Many moons ago, divorce was a sad and pathetic thing, to be whispered in hushed tones or spun as ‘separated’ so ‘divorced’ didn’t become a label that wouldn’t unstick.
Divorce was a statement of failure, usually on the woman’s part - failure to ‘keep a man’ and ‘make things work’. To be a divorcee was a thing of shame; a rejected party.
But slowly, that image has shifted.
It started subtly, with onscreen femme fatales no longer being single, but divorced, this used as a signifier that they were on the prowl and ready to take your man. While a single, never-married woman could be a sweet, loveable protagonist, the divorced woman wore stockings, a deep side part, and red lipstick. She was pure sexual drive, her marriage showing her ability to use and discard men.
That obviously still wasn’t a great depiction of divorced women, but it was a stepping stone to what divorce is now, which is… sexy. Hot. Desirable.
These days, women have sidestepped the ‘sad divorcee’ role and slid men into that spot so they can take on something better. Big divorce energy is very different on women and men.
A man with ‘big divorce energy’ is sad, hunched over, lonely, a bit pathetic, picture sad Ben Affleck. He’s got a post-divorce bachelor’s pad that’s more like a bare, run-down motel, or, on the other end of the embarrassment spectrum, has a frat bro kiddiness that evokes Kirk Van Houten’s racecar bed.
A woman carrying herself with big divorce energy, meanwhile, is a very different beast. Now, a woman getting a divorce is not a failure or a heartbreak, but a statement of self-worth, of freedom. A divorced woman says to the world: I’ve come to my senses, ditched that guy, and now I’m ready to have a post-divorce glow-up.
It’s the natural progression of the ‘dump him’ rhetoric you’ll see all over girlboss-lite Instagrams. Under this lens, a divorced woman is powerful, she’s bold, she’s self-actualised and done the ultimate self-care act of ending a relationship with a man.
And with this comes the renewal. While a man, after a divorce, shall let their recycling fill up with beer cans, grow in a poorly-kept beard, and wear sports shirts in an attempt to recapture their youth, for a woman - at least in the celeb and cultural stereotype world - divorce is a chance for transformation.
Freed from marriage, the divorced woman can embrace her sex appeal. She can return to posting Instagram baddie pics. She can cast herself as wanted by everyone, whether she does this by dating or kissing as many people as possible, or just looking so good that everyone assumes her ex is still longing for her embrace.
Some key examples of the effective utilisation of big divorce energy: Miley Cyrus, kissing Kaitlynn Carter in Lake Como, then wearing an outrageous outfit to her divorce hearing. Kim Kardashian, glowing in going out pics with her pals.
You’ll also spy the changing perception of divorce in how we respond to news of Mackenzie Scott divorcing Jeff Bezos and Melinda divorcing Bill Gates: cries of ‘good for her’ and ‘yes, get his money’.
There’s an expectation, now, that a woman going through a divorce will make the most of this energy by following the split with their very own hot girl summer. This is only right.
But even when the flashy moment dies down, the sex appeal of a divorced woman continues, for they’re not only hot, but cool. People will marvel at a divorcee and say look at her go, she’s gone through therapy. She isn’t so terrified of being alone that she would stay in a rubbish relationship. She’s dyed her hair a slightly different shade of brunette, this time with some caramel highlights. She’s breezy.
Will men be able to reframe divorce in such a way that it’s cool for them, too? I don’t think so, no. Blame general anti-men sentiment felt across the internet, the assumption that a divorce is down to the man’s fuckups, or just the expression of anger built up in years of women being cast as the sad, pathetic ones. You’re pitiable now, divorced men. It’s you that must get multiple cats and start selling watercolour paintings.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the men of divorce, though. Just land a sexy divorced woman and become a loving husband and father all over again. That’s hot.
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