Judging from the photos and the rave reviews from guests, my wedding was amazing. But I barely remember it myself.
I know I wore an expertly draped ivory gown; that I said my vows in front of a willow tree; and that I walked down the aisle with my now ex-husband to a string quartet playing Coldplay’s “Lovers in Japan.” I know there was a cocktail spread with a raw bar (we spared no expense) on a patio by a lily pond; and that we dined and danced under a glass dome, lit up a soft pink.
What did I experience? Nervous jitters, exhaustion, a blur of loved ones’ faces, standing for countless photos, and fretting about dirt on the hem of my dress. I had shelled out an extra $2,000 just for the tablecloths, to ensure I got the right shade of gray to make the red centerpieces pop. But during the evening, I barely noticed what was on the tables. I choked down some Cornish hen, hardly tasting it, mostly to soak up the Prosecco in my stomach.
The fun and freedom of divorce parties
Weddings are often like this – what is supposed to be the happiest day of your life becomes more of a spectacle for friends and family. And if the marriage ends in divorce, as mine did, you will be left with the existential question: Were the expense, the stress, the family dramas over whom to invite (or not to invite), and the worrying about making sure we got every detail right, including the tablecloths, worth it? The answer is “probably not.”
The fun part about getting divorced, though (yes, I realized that it is surprising to say there is a “fun” part) is that it may very well give you an excuse to have a “do over” when it comes to throwing a big party – and this time it can be one you will actually enjoy. Divorce parties have been a rising trend over the past decade or so, driven by people looking to commemorate their newfound freedom and reclaimed sense of self with all the enthusiasm they brought to planning their nuptials.
But make no mistake, compared with the typical wedding, a divorce party is way less anxiety-inducing and way more fun.
“Weddings are very stressful it seems for most people,” Christine Gallagher, a California-based psychotherapist and former event planner who literally wrote the book on divorce parties, said. “And the thing is, with a divorce party, you can just let it rip.”
Discover the transformative rituals of divorce parties
Gallagher, who has organized as many as 300 divorce parties in her career, wrote “The Divorce Party Handbook,” published in 2016. Although she decided to close her event planning business during the COVID-19 pandemic, she still had lots of insight to offer for would-be divorce party planners.
The starting point, she said, is coming up with a clear and meaningful ritual to base the party around. Often, she suggested “burning something, like burning a veil.”
“It was my feeling that it was necessary to have some sort of ritual to carry someone through what is a huge life change,” she said. “And to have your family and friends there can make it into something positive in a way.”
Having a fire in an outdoor setting to destroy a symbol of the past is “primitive” and can be cathartic, she said.
One party Gallagher planned was for a woman who had discovered her ex-husband was having an affair and was hiding it by claiming to be taking golf lessons regularly. “She looked at the golf clubs and saw they had never been used,” Gallagher said.
To help the woman find closure, the party included a fire pit, and the golf clubs were used as shish kabobs. “Eventually the woman could actually laugh at this horrible thing that had happened,” Gallagher recalled.
Crafting the perfect guest list for your divorce party
Unlike for a wedding, when you might feel pressured to invite relatives you hardly ever see or people you barely know just to make your parents happy, the guest list for a divorce party is all about who supports you and brings you joy. “You don’t want people sitting around and frowning,” Gallagher said. You may also have to accept that some of your friends and family just aren’t into divorce parties, and that’s OK.
“Don’t force people to come, and don’t encourage them to come if they’re going to be downers,” she said.
In general, divorce party hosts usually invite only their friends and maybe a few close family members. Allowing guests to bring dates can sometimes also be fun, depending on the crowd. On a few occasions, former couples actually threw divorce parties together, Gallagher said. “It was done in the spirit of, ‘neither of us want people to have to choose sides,’ which was kind of healthy,” she said.
One definite “no no,” though, is inviting kids, Gallagher advises. “I think it’s a stretch for kids to make that leap” into celebrating a divorce, she said.
Add unforgettable touches to your divorce party
All that trendy, cool wedding stuff that you read about in blogs and magazines can easily be repurposed, with a twist, for a divorce party. Signature cocktails, a popular item at weddings (mine was some sort of cucumber drink), can be even more fun to have when clinking glasses over a divorce. Gallagher offers suggestions in her book for some variations, such as the “Sayonara Sling,” which is based on a Singapore Sling.
In some instances, divorce parties can have gift registries just like weddings do – to make up for all the items that a former partner might have made off with.
“Maybe the partner took the coffee maker, or whatever,” Gallagher said. And there are no expectations in terms of traditional settings for divorce parties, like one might have with a wedding. One party that Gallagher found particularly fun, for instance, was thrown during a cruise along the coast of Mexico.
Looking back, I don’t regret my wedding – my ex and I succeeded in putting on a grand event that made our friends and family very happy (although maybe the $2,000 tablecloths were a bit much). But for myself, and creating a memory that I could relish, which signified a major life change? Yeah, I kinda wish I’d had a divorce party.