A headline in a newspaper last week caught my eye: “Getting Divorced? Have your cake and eat it, too” (Post Bulletin, July 23, 2014). It reported what it called a new trend: “divorce parties,” complete with themes such as “cakes featuring weapon-yielding brides or gloomy black frosting on inverted tiers.” One event planner said he calls them “freedom fests,” not celebrating the demise of the marriage but “the freedom you have chosen in your life.”
Well, duh. This isn’t a new trend. As long ago as Dec. 6, 1999, I wrote in this diary about an event we had held almost 30 years ago.
My friend, David, was getting a divorce. Considering himself the injured party, he was sure that if he was just nice enough, and helpful enough, his soon-to-be-former wife would realize what a jewel he was and take him back.
So, he moved out with almost nothing, unless you count the rec room furniture —really worn-out “early marriage” castoffs — and he went back every weekend to do the odd chores around the house that he had never seemed to find time to do before he moved out.
David was living in what he was sure would be temporary quarters. He had newspapers taped over the windows, mold growing in the sinks and an old shoe in the refrigerator among the bottles of beer.
She didn’t reconsider, however, and the day of the final court date was fast approaching. Acting as if it was impending doom, David was threatening to jump off the roof of the eight-story building where we all worked. We decided he needed a diversion, so in the morning while he was in court, we arranged an impromptu get-together. We planned what we called a “single shower” during which we would set David up for real living as a new bachelor.
Everyone was to rush home and bring back any duplicates from their own houses, such as a potato peeler, can opener, etc. My friend, Denise, was creative and rapidly wrapped all the “gifts” in newspaper, even making newspaper bows. The coffee table in my living room was huge and round, and we heaped all the gifts on it so it was a pyramid of black and white packages.
Since we were doing a “shower,” we needed an umbrella and the only one available was a big black one, which another friend promptly decorated with white toilet paper. Someone commented that it looked like a shower for “Rosemary’s Baby.”
We had a great time. One of the rules that developed early in the event was that David had to open each gift in front of the gathered crowd, and “ooh and aah” like women had had to do for ages at wedding and baby showers. When he didn’t know the intended use of the gift, such as hamburger patty-stackers, the crowd collectively made up a hilarious use.
What we had done unintentionally was that we used one of life’s “natural” tools in managing change: every culture in every time and place has rituals for the big changes in life such as birth, coming of age, completion of education, the start of a new family and death.
With the rising divorce rate, we intuitively knew our culture now needed one for divorce. We informally packaged our idea of the “single shower” to bring out again when the next person in our group was experiencing that same turning point.
David did turn the corner that night. Our ritual enabled him to say goodbye to the past and look to the future. He recognized the inevitability that from now on, things were going to be different. He began a different kind of life, reflecting what Philip Littell said in the “Naked Man:” “Life will take us where it will! New beginnings. Ends. Take each moment as a gift. Give it back again.”
When I was getting divorced and people heard about it, they either didn’t know what to say to me, or said something intended to be sympathetic like “Oh, that’s too bad!” What I wanted them to say was, “Wow, congratulations! You’ve got a whole new life ahead of you!”
A friend who had also experienced divorce suggested there could be a whole new line of greeting cards. They could have clever lines such as “Where are the re-runs of the bad times when you need them?” I haven’t looked lately; maybe there is such a category of cards now.
In the recent article about this “new” trend of celebrating divorces, one cake designer was interviewed and described how the upside-down wedding cake idea evolved. He had designed the wedding cake for a woman when she got married, and 18 months later she was having a divorce party. She told him that his wedding cake was “the best part of my marriage” and she wanted something similar. They came up with the upside-down idea, with the cake landing on the groom.
Another event planner reported doing a bash for a woman who spent $25,000 on her divorce party. Her marriage had lasted eight years. That seems to me to be support for the axiom that “Cost of the wedding and length of the marriage are inversely proportional: the higher the cost, the shorter the marriage.”
However it is done, some sort of ritual for a change of that magnitude is very important. Ritual helps us get over the bumps in life’s road. So I am happy to see the trend. However, I don’t see a need to spend a lot of time and money on it. A “single shower,” with recycled gifts wrapped in recycled newspapers, worked very well.