I got engaged when I was 25. I had been dating my girlfriend for less than a year and we already lived together. The proposal surprised me—I didn’t know what else to say but “Yes,” because that’s just what you’re supposed to say, right?
Then suddenly everyone was asking when the wedding was and I was married by 27 (legally, in Iowa, one of few states that allowed same-sex marriage at the time).
Maybe 27 seems like a totally normal age to get married—my mom had me at 27—but considering I’d essentially rushed into it, it wasn’t ideal for me. And so, unsurprisingly, it ended in divorce. A new study from the United Kingdom Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests I was something of a trendsetter.
Marriage equality came to the UK in March 2014: Three months later, there were 1,409 same-sex marriages, 56% (796) of which were women. By 2015, 22 of those couples broke up. But in 2016, the number of divorces leaped to 112, more than three-quarters of which (87) were lesbian couples.
The most common reason for those splits was “unreasonable behavior”—which can mean anything from refusing to get a job to being unfaithful. But sociologists believe the higher divorce rate among lesbians is caused by women having higher expectations and rushing into a commitment.
Even before same-sex marriage came to Britain, lesbian couples were nearly twice as likely as gay men to end a civil partnership. Of the 794 partnerships dissolved in 2012, almost 60% were by female couples.
Gunnar Andersson, professor of demography at Stockholm University, found the same trend in a 2013 study of civil partnerships in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Queer women were twice as likely to dissolve their same-sex partnerships as men.
“This reflects trends in a heterosexual marriage—because women are more prone to say they want to marry, but they’re also more likely to initiate a divorce,” he told The Independent. “Women usually have higher demands on relationship quality, that’s [been shown] in studies. Even if you control for age there is still a trend of more women ending partnerships than men.”
I admit I had high expectations for my marriage, but I wasn’t the little girl who dreamed of a white dress and big formal wedding. I actually didn’t even really fantasize about being someone’s wife. But didn’t I, a feminist lesbian who doesn’t subscribe to society’s expectation of what a “woman” should be, want to be wanted?
I’m secure enough (now, anyway) to admit that could’ve been a part of why I said “I do.” The idea of marriage was romantic, but the reality? Not so much. And at 25 (or 26, or 27), I didn’t realize how much work goes into being someone’s spouse. By the time I did, my desire to want it to be the right situation was overshadowed by the honest fact that it just wasn’t.
My ex-wife was (and probably still is) fantastic. She was a dream for anyone who wants to settle down, which I thought I did. Our newfound freedom to marry gave us a new dream to aspire to. But we didn’t take the time to decide if it was the right dream for us. (My wife was significantly older than me. She achieved some measure of the American Dream—a successful career, a house—and that likely fueled her desire to tie the knot, too.)
A 2011 Williams Institute study found that 134,000 same-sex couples in the U.S. (about 21%) were legally bound in some way. Of them, 62% were women, even though women make up just 51% of same-sex relationships. Three years later, that percentage rose to 64%. In Massachusetts alone, the first state to recognize the freedom to marry, 75% of gay couples tying the knot were female.
It’s not hard to connect the dots: More marriage mean more divorces. So why are ladies so hasty to say yes to the vest?
Maybe we’re rushing into marriage because it’s finally available to us. But for queer women, it might be because we’re wired that way. In Lesbian Love Addiction, Lauren D. Costine suggests women find comfort in relationships because once we find a connection, we feel a rush of dopamine and oxytocin. (Literally all the feels.)
“Men don’t emit oxytocin in the same way,” Costine told Psych Central. “Therefore, when two women get together the ’oxyfest’ is beyond intoxicating.”
The problem, of course, is what happens when that chemical rush wears off.
There’s not yet good data on the same-sex divorce and dissolution rate post-Obergefell v. Hodges—at least not by gender. The Williams Institute study did find that in the 19 states that granted some kind of legal recognition to gay couples between 1997 and 2011, the rate for same-sex splits was actually slightly lower for same-sex couples than heterosexuals. (1.1% on average compared to 2%.)
Divorce is never fun (take it from me), but it’s less inevitable if we enter into marriage with partners who are really right for us, and whom we’re really right for. We owe it to ourselves to put in the work—or even make peace with singlehood—so we can stop lining the pockets of divorce attorneys.
I’m not saying lower your expectations or hold off the altar forever. Just to consider how easy it is to become a another statistic instead of happily ever after.