If I had a penny for every time I’d been compared to Emily Ratajkowski, well… I’d have one penny, because finally I have something in common with one of the world’s most beautiful women. The model and actress posted a TikTok (which many believe relates to the criticism levelled at Sophie Turner) captioned ‘personally, I find it chic to be divorced by the age of 30’. And as a (self-identified) young chic divorcÄe, I’m here to tell you: she is absolutely right. Not only is being divorced chic, it can be the start of a fulfilled, exciting and much happier new life.
Like Ratajkowski, I was married in my late 20s and separated by 31. Unlike Emily, however, I didn’t settle immediately into ‘chic’. I was heartbroken, lost, and a single mother to a child under two. The life I thought would be mine had vanished, and I couldn’t picture how any other life would look, or how that ‘other’ would include happiness. ‘Divorce’ was a word that people still whispered to each other as if it was contagious or shameful. And despite the fact my parents were divorced (my father twice, in fact), and I’d grown up perfectly happy in a one-parent home, I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I’d failed at marriage, and would likely fail at parenting as a result, too.
Fast forward to six years later and I’m still a single mum, but completely and undeniably: happy. So happy, in fact, that I’ve co-authored a new book with fellow single mum Zoë Desmond, called ‘How To Be A Happy Single Parent’, because I’m convinced that going off-script can actually be the secret to finding contentment, if only you have the confidence to embrace it. This is why it’s so important to reject the negative narratives around Sophie’s split, and champion Emily’s message of wearing your divorcÄe title with pride.
So how do you get here, to happiness, if you’re freshly divorced and feeling anything but chic, free and fabulous? Like any new look, the divorcÄe title can feel hard to style at first. Do I wear it wild and free, and risk ‘off-the-rails’ commentary? (Highly recommended, first stop: Ibiza.) Or neat and sullen, inviting ‘heartbroken’ assumptions? Does one lead with self-deprecation and whimsy, and risk ‘over-compensation’ comments?
Like any ground-breaking style, divorce requires confidence to pull off well. The first few weeks, months and even years are undeniably wobbly: of course, nobody pledges ‘till death do us part’ with the intention of taking it back a few years later, so a crisis of confidence is understandable. At first, you must take things one day at a time, give yourself the space to grieve the life you thought you would lead, and slowly, brick by brick, start building something new.
And this is where the key to happiness lies. In the ‘something new’. When people talk about getting divorced in your 30s as a negative, when they attach connotations of shame, failure, and judgement, they are missing the point. What an opportunity, a joy, a privilege, to have the chance to start from scratch, older, wiser and more experienced. When you apply for a job, you would never send a blank CV. And yet so many of us enter marriage young, naive and with no idea how the title will feel a few years in, once we’ve found our feet and even gone through major life changes, loved, lost or even created new life. Quitting a job you were ill-suited to, with a partner that didn’t fit, is not shameful, it is sensible. A divorce is only a failure if you paint it as one. To me, it is a (hard-earned) experience, an opportunity, a chance to wear a title with a chic, French, accented ‘é’ for the foreseeable.
And it’s not just me (and my new peer Emily Ratajkowski) finding happiness post-divorce. Zoë and I interviewed Helen Thorn, best-selling author of Get Divorced, Be Happy, for How To Be A Happy Single Parent. She told us: ‘I think the stigma is what holds people back from getting divorced… they’ll just list all the negatives. And that’s what I wanted to do with the book and Instagram, and the radio and podcasting work that I do, to say ‘I’ve never felt so happy’... It’s the happiness that I thought I would get, and the security and the comfort and the love that I thought I would get from a marriage. It’s actually what I get from being alone.’
So, if you’re post-divorce and feeling wobbly, especially if you’re young and finding the stigma attached to young divorce difficult to come to terms with, please know this: there’s nothing shameful about believing in love and going for it, all-in. And there’s nothing shameful about prioritising your own future happiness, when that love doesn’t work out the way you hoped it would. Being divorced doesn’t mean you have to give up on the idea of love, or even happily-ever-after love. (Elizabeth Taylor was married eight times.) And you now have something in common with Emily Ratajkowski, for goodness’ sake.
‘Figuring out what you want to do with your life… having tried that married fantasy and realising that it’s maybe not all it’s cracked up to be… then you’ve got your whole life still ahead of you,’ says Emily in her TikTok. ‘To all those people who are stressed about being divorced: it’s good, congratulations.’
And congratulations from me, too. Divorce looks great on you. (Or it soon will, if you learn to embrace it.)
How To Be A Happy Single Parent is out on 28 September 2023 and available for pre-order now.