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?
(page 2 of 3)
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.