Sunday, April 14, 2024

From ‘I Do’ to ‘I’m Done’: Could A ‘Divorce Party’ Be The Perfect Way to Mark a New Chapter?

The idea of throwing a ‘divorce party’ might sound wild, but might it be a useful way to mark the transition – and even a fun night? And who knew #divorceparty is a thing on Instagram?

In 2019, Lisa Ransom, an administrator from Dunedin, held an “onwards and upwards” themed divorce party at her home. There were about 20 guests over the evening.

“The process of separation was long and drawn-out for me,” says Lisa, now 40, and happy for her name to be used. “When the divorce [paperwork] finally came through, I knew I needed to take a moment to acknowledge a milestone and thank my friends who had been there for me. Originally, we had ideas for a blood-splattered, squashed-groom ‘anti-wedding’ cake, but I quickly realised that it wasn’t about him, and that, instead, we should be celebrating the next chapter in my life. There was still some catharsis, though; I made a signature cocktail called Adios Motherfucker, and burnt my wedding dress, with a firefighter friend standing by. We had a lady-power playlist, and played pin the pistol on the cowboy. A friend made a beautiful cake that said ‘she lived happily ever after’. It was lots of fun. Very liberating!”

As with Lisa’s, divorce parties don’t usually involve a lot of ex-bashing. For most women, it’s about them, not their ex.

Auckland account executive Kate* and her husband split up in March. Kate, 38, didn’t know how to mark the occasion. “I contemplated eating a tub of ice-cream and binge-watching TV in my pyjamas. But then I realised I actually wanted to mark the occasion, because this was a transition that needed to happen.” Ten friends came over for some drinks, dancing and a cake. “I had so much fun, and had cake smushed in my face by a friend!” Yes, some of Kate’s friends initially thought having a divorce party was a bit weird. “But when I explained, they understood why I wanted one and were all about it. It wasn’t necessarily ‘Oo yay divorce!’ as much as ‘Here I am, a strong woman who’s now single, and entering a new chapter in my life, so why not celebrate this?”

Why not indeed! Other major transitions in our lives – marriage, death, and birth (a christening or a secular version of that) – involve a ceremony or ritual, as do many birthdays and graduations. So why not have a divorce party? You might throw one shortly after your separation. You might throw one when the divorce paperwork goes through. Also, because many couples don’t get married, we’re counting a split from a long-term partner as an occasion worthy of a ‘divorce party’.

Divorce parties actually have their own Wikipedia page. “A divorce party (also known as a divorce ceremony) is a ceremony that celebrates the end of a marriage or civil union,” it says. They can involve either one or both members of the separating couple.” I say props to exes who want to throw one together, and I talked to one woman who plans to do that, but it’s a hard no from most women. The Wikipedia entry adds that “divorce parties are often an announcement of newfound singledom – not unlike bachelorette parties. Some have involved divorce cakes, just-divorced banners, and divorce rings”.

It might be a wild party in a hired venue, with a cake, and just-divorced banners. It might be a drink-and-dance-to-ABBA party in your lounge. Or it might have a more serious tone. Although it can be a sad time, some people feel emotions of relief, hope and even excitement, as they contemplate a new chapter.

Is this really a thing?

I’ve found that, yes, divorce parties are starting to catch on in New Zealand. Mel* plans to throw one once the divorce paperwork comes through. “I’ve been planning a giant party in my head with bands, DJs and booze for when I’m finally free. I’ve seen great pics online of women overseas who do a sexy drunken photo shoot and burn stuff. It looks very cathartic and I am here for it.”

So is Cassie*. “I’m planning on having a divorce party as soon as I get my divorce finalised in a month. I’m going to have a big, bad-taste-themed party, some themed drinks, and burn my marriage certificate.” 

Polly* recently attended a friend’s divorce party. “She wanted to celebrate getting through a gruelling process and mark a new beginning. It was also an opportunity to thank and celebrate her relationships with those who supported her through the process. We had a lovely dinner, lots of champagne, went dancing and she gave us each a lovely bracelet. There were a few tears but it was a really special, joyful evening.”

It doesn’t have to be a ‘big do’. Jenny* says: “My divorce came through on a Tuesday and I didn’t want to be alone, so I had a small divorce cocktail night. Just a few supportive close friends and family. It was a lovely recognition of transition.”

The women I canvassed would all attend a friend’s divorce party to show their support. Jacqueline says: “If that’s how someone I cared about wanted to mark it, I’d attend. I congratulated the last two people who told me they were separating, not because I think marriage is awful but because making that decision typically involves a lot of soul searching, turmoil and bravery.” Another woman tells me: “We do lots of ritual around marriage. We should be doing as much around exiting relationships.”

Might throwing a divorce party even be a feminist act that pushes back against the societal notion that being coupled up is good and being single is bad or even pity-inducing? Is there a way that we can stop seeing divorce or separation as a failure and, instead, as a transition?

Party planning

Who knew that there’s actually a book about throwing divorce parties? Christine Gallager’s book The Divorce Party Handbook: How To Throw An Unforgettable Divorce Party has chapters on themes, planning and etiquette, with ideas for menus, invitations, gifts, games, and entertainment.

Christine is a California-based divorce-party planner. Yes, really. The first such party she threw was for a close friend and over the next 14 years, she organised at least 200 such parties – the vast majority for women, and often organised by someone’s sister or friend.

In a story for the Guardian, Christine wrote that “the most expensive was a luxury boat for 60 people, down the coast to Mexico. At the end, my client threw her wedding ring into the ocean.”

Some parties she has thrown are definitely a f**k you to the woman’s ex. One had a golf theme. “The woman was devastated to find her husband had been having an affair when he said he was teeing off, so the guests came in golf gear; we hired an instructor, swung at balls with the husband’s name on them and roasted food on golf club spits. She had been humiliated, but taking control and allowing herself to laugh again helped restore her self-respect.”

“People can feel alone and stigmatised, and there can be a long legal process,” Christine says. “A party counterbalances that by allowing you to deal with the emotional side.”

Italian sociologist Laura Arosio writes in a research paper that there’s “a growing interest in phenomena such as divorce ceremonies and divorce parties” – and that “a rite of divorce, like all rites of passage, may help the individuals experiencing the transition and those affected by the change”.

“On the one hand, the divorce ritual may celebrate an ending. The divorce ceremony may foster closure and healing through reflection on the past experience in regard to both its negative and positive aspects.”

“On the other hand, the divorce ceremony may mark a new beginning… the celebration in the presence of witnesses, friends, and family may also mean sharing the change with the social context, making the change public.” That might beat a Facebook update.

Top Tips 

Global brand WP Diamonds has an online form enabling people to sell diamond engagement rings. It also has a webpage about divorce parties, which we can’t take as expert knowledge but still makes for interesting reading. So here are WP Diamonds’ ‘considerations’ for How To Throw A Divorce Party:

  • Time: Will you have your divorce party in the middle of your divorce process, the evening you sign your divorce papers, or after a few weeks after having some time for yourself?
  • Scale: Are you thinking about having a small get-together or a big blow out?
  • Location: Will you hold your divorce party at home, in a spa with complimentary mani-pedis or at a favourite restaurant? Some divorcees have even opted to rent out a wedding hall!
  • Guest List: It’s generally not a good idea to invite your children, anyone who disagrees with your divorce or nay-sayers of divorce parties.
  • Food and Drinks: Some divorce parties have included mock wedding cakes with miniature bride cake toppers pushing grooms off the cake. Others have included divorce cakes that proclaim, “I do, I did, I’m done!”
  • Entertainment: Some divorce parties can feel a lot like a bachelorette party. You may consider hiring a DJ or plan divorce themed games.
  • Tone: Do consider the tone of your party and be sure not to offend anyone in the process. While a divorce party should encourage celebration, that does not mean it should vilify the ex-partner.
  • Social Media: While some opt to keep the event off social media, others embrace social media and including the #divorceparty hashtag.

I’m sorry, what? A #divorceparty hashtag? Yes, this is a actual thing. On Instagram. There have been more than 65,000 posts. There are many groups of female friends in party dresses. There are many cocktails. There are many cakes. One photo shows three cupcakes that say “I Do”, “I Did” and “I’m Done’. There are many inspirational quotes. One says ‘Reminder: you can be the total package at the wrong address”. Another says “divorce is not a failure: divorce is courage and a hope for the future”.

Cheers to that.

What The Viral Age-Gap Article ‘The Case For Marrying An Older Man’ Says About Us

It was The Cut story heard round the world. Last week, a 27-year-old writer’s article called ‘The Case for Marrying an Older Man’ caused...

THE ONE THING… You Can Do TODAY to Improve your Finances By the End of the Month

Whilst we stare down a cost of living crisis amidst another recession, a lot of us are asking, "how can I improve my finances,...

Money, Honey: Inside the Life and Budget of an Auckland Teacher on $140,000 a Year

How much are we all earning? How does your profession add up? How are women your age spending their money? Is everyone in debt?...

Chelsea Handler talks How to Find Your Joy, Being Proudly Single & Childfree, Plus Being a “Cutie Patootie Who Has Her Shit Together” at...

Ahead of her visit to NZ in July for her Little Big Bitch tour, Chelsea Handler talks to Alice O'Connell about everything being high...