As older (or, if you must, geriatric) millennials enter their 40s, some are celebrating 10-plus years of marriage — and some are navigating the end of one. According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, the average age of women going through their first divorce is 40. And while millennials are driving the divorce rate drop (it’s also worth noting that they’re marrying less and waiting longer when they do), it’s a stark contrast to our baby boomer parents, the generation with the highest divorce rate in the country’s history. But many members of Gen Y witnessed their parents’ split in a time when it was still taboo to do so, or saw them stick it out in bad marriages to avoid facing societal judgment. (It should be no surprise that gray divorces are on the rise.) While ending a marriage still isn’t easy and there may be embarrassment attached for some today, divorce is no longer necessarily destined to be a dirty little secret or something you’ll get roasted about like Ross Geller on Friends.
Although a lot of factors have contributed to divorce becoming a little less stigmatized — and even something people celebrate — it’s safe to say we’ve entered an era that’s not your mother’s divorce. It’s one where people await post-breakup albums, receive outpours of support from strangers online for sharing their story, and buy clothes that say “Divorced AF.”
Bustle talked to millennial women across the country about their experience untying the knot in recent years, from using dating apps for the first time at age 36 to removing all traces of their ex from their IG grid.
On Dating Again
Everyone Bustle spoke with said they’ve started dating again, even those who got divorced this year. And they all agreed that what they’re looking for in a partner has changed. For those who got married young, like Kelsey, who was married for 10 years, getting back out there in the last two has been enlightening. “I’ve never dated as an adult — it’s so wild,” says the 31-year-old, who lives in Colorado. “I’m very cautious, but also so much more confident in myself and what I want.”
Many are also navigating dating apps, which weren’t commonplace — and, in some cases, didn’t even exist — the first time around. “Now there are so many ways to meet people online,” says Kelsy, who’s 36 and lives in New Orleans. “It’s really fun sometimes — and annoying other times.”
Teagan, who’s 25 and lives in Kansas, has become more choosy since she parted ways with her ex. “Divorce was an eye-opener,” she says. “I narrowed down some must-have qualities in a partner and won’t settle for less.”
For others, like Julia, 33, dating again meant listening to their intuition. “My needs have been reprioritized and I listen to my gut and see red flags sooner,” says the Atlanta resident.
Austin-based Kelsey, 29, who got divorced last year, says marriage is no longer the goal in her dating life.
But as many mentioned, dating post-split hasn’t always been easy — especially when they had to unlearn unhealthy habits. After her divorce three years ago, Marissa tried to find the opposite of her ex — someone who didn’t smoke, wasn’t in the military, didn’t drink, or did go to college, according to the 27-year-old, who lives in Kansas. “I was so dead-set on someone who wasn’t like my ex that I didn’t really care about anything else,” she says. “Even if they treated me badly or [were] only interested in a physical relationship, I justified it because nothing could be worse than my ex. I’ve come a long way since then.”
On First Dates
Naturally, we had to ask about first dates post-divorce — the good, the bad, the funny, the terrible, and the promising.
Beth*, who lives in Texas, says her dating comeback happened just one week after separating from her ex. It was with a guy she’d had a good date with before she got married. “I was able to have an incredible night with [him], fully setting the overwhelm of divorce and the trauma of the recent abuse on hold for a good two days straight,” the 27-year-old, who got divorced two years ago, says. “It was like taking a good, hearty breath of air before knowing I was going to have to get back to swimming. It helped me immensely.”
After getting divorced recently, Kelsy is no longer interested in serious relationships and has multiple non-monogamous partners. Although she loves dating casually, not all of her dates have been stellar: “A very drunk anti-vaxxer vomited on me when I told him I wasn’t interested.”
The most recent first date Kelly G.*, 41, went on was also a disaster. “He gave me a heads-up that he was doing ‘Dry January’ and wouldn’t be drinking on our date, which was totally fine,” says the Californian, who ended her 10-year-marriage two years ago. “Within the first five minutes, he ordered a glass of wine — the first of about eight — and proceeded to get inebriated, tell me he was in love with me, and ask me to marry him, all before dinner was over. Then texted me the next morning to say he had fun — and asked me out again as if nothing happened.”
But there’s hope for those looking for long-term relationships again. “I went on [some] dates and it was all pretty icky,” Teagan says. “I said I’d give one more guy a shot, and we ended up hitting it off. We’ve been together for almost a year now.”
On Social Media
Then comes social media. There’s clearly no rulebook for post-divorce Instagram etiquette (other than don’t do what Kanye did), but Texas-based family law attorney Natalie Guadalupe gets asked about it often. And whether clients want to post about someone new they’re dating or share a video of their child, she often advises them to avoid posting anything that could be perceived the wrong way by the court. Sometimes, Guadalupe comes across a client’s post on her own. If she doesn’t think it’ll help their case, she’ll let them know.
Many women Bustle spoke with were quick to remove their ex from their grid once they separated, while others made it known to the internet that they were single via memes, changing their Facebook status, or hinting at it in their stories. “The actual day I got divorced, I posted about new beginnings but still didn’t directly say divorce,” says Alex, who’s 35 and lives in Cleveland.
Some went straight for the ol’ block. “I blocked my ex-husband, his mistress, and removed most of his friends from my followers,” says Lisa*. Teagan, who also blocked her ex and the person he cheated on her with, went a step further. “I’d occasionally crack a joke about getting divorced young or share resources for victims of emotional abuse.”
JM*, who got divorced after two years of marriage, posted about it once. “[I] was 100% open to talking about it with people on social [media],” the 33-year-old says. “I wanted others to feel like it was OK if that’s what you needed to do for yourself.” Others like Beth and Sierra, 27, from North Carolina, posted about their new status several times.
Several women ditched their accounts. Becca* didn’t go on hers for three years, while Mary* deactivated her social media for six months and then rejoined with her maiden name.
“I used to share a decent amount on social media, but as soon as I found out about my ex’s affair, I got off social media that same day,” Colorado-based Kelsey, 31, says. “I was feeling so vulnerable, exposed, and betrayed.”
Regardless of how they navigated their internet presence post-divorce, the majority felt that social media added another frustrating layer to the situation. Marissa, who left her husband after four months, says social media stressed her out. “I was incredibly embarrassed that I was now single after just posting wedding photos only a few months before that,” she says. “I quietly hid my page, deleted my wedding albums, and blocked him on all platforms. I didn’t want to make a big deal about it and open myself up to questions or comments from friends or family.”
Even though she posted about her fresh start, Alex found social media tricky to deal with. “I wasn’t ready for people to ask questions or judge me or even just talk about me when they really knew nothing about the ins/outs of my marriage or my happiness,” she says.
On The Challenges
Even if ending your marriage feels like the right decision, divorce is rarely an easy process. Several of the women Bustle talked to likened it to grieving. “The worst part was the heartbreak,” Sierra says. “Divorce is truly like a death.”
Marissa, who got married at 23, still thinks about what could’ve been. “The most challenging part of going through a divorce so young is mourning the life you had been planning with someone that you thought would last the rest of your life,” she says. “Even almost five years later, I still find myself saddened that I’m not living the life I had imagined for myself when I was 22 and wedding planning.” Recently, her ex got remarried. “All I could think about was this girl getting to marry the person I was supposed to be with,” she says. “I imagined her being with a better version of him.” While she admits she has no way of knowing if it’s true, it’s still something she can’t help but think about. “There’s still a part of me that wonders why he couldn’t have been those things for me.”
While Alex’s divorce wasn’t messy and she’s still on amicable terms with her ex, she still feels like she did a selfish thing by choosing her happiness first. “The hardest part for me was the guilt of ending a marriage that was — mostly — fine, and that was absolutely good enough for someone else,” she says. “He said he ‘knew things weren’t perfect but didn’t think they were that bad.’”
While most women said their loved ones were supportive of their choice to get divorced, it wasn’t the case for everyone. Kelsey, 29, whose marriage ended last year, says she’s finally the person she’s always wanted to be — but she got to that place without the help of her family. “They disowned me as I broke their belief in marriage being forever,” she says. “That was one of the hardest parts.”
Stefani, who’s 35 and lives in Detroit, says her family didn’t understand her choice to get divorced after two years of marriage at first. Then, once she opened up about the challenges she had been having (and hiding from everyone), they were fully on board — minus her grandma, “who believed marriage was for life regardless of unhappiness and/or compromising yourself.”
While Maggie’s family and friends were somewhat supportive of her decision to split from her now-ex-husband, the 28-year-old who lives in St. Louis says her family was still difficult to deal with. “Their opinions and gossip made it almost unbearable,” she says.
On The Silver Lining
Even for those who likened divorce to death or had to move past any level of shame, everyone agreed there was a bright side, and several women marked the occasion with a party, dinner, or another celebration.
For many, it felt like a do-over. “Years later, I’ve gotten a second lease on life and I’m with someone who I love and treats me right,” says Nichole, who’s 33 and lives in New York City.
Lena* found her own worth and began to believe in herself, while Emma* discovered herself and found new hobbies.
Kelly G. felt inspired. “I feel a freedom and excitement about my future that I didn’t think I’d ever feel again. … I finally became aware of my surroundings and in control of my life!” she says.
While Marissa admits she has scars, she loves her life now: “The silver lining to my divorce is that I learned that I can do really hard things and come out on the other end better for it.”
Teagan says none of it has been bad. “Every part of my life got better,” she says, adding that her social life and career boomed. In fact, she considers it a top-rated experience. “I’d give the divorce 10/10.”
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.