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?

(page 3 of 3)

Divorce"Simply put, my 20s were freaking me out," says 29-year-old Elisa Albert, a wavy-haired brunette and adjunct assistant professor of creative writing at Columbia University. "I felt unqualified to be barreling into adulthood alone — I felt at loose ends in regards to my career, my ability to support myself, even my postcollege social identity. I was lonely and scared. At the same time, I'm watching Sex and the City and going, 'Okay, so should I spend the next 20 years getting my heart broken and pretending that it's all in good fun? Or should I marry this dude I'm dating, have a gorgeous party, and make my parents really, really happy?"


She chose wrong.


It all started over a steaming cup of coffee in a New York City diner. Elisa's mother suggested she give a family friend a call in the wake of his sibling's death. (Elisa's own brother had died a few years back.) "We talked about our brothers, which was intense, and then somehow we went from there to falling in love and having this 100-mile-an-hour courtship," Elisa says. "We were talking about naming our unborn children after our dead brothers. It was totally crazy."


From an outsider's perspective, you could see trouble ahead: They crashed between breakup and make up like a game of pinball. But during one warm-and-fuzzy reconciliation, they decided to get hitched. Suddenly, the relationship snowballed into something bigger: getting married.


"I totally bought into the wedding-industry machine," admits Elisa, who spent more time obsessively planning every detail of her nuptials for 300 at a Malibu estate than she did working on her master's thesis. From the five-star vegan menu to the Japanese lanterns to the playlist, Elisa's focus was all wedding, no marriage. "I had a totally misguided notion of what a wedding was about," she says. "You work toward this giant event, have an enormous party, then an hour after you get married, reality sets in. I was like, Oh, shit — that didn't really solve anything." You can almost forgive a girl for focusing on the party and forgetting about the hangover. After all, it seems that we don't have a clue what the heck marriage is anymore. Like a fat promotion to the corner office, we aspire to it — the sparkler on my finger means I'm a success, receiving the final rose means I win — but what is the prize again? For that cluelessness, apparently, we can thank our single moms and alimony dads. "We are the children of parents who divorced in the '70s and '80s," says Paul. "Divorce is out there as a familiar possibility."


My own parents' bitter divorce — many, many years in the making — played out right around the time of my engagement. I knew all too well what the seamy underbelly of marriage looked like, and it had made me incredibly cautious about commitment — it took me seven years of dating my husband before I could consider the concept of "forever."


Still, it's a legacy that cuts deep. "We were both like, We're going to do this right! Divorce is for losers," Elisa says of her and her ex's attitude toward their own parents' divorces. But she knew in the back of her mind that there was a plan B, that marriage was not necessarily a binding contract. And when she realized that she didn't even have a clue what a good marriage looked like, let alone what one felt like, she didn't hesitate to produce her Get Out of Jail Free card. "It was a constantly pitched, keyed-up hell," she says. Their downstairs neighbors left a note on their door: "I don't know what the hell is wrong with you people, but you need to stop screaming at each other."


Pulling the trigger was easy; dealing with the fallout was not. "Every time I ran into somebody I knew, I wanted to die," Elisa says. She briefly moved back to her childhood home in L.A. to regroup. "Even if they were nice, I just felt this pity from them, like, 'Oh, my God, you messed up big. Wow, that sucks.'" Looking for guidance, she joined a divorce support group out in the Valley. It was an eye-opener. "It was full of women in their 50s with kids and mortgages," Elisa remembers. "They knew their marriages were doomed straight out of the gate but stayed shackled to them for 20 years."


Confronted with that alternative, Elisa's confidence in her decision was restored. Today, three years later, she considers her first husband the perfect warm-up for the real deal. "I could not be more grateful for that experience," she says. "I'm in a really good relationship right now, knock on wood, and I would never have been capable of that without my first marriage — learning how relationships work."


It's easy to write these women off as callous or self-absorbed. And yet on some level, they just might be pioneers: Why stay put in an empty shell of a marriage — an arrangement on paper only - instead of calling it what it is? "This generation is reinventing marriage," says Paul.


"I think women our age are like, We're either going to fix this, or we're going to end it, and that's for the better," says Kay Moffett, coauthor of Not Your Mother's Divorce. She married her own starter husband in a funky, flamingo-filled Florida wedding at 27, then divorced him four years later after realizing she could never make the real commitment of having children with him. But don't call her divorce a failure; in this enlightened world, it was simply a relationship that ran its course. "I think maybe we're moving more toward a serial-marriage society — maybe you have three marriages in your life and several different careers. That's where I'm heading," she says.


Still, even unapologetic Andi admits that the process is not always easy. "On the one hand, I felt empowered, like, Woo-hoo, I have the rest of my life in front of me. But there were moments of, Oh, my God, I'm a divorcée — does that mean I'm all washed up?" she says. It's why, she suggests, she turned to drinking heavily for several months after her breakup, trying to reconcile those thoughts — and perhaps, I suspect, dull some of the pain she's so sure she never felt.


Then she met David. He was supposed to be her rebound relationship. Three years later, she realized that she wanted to have kids with him — and that was the clincher.


Andi lifts her 2-month-old daughter up to her breast in the middle of the café. I ask if her second husband is The One, since they have kids and all. "I'm happy, but I try not to think about it," she says. "It's like, if I thought I had to have my hair the same way for the rest of my life, I'd freak out."




Reprinted with Permission of Hearst Communications, Inc. Originally Published: The Starter Husband

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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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