When I Got Divorced In My 20s, I Thought My Life Was Over. Here’s What I Wish I’d Known.

"At my age, I felt like I was the only one getting divorced while all my friends were getting married and having babies."
The author on her wedding day a decade ago.
Photo By Yun Cee Ng
The author on her wedding day a decade ago.

I was 28 years old when my husband told me he didn’t want to be married ― perhaps not to anyone, but definitely not to me ― and he didn’t want to have children. I was deeply unhappy in my marriage and ready to move on. But that doesn’t mean my divorce was easy.

At my age, I felt like I was the only one getting divorced while all my friends were getting married and having babies. I had to part ways with some of my best friends because they no longer supported me. Then I was downsized from my job and had to move back home with my mum, where I mourned what I thought were the most important years of my life. I also feared I would never meet someone new in time to be able to accomplish my dream of becoming a mother.

Then I started writing about my experience, and other divorcees in their 20s reached out to me with their stories. When my book Trash the Dress: Stories of Celebrating Divorce in Your 20s made headlines, I formed a young divorce support group on Facebook, which grew to nearly 1,000 women across the globe just by word of mouth.

The page began under secret and unsearchable settings, so members had to be personally invited. This allowed me to keep the space as a safe sanctuary to express our feelings and fears and to ask for advice. Since we were still healing and many of us were in the middle of sensitive legal battles, it also helped keep out the reality TV show producers looking to develop shows around our stories.

I did, however, trash my own dress on a reality TV show. A professional team gave me a makeover, and I sliced into the ivory, intricately beaded gown that I wore on what was supposed to be the happiest day of my life, my gateway to happily ever after. I then ripped it apart with my bare hands, performing my own open-heart surgery — on national television.

The author at a photo shoot for the cover of her "Trash the Dress" book.
Photo By Jenna Zee
The author at a photo shoot for the cover of her "Trash the Dress" book.

Our private support group became a solid foundation for friendships, and I finally felt less alone. Over the years, we’ve watched each other heal, date again, get remarried, go on adventures and more. As we all settled into our post-divorce lives, some of us starting families or new careers, our page quieted down.

In 2024, it will have been 10 years since I published Trash the Dress, and in an effort to connect with a new generation of women, I recently made our group searchable by the public. We’ve started adding new members, and now our original members, the OGs, are here to mentor them.

We’ve also begun reconnecting with each other, and it’s been really sentimental. I’m not the only one who recently started reflecting on my journey as a veteran 20-something divorcee.

My friend and fellow support group member Emily F. Unger-Evans, who has also been divorced for more than a decade, told me,If I had stayed married, I wouldn’t have been able to chase my dream of being a singer, songwriter and nurse. I never would have moved to Nashville, never would have picked up a guitar, never would have made my dream of having one of my songs on the radio.”

We both regret getting married for perhaps the wrong reasons. I thought getting married would help my husband figure out a career he loved and change his mind about fatherhood. My own family was unstable, and I saw his happily married parents who still ate dinner together every night and hoped I could experience that, too. But during my marriage, I discovered that meals can be even lonelier if you’re sitting at the table next to the wrong person.

Emily said: “I had it in my head that marriage would ‘fix’ our relationship, and we’d be closer, stronger, more intimate. He became more possessive … I regret letting him take control of my life. We were together almost 10 years, and I regret the lost time with my family. I lost so much time with my loved ones.”

We’ve learned that while divorce may initially seem devastating, it opened us up to new opportunities we would not have embarked on otherwise.

After her divorce, Emily was able to resolve her rocky relationship with her mom, making peace and getting her blessing on her new marriage before her mom passed away. She’s also grateful she got divorced before she turned 30 because it allowed her to be an adult all by herself.

I had to take some serious time to be alone, to really learn who I was as an individual. I needed time with my own thoughts, hopes and dreams. I was able to blossom in my own way,” Emily told me.

Devon M. Pasha, another member of our sisterhood of divorcees, is on the verge of turning 40 and today is remarried and has a daughter. She told me, “I won’t pretend that everything is happily ever after, but I can’t believe how much I’ve grown since getting out of that first marriage … I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been in my life. I’m learning to set healthy boundaries, find my true self, advocate for what’s good for me, how to say no and how to be kind to myself.”

These days, Devon is a public speaker on the subject of turning shame to strength. “I’ve learned to take away other’s labels and shame and redefine them as powerful mantras and own my own labels,” she said.

Angel Coleman, another group member, who is now in her 30s and an outpatient therapist working in private practice, told me she regrets thinking she had failed or wasn’t a good wife. “Looking back, I gave my all with the tools I had as a young wife and mother.”

She now grants her younger self more empathy and understanding. “It’s OK to grow apart, and you are allowed to change your mind. In our 20s, we are in the early stages of ‘becoming.’ We are finding our voices for the first time and asserting boundaries for the first time. This process is a journey that requires grace.”

Angel is grateful to be remarried to a husband who encourages her “ambitious spirit” and to model a supportive and loving relationship to her daughters. But for some of us, finding happiness means not being married anymore at all.

I’ve also known Amanda, who asked that her last name be withheld for privacy, for over a decade now. As we were discussing the lessons we have learned post-divorce, she told me this: Being in the ‘safety’ of a relationship isn’t worth it if you aren’t happy and living life as the most authentic version of yourself.” I think that is important for women of all ages and life stages to hear.

She said that dating and breakups in your 30s and now 40s are hard, but she no longer feels she needs a relationship to be complete. If I find one again, great, but for now I’m really content being single.”

Since her divorce, Amanda has traveled to all seven continents, mostly solo, and experienced things that her ex-husband wasn’t interested in.

“Society has decided that divorce equals failure, but it’s just not true,” Amanda shared with me. “Divorce is this incredible right we have to say, ‘Nope, that’s not what I want my future to be.’”

The author, now older and wiser with the help of other young divorcees.
Photo By Leanne Dolan
The author, now older and wiser with the help of other young divorcees.

I couldn’t agree more. Divorce may be scary, but it’s worth it to move on from a bad relationship. I hope that by sharing our stories, we’ll help other women see that it’s never too late to start leading the life you were meant to live.

If they’re lucky, they’ll find a community to help guide them. When I asked Emily how joining our support group helped her, she said, “It was a safe place I could go. I’m lifelong friends with these women, and I know I could turn to any one of them and ask for support and they would give it, and I would do the same for them. There aren’t words to express the gratitude I have for the support I received from the group of total strangers who were going through the same life changes.”

I think Devon summed it up best when she told me, “It’s amazing what a good community of strong women will do when we take back our own power.” For many of us, that process began as soon as we made the decision to divorce.

Today I’m remarried with two children and three dogs. As I watch my kids grow up, I realize I was wrong back then: These are my most cherished years. I am grateful every day for divorce in my 20s because without it I wouldn’t have the life, family or career that I have today.

I learned that I’m resilient, stronger than I thought, and able to turn dark times into something positive. Throughout the years, group members have chipped in to pay for a hotel room for a member who had nowhere to stay, shipped children’s Christmas presents to help the single moms and even met up in person. Maybe the biggest lesson I learned from life after divorce is that I can use even my hardest experiences to help someone else.

Although I never could have seen it at the time, I now feel grateful that my life fell apart; it meant I could be there to help someone else’s life come together.

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