The Starter Husband
"Simply put, my 20s were freaking me out," says 29-year-old Elisa
Albert, a wavy-haired brunette and adjunct assistant professor of creative
writing at Columbia University. "I felt unqualified to be barreling into
adulthood alone — I felt at loose ends in regards to my career, my ability to
support myself, even my postcollege social identity. I was lonely and scared.
At the same time, I'm watching Sex and the City and going, 'Okay, so
should I spend the next 20 years getting my heart broken and pretending that
it's all in good fun? Or should I marry this dude I'm dating, have a gorgeous
party, and make my parents really, really happy?"
She chose wrong.
It all started over a steaming cup of coffee in a New York City diner.
Elisa's mother suggested she give a family friend a call in the wake of his
sibling's death. (Elisa's own brother had died a few years back.) "We
talked about our brothers, which was intense, and then somehow we went from
there to falling in love and having this 100-mile-an-hour courtship," Elisa
says. "We were talking about naming our unborn children after our dead
brothers. It was totally crazy."
From an outsider's perspective, you could see trouble ahead: They crashed
between breakup and make up like a game of pinball. But during one
warm-and-fuzzy reconciliation, they decided to get hitched. Suddenly, the
relationship snowballed into something bigger: getting married.
"I totally bought into the wedding-industry machine," admits Elisa,
who spent more time obsessively planning every detail of her nuptials for 300
at a Malibu estate than she did working on her master's thesis. From the
five-star vegan menu to the Japanese lanterns to the playlist, Elisa's focus
was all wedding, no marriage. "I had a totally misguided notion of what a
wedding was about," she says. "You work toward this giant event, have
an enormous party, then an hour after you get married, reality sets in. I was
like, Oh, shit — that didn't really solve anything." You can almost forgive
a girl for focusing on the party and forgetting about the hangover. After all,
it seems that we don't have a clue what the heck marriage is anymore. Like a
fat promotion to the corner office, we aspire to it — the sparkler on my finger
means I'm a success, receiving the final rose means I win — but what is the
prize again? For that cluelessness, apparently, we can thank our single moms
and alimony dads. "We are the children of parents who divorced in the '70s
and '80s," says Paul. "Divorce is out there as a familiar
My own parents' bitter divorce — many, many years in the making — played out
right around the time of my engagement. I knew all too well what the seamy
underbelly of marriage looked like, and it had made me incredibly cautious
about commitment — it took me seven years of dating my husband before I could
consider the concept of "forever."