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Emotional Hardbody Answers

Friends don't let friends have divorce parties, or do they?

Austin Photo Set: News_Christina Pesoli_divorce camp 1_August 2011
Are divorce parties a "thing"? 

Dear Emotional Hardbody,

One of my best friends just went through a nasty divorce. Now that it’s behind her, she wants to celebrate by having a “divorce party.” I’ve never heard of such a thing before, but she assures me that divorce parties are now a “thing.” Whether or not they are in fact a “thing,” I still don’t think she should have one. Lots of things that are “things” are nonetheless things I would never do. Like flashing your boobs in exchange for Mardi Gras beads. Or brewing (or drinking) kombucha. 

Granted, she’s been through hell and made it out alive, but she has a shot at a fresh start here and I want to keep her from starting off on the wrong foot. How can I convince her that having a divorce party is a terrible idea? 

Signed,
Can’t We All Act Like Grownups?

Dear Grownup,

Your friend is right. Divorce parties are now a thing — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Human beings tend to celebrate major milestones with ceremonies or parties (or both). This is not a new phenomenon. Graduations, engagements, weddings, birthdays, and even moving, are all examples of life events that are often acknowledged in one manner or another. Even unhappy events like death are marked with ceremonies or even full-on parties. Acknowledging milestones in a group setting helps people honor and process change. It can be both helpful and healthy. 

Divorce definitely qualifies as a major milestone. And with roughly 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, it’s as likely as not that any given person who gets married will in fact experience a divorce. Why shouldn’t this milestone merit a social acknowledgement of some sort?

The nature of any celebration is determined by the preferences of the person who is organizing it. Take weddings, for example. Some people opt to get married by Elvis impersonators in wedding chapels in Las Vegas. Others prefer destination weddings. Still others would only consider getting hitched in a church. Some receptions feature open bars and dancing until dawn.  Others are alcohol- and dance-free. There’s no right or wrong here. It’s just a matter of taste.

And the same thing is true of divorce parties. Some might prefer a quiet dinner party at home with their closest friends. Others may want a blowout more akin to a bachelorette party, complete with a pizza delivery boy-turned-stripper. And there are a million possibilities between those two extremes. It’s up to the person who has just gotten divorced to decide what type of divorce party she wants.

But just as the person throwing the party has the right to pick the theme, guests have the right to decide whether to attend. If your friend is throwing a spring break-style party that starts with Jell-O shots and ends with walks of shame and that’s not your style, feel free to skip it. You can always celebrate with your friend another way some other time. 

Although I have no qualms with divorce parties per se, I do have one caveat for anyone thinking of throwing one. Party themes and games that revolve around the guest of honor’s ex keep her mired in negativity and focused on her past. That makes it difficult to turn the page and start a new chapter, which is the main benefit of a divorce party. So, no dart board covered by a blown-up photo of the ex’s face. And no cake that features a bride cake topper who has just pushed the groom off the top of the cake. The reason to refrain from these things has nothing to do with being selfless or forgiving. It's just that a divorce party should celebrate the newly divorced and her new future, and her ex has nothing to do with either one of these things.

If your aversion to your friend’s divorce party is due to an outdated attitude about divorce in general, my advice is to get over it. There’s nothing inherently shameful about getting a divorce, nor is there anything wrong with acknowledging the conclusion of one’s divorce by having a party. But if your reluctance stems from your concern about the type of party your friend may have, my advice is to see what she comes up with and then decide whether you want to attend. 

If it sounds like fun, go. If it doesn’t, don’t.

All the best,
Emotional Hardbody

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