Quickie Marriages - What They Really Mean

Quickie Marriages: What They Really Mean

Celebs are known for their fleeting unions... but what if the person you're dating was once very briefly wed? Should you consider that a red flag, or forge ahead? Happen investigates.

by Pamela Paul

icky Hilton and Todd Meister. Carmen Electra and Dennis Rodman. Britney Spears and that guy she was married to for 55 hours. Sure, we all laugh at these blink-and-you'll-miss-'em marriages and chalk them up to celebrity flakiness. After all, who gets divorced that quickly? Actually, more "regular" people than you think. The most common time for marriages to fall apart is within the first two years, according to Diane Sollee, director of And while there are no hard numbers, anecdotal data suggests that we're whipping through matrimony faster than ever. This means that you might find yourself dating a twenty-something with a divorce under his or her proverbial belt.

Does that mean the person is a poor judge of character, or impossibly impulsive? Should you steer clear? The answer isn't so simple. I should know. At 28, I got divorced three weeks shy of my first anniversary. Were I on the other side, discovering
For every heartbreaker out there, there's someone who's had his or her heart broken.
over dinner that my date had been married briefly, I might judge him as immature and irresponsible. But now, after my own experience and after talking to the experts, I know not all high-speed divorces are the same. If you're dating someone who swiftly separated, consider the following:

Quickie question #1: Who broke up with whom?
Remember: For every heartbreaker out there, there's someone who's had his or her heart broken. The fact is, not everyone who is divorced wanted to be divorced. Studies show that three out of four divorces are unilateral — meaning that only one spouse decided to end it — and that women are more likely to end marriages than men. In laymen's terms, the seemingly irresponsible cad may not be so bad. That's why it's important to gently tease out the circumstances surrounding the divorce before passing judgment, stresses Jay Lebow, senior therapist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University. "Often, one partner hasn't really thought through the full range of things it means to be married," he explains. "Or the person who left could have commitment issues."

Quickie question #2: Did age play a role?
Ah, young lovers—impulsive, romantic, headstrong, foolish. Those qualities that make you go weak in the knees so easily are often also the same ones that cause problems later on. The younger you are when you marry, the more likely your marriage will end, but that doesn't necessarily brand you as non-marriage material for life. Adrian, 31, who works in advertising sales in Dallas, knew that Bree had been married at 19 and divorced by 20 before they got involved, but he wasn't deterred. "She got married too young," Adrian says. "There were options to get out before the wedding, but she went through with it out of guilt." Two years since her split, Adrian says, "This crisis made her more mature than most people her age. I honestly don't think we would've gotten together if she hadn't gone through this."

Quickie question #3: Was one person's issue the deal-breaker?
Consider whether the cause of the split was one of life's curveballs. Adultery, emotional issues, addiction—all are difficult issues that put enormous stress on a fledgling marriage. Just ask Lilly, a 34-year-old graphic designer from Chicago. Though she and her ex had dated for six years, it wasn't until after the wedding that "real-world" pressures intruded... and her ex dealt with the stress by cheating. "That was the deal-breaker," she says. "I could never trust him again. I realized, if this is how he deals with in-law issues and saving for a house, how would he ever handle raising kids?" (She left him after eight months and has since remarried.)

When someone you're smitten with mentions a brief past marriage, how the heck do you get the questions above answered? After all, you don't want to appear to be interrogating them. But unless the couple starred in a reality show, you'll need to do some probing to get the information you need. When Todd, a 29-year-old
“I was more interested in her than in her past, and honestly, my past isn't perfect either.”
computer programmer from Denver, found out that Carrie was divorced, he wanted to hear her side of the story. And that story wasn't pretty. "There was a breach of trust," he recounts. "Her ex was on parole, something he'd never shared until after their wedding." Todd let Carrie take her time telling him what happened; comments like, "I'd like to hear about what happened whenever you're ready to tell me" will open the door without pressing too hard. (And, say the experts, never, ever volley a jokey comment like, "So were you drunk when you decided to get hitched?" or "Wow, did you have to give the wedding gifts back?" Humor is just plain wrong in this situation.) It took Carrie several weeks to feel comfortable enough to tell Todd what had happened, and he was grateful for her candor. And it didn't change his feelings: "I was more interested in her than in her past," he says. "And honestly, my past isn't perfect either."

If you happen to be the divorcée in this scenario, the task of telling is daunting, but you've got to fess up sooner or later. Here's how I broached the subject: First, I got to know the guy I was dating and let him get to know me—what made me laugh, how many siblings I had, my love of film noir. And then I confided in him about my marital history and gave him a brief, thoughtful explanation of what went wrong, and what I'd learned from the experience. According to my current husband, I handled the disclosure just right—and that's one of the reasons he ended up proposing.

Pamela Paul is the author of The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony. When it comes to relationships, she believes that couples should take things sloooowww.
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Would you buy someone a holiday gift that you've been dating for less than 6 months?

Yes, if I want the relationship to continue

Maybe, but only to avoid seeming rude

No, that's too early to exchange gifts

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