According to the United States Census Bureau, in 2019, the average age of a woman at her first marriage is 28 years old. I am one of the outliers, with my first marriage at 20 years old and subsequent divorce at a mere 23 years old. It’s been about four months since my now ex-husband, and I split, and it has given me plenty of time to think about our relationship.

Our relationship was a pretty standard military marriage story. We knew each other from high school; he came home during leave from the army in December of 2016, and we started our long-distance relationship. Then, after exactly a year of dating, he came home on leave again and surprised me with a marriage proposal…in front of all my friends and family. Of course, I said yes, because I thought at the time that we could beat the odds of a young marriage and the staggering divorce rate in the United States. Oh, how that thought would come back to bite me just two years later.

Why did I ignore the red flags?

In psychology, there is a phenomenon called “the hindsight bias.” Basically, it explains how people have the tendency to overestimate their ability to be able to predict an outcome that is simply unpredictable. In my case, I have experienced this with all of the red flags that I should have yielded to before accepting a marriage proposal. It is so easy to recognize them now, so why didn’t I notice them before?

During my recent months of pondering how I could possibly be divorced at the ripe age of 23 years old, one thought that keeps coming back to me is the theory of the male gaze. This theory explores how women are simply seen as objects for men’s gratification and desire. We can see this in film, advertisements, and even politics. This all started to make me wonder, had I started to only see my value and worth through the tainted view of the male gaze? Was I so desperate to be the desire of this man and accept his marriage proposal all because that is how society has primed me?

Thinking about how much I gave up to move away with my ex-husband appalls me because I never thought I would be the person to give up my aspirations and dreams for any other person. I left my family, friends, job, and college career completely after we were married, and it took an obvious toll. My mental health declined and our relationship became resentful and spiteful. I ultimately decided to end the marriage because I wanted to take my individualism back and reclaim my future for myself only.

How all of this helped me in the end

Allowing myself to understand and experience these feelings has boosted my self-esteem and confidence. It feels so good to be back to who I want to be again, and the best part is that this decision was for nobody else but me. Going through the process of marriage and divorce at such a young age is something that I would not recommend, but I’m also strangely thankful for the experience. The past two years of my life had more lows than highs, but now I feel so content with my beliefs and self-worth. It has taught me that I don’t need another person to make me feel valuable and worthy, unlike how the male gaze made me feel. Even though society can make us experience our own twisted version of the male gaze, we always have the right to take back our reality.

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