Divorce Parties Usher in a New Era

Can a divorce party mark a fresh start?

The growing fashion for holding breakup parties is about moving on in life, not celebrating an ending

The key, it seems, is not only in the timing but also in making the event a positive one. Nicole Thomas, 41, is organizing her divorce party – a 1950s jive night –  to thank her friends for all their support after she separated from her husband in 2010. It will be held in London next month.

"It's not about celebrating the end of the marriage as much as celebrating the start a new life," she says.

"Even more than that, it's to thank the friends who have helped me through the last few years while I have put myself back together. "One of my friends was concerned because he saw it as a negative thing. I can understand why he feels that way – but it's not negative at all.

"I did a lot of research online about how to go about it and there are a lot of angry words said about divorce parties and divorce in general. But I didn't want a cake with a bloodied groom being kicked off the top. I wanted something positive."

Nicole is getting together with a few friends to make 1,000 origami cranes – each symbolizes a good luck wish. There will also be a burlesque act and lots of jive dancing, which is something that helped Nicole to regain her confidence after the split.

As an account manager for an internet company, Nicole met her husband-to-be, Stuart, during a three-month secondment in London from Los Angeles in 2005. "I am not the sort of person who would do something crazy, but I got caught up in the romance of meeting a British man and things progressed very quickly," she says.

"He was in the process of moving to Canada and I thought we could do the long-distance thing, as we would be in the same time zone once I went back to LA, but he changed his mind and decided to stay in London.

"It felt like being in love in a movie, as the saying goes," she said. I'm extremely risk-averse but we decided that we wanted to be together and that was all that mattered."

The couple, who didn't have children, were married at Nicole's mother's Las Vegas home in October 2005. Nicole gave up her apartment in Los Angeles to move to London a month later. However, the couple were unable to make the marriage work and eventually separated in November 2010.

"It was really amicable in the end. We tried to remain friends initially, but that made it difficult for me to get myself back together. Perhaps in time that will change, but not right now. He knows about the party but he won't be there."

For anyone breaking up, says Nicole, it's the end of all those hopes you might have had about what your future was going to be and missing that. "There's a great Portuguese word, saudade, which means a longing for something that doesn't exist," she says. "When you go through a marriage breaking up, it is that longing for the future that you had imagined. You walk into it with high hopes, so when you realize it isn't going to work out, it's really painful to come to terms with. "When my mother got divorced it was a huge shock and it took her a while to get to a point where she was OK. I think I've gone through that and I have got to the point where the party isn't a solution or closure, because I'm already there."

Denise Knowles, a Relate counsellor and therapist, says that most divorcees mark the occasion in some way, but only once they are ready to move on. "There will have been, at some point, feelings of anger, resentment and sadness – similar to people who have been bereaved. When someone dies, there is a funeral and a wake and they will talk about the good times and remember the person.

"When we talk about a divorce, people sometimes feel the need to mark it in some way to thank the people who have supported them. Whether that's a formal event or something more private is down to personal choice. There may well be a great sense of relief that you can start to get on with your life, but if you are the person who didn't want to get divorced, you are going to have a very different set of emotions."

Christine Gallagher, author of How to Throw a Breakup Party, has been a divorce-party planner since 2008 and organizes two parties a month from her home in Los Angeles. For many of her clients, a breakup party provides a way back in to being seen socially as a single person and perhaps goes some way toward eradicating common fears about having to socialize again without a partner. Around 80% of her clients are women; something that she thinks may be because men find it easier to move on.

"Every significant event in life has a gathering, but divorce has been kept under wraps, perhaps due to the historical stigma," she says. "But it can be helpful to have family and friends around to provide support at times of change and a gathering is simply a formal way of doing that.

"It's about celebrating a person and making them feel positive about the change their life has taken, rather than celebrating the end of the marriage or relationship."

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