Dear John… (or Matt, Sean, Bill, etc),

“I really admire that you wanted to better yourself by joining the military and I’m proud of you, but I just don’t think I can wait for you to get back. I’m only 20 years old and I want to hang out and party with my friends. I didn’t want to tell you this by letter, but it’s the only way I could contact you. Maybe we can hang out one day when you get home.”

While not a verbatim letter that I ever received, I’ve read the above words in a number of variations through many of my friends. The Dear John letter is a very real thing for those who are serving or have served in the military.

Let me say first that the main thing I’ll be discussing in this article is my experience and that of the guys with whom I served in the Marine Corps. I’m sure a similar thing happens with female military personnel, but all of my anecdotes come straight from the male side of the house. I’d love to hear from anyone who has experience from the female perspective in the comments below!


The History of the Dear John Letter

If you search for “Dear John Letter” online one of the surprising results is “how-to-write a Dear John letter.” Apparently, the Dear John letter is gaining some serious momentum in pop culture.

The phrase “Dear John” has an unknown origin, but is believed to have become much more well-known during World War II. Because some servicemen were stationed overseas for years, many of their women at home simply decided they were going to move forward with a new man and start a new family. There are reports dating at least back to August 1945 when a writer for the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, NY wrote about one such letter he’d seen. It started like this:

“Dear John. I have found someone else whom I think the world of. I think the only way out is for us to get a divorce.”