In the fall of 2006, I married my first husband. We had a pretty great marriage, did a lot of cool things, but it ultimately ended just shy of our 5th anniversary. It was a hard, messy and confusing breakup, with lots of bullshit. But the worst part about it was the weirdness that was put upon all of our friends; we’d had a close-knit friend group, and it was sad and awkward trying to interact with the very same people that were in our wedding, while we were divorcing.
I’m pretty good at Irish Repression, but not as good as John Mulaney, maybe close. I could put on a brave face and talk in private about my divorce. I could joke about it, not cry, and it was fine, in the months following. But trotting out personal shit in front of a crowd? Ewww, and no thanks.
But then my ex had a terrific idea: why not throw me a funeral-themed divorce/goodbye party? In hindsight, this, in no way, sounds like a good idea. I loved the funeral-themed part -- I’m moving, my friends say I’ll be dead to them -- I like it. It’s cute. But letting my ex, who I had left "abruptly" (read: coming for a long time, then I went out with a bang) plan a party was just. Wow. I did that?
My divorce party went the direction that I imagine most of them go: downhill faster than a ‘91 Subaru wagon, parked on a hill, with no E-brake. Hurdling, really. It was complete with a grave, a beautiful eulogy, lots of black and silence. Most of my actual friends left early because it was too awkward and sad, leaving a whole host of strangers that heard there was going to be booze. So kind of like a real funeral, but with fewer deviled eggs. Sadly.
When you’re married, and most of your friends are married, "The Big D" means something totally different, and not nearly as fun. It’s inevitable that someone you know is getting divorced -- I’m not being a jerk! Statistics! And when they do, there is going to be some weirdness, no matter what. Things usually get messy before they get nice.
This is my experience, and I know people have different ones. That’s cool, I’m jealous if they contain less drama.
The idea of divorce parties are good in theory: paying homage to a relationship, marking its ending in a positive, we’re-both-moving-on way. It can help the transition for friends and family members to see the two of you, happily (HA!) separated, getting along. It can assuage some of the tension, hopefully making your friends feel like they don’t have to pick sides.
Cool if you already have an amicable divorce. I can tell you: it sure as hell isn’t going to MAKE it more amicable. A good parting isn’t going to benefit from celebrating negativity, and a party isn’t going to be a Band-Aid for a messy divorce.
I definitely had the feeling that I had to prove that I was OK to people after my divorce. Maybe my ex did too. But in the end, it just alienated people more. Having a divorce party can make people feel like they need to know what happened, or even pick sides. It leaves a lot of dead air space for the giant Divorce Elephant of Doom to hang out in.
I need to be clear: I don’t mean your divorce is finalized, “go out and get drinks with my friends” party. I’m talking a party in which both you and your ex is there. Sounds like a freaking nightmare, right? People are doing it! Fox News told me!
No one has a good time at divorce parties. Is this surprising? The tension is so thick at a divorce party that you could cut it with a spork. Everyone is waiting for the shit to fly. And usually it does, in one form or another.
Whether it’s your ex-mother-in-law making you a Scarlet Letter apron (that happened, and it was kind of awesome, but not everyone thought so) or a random ex-girlfriend showing out and making out with everyone, there’s no etiquette for divorce parties. Apparently because it seems like such bad taste to begin with, social skills go out the window and it’s a free-for-all.
Your friends and family aren’t going to enjoy their fake, tinny laughs while you and your ex air your dirty laundry. People are going to consider the possibility of their own relationships failing, which kind of puts everyone in a somber mood, unsurprisingly.
But maybe that’s appropriate? I like the idea of a divorce party that doesn’t involve stupid games, or exorbitant amounts of alcohol. A small, quiet get-together of friends, without your ex, where you could talk about the what/why/who/hows of a breakup if you need to. No reason to publicly trash a person you used to be in love with.
And no need to prove that you’re OK, because it’s totally understandable if you’re not.
Thoughts? How did you celebrate your divorce? Are these parties tasteless?