Moving on After a 20-Something Divorce

Q: I am 23 and going through a divorce. How do I talk about my divorce with my new boyfriend’s family?

Getting divorced was a horrible thing for me when it first happened, and my heart was still broken. Now I look at my high school sweetheart and I getting married at 21, and 18 (respectively) not as a mistake, because we truly did love each other, but as a case of an  “us against the world love”.  We had the passionate flame of love that burns out quickly. Anyway, the advice I need is this; as I move on with my life with my (ex)husband as just a friend in my past, how do I approach discussing this delicate subject with my new boyfriend’s family. I’m the first girl that he has truly dated, so the first girl that his family gets to meet and I already have a divorce peeking over my shoulder from my recent past. I don’t want them to judge me for that, because I do love my boyfriend. How do I go about talking about my past now that I am getting older and have a “crazy” life?


A. You have nothing to be ashamed of. If you don’t make a big deal out of it, neither will his family.

Kudo’s for you for learning a life lesson early and hard. Divorce is not easy and neither is it recommended as a way to “grow up”. But you have experienced something that has made you mature faster than many other people your age and I imagine it will help you look at your relationships going forward with more perspective about what love means beyond the initial passionate flame. You do have to forgive yourself and resolve to move on owning what you learned from it it. I think your boyfriend’s family could very well think that rather than being reckless and crazy, you are someone who is capable of love yet was brave enough to recognize a mistake and correct it before it was too late.

I have some specific advice from women on how to deal with talking about it. But first some words of reassurance from a woman who got married and divorced young on learning from it:


“The divorce was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.  It forced me to get a real glimpse of myself and then all of the sudden my perspective changed. I learned a lot and it made me grow as a person and realize myself in a completely different way. A better way. First I had to own how I contributed to it’s breakdown.  It’s not pretty. But then you get out of it and things move on.

When you own your role in it, then you can leave it there and move forward. You don’t have to keep taking all the crap with you. When you learn from your mistakes, you can say I’m sorry, it is what it is. You don’t have to assume you are damaged goods. If you can realize that what happened in the past doesn’t have to happen in the future, you can have it better.  I wish I had known when I was twenty  that I could keep moving forward without dragging all this stuff with me. You don’t have to. You don’t need it. It’s going to be okay.”


A lot of women and men feel ashamed about being divorced. It may be that some people are judgmental, but often times we judge ourselves more harshly than others. I think a book I recently read about a woman going through a painful divorce put it in perspective. It was called, “It Happens Everyday”.  It does…happen…everyday. Herewith, some advice from women who it did happen to on talking, or not talking, about your divorce and dealing with the everydays after.


“Divorce is never easy. I’m a 40-year-old divorcee and I still feel weird saying that I’m divorced. Like you, I sometimes wonder if people will judge me.  I don’t think anyone “believes” in divorce but there is nothing fundamentally wrong with it or you.  It’s an exceptionally difficult situation for anyone to go through, but I know in my heart that it was the right thing for me to do.  I remind myself that I was in a marriage that was not a partnership and it was eroding who I was as a person.   I’m sure your divorce was a tough decision to make as well and it certainly sounds like it was the right decision.


Frankly, I wouldn’t worry about saying anything to your boyfriend’s family. You do not NEED to. They need to get to know you and love you for who you are.  You’re not hiding the fact that you’re divorced, which would be the wrong thing to do. It takes a brave person to correct a major mistake -so you are being brave and honest. Well done you!  You’ve told your new boyfriend your situation and that’s the most important thing.


I think YOUR boyfriend can mention to his family.  When he talks about you he can reel it out with other stats and not make it a big deal. “She’s a wonderful 23 year old who works at blah and does blah in her spare time.  She is fun and intelligent. She was married to her childhood sweetheart and as they matured they both realized it was a mistake. He can say he is happy that you realized it sooner rather than later, otherwise he would not have the chance to be with you. And then he can round it off by reeling off some other stats about you. That’s just an example, but the point is that he can mention without making it the center point of what he talks about when he raves about you!


Good luck and just remember to be yourself — clearly you are fabulous otherwise he wouldn’t be introducing you to his family.” -40-something, divorced in 20s


“Be your lovable self. No sensible adult would judge their son’s love for a marriage that failed in youth. If he loves you, chances are they will too. If they decide to make it an issue they probably are looking for faults. Either way the only way to conduct yourself is with dignity.  Everyone makes mistakes, and hopefully you’ve learned a few things that can make a second marriage work even better. – 40-something, divorced


“Never be abashed about marrying for love!! Always be proud that you wanted to make such a commitment at an early age. I am happy you have found a new beau and my hope is that his family would not be judgemental and look down upon somebody who married their high school sweetheart!  Be proud. When we realized our marriage wasn’t working my then husband’s first concern was that he didn’t want the stigma of divorce. I knew from my parents that if you stay in a bad situation you can lose your soul and… then it’s no one’s fault but your own. It’s brave to recognize that you aren’t meant for each other. It’s much better than staying in something for fear of judgment. You know that. Now you can move forward and not be fearful of what people think and to be brave enough not to listen to the voices in your head that judge yourself.  — 40 something, divorced in 20s, remarried in 40s.


“You don’t have a ‘crazy’ life.  You are more experienced than most people your age because of this experience.  And you should approach the conversation from this perspective – that you made a mistake and thankfully could correct it before children were involved.  No harm, no foul.  Now that you understand how quickly the flame burns out, I suspect that you will choose your next partner differently – or perhaps you will choose to move from flame to flame without making the ‘big’ commitment!  — 40-something, mom, wife, psycho-therapist


“Just be honest and don’t be ashamed. You haven’t done anything wrong. You were married. At the time you were in love and you got married. It didn’t work out. That’s life. It hasn’t worked out for a million or more other people. You’re not so unique in your situation so don’t make a big deal out of it. Don’t make a big deal out of it and it won’t be a big deal. The situation is…I was married and now I’m not. I don’t have any kids. I was young. We got married and it didn’t work out.

I think because you feel like a failure you build up in your mind what other people will think about it. I know I did feel like a failure. But I’ve learned that  other people just don’t spend that much time thinking about it. It’s not that we don’t matter to people but we’re just not that super important in everyone else’s lives.  Don’t be embarrassed about your past. That’s life.” — 40-something, divorced, wedding planner


Indeed good luck to you. 40-something women, feel free to add to the conversation with your advice. It would be interesting to hear from moms of older children how they would react to hearing about their child dating someone who had been through a youthful marriage and divorce.




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