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The Break-up Breakdown

Eight. That’s the number that stuck out.

We're currently working on the February 2011 issue, so I've been researching a bunch of facts and figures related to Valentine’s Day. I wasn’t stunned by $2.8 billion, the amount we spent on jewelry in February 2008. Ditto for 24.5 pounds, the per capita consumption of candy by Americans in 2007 (imagine a Thanksgiving turkey made of M&Ms). But 8 is the average length in years of first marriages ending in divorce. I got married in 2002.

The U.S. Census Bureau is telling me that 2010 could be a make-or-break year for my family. We almost didn’t make it this far.

Four years ago, I didn’t think the marriage would survive. Brandy and I were dealt a first child with severe colic and sensory integration issues. He slept in erratic spurts, and screamed enough to fill Friday the 13th and all 11 sequels. As a result, we transitioned from husband and wife to combative colleagues trying to salvage the family business. What I failed to understand was the universality of the situation: our feelings were as unique as acid-washed jeans in 1984.

Thanks to lucky number 8, I began wondering what my life would be like after a separation or divorce. Then it hit me: If statistics and scientific research can predict the end of my marriage, can it also paint a picture of my family after the split?

The first thing I learned is I won’t be doing the dumping. According to the National Marriage Project, a research initiative at Rutgers University dedicated to marital success and child well-being, two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women. This is largely due to mothers having a stronger desire to keep their children. Current data underscores this point: men make up only 16 percent of single parents living with their children, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, after Brandy dumps me, I’ll be faring better than her: a woman’s standard of living decreases by 27 percent after a divorce, while a man’s gain is 10 percent.

It isn’t all peachy for me. The National Institute on Aging says this split is going to affect my health. Divorced people have 20 percent more chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer than married people. But I’ve got plans to offset those problems. I hope Brandy is over me because I have news: I’m getting hitched in 2013! The typical amount of time between divorce and second marriage is 3 ½ years, and 52 percent of men who have been divorced are currently married, compared to 44 percent of women. Brandy, I’d like you to meet Svenka. She understands me. (Not in English, but whatever.)

What about my two boys? The National Marriage Project’s study The Top Ten Myths of Divorce reports that children of a high-conflict household benefit from divorce, as the split ends the discord at home.

If I get divorced, I’m going to be a diabetic man without my boys living with a Russian woman in 2013. Sounds a little fishy. That’s the problem with statistics: They require 10,000 test subjects to tell one story. While there are easily 10,000 other couples struggling after their firstborn, ours is the only story I can help write. And I will tell her that next Valentine’s Day with the help of one of the nation’s 20,227 florists.