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Divorce parties - a celebration of life or just bad taste?

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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75 comments so far

  • The only reason for a “new-you party” is because something went wrong and I don’t celebrate failure irrespective of what/why it happened.
    The way I look at it is that if I was the party at fault then why am I celebrating?, if the other party was at fault then I made a bad choice in partner, and then there’s the shared fault, no matter how anyone spins it, both parties were part of the “problem”.
    Those that accept responsibility would not celebrate in my opinion.

    Victorious Painter
    Date and time
    June 13, 2012, 8:33AM
    • How is that divorce is a failure? To stay married and miserable is a failure. Failure to make the effort to make your self happy again. Divorce should be celebrated for sure, for that you had the strength to end something that was not healthy for both parties, for that that you deserve better, for that that the love has ended and there for the marriage should end too! Unless you were married for coins or something else.

      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 2:43PM
    • Respectfully, mimi: It does not require strength to end a marriage. Marriage counsellors tell us that a good 90% of marriages can be saved. What is required is that both partners make a commitment to make it work. If that commitment is there, then so is hope. After that, a set of skills in growing together.
      "Being unhappy" is NOT a criterion for divorcing. The extremes of human behaviour are: adultery, alcohol, abuse, violence. If you are "unhappy", you need to ask yourself and your partner why.

      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 3:43PM
    • Consider it more of a case of being released from a prison, and celebrating the freedom to start again.

      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 3:46PM
    • @mimi
      Divorce = failed marriage.
      Yes divorce may be the best option but in my opinion it remains a failure to the initial commitment.
      It’s my opinion and I know that not everybody has the same level of commitment to relationships as I do.

      Victorious Painter
      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 3:50PM
    • @ mimi - 'to stay married and miserable is a failure.' Fair point but as you say it is a failure and the next step would be divorce which is a failure - a relationship failure. I think your point maybe that you don't like the use of the word failure but call it what you want because either way you are not happily married - i.e in a successful relationship. Thus as Vic Painter states and I agree with Vic, why would you celebrate failure?

      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 3:52PM
    • Mimi don't worry - VP is far above us mere mortals. He's perfect, just ask him

      Anne Droid
      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 4:29PM
    • Agreed VP, Spike and Redman.

      Mimi, If I were to get a divorce, I would it consider it a breakdown of the relationship – how is that not a failed attempt at something, in this cage a marriage? Not acknowledging that it was somewhat of a failure only breeds the incorrect presumption that one can do no wrong which is not only an unlikable attitude but a counterproductive and irresponsible one.

      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 4:44PM
    • hmm OK, maybe to some extend you are all right, but in my opinion to get married is taking a risk, and because you are never sure what is going to be the consequence from that commitment, divorce is only a way out, and not failure at all. I always have said this when some one is getting married we should not congratulate them but wish them good luck instead...

      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 4:48PM
    • @Anne
      err nope, very far from perfect, trust me.
      i've got a failed marriage and de facto relationships to prove it, in both instances i was part of the "problem", circumstances extremely different in either example, neither time did i celebrate.

      Victorious Painter
      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 5:11PM

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