Family & Relationships: I was ashamed when my whirlwind marriage ended in divorce at 27. Now I think I was brave to end it.

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The author at 27, after separating from her ex. Courtesy of Stephanie Hallett © Provided by INSIDER The author at 27, after separating from her ex. Courtesy of Stephanie Hallett
  • My ex-husband and I married young and very quickly, and our marriage ended fast, too.
  • By the time I was 27, I was divorced and felt ashamed by it.
  • Looking back now, at the age of 35, I know it was the bravest thing I could do.

"You're only 27 and you're already divorced? What's wrong with you?"

I was at my friend's house for a barbecue when the conversation turned to my recent breakup. A longtime pal of my friend's husband, whom I was meeting for the first time that night, scoffed when I explained why I'd left my husband.

I wish I could say I had the perfect zinger to put him in his place. Instead, I excused myself from the table and went inside to bawl my eyes out.

It wasn't that he was a stranger passing judgment, or that I was sad about the relationship ending. It was that he'd said out loud the thing I'd been thinking about myself for weeks.

The relationship was a roller coaster from the get-go

My ex and I married fast and young; I was 23, and he was 26. We met through mutual friends a few days after I moved to Los Angeles, then married six tumultuous months later. Our relationship was not what I'd call "healthy," but it had its moments.

He could be very funny — he liked to make up songs to lift the mood in crappy situations, like the one he sang from the perspective of the cockroaches we discovered when we moved into our first apartment. He also drove my mom around, without complaint, for three days when she came to visit during a rare week of December rain, searching for rubber boots to replace the flimsy flats she'd packed.

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But the bad, volatile days outweighed the light, goofy ones. More than one ended with me parked by the beach late into the night, too terrified to fall asleep and too terrified to go home.

Almost buying a house marked a turning point

Still, about four years in, we'd saved enough money to move forward on a long-held goal: buying a home. It was 2014, and we'd found a fully detached two-bedroom bungalow in LA for about $300,000.

But just after we signed the purchase contract, my husband's behavior started to change. Suddenly, day after day, all he could talk about was this new female colleague at his job. She delighted him — she loved comic books and video games and all the "boy" movies of his childhood.

As we got closer to our closing date, his affection for her seemed to ramp up. He was making her CDs and drawing her pictures, the things he did for me in the early days of our courtship. He was going to her house for dinner at night and having lunch with her daily outside the office. When he got home, he'd text her late into the night lying next to me, long after I'd gone to sleep.

He denied having feelings for her but offered to ask how she felt about him. She was direct: Yes, she liked him. Very much indeed. He didn't see that as a problem and told me I was just jealous.

My friend stepped up when I needed her

One week before our closing date, my friend pulled me into her backyard.

"I need to talk to you about your house," she said. "I told my mom what's going on and she said you can't go through with the deal. You can't buy a house with someone who's basically cheating on you in front of your face."

Only once before had I ever had a friend speak to me so plainly, with such loving force. I was blindsided, yes — somehow it hadn't occurred to me that I could call it off — but I was also grateful. Of course, I couldn't go through with it — my marriage was essentially a farce.

The next day I made contact with my old therapist, who confirmed for me what I'd realized overnight: It wasn't just time to cut the cord on the house, it was time to tear up the contract on the marriage.

Before my husband got home from work that day, I packed a bag with a few essentials and hid it under my side of the bed. When he came in, I asked him, one last time, if he'd end his relationship with his coworker. He rolled his eyes and refused, brushing past me to toss his lunch container in the sink. "In that case, I'm going to my friend's," I said. "Please don't try to stop me."

I used my bag to push past him as he tried to block the door.

It ended as abruptly as it had begun

The next morning I sent him a text asking to meet. He said he was pretty busy at work and whatever I needed to say I could say on the phone. So I called. "I want to separate and I don't want to buy the house," I said. After a beat of silence, he replied, "At least I still have my friend."

When I look back on that time, nearly a decade ago, I can still feel my deep shame. Another relationship, over.

But now, at 35, I can only pat that girl on the back. Stick-to-itiveness is not what I needed — I needed courage, which I think I had in spades. Walking away from a relationship that had snuffed out my light was the right thing to do, age be damned.

I do mourn that lovely house, though. Zillow tells me it's worth $630,000 today.

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