Eight years ago, Amy Chan was in a relationship with a man whom she thought she’d spend the rest of her life with. When everything suddenly fell apart, Chan “broke into pieces,” the 37-year-old says. “Not only did I lose my partner, my best friend, but I lost my identity. I spiraled into depression, broke out into panic attacks and had thoughts of suicide.” To heal herself, Chan searched for support but found none. It took her almost two years to fully recover from the heartbreak. But eventually, something good came out of it.
In 2017, Chan founded Renew Breakup Bootcamp, a company that holds retreats for the brokenhearted on a private 100-acre estate in upstate New York along the Hudson River. At the three-day retreats, clients — whom Chan charges between $1,995 and $2,500 depending on the services they use — are under the tutelage of a psychologist or a “chief heart hacker.” Clients can attend lessons by a professional dominatrix on the psychology of power and sexuality, participate in yoga and meditation sessions or pet alpacas and goats. A hypnotist, an anxiety coach, a sound bath practitioner and a “tantra master” are on call.
Chan is among a growing number of dating experts, breakup consultants and concierge services that are part of an increasingly formalized industry catering to the heartbroken. In addition to Renew Breakup Bootcamp, there’s Onward, a New York-based concierge service that launched on Valentine’s Day this year and helps a couple move on after their separation by assisting them with everything from legal and financial services to the logistics of finding a new home for at least one partner and organizing their relocation. They also help clients find new hobbies and advise them on new fitness regimens. In less than six months, Onward has received several hundreds of requests, say founders Lindsay Meck, 34, and Mika Leonard, 33 — both of whom, like Chan, started their company after suffering heartbreaks. They have plans to expand their company to Los Angeles.
There are apps like Break-Up Boss and Mend that give users access to audio lectures by mental health and wealth experts. Breakup Boss also offers illustrations that remind people of the benefits of being single again, and stop you in that moment of weakness when you’re about to text your ex, directing you instead to a fake chat where you can vent, imagining your ex is at the other end. There are breakup coaches like Natalia Juarez in Toronto and Christine Gallagher, who plans customized post-divorce parties. Breakup Box sends monthly “breakup boxes” that contain a few gifts at subscriptions that range from $30 to $60.
Like Chan, other breakup entrepreneurs have launched retreat services in locations as far apart as Australia and the United Kingdom. According to Chan, her retreats are always fully booked (attendance is capped at 20 people).
The personal breakups that led the founders of these companies to shape this new industry vary, but there’s a common theme: the belief that the end of a relationship can be the start of something better.
“A breakup is the shake-up you need to redirect your life,” says Chan. “I knew that I had to be the one to create a safe space for people to heal and also rewire their patterns so they could move forward in a healthy way.”
These entrepreneurs are hoping to carve out space for themselves in a massive global “love industry” — the marriage market alone is worth $300 billion — by targeting different aspects of what people need after a heartbreak. “Breakups are hard,” says Onward’s Meck. “In a typical breakup, the partners [who have been cohabiting] have to figure out who moves out and who owes how much security to the other, what happens to the furniture, who gets to take the dog and also how to heal.” That’s where Onward comes in. It offers three plans based on the needs of customers: a “10-day reboot” for $99, a “30-day recharge” for $175 and a “three-month recalibrate” for $500. “Eventually, we are hoping both partners come to us,” Meck says, so Onward can provide a concierge to each.
Such services also help people clear their head after a breakup, assert the healing-from-heartbreak experts. “Immediately following my breakup, there were so many different things to deal with, it was difficult figuring out which to prioritize first,” says Danielle from New York. That’s where Onward helped, she says.
Chan, who also invites a comedian to the Bootcamp retreat, arranges a professional photoshoot for each participant “to commemorate their new you.” Currently, her boot camp is for women only, but she hopes to have one for men too. “We don’t just do talk therapy, we utilize various healing modalities — from psychological, scientific, spiritual, emotional to somatic,” she says. Participants “are also surrounded by a community of women who are going through the same thing.” Chan believes there’s a beautiful, supportive sisterhood that forms and continues after the retreat — she has hosted women of different sexual orientations and backgrounds from ages 19 to 68.
Meck, on the other hand, has found that Onward appeals more to men than to women — their male-female client ratio right now is 60-to-40. Juarez provides clients with a 28-page breakup recovery guide and also offers a master class on how to deal with divorces and breakups. In her “Breakup Clinic,” she provides access to articles, books, podcasts and videos on breakups and divorces. “It became my mission to help others make sense of their love lives,” Juarez says of the broken engagement in 2010 that led her to her calling.
To be sure, some of the claims made by these organizations remain untested. While tangible help in finding a new home or a therapist is undeniably useful for the heartbroken, it’s unclear whether a class with a dominatrix or a hypnotist will actually assist people in getting over heartbreak, for example. Many of these organizations, however, insist they’re following “scientific” practices — although there’s little research to back up their claims. Many believe that instead of going to breakup consultants and post-breakup services, what the brokenhearted need the most are sympathetic friends.
But heartbreaks aren’t moments when people think scientifically — and the new industry understands that. What were just a few blogs on the internet have turned into companies that offer the brokenhearted the healing they desperately want. And just as they advise their clients not to do, these companies aren’t looking back.