He was city, I was country. He was Catholic, I was Protestant. He had a grade 8 education, I was a nurse. He still Lived at home, I'd been on my own for 9 years. We did not dwell on these differences, instead we embrased the things we shared like our basic set of values. Rather than being bored with each other, we brought each other out and broadened our own interests. We never went running home with our problems instead we worked them out our selves. We never talked each other down to friends or family, If you love each other you should want your friends and family to love your spouse as well. Yes is important, but it is not the "star crossed lover " It is the "tender caring deep love " that says you are my life. But most important of all is that you are true friends,the kind of friends that can share their inner most secrets. That is the prize of a good marriage. We had disagreements, but we trusted each other enough to share our true feeling,and know that the other persn would not just walk over them to have their own way. If something is really important to one of you the other person gives in .If it is important to both of you ,you compromise. When you are mad do not make a list of his faults instead make a list of his good points and let him know, before you know it not only will he become even better but so will you. Remember no one can make you happy but you. A marriage requires both of you giving 150% If after living together for 30 some years going through sickness and health, better and worse, money problems,sick kids, difficult teens, unstable job markets etc you can be comfortable friends your marriage has worked.

Amanda August 20, 2008 | 9:12 AM

"We can pick and choose among limitless possibilities seemingly unattached to consequence because today's 20-somethings are living out an extended adolescence in a manner unlike any generation before them." That is just such a sad sentence and so very true. We live in a society that is geared towards keeping us in an adolescent state of mind until our mid 20's or even 30's. So many people now a days think that you shouldn't even think of getting married until you are at least 25 and forgot kids until you're in your 30's (despite the fact that women's bodies are designed to bear children before 30). I think it is sad that marriage is considered simply the "next step" in the relationship, and that it is so rare now a days to see young people who take it seriously. Me? I'm 23, will celebrate my 3 year anniversary this September, have a 17 month old son and another baby on the way. And I'm happy.

Corey August 13, 2008 | 8:53 PM

I agree with so many points in the article, myself I'm 26 and divorced. I married way to young(barely 21) and the union was in trouble in six months and by the 10 month mark it was over.(he liked to cheat and when i found out about it the you know what hit the fan). I think many of my generation has a mixed view of what a marriage really is and is not. Many of my friends came from divorced homes I was the only kid in my group who's dad was still married to my mom. I try to take a look at their union(they have been married now for almost 30 years) and they are more like friends and cohabitants then star crossed lovers, all-though I think the spark is still there. When my marriage failed I took some time to re-assess what it was that I wanted from myself and what I wanted in my mate. When I was ready i started casualy dating a male friend who had been thru a messy divorce of his own. We learned from our first marriage some key things on how to make it work. 1. don't rush into it, don't do anything if you are pressured by your folks(gee honey you are 25 find yourself a man before you are an old-maid). I decided to live with my boyfriend for a year before I would even let him put that engagement ring on my finger. 2. don't get wrapped up in the wedding-mill, you know the wedding everyone will be talking about...bla..bla...bla. All that is important is that you make that comittment to eachother and you mean those vows when you say them. But girls, do allow for a nice ceremony and reception that you can look back at the pictures/DVD and be yea...we looked great. 3. Money matters is a big thing, it's been proven that poverty can runin a union and excessive spending is not good either. Be honest with your mate about spending and their bills it is no fun if you married a slouch who does diddily in the wage earning department. And on the same wave length, wives that are spend-thrifts are marriage killers you have to respect the fact that your husband worked hard for that paycheck as did you for yours and that $500 Coach clutch might not be such a good idea if you guys are on a budget and renting for a pretty penny. 4. The parental factor also is an issue, you don't want to alienate your in-laws but, you don't want your mother down-grading your spouse and saying you married the wrong person, belive me your family can to harmful things to a young marriage. Take time to be with just the two of you for the holidays and stick up for eachother if the in-laws get nasty. 5. Be friends and lovers, keep the lines of communication open sometimes stuff needs to come out and be said, but never resort to violence or emotionnal games that's just bad. Sometimes you have to lay it out on the table and work on your marriage we are human and we as a result have flaws. And lastly, if you do aruge always kiss and make up and remember to keep your life healthy it really does help to keep the marriage alive.

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