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Starter Marriage

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Mark and Ellen had gotten married a little after Tom and Kitty. It was a mistake from the first day. Two nice people not made for each other. ... Then it broke wide open and they were divorced. Mark was thankful there had been no children.
Exodus by Leon Uris

Alice and Bob got together, they got engaged, and they got married. Everyone expects that they'll live Happily Ever After and grow old together. Then the news is broken that Alice and Bob are getting a divorce, even though they haven't even been married five years. What happened?

Reasons for the divorce vary: one or both of them lacked maturity to sustain a long-term relationship, Alice and Bob had radically different goals and ideals in life, flaws (big or small) that they overlooked are coming to light, they married for the wrong reasons and/or too early. Whatever the reason(s) given, generally the marriage lasts less than five years and doesn't produce any children, so it's easy for the former spouses to cut each other out of their lives. It is also always the first marriage for at least one spouse, very often both, and may be followed by a more stable long-term marriage for one or both parties.

May be the result of Relationship Writing Fumble, Fourth-Date Marriage, Married Too Young, Alice and Bob being Strangled by the Red String, or simply the idea that True Love Is Boring. It may be used to prevent Shipping Bed Death. May or may not result in one or both halves of the ex-couple going on to become a Serial Spouse if subsequent relationships are similarly doomed.

Compare Sex Changes Everything.

Truth in Television, sadly.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In Persepolis Marjane and her boyfriend Reza feel stifled from having to hide their relationship due to scrutiny from the Iranian police, so they decide to marry. They discover however they don't have much in common, and their marriage means she has to stay in Iran and deal with oppression from the fundamentalist government. Their eventual divorce coincides with Marji's decision to finally leave Iran for good. Fortunately, her family was never on board with the marriage in the first place for this exact reason and it's revealed her grandma she has been married thrice.
    Grandma: The first marriage is practice for the second.
  • The Flash: Played for Drama. In a flashback in Flash #197, it was revealed that Hunter Zolomon had only been married to his college sweetheart Ashley for a few months after they graduated college together and joined the FBI before Hunter's tragic mistake that cost the life of his father- in- law, causing Ashley to divorce him and him being kicked out of the FBI. Hunter still very much loves Ashley but knows it's unlikely she'll forgive him; he accepts the divorce and tries to move on with his life. Later, when Ashley learns that Hunter transformed into supervillain Zoom, she left the FBI to come to Keystone City to take over his former spot as the local metahuman profiler to help reform him—showing that she still loves him and regrets leaving him. Tragically it's implied that, had that misjudgment on Hunter's part that cost the life of his father in law never happened, Hunter and Ashley would have had a long and lasting marriage.

    Film — Live-Action 

  • Marina Gregg's first husband Arthur Babcock in the Miss Marple novel, The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. He was a realtor who just wasn't prepared to keep up with the lifestyle of a Hollywood star.
  • They don't get married, but the romance between Wedge Antilles and Qwi Xux ends like this in Star Wars Legends. Qwi comments that almost everyone ends up in such a relationship at some point, but usually as teenagers; because of her recent forced memory loss and his teenage enlistment in the Rebel Alliance they never really had the opportunity.
  • Adrian Mole:
    • Adrian's love interest Pandora deliberately has one of these; it's a marriage of convenience, since her husband is gay, and she believes that first marriages should "be got over with quickly."
    • Adrian's own first marriage counts as this since it lasts only a few years. He and his wife Jo Jo have too many cultural and social differences to be sustainable; he's working-class English, she's a Nigerian aristocrat. Adrian says that when she told him she'd wear "traditional dress" to the wedding, only to show up in traditional Nigerian dress (whereas he'd been expecting a white dress and veil) he knew it wasn't going to last.
  • In the Alice Series, her cousin Carol got rather quickly married to a navy guy. The marriage lasted only a year and, years later, Carol admits that she rushed into the marriage, not really knowing the guy beyond finding him funny. And realizing that he was seeing other women on the side was one more reason for the divorce. Her second marriage, to Larry Swenson, is much longer-lasting and happy.
  • The Overstory: Olivia and Davy, who get married impulsively in college and end up only being married for two years.
  • It's eventually revealed that the female protagonist in Trouble With Lichen had a brief and unhappy marriage, more or less on the rebound, after running away from her research into the antigerone.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: The relationship between Captain Sheridan and Captain Lochley is implied to have crashed and burned in no more than a couple of months.
    Captain Lochley: We met, fell crazy in love, got married, realized it was a huge mistake, fell crazy out of love, and divorced.
  • Cheers: Frasier's first marriage to Nanette Guzman, which happened during their college days. It didn't last long, they split up and broke off contact. Frasier's quite surprised to meet her again, and his current wife Lilith more than a little annoyed to find Frasier had a wife he never mentioned before. Things get worse when it turns out Nanette is still very attracted to Frasier.
  • Girls: Both Jessa and Marnie have brief, season-long marriages that end in divorce.
  • Gilmore Girls: Dean hastily marries his girlfriend Lindsay when they're eighteen, and the marriage is soon on the rocks because they both tend to act selfish and inconsiderate towards each other, with both of them realizing they simply aren't well suited for each other. This comes to a climax when Dean cheats on his wife with Rory, his ex-girlfriend he has lingering feelings for, and they divorce soon after. Years later in the revival, Dean has moved on from Rory and is now Happily Married and has started a family.
  • Friends: This is a Running Gag for Ross. The show starts with Ross confirming he and his wife Carol are now divorced after she came out as a lesbian. They were married for four years. However, she is pregnant at the time, and they go on to co-parent their son and stay in each other's lives as Amicable Exes, making it a Downplayed Trope. Ross then marries Emily in a Fourth-Date Marriage, and she divorces him for accidentally saying Rachel's name at the altar. Eventually, Ross and Rachel marry — because they were very drunk, in Vegas, and thought it would be funny. Once sober, they then divorce. At this point, the gang agree that Ross's "thing" is to be "the guy that gets divorced".
  • In Smallville, Jimmy and Chloe. They were very sweet together at first but gets increasingly rocky due to the involvement of first Clark, then Davis. Ends with a huge Tear Jerker when Jimmy shouts at Chloe and declares marrying her is the biggest mistake of his life.
  • The Starter Wife centers around a woman whose husband leaves her once he starts to make it big in the film industry. Leaving a wife once you make it big so you can find a proper trophy wife is apparently a big thing in these circles. She's devastated to find out that this is what she's become.
  • In an episode of Castle, this is the case for one of the suspects and his ex-wife, which he doesn't remember because he gained amnesia at the time of the murder. At the end of the story, they've decided to give it a second chance.
  • In Married... with Children, numerous times Kelly has said a variation of, "I hope my first marriage/husband goes okay."
  • St. Elsewhere: In "In Sickness and in Health", Dr. Ehrlich and Roberta "Bobby" Sloan get married after a very brief courtship. Three episodes later in "After Dark", they separate after only 16 days of marriage after they realise that they are incompatible.


  • From Company: Joanne's first marriage happened when she was just out of college, and apparently lasted only a year, until her husband announced that he wanted to move back to Chicago and she refused. As she tells Bobby:
    Joanne: I was too young, but I was old enough to know where I was living, and I had no intention of leaving New York.
  • The Last Five Years tells the story of a couple from the beginning of their relationship to their divorce. The relationship fits the criteria: In Love with Love, Differing Priorities Breakup, both characters are young, divorce comes within five years.


    Western Animation 
  • Lampshaded on an episode of The Simpsons, which shows Bart (now a teenager) in a relationship with a high school girlfriend, who mentions that they're supposed to vow to be together forever and get divorced within five years.
  • On Daria the title character's cousin Erin gets married in season two. By season five (2-3 In-Universe years later), they're getting divorced; apparently Erin only wanted to get married because the guy, Brian, gave her herpes and she didn't think anyone else would want her. Subverted, however, when they reconcile. (Except for the wedding, all of this happens off-screen, though it affects Daria and her family indirectly.)

    Real Life 
  • Neopagan handfastings have the option of being for life or "A Year and a Day." After that period, the couple have the option to go their separate ways with no hard feelings or renew their vows again.
  • Hollywood marriages between young actors often end up being this. It's not uncommon for some to rack up several starter marriages. In fact, the list of actors and other celebrities who don't have a starter marriage under their belt is probably shorter than those who do.
  • Among U.S. first and second ladies, Betty Ford, Karen Pence and Jill Biden all had early starter marriages they don't like to talk about.
  • Both Americans who married into the British royal family, Wallis Simpson and Meghan Markle, had starter marriages before marrying their royal husbands.note 


Video Example(s):


Ballad of Brenda & Eddie

The heart of Billy Joel's "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" is the Ballad of Brenda & Eddie, two high-school sweethearts who marry and divorce in the summer of 75.

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