Divorced by 30

Sascha Rothchild, 33, describes the feeling leading up to the end of her first marriage as a sort of underlying malaise.

“It’s just that feeling of falling asleep at night,” she said, “knowing that you’re unhappy, and that you’re unhappy on someone else’s terms.”

Rothchild got married at 27, ended her relationship a year-and-a-half after her wedding and then authored the book “How to Get Divorced by 30: My Misguided Attempt at a Starter Marriage” (Plume, 2010). She isn’t alone in her willingness to explore and understand — publicly — what went wrong. Her outspokenness is a reflection of the seemingly palpable deterioration of the stigma surrounding divorce, as well as society’s changing views on what it means to be married.

In spite of the fact that young divorcees seem more open to talking about their breakups in recent years, marital stability among the under-40 set is, in fact, on the rise in the United States.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 1975 and 1979, 16 percent of 30-year-old men had divorced, as had 20 percent of women. By 2004, that number had slid to 13 percent of men, and 17 percent of women.

The relatively high percentage of divorce in the late 1970s has been largely attributed to the widespread adoption of no-fault divorce laws, in which couples can end a marriage without blame. And experts agree that societal factors still play an important role in who gets married, who stays married, and who’s happy within their marriage.

Over the past few decades, the median age of marriage has gone up from 23 in 1970 to 28 in 2008, and in a shift in trend, college-educated individuals are now getting married at the same rate and age as those without college degrees.

And both age and education influence the likelihood that a couple’s relationship will stay intact. According to a report released in October by the Pew Research Center, people with a higher level of education are less likely to get divorced; in the year 2007, it states, 1.6 percent of adults with a college degree were divorced, compared to 2.9 percent of those without a bachelor’s degree.

As we get older, says Thomas Bradbury, professor of psychology at UCLA and co-director of the UCLA Relationship Institute, we come to know ourselves better, eliminating the likelihood of a youthful marital mistake, or of growing apart during the decade of personal change that is the 20s.

“As you age through your 20s and firmly in adulthood in your 30s, your education is largely behind you, and your financial resources are firmly in place,” Bradbury said. “You define yourself and what you want better.”

Bradbury recently explored the subject of newlywed satisfaction in more depth. Over the course of 10 years, he tracked 464 couples to examine what led to happiness or unhappiness in their marriages, and whether those experiences were shared by a majority of couples.

“Everybody says relationships naturally deteriorate over time,” he said. “What we were discovering is that actually those changes, those rapid declines, are limited to a few small subgroups of couples.”

The study, published in October 2010 in the Journal of Marriage and Family Therapy, found that couples fell into one of five subgroups: Three were relatively satisfied in their relationships, and generally less likely to get divorced. The other two subgroups were less satisfied in their relationships, and by the 10-year mark, 40 to 60 percent had ended their marriages. 

Among the couples who were more likely to get divorced, partners often struggled with communication, specifically around conflict resolution. And one or both partners routinely had personality traits like low self-esteem, high levels of stress or a pessimistic outlook. 

“There’s an emotion regulation component to all of [the shared characteristics],” Bradbury said. A stable marriage, therefore, requires “an ability to know who you are, and to not be too inclined toward pessimism and negativity.”

Rabbi Mordecai Finley of Ohr HaTorah Congregation echoed the importance of the strong sense of self that’s necessary to build a healthy marriage — and to get out of an unhealthy one.

A stable relationship, he says, is built on mutual respect, admiration and the notion that we are all ultimately responsible for our own well-being. On the flip side, “It requires a considerable degree of insight into oneself [to come to] the realization that the primary foundation of a relationship is wrong,” he said. 

Rothchild, who is now engaged again and planning her second wedding, adds that no matter what, the realization that a marriage is going to end almost as soon as it began comes as a shock.

“You think you know who you are, and you think you know what you want,” she said. “Then you’re about to hit 30, and you realize this isn’t what you want, and this guy is not the guy for you.”

Through the Minefield

In the risky game of dating, perhaps the scariest of all scenarios is the separated suitor. With the divorce rate here in California at a whopping 60 percent, the reality is that most of us will encounter these fragile creatures. Do we run for the hills when they pursue us or should we take our chances and allow ourselves to succumb?

Being the intrepid soul I am, I opted for the latter. At least these divorced guys didn’t have commitmentphobia, a condition that seems pervasive in these parts. 818 (my nickname for him) charmed me from the get-go. When I learned, after hearing his unusual last name, that he was the cousin of my college roommate it just seemed like a sign that I ought to give this guy a chance, even though he was only nine months out of a nine-year marriage and not yet officially divorced. I called my old friend, Leslie, right away to tell her about what a small world it was and she commented, “He’s getting divorced again?”

Oops, it appeared that I had stumbled upon a twice-divorced, or an almost twice-divorced, as it were. The stakes were even greater here.

818 showed up at our first date with a bag of my favorite cookies and a smile that warmed me. We had that rare instantaneous connection and a comfort level as if we had known each other for years. During dinner, I discovered that he had a “rebound relationship.” Perhaps that was to put my initial concerns to rest. Well, it worked like a charm. Following dinner, he joined me at a business screening for one of the most bleak and morose films that I had ever seen. Was there some foreshadowing at work here?

The following morning, I arrived at work to find a sweet American Greetings e-mail card from him. The day after, a large box of my favorite European chocolate arrived. I was amazed by this man’s unbridled enthusiasm for me. It continued at a fever pitch shortly thereafter when he insisted upon picking me up at 6 a.m. (driving from the North Valley, no less!) to take me to LAX for my weeklong visit to Peru. Upon my return he was there again to get me and provided me with bags of groceries to make me feel welcome.

One month into this risky romance, I learned, over a candlelit dinner at The Ivy, that his nine-year marriage was preceded by seven years of a relationship. Oh no, I thought. This guy is barely out of a 16 year (oy!) liaison. He has barely had time alone his entire adult life. What am I doing here, I thought in horror? 818 assured me that he was ready to be with a woman and that his marriage was “over before it was over.”

818’s unbridled enthusiasm turned into a runaway train careening down the mountain at breakneck speed. A crash occurred as we were nearing the two-month mark. It appeared that intimacy was far too difficult a task for this man. Like a deer caught in the bright glare of blinding headlights, he ran off (without so much as an explanation or a kind goodbye) as if a bloodthirsty hunter was chasing him.

All along I had interpreted his intelligence, generosity and kindness as a man who had it together. When a man says he is ready to be involved, shouldn’t we just take that at face value and believe him? The answer is a resounding no! Most people, and I include myself in that group, are in denial after their marriages break apart. We feel that that we’re ready, even though we wanted the divorce and had been unhappily married. It’s as simple as getting back on that horse. If only it was.

Just months after I separated, I remember getting involved with a man who had been divorced for several years. I was so insulted when after one month of an auspicious start, he announced that the dumbest thing I could do would be to get involved in a relationship.

“Just date and have fun,” he advised. “Trust me, you think you’re ready, but you’re not.”

I realize now, over a year later, that he was completely right. And so was my wise client and friend, Leslie Fram, who wrote in her book, “How to Marry a Divorced Man” (Regan Books, 2003), that most men need two to four years to sort out the pain of their broken marriages.

In the future, I would approach dating a separated/recently divorced man as though I was wading in a swamp full of alligators. You may get through it unharmed — but life is too short. Why even take the chance?

Elizabeth Much is a partner with Much and House Public
Relations, where she runs the entertainment division. She can be reached via
e-mail at emuch@muchandhousepr.com


A Miracle Worker

Maria Teresa and Maria de Jesus Quiej Alvarez are twins who were born conjoined at the cranium. Headline-makers since arriving at the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital in Westwood, the twins were separated in a nearly 23-hour surgery on Aug. 6.

“This single case has captured the global community in a unique way,” Israeli-born neurosurgeon Dr. Itzhak Fried said.

Fried is co-director of the Seizure Disorder Center at UCLA Medical Center and heads the Neurobiology of Human Memory Program in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Science. The Tel Aviv native came to America in 1972 to pursue his medical education. His Polish father trained as a Reform rabbi in 1930s Breslau — an outspoken Jew who stirred the pot in Nazi Germany.

“He was arrested by the Gestapo for Zionist activities,” Field said. “He got out of Germany just before 1939.”

Field, his wife and three children divide their time between living on the Westside and in Tel Aviv, where Field created an epilepsy program.

“My work is to set up things there that will improve medical technology in Israel,” said Field, whose passion is researching the central nervous system.

As of Aug. 26, both Marias remain in serious condition with stable vital signs. “There’s a very good likelihood” that they will lead normal, healthy lives, Field said.

“We’re dealing with very young patients. The brain has flexibility at this age,” he told The Journal. “They both tolerated the procedure reasonably well. The team has been cautiously optimistic from the start.”

Field is quick to credit his team of neurosurgeon and plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses. “The work is really a teamwork,” Field said. “It’s the experience of many people pulling together.”

To donate to the twins’ funds, contact Robyn Puntch at (310) 794-5143 or rpuntch@support.ucla.edu .