When I got married right out of college, all my friends thought I was crazy; when I got divorced a few years later, a lot of them said, “I told you so.” But even if I could go back in time, I’d still choose my early marriage and divorce over never having met my ex.
I learned how to be a grown-up. You have to figure out how to be an adult pretty fast when you get married. I was forced to be just as focused on my spouse and our marriage as I was on myself, and that meant that I became much more responsible than a lot of people my age. I had to work out my goals and identity pretty quickly and because of that, my journey into adulthood was much faster than the process my friends went through.
We didn’t have kids so the divorce was much smoother. Kids can make a divorce hell. I know because I’ve witnessed a few of my friends go through it recently. When you don’t have kids, your divorce can be a clean break—no child support, no custody battles, no using your kids as leverage. It’s a lot less destructive and the potential for inflicting unnecessary pain is much lower.
It taught me so much about how different marriage is from dating. I occasionally refer to my first marriage as my “practice marriage.” Maybe some people can get it right in one, but I really needed to experience what marriage was like in order to understand what it actually was. There’s nothing about dating that can prepare you for the realities of marriage, and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to learn from experience early on.
I had plenty of time to start over. My husband and I knew when it was time for us to break up, and I will forever be grateful for that mutual clarity. If we’d married later and had more settled and integrated lives, it probably would have been much more difficult to leave the relationship. Getting divorced while we were still in our twenties allowed us both to move on unscathed and with very little baggage.
It got me to a new place in life that I wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise. When you grow up fast, as I did once I got married, your whole life changes. I would never have had the confidence or the drive to achieve the professional success I have if I hadn’t gotten married early. I would’ve taken my time and felt like I was just doing my twenties and that the practical stuff could come later.
I learned what to look for next time. I always thought I’d learned what I needed from a partner by dating lots of people, but there are a lot of qualities you might want in a boyfriend that might not be the best qualities in a husband, like fierce independence and 24/7 excitement. I now know what I want in a spouse and feel much better equipped to find the perfect match when I’m ready.
It helped me avoid making common mistakes in my twenties. No matter how mature or in a hurry you are, you need to spend a large portion of your youth figuring out who you actually want to be. My marriage gave me a strong foundation and safety net for me to learn who I was through trial and error and not have the distractions of a busy dating life to prevent me from figuring myself out.
It provided me with the stability I needed to advance in other aspects of my life. A lot of my friends spent their twenties partying and trying to get ahead in their careers without really knowing what they wanted. I spent my twenties making decisions and chasing after concrete goals and as a result, I’m a lot further ahead in my career and social life than many of the friends I had when I left college.
It taught me that it’s OK to grow out of relationships. I used to think marriage was unbreakable, that you choose your spouse and make it work through thick and thin. I know now that sometimes, even when you and your spouse grow, you aren’t necessarily growing together and that’s OK. Just because a relationship doesn’t last forever doesn’t mean it was a mistake.
It helped me realize that it’s never too late to change your life. When my husband and I decided to divorce, I was terrified of what would happen next. I’d grown so used to being married that I didn’t know how to function without being someone’s spouse. But over time, I learned that I wasn’t just fine on my own, I was better on my own, and that scary life changes are often the greatest blessings. Now I feel confident making necessary changes in my life, no matter how terrifying they seem at first.
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