The Starter Husband
Still, it's a legacy that cuts deep. "We were both like, We're going to
do this right! Divorce is for losers," Elisa says of her and her ex's
attitude toward their own parents' divorces. But she knew in the back of her
mind that there was a plan B, that marriage was not necessarily a binding
contract. And when she realized that she didn't even have a clue what a good
marriage looked like, let alone what one felt like, she didn't hesitate to
produce her Get Out of Jail Free card. "It was a constantly pitched,
keyed-up hell," she says. Their downstairs neighbors left a note on their
door: "I don't know what the hell is wrong with you people, but you need to
stop screaming at each other."
Pulling the trigger was easy; dealing with the fallout was not. "Every
time I ran into somebody I knew, I wanted to die," Elisa says. She briefly
moved back to her childhood home in L.A. to regroup. "Even if they were
nice, I just felt this pity from them, like, 'Oh, my God, you messed up big.
Wow, that sucks.'" Looking for guidance, she joined a divorce support group
out in the Valley. It was an eye-opener. "It was full of women in their 50s
with kids and mortgages," Elisa remembers. "They knew their marriages
were doomed straight out of the gate but stayed shackled to them for 20
Confronted with that alternative, Elisa's confidence in her decision was
restored. Today, three years later, she considers her first husband the perfect
warm-up for the real deal. "I could not be more grateful for that
experience," she says. "I'm in a really good relationship right now,
knock on wood, and I would never have been capable of that without my first
marriage — learning how relationships work."
It's easy to write these women off as callous or self-absorbed. And yet on
some level, they just might be pioneers: Why stay put in an empty shell of a
marriage — an arrangement on paper only - instead of calling it what it is?
"This generation is reinventing marriage," says Paul.
"I think women our age are like, We're either going to fix this, or
we're going to end it, and that's for the better," says Kay Moffett,
coauthor of Not Your Mother's Divorce. She married her own starter
husband in a funky, flamingo-filled Florida wedding at 27, then divorced him
four years later after realizing she could never make the real commitment of
having children with him. But don't call her divorce a failure; in this
enlightened world, it was simply a relationship that ran its course. "I
think maybe we're moving more toward a serial-marriage society — maybe you have
three marriages in your life and several different careers. That's where I'm
heading," she says.