When Emma Wilhelm was 29, she wrote a “Dear John” letter, packed her bags, and left her husband on her lunch break. She drove to her parent’s house in Minnesota, listening to sappy country music all the way. They’d been married for 14 months, together for less than two and a half years. For Emma, it was a “starter marriage,” the pop culture term for short-lived flirtations with forever.
Young couples face several challenges, such as financial instability, blossoming and demanding careers and emerging adult personalities, that can compete with settling into marriage. When those strains lead to a breakup, many young divorcees are left feeling like they did something wrong—that they made the wrong choice, didn’t try hard enough, didn’t catch the signs or failed to make their marriage work.But now, a recent crop of self-help books and blogs aimed at young divorcees are trying to spin the conversation: Far from being a failure, divorce can be a catalyst for change. “Right after my divorce, my self-esteem was really low,” recalls Wilhelm, whose blog, Divorced Before 30, gets thousands of readers each month. “But I also felt a huge sense of relief. I knew that I had a chance to reinvent myself and to be happy again.”
The same sentiment runs through one of the most popular books in this genre, “The Mini Marriage,” released in 2010, which includes five “bite-sized” memoirs of young divorce that promise to help you “heal your heart and become young, divorced and fabulous.” In every case, according to the book, divorce is a blessing in disguise—the do-over you need to get what you really want out of life.After months of grief and depression, Wilhelm seized that chance, setting what she calls some ambitious goals for herself.
She resolved to pay off her debt, run a marathon and get more serious about writing. Wilhelm signed up for a creative nonfiction course at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and landed a position as a business writer. Her blog, which she writes on the side, has now taken off and she’s in the process of landing a book deal. She even remarried (happily this time) and now has two little kids.
That kind of reinvention is common after a breakup, explains Gary Lewandowski, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Monmouth University and co-creator of ScienceofRelationships.com. “Relationships should be a source of growth and a way to improve the self,” he says. When they’re not, or worse, when they actually stunt your growth, you’re more likely to flourish after you part ways.
Joelle Caputa, now 30, left her husband at 28. They were together for just over a year, but she knew it wasn’t right long before that. “I realized I was making a mistake as I was walking down the aisle on my wedding day,” she recalls. “I didn’t feel like I was walking towards my soul mate. I hoped people liked my dress.”