Every major life event except divorce is honored or commemorated in some way. These rituals help everyone adjust to the new circumstances. Some of these rituals have been going on for a long, long time, some probably since life began and that we still observe them attests to their importance to our emotional health. I don’t think of divorce as being a new event and yet, probably because of the historical stigma there are no established rituals in our culture to mark a divorce.
My current guest, Lois Tarter has written a book, The Divorce Ritual which takes a light-hearted look at all the divorce-related activities that could be considered rituals. She also hosted her own divorce party. Here’s Lois.
When I got divorced, after giving it a lot of thought, I decided to have this divorce party. What happened was one day I went to get the mail and I opened it and there was this thing from the state that said, “Dear fill-in-the-blank,” and they put my name in there. “On fill-in-the-blank—” the date, “Your divorce will be final unless you sign the paper at the bottom” or something.
I sat there with this piece of paper, looking at it, and I thought, “That’s it? Are you kidding me?” I don’t know what I expected, but it was just like, “That’s crazy.”
When I got married, it took like a year to plan the thing and the wedding and the venue and the flowers and the bridesmaids and the guest list and the dinner versus the lunch versus the dress. There was like five million details that you had to attend to and the invitations and the shower and the whole thing.
Then you’re ending something that is a painful thing to end, especially when you’re older.
You do a 1-80. You’re no longer Mrs. So-and-so, which a lot of younger women don’t do anyway. They don’t change their name. You’re no longer part of a couple. You’re no longer a lot of things. And it’s like, “This is a piece of paper and that’s it? That little piece of flimsy piece of paper, this is what changes all of this?”
I really sat there for a long time looking at it and almost in a sense, I thought, “a certificate,” that’s something that I should have received. Something.
There’s no recognition. There has to be something. It’s too life-altering of an event.
A number of years ago, my little grandson graduated from preschool and they had a party. And I remember when my kids graduated from preschool, they got little cakes and they flew up to kindergarten. And I thought, “For preschool there is more of a celebration, more recognition.”
It’s marking the occasion. And you’re doing this life-altering change and nothing. It’s like yawn, a piece of paper. I was really upset and I started thinking that, “In six months this is going to happen and I have to do something to mark the day. It’s an important day.” I thought about all kinds of silly things and one of my favorite things is going out to tea. I love the tea and the scones, the whole thing.
So, I invited a bunch of my girlfriends over and we had a big tea party. We virtually did not talk about my ex-husband. Everyone that was there had supported me during this process. They had lent an ear, lent a tissue, lent something. They were my support group and I appreciated that they did that and I wanted to thank them all.
I remember people saying, “I looked for a card. There isn’t any. I wanted to get you something and I had no idea what to get you.” It’s like you have the party, you have a funeral. You have a wake. Whenever there’s a life-altering event, you do something to mark that day. And by having that tea party, I think it really helped me move on.
My invitation was exactly what it was. “It’s a divorce party. I’m having it on this day. That’s the day my divorce is final and I just want you all here to be with me and mark this day.” It’s not like you’re celebrating the fact that you got divorced, but what you’re celebrating is the fact that you’re moving on with your life. And I wanted my friends to listen ad nauseum, because I don’t make those decisions lightly.
I really remember one of my girlfriends, when I called her one day, she said, “Okay. Which side do you want me to be on today?” And I thought, “I think I’ve really done this to death. It’s time to make a decision.” So, that was the culmination of all of this. I didn’t get a new dress and I didn’t have bridesmaids or anything like that. I didn’t do a big bash, but I did a lovely tea party at my house and it was really nice.
Whatever works for you, because everybody obviously has things that they’re interested in that other people aren’t interested in. But I think you should do something that’s meaningful for you and let that be your marking of the day.
Lois is right. Divorce ceremonies matter. You should mark the occasion in a way that’s meaningful to you. I didn’t and I wish I had. I would have had a tea party similar to Lois. One reason I didn’t do anything was because I received notification from the court that my divorce was final after the event. That seemed anti-climatic, like it was over and now what? I naively didn’t realize I still had a long way to travel on my journey. It would have been perfect to have taken the letter as the go-ahead to schedule the event. For me, it wouldn’t have been about celebrating the divorce although I can well understand why some people would celebrate the completion of the legal process. For me it would have been a commemoration of my marriage and a celebration of my new beginning.
What sort of divorce party did or would you have? Would you have a divorce cake?