Health

What It's Like to Get Divorced as a Millennial

November 29th 2015

By:
Aron Macarow

I was the first person in my college friend circle to get married. I was also—perhaps consequently?—the first person in that same cohort to get divorced. At the ripe old age of 26, I began checking the "separated" box on official forms. And by 27, I was no longer married, all before the engagement photos of my peers could start rolling into Facebook.

Never one to be called a late bloomer, I became engaged the same year that I finished undergrad, accepting a "reverse" marriage proposal from my later-to-be ex-wife and college sweetheart over Christmas in Las Vegas.

A non-traditional, queer-identified couple, we ironically followed along in the footsteps of the 1950s, when the median marriage age was still 23. We may not have had the traditional, big wedding—in fact, due to the expense and other obstacles, we simply filed paperwork and planned to have a celebration later when finances allowed—but we certainly weren't in line with our generation either.

As countless articles bemoan, Millennials have so far "divorced marriage." Only 26 percent of Millennials have tied the knot, compared to 36 percent of Gen Xers at our same age and nearly half of Baby Boomers when they were in their twenties. Among those between 18 and 24, the numbers are even lower. Getting hitched at age 23 put us in a cohort with less than 10 percent of our peers, according to demographics from 2010. By comparison, we would have been joined by almost half of our age group if we were living in the 1960s.

Millennials are waiting longer to go down the aisle, leading to the lowest marriage rate in six decades. And Millennial views on the end of marriage are more likely to differ significantly from previous generations, too.

Millennial views on marriage and divorce

A 2014 study commissioned by USA Networks shows that almost half of my peers believe that marriages should have a beta test—a two-year period after which the union can be formalized or dissolved without all the hoop jumping of divorce. I can partially support this, given that I still haven't finalized changes to my car ownership papers, even though the divorce happened five years ago; the paperwork for it all was just too burdensome. Similarly, 1-in-3 Millennials like the idea of marriage licenses that are granted like mortgages, with 5, 7, 10 and 30 year terms after which the contract must be renegotiated to be extended.

Carrie from Sex and the City says, "This isn't romance. This is bullshit."

Most interesting, however, is the finding that more than half of those surveyed think that a marriage can be defined as a success even if it doesn't last forever. This brings us back to my divorce. I wonder: Where were these people when my ex-wife and I were separating? And why don't I share such a well-adjusted attitude about my own marital flop?

It's unsurprising that as a Millennial, my divorce played out on social media. From the first breath of our relationship to its last dying gasp, the entire story is woven into Facebook. Together for just shy of seven years, she was the only one I'd ever been listed as "in a relationship with" on the platform. And when my ex-wife without warning removed the marriage from her profile during our separation, it was the first notice that hundreds of our mutual friends had that we were approaching divorce. As she renovated her online presence, the online extension of myself was also reinvented—quite forcibly, in real time, and in full public view. I felt like a complete failure, and the last thing I wanted was for everyone to know about it.

Unfortunately, as the trailblazer of my collegiate circle, no one quite knew what to do with my divorce either. While almost 1-in-5 Boomers are experiencing this special kind of public heartbreak at any given time, it's rare for Millennials to be divorced since so few of our generation have married. (Early statistics also suggest our generation is more divorce-proof than others, but it's too soon to tell.)

I felt like a precautionary tale about the perils of marrying too young. Although I got sympathy from many friends, there could be no empathy and little sage advice. I turned to the Internet, with its forums for middle-aged women with husbands going through mid-life crises. (Not applicable, unless a quarter-life crisis suddenly becomes a looming reason for divorce.) Eventually, my biggest confidants were what we've come to call "adultier adults": my parent, my former professors, and older friends who were all "adulting" more successfully than me and might be able to provide a roadmap.

With every additional year of age at the time of marriage, your odds of getting divorced drop by 11 percent, according to sociologist Nicholas Wolfinger. But don't wait too long, he cautions. There may be a marriage sweet spot, as Wolfinger's research also shows that when you reach 32-years-old, your odds of divorce start increasingly yearly.

Looking back, I wouldn't correlate the end of my marriage with my lack of similarly hitched friends, but rather with the strains that come along with many people's twenties. Most Millennials have ridden out the recession and the transition from college to full adulthood solo; they cite a lack of financial stability and the need to establish themselves as top reasons for delaying marriage. Having gone through the rare Millennial divorce, their reasoning appears sound. Financial strain, major life transitions, and building a career (or the paranoia that you have no idea what you want to do with your life) are all heavy weights to balance alongside maintaining matrimony. It's also early in life to know what you need from a life partner.