After divorce you get a one-year pass to be a hot mess

Go ahead and get ugly. You're entitled for one year. 

Over the summer I visited a longtime friend. As we sat at the beach, our kids playing nearby, I noticed her hair was uncharacteristically oily and snarly. Her unkempt bush was bursting out the crotch of her green tank suit, and her toddler son sat nearby, eating sand and crying. She didn't notice.

“I'm in a good place,” she said, looking away from me. “I'm thinking of dating.”

“Hm,” I said.

What happens in the first year after divorce

She was in a good place: That post-divorce, hot, steaming, crying, screaming, angry, elated, miserable, hopeless, desperate, stinky, hairy, eating-sand place:  The first year after divorce.

My friend's husband, you see, had moved out — after she discovered he'd secretly gambled away all their savings.  She was exactly where she was supposed to be: deep in the denial phase of grief.

I see it all the time, and you likely do, too. People fall apart when their marriages end. No matter if it is an amicable, Gwyneth Paltrow uncoupling, your decision or his, whether there was plenty of money or everyone is now destitute, divorce is trauma. Every single vertical of your life unravels: finance, real estate, the kids of course, and how much you will see them and where. Money is a giant, scary question mark, and your relationships with friends and extended family likely change and are challenged. If you are like I was, your ideas about your own sexuality, identity and future are questioned, and your health can take its toll.

Related: Do you feel guilty for divorcing a nice guy?

How to get through the first year of divorce

You get a year. A free pass for 12 months to be a freaky weirdo. Drink too much after the kids go to bed. Smoke a few cigarettes at break time with your colleagues. Let the house go, let the dishes pile up in the sink. Hell, might as well preemptively cancel the gym memberships, because you're not going. Be stinky and oily, and let your pubes hang out of your swimsuit on a public beach in the midwest. Sleep with a bunch of completely inappropriate people and wear things that no one at your age with your body should ever even think about wearing in public. Stay up all night stalking your college boyfriend on Facebook.

You're good. No judgement here!



Listen to my podcast on post-divorce shit shows!



Am I describing your friend or sister? Let her have at it, hang it all out. It's part of the process from which she will emerge, mind-blowingly successful and stronger than ever.

What about the one-year anniversary after divorce?

But at month 13? Time to tidy up business. Your Post-Divorce Hot Mess Pass has expired.

Get a wax. Go on some nice dates with nice people. Get that career going, wrap up the final, ugly details of your divorce, and pay a little more attention to the kids. Early to bed, and go to the gym for crissake. Hit the therapy, online or IRL. [My list of best online therapy apps]

And if you're the friend? Bring over a decent bottle of wine for after the kids go to bed. Two glasses each, and a toast to celebrate that that horror is finally behind her.

Best online dating sites and apps for single moms>>

Real moms respond to “After divorce you get a one-year pass to be a hot mess” (and notes on restarting life after divorce):

I giggled at the article while giving you the “oh yes sister, you’re talking about me” nod. Feels like I’m on my way to recovering now though thank goodness. I do have my drink when the kids are sleep. My “woe is me” when some of my favorite love songs come on. Also my angry I hate this dude moments. Incomplete projects and the home is a wreck. And oh my poor kids hair…sometimes it’s cute and sometimes it’s just not…smh. I just want my life back. Unfortunately I’ve made the decision not to date and my trust for people is just not there anymore. But Jan will make a year so we shall see. Oh yea…2 days ago I chopped off all of my hair so start fresh, lol! No telling what I’ll do next!

– Jenn

Looking for inspiration for your new life? Check out my list of books for single moms, and gifts for single moms (from yourself, your kids, lover, friends). Also, my single-mom homie Karen Salmansohn is a great source of inspirational quotes for moms.

Why are you so focused on your friend’s (and by extension other women’s ) public hair? What business of yours deals with how she holds up to your physical ideal about her body hair, especially relating it to being unkempt/lazy/etc? If a woman’s hair is a bit too greasy for you, or bed head, or god forbid crotch not waxed into submission, does that make her a hot mess of insanity? Is this how women are supposed to support and motivate each other? I’ll pass.

– Wendy

It’s been 3 months and a year since I left my husband.
Reflecting on the past time, I don’t think I went too crazy.
I can’t believe how many dinners I’ve gotten to go to or how many times I’ve gone out dancing…even how many times I’ve got picked up in the air! My ex husband has NEVER picked me up in the air!
But your right about squaring up. It’s time to get more serious about work, show more love to my babies.

–Azuri

Did you lose it during your divorce? Thoroughly embarrass yourself? Go on … share in the comments! 

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, noted blogger, and bestselling author. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.  Find out Emma's top Single Mom Resources here.

18 Comments

  1. […] Simultaneously I was determined to push past my cynicism and hopelessness. With this in mind, I began reading as many inspiring books as I could – looking for helpful research studies and motivational stories on how others had bounced back from challenging events. […]

  2. Rachel on May 23, 2019 at 2:02 pm

    Not me! I got divorced, moved out, and got my shit together. My apartment is bright & clean! And decorated cute af. HE, on the other hand, is a mess. Giant. Mess. Sometimes I help clean up when I visit. I feel bad for him but wish he would at least clean more, for our kids sake. If I let myself be a hot mess, I would spiral into a deep depression. For me though, divorce has been so nice! I got out! I have my own place, my own space.

  3. Fanci on May 17, 2019 at 10:06 pm

    After me and my ex-husband deside to divorce i ended up “dating” this guy for a few weeks. Till i found out i was pregnant. Mind you i was living in my RV in my friends driveway still waiting on divorce paperwork so i could buy a house! And now i have another tiny human im gonna have to take care of! I had also just bought a motorcycle, was enjoying my new found freedom. Needless to say, i became really depressed and stayed that way till i had my baby. But everything is working out really well. I have my own home, and great job, and started college. Not to mention i have one of the bast babies in the world. Never cries, and sleeps all night. Lets mommy do ger homework, and clean the house.

  4. JJ on April 20, 2019 at 11:14 am

    Year one was tough! The breakup was mercifully violent and irrational that I didn’t feel the need to ask my partner to change their mind and take me back – but not seeing our kids or knowing where they were taken to live was hell….a hell that went for 2 years and 10 months before finding and holding them again. I regrouped, found work, found a lawyer, took stock and did all I could to keep the communication channels open with the ex so as to speak to our two kids on the phone. The court process is rolling into its second year and the only solid thing I know for sure is that our children are healthy, love each other and their parents and that to have them and lose them is better than to not have had them at all. I have been blessed….twice.

  5. maureen on February 21, 2019 at 6:52 pm

    It’s only been 9months and I must say it’s tuff but I know i’ll get through this.I thank God I found out about you Emma and your books, you’ve made this journey easier.God bless you.

  6. phoenix men on May 25, 2018 at 1:01 am

    My marriage is probably not going to last much longer. We’ve only been married a couple of years, and have no children. My wife wants to separate temporarily and work toward getting back together.

  7. Michelle on April 9, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    I agree with Wendy. I think it’s unhealthy to shave and wax pubic hair; it increases chances of STDs and ingrown hair. I didn’t appreciate the image being associated with a woman’s responsibility / mental health.

    • Stephanie on July 24, 2018 at 4:19 pm

      Some people can’t help focusing on minutia and completely miss the big picture message, which wasn’t about pubic hair, it was about friendship. Get past it.

  8. Sparks on October 23, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    If you actually CARE about someone, you notice when they aren’t acting like themselves. The only one being judgemental here is you.

  9. Carol on September 28, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    I did everything you described Emma! Definitely a very hard year to get through. 3 years in and I’m loving life and feel happy again. It’s so good to let every woman know that it’s 100% normal but that you do need to set a time limit on how long you can let it all go.

    • Emma on September 29, 2016 at 9:32 am

      Wonderful report! Thanks for chiming in :) xxx

  10. Beth on September 28, 2016 at 7:16 pm

    Yes. This resonated so deeply. I just hit the official year-since-he-moved-out mark in June and a year since I filed on the 26th of September. I was such a mess. My daughter ate a lot of canned soup while I lived on Triscuits and Mozzerella. I was so numb to my own emotional health that I took a stress test to see how I was feeling. I’m liberated now, my life is my own and I am working with my ex to coparent. We’re not perfect, but we’re much happier apart and after dating several of the very wrong guys, I’m finding out that I’m pretty damn happy by myself! Of course the second I decided that I met someone outstanding. I didn’t realize that I could be this emotionally healthy after what a mess I was last year.

    • Emma on September 29, 2016 at 9:32 am

      Thanks for owning it – and sharing your good news. Inspiring !

    • Jenn on September 30, 2016 at 9:02 am

      Yes I was letting the kids have extra sweets when I normally wouldn’t. And I wasn’t even eating. And when I did I was taste testing food I had made for the kids. I think my love off of food for the most part was bagged popcorn.

  11. Brittany on September 28, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    I was a hot mess that first year. I dated like a little hurricane but was NOT taking care of myself. I was an emotional wreck, consuming more calories in wine than anything else. I lost a ton of weight and was weak in all ways; couldn’t eat, emaciated, couldn’t be alone, couldn’t put down the wine glass. I finally got sick of myself and knew I needed to change. I sat down and picked three areas to change, found one thing to do in each area to make the improvement, and set to work. It’s been 3 years now and I’m doing awesome! It’s a tough road but so worth every painful step.

    • Emma on September 29, 2016 at 9:33 am

      A lot of women can relate to your story. Thanks for sharing, and wonderful to hear where you landed!

  12. Paige on September 16, 2016 at 8:42 pm

    The first paragraph made me laugh. Oh man I remember my first year. What a mess. I remember serving macaroni and cheese to my son right on the dining room table because there wasn’t a clean bowl or plate or even Tupperware lid in the house. I also spent my last $100 on a clearanced cashmere sweater one month instead of paying my phone bill. No room to judge here.

    • Emma on September 20, 2016 at 3:09 pm

      lol! Priorities!

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