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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Age & The Likelihood Of Divorce

"The younger you are when you get married, the more likely you are to divorce later...You are, for example, two to three times more likely to get divorced if you marry in your teens or early twenties than if you wait until your thirties of forties...Age twenty-five seems to be the magic cutoff point."

All of you married 24-year-olds may be shaking your fists at me, but don't shoot the messenger. The quote is from Elizabeth Gilbert's book Committed, and she's really just a messenger, too -- of researchers at Rutgers University who recently did a study on factors of "divorce proneness"*. 

In my opinion, age is just a number used to indicate how long it's been since you left your studio apartment in Womb Town. It doesn't necessarily say anything about your wisdom, which is much more dependent on your life experiences, as well as your levels of self-awareness, courage, and self-discipline. (This bride is living proof of what I mean.)

But I gotta say...the correlation between your age and the likelihood that your marriage will end in  divorce actually makes some sense to me. Not so much because of the number, but because of how much wisdom, and other positive qualities that tend to increase with age, factor into how successful you are in your relationships in general, as well as *what kind of people* you choose to be in relationship with in the first place. (Note: I'm taking common deal-breaking situations off the table here, like serious addictions and abuse, which can't be healed with increased age or your wisdom alone. So I'm not even going there.)

Back when I was twenty-four, I was ready to marry my boyfriend who happened to be 8 years my senior and also divorced. He was someone I loved deeply and profoundly, so much so that knowing him and losing him has changed me from the inside out, in good ways and in bad.

And when I think back at the wife I would have been at that age -- emotionally, financially, and physically generous (without discrimination nor wisdom), naive, doting, unfamiliar with certain secret parts of myself, blissfully over-accepting of my then-partner's faults, yet oblivious to the intricacies of his pain as a divorced man whose wife had left him -- I am relieved that six years had elapsed before eventually choosing Brian as my partner and committing to our collective well-being.

I was a girl at twenty-four. I'm a woman (and an active work-in-progress) here at thirty.

I could be wrong, but there seems to be something that "clicks" in the brain at certain times in your life (ages 25, 30, 40, etc., although these numbers vary depending on your life experiences), at which point a fast-forward button is pressed and you're infinitely more realistic about who you are, who others are, and how to engage with them without losing your mind or your integrity.

As for that twenty-five year cutoff as mentioned in Gilbert's quote, it makes sense: You are far enough from college, or trade school, or the first day of your first grown-up job to know that nothing, NOTHING about the world is what you thought it was back when you were a teenager. There is much more pain that lives behind everyone's eyes, and thankfully, much more hope and resilience in your own inner being than you ever knew you could muster up.

So I guess you could say that I'm the Rutgers research poster child because all of this became evident to me at age twenty-five-- a phase of my life that I affectionately call my "quarter-life crisis". And my understanding of the sad and miraculous truths of the world has deepened with each passing year since then. (Can't wait until I'm sixty. Perhaps I'll be freakin' awesome by then.)

And now, as a newlywed at the age of 30, I can see and feel how much my capacity to be a good wife has grown. (Umm..just like my pants size. And the number of little wrinkles under my eyes.) I'm faaaar from perfect, of course, but I've also come a long way since twenty-four.  It's amazing how much a person can change in six years.

This post is not about why 25-year-olds are better than 24-year-olds. Like I said earlier, numbers are just numbers. But I invite you think back to who you were 5 years ago (or more, for those of you in your 30's or older). Would you have been a different wife or husband back then?

PS. For those under 30 - I hope I haven't offended you or undermined your awesomeness. (In fact, I'd bet that developmentally, I, at age 24, was equivalent to you at age 18. So who am I to judge?) But even if you're in your early to mid 20's, I extend the invitation to think about who you were 5 years ago, too, and what kind of girlfriend/ boyfriend you were back then. Because when you do, I bet you'll want to pat yourself on the back for coming such a long way.
*Aside from age, there are a few other factors of "divorce proneness" according to Rutgers researchers. They include education, children, cohabitation, heterogamy, social integration, religiousness, and gender fairness.


  1. " which point a fast-forward button is pressed and you're infinitely more realistic about who you are, who others are..." This!

    I can actually pinpoint my girl/woman transition. A series of unfortunate events when I was 23 (early bloomer?) really put my life and priorities into perspective.

    Interestingly, my relationship with the fella straddled this major life change. While I can't speak for him, I think that that time changed him as well. He was with me as I grew and changed; 'we grew up' together and are stronger for it.

  2. I think my fast-forward button was pushed more by specific events than ages.

    - I got married young (21) to someone with whom I was great friends but so-so romantically after two bad break-ups left me heart-broken. I didn't think far enough ahead to understand how long a lifetime was, or whether we would really support one another through it.
    - I went to graduate school when my dad left my mom.
    - My career focus changed when I ended up on bed rest as a result of edema and early labor because I worked too hard while pregnant with my first daughter
    - I gave up on my marriage when I saw that our constant and unresolved problems were negatively affecting our children
    - I'm ready to marry my fiance now because I know now what I was missing, and what I want for my future.

  3. None taken whatsoever. I just turned 29 (2 weeks after I got married, actually), and unlike some of my peers, I'm kind of stoked about 30.

    I was apprehensive going into 25. I had just broken up with my ex, moved into a new apartment, and was finishing up grad school. On top of that, I had just started a new job that looked like it might be a career (I was right), and was just getting my feet wet.

    And then, all of a sudden, I realized - those weren't reasons to dread 25, those were reasons to REJOICE in it. Fresh start on all counts, as I embark into "true" adulthood. (So to speak.) It was a major turning point for me, and it was a good one. The year I was 25 was, hands down, the best year of my life to date. I can't think of one thing I did that I would want to do differently; I only look back on it with happiness.

    Less than 5 months after my birthday, I met my husband. :)

  4. PS to Kim, are you going to the meetup? :) I was hoping to go to the NYC one but logistically it's too difficult; going to Amherst MA instead.

  5. @ Carolyn- Yup, isn't amazing how a "series of unfortunate events" can be the trigger for the girl to woman transition? Your 20's make up such an interesting chapter in the book of your life, no? Growth spurts galore.

    @ Sarah- Like you, it's the curve balls in life that have made me the woman/ wife I am today. I didn't know you were 21 when you got married for the first time. Girl, I was a BABY at that age! So inexperienced and yet I thought I knew the ways of the world, haha. I can't even imagine what kind of wife I would have been. (Or who I would've chosen as my husband. Eeek!) But I'm glad to hear that you've found your way to a great partner and friend.

    @ irisira - Were we twins separated at birth??? The crazy changes at age 25, the fresh start, meeting my husband soon after, the best year of my life (although it was more like awful tasting medicine that I didn't even know I needed), etc... Seriously, stop copying me. ;)

  6. @ irisira - Darn!!! Wish you could come to the NYC meetup. I'll be there but not sure which one. (There will be 2 meetings, each on a different weekend.) Where are you from again?

  7. Oh no - I think it deleted my comment via an internet breakdown on my end.

    Anyways I just said: Yes. I'm 22, not offended...I'll be writing a post-back to this, comment was just far too long for a comment anyway.

    Great post.

  8. I live in Albany. I'll be in New Orleans on 11/14, so that one was definitely out.

  9. Yep...same here, though my crazy life changes happened at 26.

    What many people don't know is that while my husband and I are officially only "four years old" as a couple, that we have in fact been friends since 1998. This very long-lived friendship is a brilliant marker by which to measure how much I've grown and changed, and how we absolutely lucked out by NOT getting together earlier, and only realizing we were right for each other after the age of (about) 26. It's also mindblowing to know that I met my now-husband when I was many people can say that these days? Maybe in my grandmother's generation but not now. And I didn't marry him until I was 29!

    I would have been a horrible wife at an earlier age - I thought I knew everything, I thought I was strong and experienced, mature and seasoned. Simply because I went to college and so many of my high school classmates did not, and I'd traveled a fair bit when so many people do not. Oh, how wrong (and elitist) I was. If I had married Brendan at 22 (when we graduated) we'd be divorced by now. I'm not joking. And it would have been a heartbreak that shadowed a lifetime.

    I was a jealous, difficult, expectant and immature girlfriend to guys I dated before the age of 25. I dated several guys but only had 3 interludes that could be counted as "relationships". In all of them, certainly, the men I dated were not blameless. All of them had, if not some serious flaws (NOT JUDGING - I had serious flaws too) then at least were terminally incompatible with me. Of course, I was too young to just see it for what it was and walk away hurting but with my dignity intact. Instead I stuck it out, hoping things would fix themselves and those men would suddenly become the man I wanted one day. Ha. Haha. Hahahahaha. Ha. No. (There was one exception - the only time I conducted myself with dignity before I learned better was the boyfriend I realized I'd never feel physical chemistry with. That one is still a good friend. Clearly, when we broke up, he was more mature about it than I was.

    At 26, my personality and life did a flippity-doo. While it wasn't overnight, I have to say that in the grand scheme of things, the time in which I grew was a flash. An instant. It was like I woke up one day and it was all so thoroughly clear - office work wasn't for me and I always got sick after traveling not because of the travel, but because of the coming back to a life I was building that I didn't actually like. I moved abroad, and it was amazing how quickly my perspective changed.

    Through that time, Brendan and I were friends, and he saw what I went through. While Brendan lacks the flaws that those guys had, it wouldn't have mattered, because I had had mine: it was as though, at 26, with a major move abroad, a breakup with someone I'd had firecracker chemistry with but who was terminally self-absorbed and a left-behind office job that would have led to a more conventional life...that all the jealousy, unrealistic expectations and ridiculously outsized optimism in the face of empirical evidence dropped away.

    I read an article once that said something about a study showing that one's brain reaches full adult maturity at 25. I'll try to find it to post here...I've certainly experienced it (OK, 26, whatevs) and it seems to me that many others have, as well.


    There's one. It focuses on driving and crashes but it's relevant.

    I do think that in earlier times, people took on adult lives and responsibilities earlier because they were conditioned, culturally, to do so. If it's second nature to take on an adult life at 18 or 20, or even earlier because everyone else in your cuture does, then it's easier even if your frontal cortex is not mature. I have anecdotal evidence to support this: of my friends, only one got married before 25. She is conservative and Jewish and in her community, it's just *done* to get married in your mid-20s (in previous generations, even earlier) so she had a whole cultural support network to show her how to conduct herself when transitioning from college grad to early twentysomething to married woman. The rest of us waited until, at least, 26 or 27 if not older. Often because we "hadn't found the right person" or in my case, I'd found the right person but wasn't mature enough to be with him yet. It's like the fates intervened and made it so we didn't get together until we were both ready.

    Those cultures also have a historical tendency towards arranged / not-for-love marriage, where you marry for family and cultural reasons, not because you are in love. You will notice that as this changes, that marriage age grows accordingly older. This is a likely reason why.

  11. Jenna, so you're telling me that my brain has already reached full maturity? Uh oh... ;) But seriously, 25 (also the average marrying age in the US) makes perfect sense given the brain development issue you brought up, as well as the fact that your early 20's, especially for those who attend college and graduate at age 21, usually feels like adulthood with training wheels.

    By the way, no I started typing this comment a TV show about a toilet-themed restaurant in Taipei came on. The food is served in toilet bowls, the drinks are served in little plastic urinals, and the chairs are toilet seats. Made me think of you. (Because of Taipei, not because of the toilets.)


Babbling about weddings is so much more fun when people babble back. :)

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