Blogger and aspiring author Joelle Caputa was a wife at 27 -- and single a year later. She faced one of the most frightening predicaments a young woman today can imagine: 20-something and divorced.
She scoured the self-help genre for books that might advise people like herself how best to move on from failed marriages, but she came up empty-handed.
So she decided to write her own. Trash the Dress: Stories of Celebrating Divorce in Your 20s is yet to find a publisher, but Caputa, who blogs for The Huffington Post, is confident it will help young divorcees get over the stigma, self-imposed or otherwise, and move on with their lives.
It's a niche that's missing in the literary divorce world, she said.
Her subject may be the stuff of denial, but the social pressure on women to marry by 30 is an enduring convention -- one that can have devastating consequences.
Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist and author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, notes a compelling mythology about marriage that suggests people cannot truly be happy unless they get hitched and live happily ever after.
We seem to be very invested in our beliefs about marrying, DePaulo told IBTimes in an email. I think that some people actually believe that if you marry, not only will you be happier and healthier, but that you will also be a better person than if you do not marry. Marrying seems to provide social status and moral standing.
The title of Caputa's book is a spin on one of the latest trends in wedding photography: post-nuptial photo shoots where a happy bride in a pricey gown lounges in a forest, sprawls on the hood of a junked car, or wades into the ocean.
I needed a common wedding phrase that could easily come up in search engines, Caputa admits. But I also wanted to trash the dress and everything it represents. So, I thought it fit really well.
Caputa, who lives in New Jersey and works in public relations, has compiled 80 stories from women who divorced in their 20s and whose reasons for marrying in the first place ranged from desperate to delusional.
Kim, a 30-year-old social worker, said she was insecure during her relationship with her now ex-husband. I was losing weight from gastric bypass surgery and wasn't happy with my appearance, she told Caputa. He told me I couldn't do any better, and I believed him.
I didn't think I would ever fall in love again, relates freelance writer Tara, 26. So I figured it didn't matter who I married.
Their reasons for divorcing were just as varied. A common theme was women who were more goal-oriented and career-driven than their husbands. Low self-esteem and emotional abuse were frequent triggers.
A lot of the stories involved actual violence, Caputa said. I wasn't expecting that at all. But then I started to hear a lot of them.
She asked her subjects what their alternatives might have been. The answer for many was depression, even suicide.
As difficult as it is you need to have the courage to pick yourself up and get out of it and move on, she said.
Caputa and her ex-husband knew each other for a year before dating. She didn't consider him especially romantic, but they were, by her account, a thoroughly normal couple.
The wedding day, however, was a disaster. They'd just walked back up the aisle when he stormed off, visibly upset. They barely saw each other at the reception - and married life didn't get any better.
We were always in two separate rooms, she said. It was almost like living with a roommate.
After the split, Caputa was looking for divorce stories about women her age. Instead, she found books for an older audience and written by therapists with the aim of saving a marriage. I didn't want to save my marriage, she said.
In the aftermath of her breakup, she lost her job, moved back in with her mom, and lost some friends who didn't approve of her breakup or her pre-divorce settlement dating.
I felt like I wasted the most important years of my life, and I was starting over from scratch at a time when you should be building a family and creating your life, she said.
DePaulo stresses the importance for young people to develop a sense of self before being tied to someone.
Adults who get married young are missing out on a lot, DePaulo said. They may not get to develop their own interests and talents.
Recently, Caputa, who is now dating someone she considers The One, participated in a cathartic photo shoot for the Style Network's reality show Glam Fairy. In an episode entitled Divorced Divas, she and two other women trashed their dresses completely: slashing, ripping and stylishly reconstructing them into something less event-specific.
I think that should be the new ritual for anyone who gets divorced, she said.