Design: Eleanor Shakespeare
Design: Eleanor Shakespeare


Divorce has shaped me – and I’ve never even been married

Marisa Bate has witnessed five divorces in her immediate family – and it’s got her pondering the intangibility of marriage and commitment

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By Marisa Bate on

At the age of 32, out of the four members of my immediate family, including myself, there have been five divorces and I’ve never even been married. They’re spread out over years, involving wildly different circumstances. They’ve meant different things to different people – some have been angry and hurtful; some involve children. Others are celebratory and brave.

When it comes to multiple divorces, it’s easy to think of a Dallas-esque broad with shoulder pads, heels and too much red lipstick, or the type of men who are stupid enough to chase after women 30 years younger than them. Multiple divorces mean big money and face lifts and, somewhere along the way, a very pretty twentysomething.

But my family isn’t exactly like that. And, in reality, the multiple divorces have been chapters, twists and turns in the plot, but the drama hasn’t been one of camp glamour. It’s been expensive, painful, drawn out, impossibly hard for the protagonists. And yet the divorces haven’t been big black clouds for me. Instead, they’ve been punctuation marks that have helped categorise life for me. I was lucky – my parents divorced before I can even remember. I don’t have memories of the strategies, the stress, the social services deciding who’s best to look after a baby and a toddler. There was no “before” to me; there was just an “after”.

But divorce has shaped me. I remember being about seven and saying to my best friend I wanted a baby but without a husband. I have never quite fallen for the fairytale either – walking out of a long-term relationship when others might have firmly settled and taken root; dating men who were wildly inappropriate but a hell of a lot of fun. My independence has been absolutely integral. And seeing divorce set me up with an emotional savings bank – my life, my money, my energy was never going to be recklessly placed in someone else’s basket. I’ve always been ready to leave, because, well, just look at my odds.

My independence has been absolutely integral. And seeing divorce set me up with an emotional savings bank – my life, my money, my energy was never going to be recklessly placed in someone else’s basket

Because maybe it’s in my genes? Maybe I’m predisposed? I’m the youngest in the family, so surely it’s just a matter of time? Are we the type of people who fall head first and think later? Or maybe we’re the type of people who have zero tolerance and who can’t exist in something that isn’t as it should be? Perhaps there’s something in our blood that says enough is enough, time for a change. Is there something about us that attracts us to bad decisions or other people’s bad decisions? Maybe we’re not built for marriage. I say all of these in generalisations because none of them were my divorce and none of them were the same. They are dramas other people starred in that I’m hearing about secondhand. The only unifying theme is the expensive admin.

I know I’ll have this in mind when I watch my best friend get married in the summer. Her parents met when they were still teenagers and have been together ever since. You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to figure out why we have different ideas about things. And it’s not that I’ll watch her wedding with a heavy heart, knowing that in years to come she’ll be signing divorce papers, but I guess the difference is that I don’t believe it’s impossible. Nobody wants a divorce, but they happen all the time. Maybe that’s why one of Britain's top judges is calling for reforms and no-fault divorces. They’re still happening, so let’s make them as easy and blameless (in the right circumstances) as possible.

Two weeks ago, during the hot weather, my boyfriend and I sat in the garden on faded deck chairs that used to belong to my mum. I told him of my new family divorce tally. He laughed and said, squinting against the glare of the evening sun, “I guess that’s another reason not to get married.” He, like me, is cynical about an expensive fanfare that holds no value for us. Yet, remarkably, if I do choose to never get married, my family’s track record on divorce won’t actually be the reason why. Yes, marriage doesn’t look like the “for ever” it’s marketed as from where I’m standing, and not for one minute do I take anything away from the agony that divorce can and does bring, but I know that all of those five divorces were once marriages, and those marriages were once five very real decisions – even if just for a moment in time. What they all share is a glorious willingness to jump into the unknown – my brother eloped on a beach in Malibu; my parents took witnesses off the street on Christmas Eve. Sure, it didn’t work out, but what an amazing decision to make – what a commitment to a moment in time. In the grand scheme of things, time passes far faster than we’d care to admit, so maybe we should be making more of a song and dance of the moments that come along, instead of letting them drift past.

I want my life to be full of amazing decisions and of memorable moments made not by what might happen – things you can’t control – but by what you can make happen, in that moment. Being around divorce has hardly made it an ambition, but it hasn’t made me scared of life. If anything, it’s done the opposite. I want to jump right in even more.


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Design: Eleanor Shakespeare
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