In most cases, paint and wedding dresses don’t mix.
Unless, of course, you’ve just endured a marital separation, watched your spouse have a fling with a younger partner, and now find yourself on the brink of divorce — and are attending your own divorce party.
In that case, when a friend hands you a paintball gun, points it at your formerly pristine bridal gown and tells you to take aim, you might be tempted to let ‘er rip.
That’s the setting Abby McCarthy, the main character in Bravo’s Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, finds herself in during the season one finale (aptly titled “Rule No. 101: Know When It’s Time to Move On”).
Would you do it? Could you?
If the idea of destroying a wedding dress or noshing on divorce cake to celebrate a marriage’s undoing strikes you as uncouth, you’re not alone.
Divorce Parties — In Bad Taste?
The trend of “trashing the dress” (not just post-nuptials but post-divorce) has emerged in recent years — along with divorce parties and showers, complete with gifts, wedding ring coffins, and just-divorced banners. Divorce parties (sometimes called divorce ceremonies) vary in style and may involve one or both spouses.
While these celebrations are becoming more common, they are seen by some as cynical, self-centered, and detrimental. An Iranian cleric called such events “dangerous” and “a poison for the Islamic civilization and society.” Another group compared such an event to the celebration of a miscarriage. And the internet is teeming with similar opinions — that divorce parties are just plain out of line.
But are these fair arguments?
Considering What’s Best for the Divorcing Couple
The idea of a divorce party may cause some to bristle — and understandably so. The end of a marriage can be a chaotic, emotional time that’s usually hard for everyone involved. At Wevorce, we are acutely aware of the suffering families experience during separation, divorce, and the difficult time of adjustment after the papers are filed.
However, in regularly covering the sensitive topic of divorce on our blog, we continually ask ourselves, “How can we help divorcing couples and their children so they can move forward happily and healthily?” and “What are the long-term best interests of those involved?”
In fact, whether you’re going through your own breakup or learning how to support someone else during their divorce, we believe these are valid questions to ask oneself. A good rule of thumb (with all things in life) is: until you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes, try your best to withhold judgment.
That said, having helped hundreds of couples to Begin Again, we realize everyone’s healing process looks different. For some, a new beginning necessitates quiet reflection — reading, journaling, and spending time alone. For others, moving forward requires the near-constant support of family and friends — possibly even a party to celebrate the next chapter.
Words From Those Who Have Done It
In an interview with Good Morning America, one couple describes the reasons they held a joint celebration of their divorce.
“We’ve had a lot of really good parties over the years and I thought let’s have another one and let this be our last hurrah,” said Michelle Mahoney of Berkeley, California. While she acknowledged the event might “make people a little uncomfortable,” she hoped a divorce party might “take a little bit of the awkwardness” out of the situation.
“We’re not celebrating the fact that we got divorced,” explained Mahoney’s ex-husband, Jeff Becerra, who insists the couple remains friends. “We’re celebrating the way in which we did it… keep the friendship that we have and keep as much of a family group as we can have together.”
The couple acknowledged that keeping their split amicable required professional help and “a lot of work and humility and sacrifices and discussion and careful thought.”
Their 18-year-old daughter Emma, who posted photos from the party on Twitter, explained she “didn’t feel sad at all” about her parents’ separation, and that people who understood them would know the celebration “is something they would totally do.”
In one story on the Wevorce blog, one woman discusses their family’s plans to hold a divorce party for her soon-to-be-divorced brother.
“Greg has been through a difficult time as his marriage has ended,” says Kristy Heintz of New York City. “The idea of a party is turning things around for him. It’s something involved with his divorce that is actually making him happy. It’s positive,” she adds. “That’s our goal here — keep this whole negative thing in a positive light.”
And Greg agrees. “I am looking forward to starting over again,” he says. “It will become a quest to find the right person eventually. I do plan to marry again but not sure of the time frame. Right now, it will just be good to go out and do things that make myself happy. This is something I lost during my marriage.”
Heintz also believes the divorce party will provide her brother with support during a major life change. “As a family, the party is the beginning of Greg’s new life,” she says. “He had a really nice wedding, so why shouldn’t you have a party to celebrate the end?”
Divorce — Rethinking the Healing Process
We celebrate when we reach many milestones in life — birthdays, graduations, marriage, the birth of a child — which leaves some wondering: why don’t we similarly observe events that are less favorably regarded? In the movie Chocolat, actress Joanne Harris announced, “Life is what you celebrate. All of it. Even its end.”
After all, lifting the spirits of the heartbroken usually means offering friendship and support. For instance, when a death occurs, loved ones gather to offer healing words of sympathy to bereaved family members. Some even require their funerals to be a “celebration of life” event, rather than a stoic, mournful occasion.
And why not? Everyone has the right to observe life’s milestones, accomplishments, and disappointments in whatever way they see fit. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross once said, “I’ve told my children that when I die, to release balloons in the sky to celebrate that I graduated. For me, death is a graduation.”
Death and divorce are rarely, if ever, happy occasions. But the thought is the same: facing a change in life circumstances or a distressing situation — and doing so while surrounded by loved ones — is an important part of the healing process.
Rewriting Your Story
Holding a divorce party or planning a ritual that marks the end of a marriage can also be a powerful way to change the narrative — from one of grief and pain to one of hope and excitement for the future. In her book Rapture, Author Kameron Hurley writes, “We must rewrite our story from one of fear to one of celebration.”
And Author Shauna Niequist expresses a similar sentiment in Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life. “When you realize that the story of your life could be told a thousand different ways, that you could tell it over and over as a tragedy, but you choose to call it an epic, that’s when you start to learn what celebration is,” she says. “When what you see in front of you is so far outside of what you dreamed, but you have the belief, the boldness, the courage to call it beautiful instead of calling it wrong, that’s celebration.”
In an interview with Wevorce, Phoebe*, divorced nine years, shares how she transformed tragedy into celebration.
“My divorce was the most painful experience of my life. The emotional trauma, financial stress, religious and social backlash — it all made me feel so alone — and anxious about what was next. I was desperate to find moments of joy and reprieve, and more than anything, I needed to believe I would recover.”
So, when the opportunity arose to hold a Trash the Dress photo shoot, she jumped at the chance.
“My wedding gown was a symbol of purity and hope — values that vanished with the end of my marriage,” she says. “And I needed some sort of cathartic release, a way to let go of that part of my life.
With the help of a couple of photographer friends, we headed to the park and spent the day destroying my wedding gown. I rolled in the mud, swam in a pond, and allowed them to splatter me with paint.
I’m sure some felt my actions were sacrilegious when they saw the photos, but I felt empowered. I had years of therapy to help me move past my divorce, but that experience was just as therapeutic. In a way, I felt like I was taking my life back. Today, my former wedding dress probably lives in a landfill somewhere, but I have at last moved on.”
Charlie Penna, a woman who divorced in 2014 after her husband had an affair and left her after a few months of marriage, tells The Telegraph throwing a divorce party was one of the best decisions she ever made. “I wanted to celebrate what had happened as, although it had been horrible, … [an] experience to create an inner strength instead of spending the time crying my eyes out,” she says. So, Penna rented a hot tub from a nearby company, donned an ‘Ain’t no wifey’ t-shirt, bought some prosecco, and invited ten of her closest friends over. Soon after the event, she became a partner in the very hot tub business she hired, which she says, “would never have happened if it weren’t for my divorce, or the party.”
However you choose to observe the ending of a marriage, whether it’s in quiet contemplation or throwing a party with your closest friends, we hope your new beginning is a time of healing and an opportunity to rewrite your story’s ending.
*name has been changed.