It’s a trope as old as time. Boy dumps girl. Girl drowns her sorrows in a bottle of shiraz, washed down with a tub of cookie-dough ice-cream. She blubbers her way through Bridget Jones’s Diary, only emerging from the sea of tissues to text her ex, “Diid you ever even lovee me?” Girl passes out. The next night, she does it all again.
Mercedes Fernandez, 25, was not that girl. Following the breakdown of her three-year relationship, she escaped to a luxury estate on the Malibu coastline. She did yoga and meditation, grazed on organic quinoa and kombucha, talked about her feelings and worked with experts to analyse her relationship patterns. After three days, she felt refreshed, revived and ready to face the world.
Fernandez’s sun-kissed sojourn is emblematic of a burgeoning global trend: the business of broken hearts. Savvy entrepreneurs are tapping into one of our most basic, universal emotions – heartache – and responding with a smorgasbord of services designed to ease the pain. While the ’90s and ’00s saw us dabble in therapy and self-help books, today a new guard of professionals and pocket coaches are here to help us navigate the rocky roads of love.
Amy Chan, 36, goes by the title chief heart hacker. Her LinkedIn page portrays a strong, successful woman – a glossy-haired go-getter whose fruitful career spans corporate communications and luxury hotel reviewing. But seven years ago, the Canadian’s world was turned upside down when she discovered her partner was cheating on her. “I spiralled into depression, I stopped eating, I had thoughts of suicide … it was a really dark time in my life,” she recalls. “Being a typical Type A [personality], I tried everything I could to heal: therapy, yoga retreats, psychics, reiki. There was nothing focused on the type of pain I was going through.”
So she set out to create it herself, launching Renew Breakup Bootcamp in February 2017. Ten women, each recently separated or carrying residual pain, gathered at a sprawling ranch in upstate New York for a long weekend of relationship rehab. Chan describes her approach as a blend of science and spirituality. She called in an army of guest facilitators to “hold space” with the women, including a psychologist, acupuncturist, nutritionist, energy healer, Tantric expert and dominatrix – “She has a PhD from [University of California] Berkeley in human development and talks about shame and power dynamics,” explains Chan.
Since then, Chan has led eight bootcamps for women aged between 23 and 68, including Fernandez, who attended the Malibu outpost. “I learnt so much about myself and came away with a new self-compassion and self-love,” remembers Fernandez. “The most interesting thing I found was that a lot of my emotions were connected to grief – my grandfather had passed away around the same time as the break-up.”
This is what Chan is passionate about – digging deep into women’s wounds and rewiring their hearts and minds for the future. While she has no professional qualifications in psychology, she’s been researching and writing about love for more than 10 years (one newspaper dubbed her “a scientific Carrie Bradshaw”). “I feel like this is my purpose,” Chan continues. “I have a business that’s helping people in this critical time of their lives. After a break-up, you have two options: you can fall into a downward spiral and harm yourself mentally or physically, then keep repeating the same patterns. Or you can think, wait, what is the life and love I want to create? It can be a beautiful opportunity and that’s the bridge I want to help women cross.”
Zoë Foster Blake is the epitome of a boss lady. She’s a beauty entrepreneur and bestselling author beloved for her witty rhetoric, and now she’s turning her Midas touch to matters of the heart.
“In my 20s I was bad at break-ups, really bad,” says the 38-year-old, who’s since married and had children. “I did all the things you shouldn’t do, often in one densely packed 24 hours of self-destruction and humiliation. Sometimes you need a kick up the arse from an outsider, someone who can confirm and validate everything your friends and mum have already told you.”
Her Break-up Boss products act as that third party, dispensing no-nonsense advice, coupled with a side of sass. The app came first (“Because that’s where you live after a break-up, right?”) and has a handy little function that lets you compose a ragey text to your ex and then, like the jerk who ghosted you last month, it disappears. You get the catharsis, sans regret. Then there’s the pep-pep feature, which leaves a daily ick-free affirmation in your inbox.
“I really believe that break-ups are a gift,” says Foster Blake, a former relationship columnist. It’s a philosophy outlined in her Break-up Boss book, which is proving a saviour for grief-stricken readers. “One girl last week walked in on her partner of 10 years in bed with his employee; another had been seriously abused and gaslighted for two years and the book made her realise she had to get out.”
And yet, break-ups are as old as time, so why are they having a moment in 2018?
The demand has probably always been there, muses Foster Blake, but, perhaps in line with our wellness obsession, break-up therapy represents the next frontier in self-care. On top of that, it’s now easier to meet potential mates than ever before; the online dating industry is worth an estimated $5.5 billion worldwide, so it makes sense we’re witnessing an equal and opposite reaction.
The products and services on offer also stand as a clear response to our modern world. Scared to have the awkward “It’s not you, it’s me” conversation? (Millennials hate to talk IRL, after all.) The Breakup Text app will do the dumping for you. Want to delete any trace of your ex from
your digital history? Download the KillSwitch app. Those keen to comfort a lovelorn friend can send the Honour Your Breakup care pack, a first aid kit stocked with chocolate, candles and crystals. Like Chan, Leah Sheppard, 33, started her business following an earth-shattering split, and now runs workshops across Australia, plus a seven-day retreat in Bali. “It’s self-help on steroids and your one-stop empowerment revolution!” proclaims her website.
Interest in Sheppard’s services has grown exponentially in the past three years. “I see parallels with mental illness,” she says. “There’s a lot of stigma around relationship breakdowns. Often women are very cautious to be seen getting help, but I think that’s changing.”
For many of her clients, significant healing comes from the camaraderie cultivated at a workshop or retreat – and the realisation they’re not alone. Egyptian cotton sheets and yoga yurts aside, at the core of these getaways is a celebration of the sisterhood.
Which brings up an interesting point. As Foster Blake’s hot-pink book cover suggests, the break-up industry is aimed almost exclusively at women. Sheppard and Chan have both recently taken on male clients for private coaching and note that interest is rising. But, for now, their retreats remain girls-only.
It’s no surprise that women – typically better at processing and expressing their emotions – make up the core market. But, for Sheppard, it also reveals the extra pressure they feel to partner up and settle down: a single woman becomes a spinster; a single man remains a bachelor. As a result, “[Women] put all these expectations on ourselves and on our partner, rather than just letting [a relationship] be what it is, and understanding it’s OK if we part ways,” Sheppard says.
This is the one lesson she hopes to instill in the women she coaches: a break-up needn’t rip your life apart. “We might have a great career, great friends, but all it takes is a relationship ending to bring it all crashing down,” Sheppard says. “My programs are about empowering women as individuals and teaching them to maintain a strong identity when they go into their next relationship.”
Of course, some might proffer that time heals all – do we really need group chanting and gourmet granola to get over a failed fling? And should we be splashing our hard-earned cash on New-Age therapy? Because while pop music has repeatedly told us “love don’t cost a thing”, splitting up, apparently, does. Honour Your Breakup’s retreat will set you back nearly $3000, while the Renew Breakup Bootcamp costs a cool $4165.
Chan believes the outlay is a worthy investment. “Why is it that in our businesses we have a board of advisors, but when it comes to our romantic relationships, we don’t invest time or money?” It’s a valid theory: if we sprain our ankle, we go to the doctor, so why wouldn’t we enlist expertise for a fractured heart?
Although perhaps this new brand of romance rehab is less about relationships than first meets the eye. How we feel after a break-up reflects how we feel about ourselves – and that’s something that is always worth investing in.