20-Something And Divorced…

It’s a scenario that’s happening more and more often. Here, people tell what it’s like—and experts reveal how to start dating again.

By Maria Ricapito

ou’re barely out of your twenties, but it happened to you: You’ve got a “failed” marriage to your credit. You’re what people might call a baby divorcée, but it’s hardly a label you want. Your focus is more on: How’d that happen? Am I ever going to date again? Am I ever going to want to date again? And when I do date, do I hang out with the other single 20-somethings, or is there a new way to date that’s more appropriate for a person with a past?

To understand what life is like for the young and the divorced — and how they can move on with their romantic
“I was young and I really wasn’t ready for marriage.”
lives — we talked to relationship experts and people who’ve been there. Here, they share tips, insights, and advice.

Is divorcing young a new trend?
“The younger you are when you’re married, the more likely it is to end in divorce,” says Pamela Paul, author of The Starter Marriage: and the Future of Matrimony. Forty percent of marriages overall fail. “That number goes up into the 50 percent or more for people in their 20s,” she adds.

There are many theories on where to lay the blame for the current generation of divorces. “It’s that whole one-click culture,” says Paul. “This generation moves at warp speed. They want to get married right away and when it doesn’t work out, they want to get out. They’re the consumer generation.” They’re also, she says, a group that grew up with the concept of the makeover. “If this identity isn’t working for you, start over.”

“I’ve been noticing more young divorces happening for the last couple of years,” says Amanda Freeman, a vice president of The Intelligence Group, a consumer insight firm in New York City. “This generation is a little more noncommittal and more fickle. They’re taught in so many areas of their lives that something new and better will arrive over time—they don’t want to commit to things. There’s always a new cell phone on the horizon.”

Now, no one is saying that 20-somethings don’t mind being divorced — they do indeed — but they may be more willing to view divorce as a viable option than those who are somewhat older. And of course, there’s the fact that in early, brief marriages, there may not be children involved. That’s another factor that makes it somewhat less onerous for couples to break up.

How does it feel to be divorced so young?
When young couples do separate, the reaction can range from relief to regret. “We sat on the front steps of our apartment and divided up the photo albums. She said I’m going to miss you and hugged me. She got in the car and took a left turn out of my life,” says Philip Scher, who was married at 25 and divorced by 26. “After spending every moment together, I haven’t seen her again. But I don’t regret divorcing at all—I was young and I wasn’t ready. After we split, I moved back to the city and met somebody else—just for fun, no pressure. I joined a band. I was out a lot—I felt like I had missed a few years of being young.”

Others find being divorced more difficult. “For me, divorce created a black hole in my life. Each time I fell apart, I was like Humpty Dumpty—I was never put back together again,” says Deena O’Reilly, who was divorced at 25. “I may have been young, but I felt as though I still belonged to someone only he wasn’t there when I got home.”

As hard as it is, you’re still likely to have it easier than older divorcés. “The 20-something can more easily get right back on the horse,” says Gilda Carle, Ph.D., a relationship expert and author of Don’t Bet on the Prince! How to Have the Man You Want by Betting On Yourself. “When you’re young, you’re more adventuresome. You don’t have a history of one hurt after another. Your history is much shorter.” The 40-something divorced dater is more “skittish about getting hurt again,” she adds. But how does the 20-something divorcee get back out there—hanging out with the post-collegiate crowd? With older single friends? Here’s how.

“Where will I find someone new?”
“Many more 20-somethings go to bars, compared to 40-somethings,” says Joan B. Kelly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce, “because the bar scene is currently very hot in many urban locations.” Just because you are divorced doesn’t mean that your youthful spirit of going
Sometimes it’s not so much a matter of changing old habits.
out and mingling should fall by the wayside. Others in their 20s go to cultural events such as the symphony or ballet. “There are special groups for under 40s that have outings, pre-performance get-togethers, etc.”

Sometimes it’s not so much a matter of changing old habits, but learning them for the first time. “Getting back into the dating world is a difficult, difficult thing,” says Rebecca Gerhardt, 26, who was married at 21 and divorced at 23. “For the most part, it seems that people who are married and then divorced in their 20s didn’t necessarily do a lot of dating before they met The One, which makes one of the hardest things learning to date. My ex and I dated all through college, I hadn’t dated a lot before then.” Agrees Deena O’Reilly, “Dating was different after divorce because I didn’t know how to meet men. I hadn’t had much time as a single person before my marriage. So I found my own ways to meet men—I started taking my car to the car wash on Saturday mornings, grocery shopping around 6 p.m., and I attended more than one church during the week. Instead of dropping my car off at the Quick Lube for an oil change I would wait in the waiting room and check the men out!”

When’s the right time for full disclosure?
When it comes to revealing your marital status, there’s being open and then there’s T.M.I., say our experts. “For someone in their forties, divorce is so common today that it’s fine to bring it up in a lighthearted way on the first date, and then move onto the next topic,” says dating coach Liz H. Kelly, author of Smart Man Hunting. But, if you’re in your 20s, “leave the divorce history alone until after a few dates with someone,” she says. “There is no need to bring it up until after you’ve decided that there may be a connection.”

After all, dating is about packaging, says Dr. Carle. “If you introduce yourself as ‘Hello, my name is Jane and I’m recently divorced even though I’m in my 20s’—that’s a turnoff.” It also, she says, “makes your baggage seem like steamer trunks to someone else.” But of course, you don’t want to hide the truth. Says Gerhardt, “I figured that if a few skeletons (divorce, etc.) were going to scare them away, I might as well find that out sooner than later. So I didn’t pull a lot of punches. And in the end I was glad that I went with that route. It’s not about trying to impress the other person; it’s about honesty.” And that’s one bit of advice that holds true for all people—previously married or not, young or old.

Maria Ricapito is a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Self and other national magazines.
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