~ July, 2021 ~ Dan wasn’t planning on leaving the Porsche dealership as the owner of not one, but two new luxury vehicles earlier this summer when he went in with sights set on a white Cayman. But after selecting the sporty two-seater, the 50-year-old Long Islander found himself splurging on a black Panamera as well. After all, he had something to celebrate: his divorce.
“The salespeople could not believe I was buying two cars for myself to celebrate my divorce,” says Dan. “The owner came over and told me I was already a legend.”
There’s a tendency to write off middle-aged men who ride into the post-divorce sunset in expensive new cars (or, in the case of some recently divorced billionaires, into space on phallic rocket ships) as obnoxious show-offs in the midst of a midlife crisis. But men like Dan are hardly the only ones turning divorce into cause for celebration. In recent decades, full-blown divorce parties have gained popularity as divorcés and their support networks seek to reshape and redefine the heavily stigmatized narrative that has long surrounded ending a marriage. Rather than something to be mourned or shamed, celebratory proceedings in the aftermath of a divorce recognize that the end of a marriage — not unlike the beginning of one — represents a significant milestone, one that often concludes a difficult period in life. If we celebrate the beginning of something good, why shouldn’t we also celebrate the end of something bad?
“I think a well-timed divorce party can provide a much-needed ritual to mark the end of a difficult period,” says Jennifer Meyer, MA, LPC, NCC, a licensed professional counselor in Fort Collins, Colorado. “When couples announce their engagement, as well as when they get married, we as a society gather around, bring gifts, dance, celebrate the couple.” But when it comes to the end of a marriage,” says Meyer, “we could improve in terms of how we gather around the individual going through divorce.”
That’s where divorce celebrations can be helpful, both in rewriting the narrative surrounding the end of one’s marriage as a positive one, as well as providing an opportunity for friends and family to show support.
Divorce celebrations can be particularly valuable for men, who, according to Meyer, statistically struggle more than women in the aftermath of divorce, perhaps in part because dated notions of masculinity tend to keep men from seeking the support of friends and family. “Helping someone celebrate a recent divorce can be a supportive act that brings together a man’s community, creates a ritual to mark the end of something painful, and is often long remembered”.
In their trendiest form, however, the divorce parties that have gained popularity in recent years are often associated with female divorceés: flashy, Pinterest-inspired affairs resembling a kind of reverse bachelorette party complete with ceremonial wedding dress burning, cheeky divorce cakes and wedding photos on dart boards. Naturally, this may not be a particularly appealing option for most men, especially because such ostentatious bacchanalias in the name of divorce can sometimes come off as a tasteless, flippant “fuck you” to marriage in general. Gendered societal stereotypes being what they are, it may be easier for women to pull off this kind of irreverence.
For women, who have historically held less power within the institution of marriage, throwing darts at a photo of an ex at a drunken divorce party might seem funny, cathartic or even empowering. For straight men, on the other hand, celebrating a divorce in a similar manner might have a tendency to come off as tasteless, even sexist behavior reflective of dated stereotypes about severing the old ball and chain.
This doesn’t mean, however, that men can’t and shouldn’t celebrate their divorces in whatever manner they choose, though many may seek quieter forms of celebration than the splashy, Instagram-ready divorce parties that have lit up social media in recent years. For men like Dan, for example, a divorce celebration might call for an extravagant purchase of a long-coveted luxury item (or two). Other men may gather with friends for a round of drinks or golf, plan a camping trip or celebrate with family.
“Women may be more public about a divorce celebration, while men may be more private,” says Meyer, who adds that in her experience, women are more likely to celebrate divorce in general, though she’s begun to see the trend picking up among men. “There are many ways men and women respond differently [to divorce] due to cultural expectations and conditioning, but I believe all people going through a divorce could benefit from celebrating certain aspects of it.”
It’s also worth noting that, despite the flippant tone that tends to color the divorce party trend, celebrating divorce doesn’t have to be a middle finger to one’s ex or previous marriage. For some, a divorce celebration isn’t even necessarily celebrating the end of a marriage, per se.
When Dr. Farid Samie, a 42-year-old engineer based in Houston, celebrated his divorce in 2019 after five years of marriage and two years of messy divorce proceedings including a child custody battle, the celebration was more about recognizing the end of a stressful legal process than the end of the marriage itself. When the drawn-out legal battle with his ex finally came to an end and Samie was granted custody of the couple’s child, celebratory gatherings with friends and family were a way to mark the end of an incredibly difficult period of time, but also for Samie to thank the support system that had rallied around him throughout the divorce. “I really benefited during this whole process from a huge amount of support,” says Samie. “The parties were mainly as a thank you to the people who were supportive. And, of course, it was two years of a difficult time. So this was more of a celebration that that time is now over.”
For Dan, whose recent automobile purchases commemorated his second divorce, there was little in the way of such a support network when his first marriage ended more than a decade ago. Raised by a single mother, Dan feared an unsuccessful marriage meant he was repeating his father’s mistakes — a fear certain judgmental relatives were more than willing to reinforce. This time around, Dan isn’t buying into the shame that has long followed divorcés. “It truly is a celebration,” he says.
Fortunately, society is also starting to catch up, with the growing divorce party trend suggesting a broader shift in cultural perceptions of marriage and its end. Rather than a shameful failure, we’re starting to recognize divorce for the difficult but often necessary and healthy decision it is. Rather than shaming people into staying in unhappy marriages, we’re celebrating them for having the courage to get out and seek happiness and fulfillment elsewhere.
That’s not to say, however, that there’s no room to mourn divorce for the loss it often is, even while celebrating certain aspects of the end of a marriage. “It is important not to minimize a person’s feelings of grief, because these feelings are normal and healthy,” says Meyer. “There are several aspects of divorce that can be celebrated while also recognizing that there are other painful aspects.”
Regardless of gender, or even of who filed for a divorce, there’s no right or wrong way to celebrate, nor are there right or wrong reasons. “People can celebrate the end of a difficult relationship, the end of the awful legal process, the end of the process of separating assets, and painful emotional disentangling — and can also celebrate the start of a happier new chapter,” says Meyer.
Sometimes a divorce party is simply an act of the newly divorced person’s friends showing support: Hey man, you made it through this really tough thing; let’s celebrate you.
Meanwhile, as societal attitudes toward divorce continue to shift and broaden, there’s more room for nuance in our approach to processing the end of a marriage. “Having a divorce party does not mean that you’re 100 percent happy about everything that happened, and it doesn’t mean you are crass or dismissive of marriage,” says Meyer. “It means you got through one hell of a difficult chapter, and that’s reason for celebration.”