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The Starter Husband

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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."

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 years."

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."

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