We speak to the men documenting their divorces on TikTok – British GQ
When 22-year old lumber worker Garet got married after four years of dating, he never expected to be a single dad in a matter of months. “It started going downhill after one year,” he tells me, “and we got divorced just after.” With extra free time on his hands and looking to spend more time with his son, he downloaded TikTok in early 2018. He spent months on the app watching videos and making a few of his own. Then he had an idea about how to quell the pain of his ongoing divorce proceedings while investing in his new hobby: at the end of last year, Garet took a metal bin out onto the street and filmed himself setting his marriage licence on fire – posting what would become an iconic Divorce TikTok.
Garet’s video, along with seven others, became a part of a viral Twitter thread chronicling some of the best TikTok divorcee content back in February. Almost all are lip-synced to emotional music and most feature the divorcee pulling off their wedding ring and throwing it at the camera. Many Divorce TikToks also feature the divorcee’s children or the divorcee holding old framed pictures of the couple with background music lyrics going something like “look what you gave up”. These bizarre, intensely emotional videos seemed niche to Twitter users, but the popularity of Divorce TikTok cannot be overstated. At the time of writing, the hashtag #divorce has over 60 million views on TikTok and the hashtag #divorced has over 18 million. While some of the videos using the hashtag are simply memes about having divorced parents or skits about divorce, swathes of them are people announcing and documenting the details of their dissolving marriage.
Arguably, though, the most confusing element of this trend is that it’s happening on TikTok at all – an app that, as the Twitter thread author @_wildmilk put it, is infamously a place for 12-year-olds. But Nicholas, a 33-year-old managing director living in Milton Keynes who posted his own divorce video, explains that a lot of divorcees are on TikTok because so many parents use the app to connect with their kids. “My little ones saw an advert for TikTok on their tablets so I downloaded it,” he tells me. “It became a part of our routine towards bed to watch five TikToks and go to sleep.”
Nicholas tells me that it took almost three years for him to finally leave his marriage after hitting an inescapable rough patch. Dealing with anxiety and depression, he was initially cautious about posting videos of himself on his TikTok page.“My early posts were just kid-related or joke based,” he says, “But I wanted to be able to get my divorce story across and get the emotions of it out… Posting the video allowed me to express things that maybe I hadn’t felt I could do previously.”
Ryan, a 35-year-old truck driver and photographer from Kansas, started posting to TikTok purely for fun – discovering it just a few months after his marriage officially ended. After making a few videos here and there, Ryan had a moment of inspiration that moved him to post about his divorce.
“I came across a sound clip and it really touched me,” he tells me, “a song by country artist Murphy Elmore called ‘Whoever Broke Your Heart’. So I just made the divorce video in my work truck and when I posted the video it took off with likes and views and comments.”
Ryan’s “take off” is entirely common for divorce videos – they are massive number draws almost without fail, rarely getting less than a thousand likes. Users who post divorce content even get typically ten to fifteen times more views on their Divorce TikToks than they do on their non-divorce videos, and some accounts – such as Nicholas’ – have pivoted to divorce content because it pulls such a large audience.
When it comes to gender, Divorce TikToks are relatively diverse; a search through the hashtag will yield about a 50/50 split between men and women. However, the tone of a divorce TikTok does tend to reflect the gender. “A lot of the women making these TikToks are really happy they’re getting divorced,” YouTuber Kurtis Conner notes in his video about the trend. “But all the guys are [the ones] making these sad TikToks.”
Nicholas says that his seemingly dour videos aren’t necessarily “sad”, but “a large open therapy session” with his single parent-heavy followers. “[It feels good] to get it off my chest,” he says of posting about his divorce. “A lot of men don’t talk about their mental health, but I’m not the same. I realised I could post what I’m going through, get support from hundreds or thousands of people going through the same, and generally be able to feel better from the situation.”
“Divorce made me feel less of myself,” he tells me, “and TikTok views, likes, follows, and creative trends allowed me to feel human again and relieve a lot of anxiety.”
Garet says that, like many other TikTok divorcees, posting his video helped him move on from his marriage. “I did it as a way of showing a new chapter in my life after the divorce,” he tells me.
“I believe it gave me the closure I needed,” Ryan says. “[Since posting it] I am dating again. I have a few things I want to do for myself first, but always keeping an eye out in case someone comes along.”
And despite the derision they often receive, most divorcees don’t regret posting these TikToks. “The main thing I got from posting my video was a lot of love and support,” Nicholas tells me, “which has allowed me to focus on completing the divorce.”
“I am glad I posted it,” says Garet of his own video, “I felt like it was a way of expressing my feelings. It did feel good to get it off my chest – like an old weight had been lifted.”
“I did feel kind of awkward posting mine,” Ryan admits at the end of our conversation. “But then it felt like a huge weight off my shoulders – I still enjoy my video to this day.”