(Photo: Jennifer Fox for Yahoo Health)
When Joelle Caputa was 26, she had a clear idea of what she wanted in life: an amazing career, a solid marriage, and kids. One day, while working at a Starbucks and building a career in public relations, she met a hairstylist, went on a date, and found herself caught up in a whirlwind romance.
“We spent every day together after we began dating,” she tells Yahoo Health. “Marriage was the next logical step in our relationship.”
The pair tied the knot at 27. But it didn’t take long for Caputa to realize her husband was still figuring himself out. “I thought marriage would change things and once we were settled, everything would fall into place,” she says. “But it didn’t. He was very unhappy and quit a lot of jobs, which left me with the financial pressure. Then, he decided that he never wanted to have kids.”
Caputa had always wanted to be a mom, “so I knew it was over then — there was nothing else worth working on,” she says. “I wasn’t going to give up that dream.”
After 14 months of marriage, at 28, Caputa divorced. “It was scary leaving my marriage and moving back home. I also lost my job, so I was really starting over from scratch,” she remembers.
But then the realization hit her: Now that she was unattached again, she could do anything she wanted. “I threw myself into my hobbies, went out with friends, and really focused on myself,” she says. “I enjoyed dating again, too.” Caputa went on to write the book Trash the Dress: Stories of Celebrating Divorce in Your 20s. She also formed an online support group and hosted local meet-ups to connect with other young divorcees. “People don’t talk about being divorced when you’re so young,” she says. “But once someone opens up about it, more stories come out of the woodwork.”
Calculating how many people divorce every year — let along divorce in their 20s — can be tricky, but there’s no question that Caputa is hardly a rare case. “We’ve known forever that people who marry especially young have high divorce rates,” Nicholas H. Wolfinger, PhD, a professor of sociology at the University of Utah, tells Yahoo Health. “When you’re young, you’re more immature, you likely don’t know who you are, and you could be marrying without a lot of social support.” Even though only 26 percent of 18-to-33-year-olds are married, according to recent Pew research, the numbers show that the younger you marry, the higher the likelihood of divorce. In fact, a 25-year-old is more than 50 percent less likely to get divorced than someone who marries at age 20, Wolfinger notes.
Of course, not everyone who marries young ends up getting divorced. But when it does happen, “I think sometimes people feel like damaged goods,” Gail Bleach, PhD, a Maryland-based psychologist who specializes in divorce, tells Yahoo Health. “But clinically, I would say it’s the same as a longer-term relationship breaking up. Many people have lived together and not gotten married and broken up. For whatever reason, you just got married.”
As anyone will tell you, dating is challenging whether you’ve been divorced or not. “It’s hard finding single men! Where do people meet?!” laments Michelle Farrell, a 29-year-old who got married at 25 and divorced last August. But for people whose relationship history includes a marriage, there are some unique factors to consider when re-entering the dating pool. For instance: “How do I go from being a wife back to being a girlfriend?” asks Farrell.
Here’s what to be on the lookout for, if you find yourself in Farrell’s boat:
All that talk about having a “type” is actually true. As human nature goes, we tend to chase after the same kinds of people — and that’s not always a good thing, especially if you’ve been divorced.
Here’s something you may not have realized: “For everyone who re-marries, the chance of divorce is about 65 percent,” says Bleach. That means “second marriages are less successful than firsts and third marriages are less successful than seconds.”
In part, that’s because people tend to marry people similar to the person they left — the same person in a different body, Michael B. Spellman, PhD, a psychologist at the Carter Psychology Center in Bradenton, Florida, tells Yahoo Health. How come? “When we date, we don’t go fishing in the ocean, we go to lakes,” Spellman says. “Our tastes, social circles, and lifestyles lead us to a fairly narrow selection of mates.”