I do (sort of)

The new phenomenon called starter marriages…


It’s hip. It’s cool. And it’s becoming so prevalent that it’s a coined phrase, almost as recognizable as “dot.com” businesses that were built on – and have vanished into – thin air.

Starter Marriage: noun. A first marriage that lasts less than five years and has a clean divorce, (i.e. no kids or real estate) Similar Words: See starter home. AKA: “training marriage,” “practice marriage,” or “icebreaker marriage.”


“I view marriage as a rehearsal,” Vanessa Mobley told Good Morning America. “Now I am ready to play the part better because I can expect more of people and they can expect more of me … We, as generation X-ers, live in a culture of new beginnings where we can fix anything.”


Another young divorcee was quoted as saying, “My marriage was an unfortunate mistake, and it wasn’t worth saving because we were not meant to be.”


What is worse? The rationale or how matter-of-factly it is started? Pamela Paul, in her book The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony writes, “Those coming out of starter marriages really learn about themselves, how they function in a relationship, about what marriage really means. Since there are no kids they divorce, making a purposeful decision if the marriage is getting worse, without creating problematic stepfamilies when they marry again.



So now a marriage is likened to leasing a car. Hey you get to turn it in before anything goes really wrong with it. Does this author’s conclusion startle you? She is not alone. E. Mavis Hetherington writes in Divorce Reconsidered that divorce isn’t the monster we’ve made it out to be (although she does concede that nearly one quarter of all children who are involved in a divorce end up with long-term emotional problems). The fact that starter marriages don’t involve children is toted as one of its greatest benefits. Completely over-looked is what this new phenomenon contributes to our moral decline as a nation.


Pamela Paul mentions one demographic expert in her book who predicts that in the next century the average person will be marrying four times within their lifetime. The philosophy that one marriage can better prepare someone for a subsequent marriage creates the faulty reasoning that the more times you are married, the more successful you will be at it.


This new trend has spurred such headlines as “Young, Hot, and Divorced” in Jane magazine. It is echoed in Entertainment Weekly’s survey response that “divorcing in your 20’s is the thing to do.” As always, we look to Hollywood to partly thank for this development. Many celebs are getting married and divorced within a year. Some less than six months. Some as little as two months.



Perhaps the “icing on the cake,” so to speak, was a well-known actress posing on the cover of InStyle Weddings magazine. Unfortunately, she had already gotten a divorce by the time the magazine went to print.


This embodies the heart and soul of the matrimania syndrome: More thought is given to the style of the wedding dress than to the longevity of the marriage. Wedding planners are a must while the marriage planning is ignored.  The glossiness of a wedding magazine carries more weight than God’s own words about marriage.






Pamela Paul writes that singles are “…unsure of themselves, struggling with independence from parents and launching from the family, may marry for security. Or they may see marriage as a complement to their idealized careers and personal status. Marriage is just another experience. If it doesn’t work out, no big deal because many are themselves children of divorce, and have no direct experience with parents who have staying power in their marriages. So they idealize the wedding day and fail to really get to know the person whom they will live after the romantic ceremony and honeymoon. Like their parents, they believe ‘God just wants me to be happy.’”


Whether it’s the glamour of wedding magazines, the idealistic romanticism on the big screen, or simply being insecure that lures young people into marriage, one thing is for sure: The belief that a marriage can be vibrant and bound by unconditional love is becoming more myth than reality for a lot of people.


One solution offered by Amt Hertz in To Love, Honor, and Last Longer than a Year is to shoot for a mediocre marriage. She writes, “The idea of a good enough marriage relieves couples of the pressure to have a perfect union...”. Yes, we do need to have realistic expectations, yet the goal for two people entering into matrimony should never be to simply have a “good-enough” marriage.


Paul is not only the author of The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony but also an editor at American Demographics. From her research, she has discovered the following statistics:


  • Of all early divorces, about one-quarter end within two years.
  • In 1998 there were more than 3 million divorced 18-29 year-olds.
  • About $38 billion is spent annually on weddings.


From her book, Pamela Paul mentioned the “upside” to starter marriages. According to the book, divorcees acquire the tools and experience needed to make their second (or perhaps, subsequent marriages) a more rewarding experience. In fact, Paul writes, “The biggest lesson people can learn from their own divorces was how to get married again and how to get married for a lifetime.”


Some time ago, we headed for the mountains to interview people from all walks of life. We asked them all sorts of questions and got all sorts of answers. One of the most poignant memories from that experience was what one young man had to say regarding marriage.


“It’s no longer 20 licks to get to the center of a tootsie pop… we just go and buy the tootsie roll. We have microwave dinners and now are beginning to have microwave marriages … and that’s where we’re headed.”


Deborah Schupack writes in her writes in her book, Starter Marriages: So Early, So Brief, (The New York Times, July 7, 1994), that marriage and family experts are beginning to look at these brief young unions as a barometer for society’s attitudes about marriage and divorce. The conclusion, she writes: Starter marriages signal the need for more pre-marital counseling.


While we can’t say this is a revelation for us, and probably you for that matter, we can be encouraged by the fact some are starting to see the light.




Please click here to give us feedback about this article.

Want to know more?