Does Feminism Cause Divorce?

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I’ve never had a problem with marriage. In fact, I marry too easily.  If I’m in a serious and exclusive relationship and the guy wants to marry me, I concur. And so I find myself married once again.

[That’s not entirely true. I had to convince my first husband to marry me. But we were only 20 and now I can understand his reluctance. I should have been reluctant, too. But instead, I was pressuring him. I had just become a feminist the year before, but I didn’t then and still don’t think that being a feminist means you can’t be married.]

I’ve always married—or agreed to marry—rather precipitously. My first husband and I started dating in November and married the following July (much to my parents’ consternation—we didn’t inform them that we were getting married until two months before the wedding date). My second marriage occurred six months after my first divorce. I was single for four years after that, but only because my third husband wasn’t free to marry until then because of a protracted divorce. And my fourth, present and last husband and I had to wait three years for his fiance visa to come through.

Now that I reconsider, I have to admit that the man’s desire to marry might just have had a lot to do with my own openness to it. I never once said, “I’m not ready. Let’s wait a while.” The times when the marriages didn’t happen right away were because of outside forces, not my own reluctance. I’ve just never been cautious about getting married. And I have three divorces to show for it.

Just as I have always been open to marrying, I have also been open to divorcing. Not that I married with the idea in the back of my head that if it didn’t work out we could always get a divorce. No, instead, against all evidence to the contrary, I believed that each marriage was going to be my last. It’s just that I seemed incapable of anticipating what things might cause problems and eventually lead to a divorce.

Even so, I didn’t divorce at the first sign of trouble. There has always been a long period of problems—and counseling and soul-searching—before I’ve asked for a divorce.

Some people could look at my life and say that my being a feminist has contributed to the break-ups of my marriages. If they mean that I’m strong enough to leave when things get bad, I suppose it has. But I prefer that to staying in a marriage and suffering for the rest of my life just because I’m afraid of going it alone. I realize that there are many things that keep two people together, but I’d like to think that mutual misery isn’t one of them.

If anything, I think feminism would have prevented all my divorces. If I’d been strong enough I wouldn’t have married for the wrong reasons. Because I was afraid no one else would want me. Because I was afraid I couldn’t raise my children alone. Because I didn’t have enough money. Because I liked being wanted.

If I’d been a strong enough feminist, I would have waited for what I really wanted in a husband. I would have insisted on someone who loved me for myself and not just as someone to stand by and take care of him. It isn’t a readiness to divorce that breaks down marriages. It’s marrying the wrong person for the wrong reasons in the first place.

Unfortunately, being a feminist doesn’t protect a woman from making mistakes. There are many unforeseen roads ahead in every marriage. You can’t anticipate what will happen. You can’t always be sure that your motives for marrying—or staying married—are pure. All you can do is make as sure as you can that you are honest with yourself about who you are and what you want out of life.

And pray.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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