A Warning Tale From A 27-Year-Old Divorcee

Everyone might be urging us to marry younger, but Stephanie Winter, 27, says it didn’t work for her…


by Debrief Staff |
Published on

On Monday I will receive my decree absolute and if I’m honest, I’m more excited about my divorce than I ever was about my wedding. My decree absolute will mean that finally, after what seems like a lifetime, I will be a fully-fledged divorcee. At 28.

There's been a lot of debate recently about the virtues of marrying young. Marry in your early twenties, and you grow up together – your husband becomes your soulmate through the experiences you share, making you a stronger couple. Or so the theory goes. I take the opposite view. 20-something marriage isn't easy. And 20-something divorce is even worse.

It's certainly not how I’d planned my life. I thought, if anything, I’d get married at around 28, have kids in my early thirties, and then some grandkids by the time I hit 60. It hasn’t quite turned out that way but the way I feel now, that’s OK.

I started dating my soon-to-be-ex-husband when I was 16. I’d always been grown-up for my age and I was more than ready for a ‘grown-up’ relationship. He was older than me by six years when we met. He had his own car, his own house, and he could take me places I’d never been before. At 18 I moved in with him and suddenly, I’d become an adult. I loved it. Isn't that feeling what all teenagers want?

I was at school and then uni for the first six years of our relationship. But it wasn’t until graduation day, when I saw my boyfriend of six years stood among my university peers, that I realised there was so much of my life that he didn’t understand, and that he never would. He was dismissive of academia – in fact, of anything intellectual. If he didn’t understand something, he mocked it or moaned about it. I began to find this intolerable. But how do you say to someone, ‘I don’t think you’re clever enough for me’? You don’t. You can’t. So you shut up.

I knew back then that I wanted more from a relationship but I would look around at my friends who were dating 20-something, commitment-phobic arseholes and cheaters and I always came back to the same thought. That actually my guy was ‘OK.’

Because I was so young, I was often wrapped up in the image of how people saw us. We were seen as a young, successful couple, a cool couple and I just sort of went along with it. I also didn’t have the confidence or belief that anyone else would want me (I’d never dated or really been with many other guys before my boyfriend, as I was so young when we hooked up) so I felt like this was my lot. I guessed it could be better, but it wasn’t the worst relationship I knew of.

But on some level, he knew I was growing away from him from my early twenties onwards – and so, soon after university, when my first job was really taking off, he proposed. Looking back, it was his way of keeping me. Of making my life more difficult, not more simple. Of making sure I didn’t fly too far from the nest. I said yes. I was 22.

If I’m honest, I said yes because it ‘felt like the right thing to do’. We’d been together so long that it just felt like the next obvious step. I almost felt like I had no choice. I knew how much he loved me and I thought, well, I’ll still be able to have my career, to see the world, and it’s nice that I’ve got someone to love me and support me through it all. I settled.

No one told me I was making a mistake (thanks guys!). They've now told me they felt there was nothing that would stop me and, as my relationship seemed happy and healthy from the outside, they didn’t want to intervene. I bloody wish they had.

So I pushed on with wedding plans. When I was at home cooking dinners for my boyfriend and my friends were out partying and having one-night stands, I honestly wasn’t bothered. I genuinely thought it was immature – that single life was for kids. It’s only now looking back that I realise I sacrificed so much for a man that wasn’t worth it. I gave up the formative years of my life for him. The years where people work out who they are and what they want. So when I hit my mid-twenties I felt more lost than ever. I was heavily depressed.

Still, I remember my wedding day vividly. It was ‘perfect’ from the outside but I yearned for it to be over. I distinctly remember looking around at all of my friends dancing and feeling lucky that they were all there. Everyone tanned and pretty on the small island where we'd decided to get married. I was trying to enjoy that moment at the end of the day, but my husband was drunk and wanted to go to bed.

He told me that it was bad form if I didn’t go to bed at the same time as him, that it would look really rude if I stayed up on my own. I was so exhausted I agreed, and off we went to bed, with everyone cheering us off – as they expected us to stay up all night shagging. In reality, my husband passed out asleep and I sat on the balcony overlooking the sea, working out how I was going to cope with the overwhelming, instant regret of my marriage. I cried until the sun came up.

My husband passed out asleep and I sat working out how I was going to cope with the overwhelming, instant regret of my marriage

The further into my career I went, the more his grip tightened. He was fiercely possessive. He controlled me in my personal life, because he couldn’t control my work life. We went to bed at the same time every night. I wasn’t allowed to read in bed, for example, because in his view bed was for two things: sex, or sleep.

What we ate, where we went on holiday, what we watched on TV, it was all on his terms. The tantrums he threw if he didn’t get his way were too much for me to bear so I always submitted.

My second job out of uni put me in a higher wage bracket than him for the first time. Still, I let everyone think my husband was the main breadwinner (I didn’t care, my ego didn’t need it. His did). After three or four years of living like this – of pretending my husband was successful but secretly knowing that he had reached all he could be, of realising he was still the man I met years before, who could impress a 16-year-old me, but not a 20-something me – I knew I would never be happy with him.

I started to resent him and I hated myself for putting myself second for so many years. I realised I couldn’t live like that. It wasn’t fair on either of us and I realised that not only did I not love my husband, I didn’t even like him. He wasn’t even someone I would choose to hang out with.

I’d married someone I couldn’t stand. That I would never even be friends with. How the fuck did that happen? I found myself fantasising about dying in a car crash, or contracting a terminal illness, as that would allow me to exit my marriage blame-free. I couldn’t be held responsible. Not my fault the marriage ended.

I lived like that until I finally reached a point where I knew it wasn’t healthy and I spoke to my mother about how I felt. She was incredible (she’s never been anything but incredible). She made me feel safe and unashamed and made me realise that I had to deal with it. I sat him down and tried to make him understand that we simply had grown into different people and as adults we weren’t suited.

He refused to accept this and I thought it was fair to let him have time to come to terms with it. The months following this were a series of ‘act like everything’s normal’ days. Or days filled with rage and anger and possessiveness. It was horrible. I wanted out, but I felt as I was the one ending it, I wanted to let him have his grieving time and to help him through it. In a weird way, it was a form of self-harm: I felt as I was leaving him, I deserved to be miserable and live in pain while he came to terms with it.

I realise now that me trying to ‘be there for him’ was the wrong way to deal with it and, as hard as it is to walk away, as heartless as it makes you seem, it’s the best way.

After almost a year of pain and emotional crippling he finally moved out but spent the first few months trying to win me back. I filed for divorce four months later. He was so convinced we’d get back together, I had no other choice. I needed him to see it in black and white.

I really was ashamed that I was filing for divorce after only a few years of marriage and aged just 27. Luckily for me, the whole process of getting divorced is far easier if you don’t have children, and also if you don’t have any assets to split (fortunately our marital home was mine).

The actual process itself is still very archaic and I was so angry at times that I was having to list out all of these reasons for his unreasonable behaviour, knowing that a judge may turn round and say, 'This isn’t acceptable, you need to work on your marriage.'

Luckily, my husband signed the divorce papers with no questions asked. In a bizarre way I think he did it to show me what a good guy he was and, possibly, in the hope I’d take him back. In addition to the divorce papers I cemented the end of the relationship with a more modern day way of letting it be known we were over.

I changed my details back to my maiden name on Facebook and I also changed my relationship status to single. I made sure I hid all notifications from my timelines though so it wasn’t an obvious ‘Look at me! I’m single!’ public declaration. I can’t stand it when people do that. Draw attention to a matter that you’d really rather just went unnoticed.

I also went through and hid all photos of us together, including my wedding photos on Facebook, as I hated the thought that those pictures would define me. And that every new friend I made on Facebook would be able to see them. I felt guilty, but relieved.

He’s still in denial and I imagine the communications that I’ll receive from him next week when he receives the decree absolute will be difficult. But sadly, that’s nothing I’ve not handled before.

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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