A “Dear John” letter is a letter that a woman writes to either her husband or her boyfriend when she wants to tell him that she wants to end their relationship. Most of the time, there is another man involved. The woman has often found another lover or wants to proceed with her life for another reason, and either doesn’t have the courage to tell the man in person or is separated by an insurmountable distance or circumstancse, and can’t tell him in person. There is nothing more heart wrenching than for a man to receive a “Dear John” letter from the woman he loves.
Nobody is quite sure of how “Dear John” letters came to be or when they actually started, but most people believe that the term started being used by Americans during World War II. While many of the American servicemen were stationed overseas for months, or even years, their wives and sweethearts were left at home to carry on. The men looked forward to their letters from home during this dangerous, war torn time, and none more than the letters from the special women in their lives. Imagine, a lonely, disheartened soldier, far away from home and receiving a long awaited letter from the one person in the world he still feels close to and has been waiting anxiously to hear from. He rushes to tear open the letter, only to be greeted by the words “Dear John (or whatever his name happened to be),” with no endearments or nicknames that would usually greet him in her letters. His heart would ache, because he knew what was ahead, since this was the way all “Dear John ” letters were written and became well known among the troops as more and more of them were received. How was a soldier who was stuck so far from home supposed to deal with a situation like this? He couldn’t, because he was in a vulnerable position and powerless to fight this more personal war with heartbreak while he was fighting the real war. Sadly, many of our fine servicemen received this type of letter during the war.
There is some speculation over how “Dear John” letters came to get their name. Many people believe that it is because “John” was the most common man’s name in the United States during the 1940’s, so it began to be used generically in the context of that type of letter, as it is a generic term when used as “John Smith” or “John Doe.” There is also a good possibility that the sad letters were named after a popular radio soap opera named “Dear John” that aired from 1933 to 1944.
No matter how the “Dear John” letter originated or got its name, it is one of the saddest things to be passed down from the 1940’s. Nobody ever wants to receive a “Dear John” letter…then or now.