Happy Divorce Day?

by Maggie Doyle | 1/16/19 2:15am

When we think of the milestones, most people think of birthdays, graduation, marriage — significant and recognizable turning points in our lives. Milestones, good or bad, are often celebrated with community, be it for a wedding or funeral. However, one notable life change is often marked by isolation rather than celebration: divorce. Is marriage really a more significant change in people’s lives than divorce? If not, why is one announced in newspapers, celebrated with one’s community, while the other is finalized by one’s signature?

The obvious answer is that weddings are happy occasions and divorces aren’t. People don’t want to toast a loved one’s misery. However, that seems like a gross oversimplification. As someone who has never gotten divorced, I can’t speak to the experience. However, in a country where divorce is common, I imagine most people have had it touch their lives. It seems to me that divorce, like marriage, is a diverse experience that treats people differently. Some end their marriage amicably and respectfully. For others, the finalization of a divorce is the end of an all-consuming, devastating battle. In her novel “Fly Away From Home,” author Jennifer Weiner wrote, “Divorce isn’t such a tragedy. A tragedy’s staying in an unhappy marriage, teaching your children the wrong thing about love.” It’s true that friends and family would probably not want to commemorate someone’s divorce, which leads to the question: are those present at our weddings expected to love and cherish us in good times and bad?

Another reason people might not celebrate divorce is that the divorcees may not be up to a celebration or may not want to advertise the occasion. Divorce might be seen as the sign of a “failed relationship,” so people may not want to add social judgement on top of the emotional pain already involved in divorce. It’s a bizarre stigma, especially considering how high divorce rates are. People also may feel shame not brought on by societal expectations, but rather the pressure they put on themselves that marriage should always be “till death do us part.”

However, some divorcees are working to change that stigma by hosting “divorce parties.” Whatever the condition of the divorce, it is certainly a significant change in someone’s life. Those who want to celebrate the start of a new phase in their lives can do it in a number of ways. Though divorce parties may still be uncommon, they are not unheard of.

Some choose to celebrate with a bachelor or bachelorette-party-esque vibe. These parties can involve wedding tapes playing backwards, playlists involving “I Will Survive” or “Hit the Road, Jack,” open bars and “divorce cakes” adorned with the bride pushing the groom off the cake, or vice versa. Janet, a former customer on a party planning agency for these types of divorce parties, wrote, “My husband ran off with his high school sweetheart, leaving me shattered. My sister threw me a divorce party and invited lots of single men. I found out there is life after divorce.” Possible themes include “survivor party,” for those who survived a “shipwrecked marriage,” and “lemon party,” for those to whom life has given lemons. Party games include “pin the tail on the mistress,” burning one’s wedding dress, or using one’s wedding certificate for paper-mache.

Some ex-couples throw a party together, like Charles and Bonnie Bronfman, who were featured in the New York Times for their classy divorce party. The Bronfman’s party following their “civilized” divorce was meant to thank their family and friends for being there for them both, to ensure no one had to take a side in their split, and to assure their community that despite the stigma against “failed marriages,” both were doing alright. The engraved invitations featured a declaration of their unyelding love for each other and was signed “Fondly, Bonnie and Charles.”

While most religions condemn divorce, for adherents of the Unitarian Universalism religion, a divorce is marked by a religious ceremony. This ceremony, meant to transmit a message of hope and love, is known as a “ceremony of hope.” It is carried out in a public setting, in order to acknowledge the role of society in the couple’s lives. The Unitarian Universalist church supports divorce as they do marriage, as long as it is healthy for all parties concerned; their official statement is that “Unitarian Universalists hold that divorce is entirely a matter for conscientious decision on the part of the persons involved.” As such, the ceremony is presided over by a clergy member, who asks the divorcees to exchange apologies and forgiveness. The presider ends the ceremony by saying, “Go forth, not in the hurt of ties wrenched and faith unachieved, but with hope and belief in love yet possible.”

Christine Gallagher, a divorce party planner and author of “The Divorce Party Handbook,” writes, “All of our big life transitions ­— birth, marriage, death — have a ceremony or ritual … there’s been nothing for divorce. But it’s the time when people need community the most.” On the other hand, they’re not for everyone. Some believe divorce parties are distasteful. One contributor for the Daily Mail writes, “ … for some people, divorce isn’t a time for mourning. It’s a time, believe it or not, for celebration. Could there be anything more shallow and trivial?”

Divorce parties can be anything, from throwing a “rager” to dinner with friends, as long as one is surrounded by his or her community.