Is divorce really reason to celebrate?

Is divorce really reason to celebrate?

Are divorce parties in bad taste?

We love rituals. We do. They make us feel connected and purposeful. Rituals may be religious, or not. They may be shared with hundreds or few. But we love them because they are transformative. Weddings transform single people into a married couple, funerals transform dead bodies into living souls. Dinner dates make Friday night sexy. Grand finals make families from strangers, and enemies of others.

Of course, while passion for ritual process is common, commonly loved rituals are rare; one person’s sacred practice is another’s silly superstition – a waste of time, a hassle, even an inexcusable horror.

But what makes some rituals more supported than others? What makes one ritual right and another wrong in the eyes of society?l

I’d like to talk here about a relatively new ritual phenomenon. The divorce party – a modern, Western ritual spawned in America sometime in 2007 that has grown in popularity since.

Though Jack White and Karen Elson’s divorce party was a shared affair, in the main divorce parties are organised independently, a la Heather Mills who famously forked out $500,000 for one of her own.

And while women may be seen as the hostesses with the mostest divorce party inclination, they aren’t the only ones doing it; many men’s events organisers cater to divorce parties for boys. In fact, the divorce party has been described as the “final frontier of the wedding industry complex”.

But are divorce parties rituals that are good or bad for society? Are they generally appropriate or in very bad taste?

The Guardian this week had an article written from a pro-perspective. In this context, divorce parties were not about celebrating the end of a marriage, but the start of a new life. Following von Gennep’s famous ‘three phases’ ritual model, the divorce party prompts healing by first separating the protagonist from their married identity, then passing them through the awkward post-separation threshold before finally rejoining them with the fresh life and love potential beyond.

Looked at this way, divorce parties can be seen as a ritual with myriad positive consequences. As a sacrament devoted to a person’s newfound singledom, the divorce party might be a ritual with power to transform woebegone broken-hearts into optimistic hoping-hearts. Surely this is a good thing in a world where divorce happens, and happens often.

Yet when viewed from the other side of the fence, divorce parties can look like very negative exercises in regret - visions of vitriol spewed into tacky, stabby invitations, cocktails of misery and bitterness served up with slices of dead-spouse blood-velvet cake.  

Instead of a positive trajectory of healing, divorce parties can see the central character stuck in a regressive loop of loathing. Beginning with hate for the old relationship, middling with stewing over the old relationship and ending with refreshed hate for the old relationship, a divorce party can read like a downward spiral of doom.

How, you might ask, could anything good come from something so vindictive?

Indeed, in this age of social oversharing, it’s likely the shenanigans of a divorce party will be captured and disseminated, possibly intentionally so (especially to the wrong people, ie The Ex).  Such grave-dancing is reprehensible, and gains little. Actually, it could lose the jigger quite a lot if the settlement is not quite finalised, and the ‘celebration’ is used to sucker-punch funds.

So perhaps they key factor here is time. Divorce parties might be a healthy, socially desirable ritual practice if held at the right time. That is to say after the bruising and swelling has gone down. Then perhaps the focus will be of new life, rather than ruined life.  Then, maybe, likely guests would be contributing to a new future rather than being caught up in a messy war. Then the party is more ‘new-you debut’, less ‘divorce party’ – something we surely should support.

But what do you think?

Have you ever been involved with a divorce party? What do you think about them? Are they a healthy ritual practice, or should we stamp them out on the grounds they’re a socially destructive force?

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