Apart, perhaps, from death, is there anything more painful than divorce?
Years before a marriage arrives at the decree absolute stage, both partners started out on a path that should, ideally, have led to a long life of shared experiences, children, and mutual support — all underpinned by loyalty and love.
Indeed, both people felt so strongly that they solemnised it with a legal and possibly religious ritual in front of family and friends, pledging their undying connection.
Now the whole thing lies in ruins around their feet. And for most normal people this is a time of tremendous loss, bereavement and sadness.
Of course there may be a relief in shedding a horribly violent husband or an alcoholic wife, but that doesn’t take away from the underlying misery — the disappointment in seeing the end of a loving act of creation.
But for some people, divorce isn’t a time for mourning. It’s a time, believe it or not, for celebration. And some will actually toast the whole thing with a divorce party. Could there be anything more shallow and trivial?
Earlier this year, a London lawyer became the first in the country to sell divorce gift vouchers as Christmas presents. Vanessa Lloyd Platt, a senior partner at Lloyd Platt & Company, claims to have been inundated with enquiries about how to obtain the voucher, which offers couples half-hour or hour-long sessions with a lawyer to plan their split.
Before Christmas they claim to have sold 54 — to husbands, wives, mistresses and ‘friends’ of couples who thought that they ought to think of breaking up.
On Monday, Debenhams cynically cashed in on the fact that Britain has one of the highest divorce rates in the world, by announcing its divorce list — a divorce version of the wedding list — with suggestions of useful presents to give to someone recently divorced, such as toasters, TVs, sound systems and the like.
They are cashing in on a trend set by people such as Katie Price and Heather Mills, who both celebrated their divorces with parties and presents. But has anyone at Debenhams actually been through a divorce, I wonder? Do they know of the agony and anguish caused not only to the couple but to their family and friends?
When I got divorced, more than 30 years ago now, I remember nothing but the ghastly conflicting emotions. My husband moved out - or did I send him away? — and I recall weeping over our incapacity to stay together for the sake of our small son.
One minute I’d feel so full of guilt and self-hatred that I’d be tempted to ask him to come round and take over while I rushed off to Dover to hurl myself off a cliff; and then, the following day, feeling that all I wanted to do was to hire a hit man and eliminate him from the face of the earth.
Anyone who didn’t take my ‘side’ absolutely was cut from my address book (and took quite a long time, once I recovered my senses, to be allowed back in).
I felt — and rightly, I think — a complete failure. None of this was made any better by my choice of solicitors.
First of all I got a furious feminist who insisted I should split everything down the middle with my husband despite the fact that I was looking after a small child and couldn’t work a great deal so couldn’t match my husband’s earning power. She had to go.
Next, I found myself in the hands of fiendish ogre of a man who believed in taking every opponent of his client to the cleaners and who, when I discovered he’d mistakenly added an extra ‘0’ to the figure we were suggesting my husband pay me for his share of our son’s monthly upkeep, refused to change his demand, just saying, with a knowing wink: ‘Let’s just see if we can get away with it!’
In the end I got so desperate I persuaded an old family solicitor, who’d done the conveyancing on our house, to take over.
He managed to calm me down in my most grabby moments — and also stay my hand in my most over-generous.
Neither of us could actually cope with the idea of seeing each other face-to-face at all for a year until, one day when my by now ex returned from taking my son out for the day, I spontaneously asked him in for a cup of tea and he, to his credit, accepted — and from then on we began to rebuild our relationship into a new one, which has resulted now in our becoming the very best of friends.
Could the gift of a toaster from a friend have helped heal my wounds? Would a party have done the trick? I doubt it very much.
Indeed, I think it would only have made matters worse. And I know that the very idea of either never, ever crossed our minds.
After all, if a child dies, would you have a party? If you lost your job, would you celebrate? If your house burnt down, would you mark the event with a disco evening?
The truth is there is no such a thing as a ‘good divorce’. Even if your partner turned into a cruel dictator with psychotic tendencies, you could never call a divorce ‘good’. Because a divorce is the end of a marriage that was originally made with love, respect, kindness and attraction, a contract that was intended to last, lovingly, for the rest of your lives.
Every single person who was once married must have had some moments, at the beginning of the relationship, when they could see how it might work.
So we all know what the marriage could have been like. So giving a party shows not only what a shallow person you are, but that you’re the sort of person who gloats when disasters happen or friendships fail.
hat’s a divorce party like? Well, you can actually get them arranged by divorce party planners — who’ll provide you with a divorce cake, which features a tiny bride on the top, in a position that shows she has just pushed her tiny husband off the edge; he lies at the bottom of the cake, covered with bloody strawberry jam.
They’ll provide special divorce party coasters, with slogans written on them like ‘Who needs a man when you can have a drink?’
You can buy wedding ring coffins and banners reading ‘Just divorced!’
Some people have been known to play their wedding videos backwards to their guests to the accompaniment of I will Survive or Hit the Road Jack.
Others send cards with captions such as like ‘Heard about the divorce? Sometimes it’s better to love them and leave them — penniless if possible!’
Listen to how Christine Gallagher, who devised the divorce party concept in her book How to Throw a Break-up Party, justifies it all.
‘A divorce party is a way to mark the end of the pain and suffering that comes with divorce,’ she says. ‘It provides the ritual we humans need to cope with any difficult life transition. Rituals provide comfort and community.
‘It is an opportunity to vent, to cry, laugh, yell, whatever you need to do. Friends can throw a party to show their divorcing pal that they are supported, loved and not alone.
‘The party can be a great way the newly divorced person can thank all the people who stood by them through the ordeal of separation.
‘It’s an opportunity to announce your new status in life. You are now single and available for new experiences and even new relationships.
‘A whole new phase of life is just beginning. And that is something to celebrate!’
YUK! And do these divorce partiers ever consider the children? How would they feel about hearing that their mother was actually drinking and cheering on being officially split from their father, someone who, whether they like him or not, has the genes that make up half their identity?
And would the guests really want to come or, if they did, would they really feel comfortable?
Some have probably never seen the side of the other partner that the party-giver hates so much and, indeed, never will. Some, who knows, may wish to continue being friends with both of you, even now you’re separated.
To have a divorce party or to give divorce present is like celebrating a miscarriage. It is insensitive and heartless. If you have to have a party, have the decency and honesty to call it what it is — a wake.