We have ceremonies and rituals to honor nearly all major life passages. We hold a baptism or bris on one side of life, a funeral on the other. We have birthday parties. Graduation dinners. Weddings. But there’s no official rite of passage during divorce. Until now.
Increasingly, people are seeking a way to honor their marriage, even as they end it.
Some people plan a public ceremony or blow-out bash, hosted alone or with their ex. Others want a private moment. Many people say taking a trip out of town was the act that let them head in a new direction when they returned home.
I liked the recent article in the New York Times about the divorce party for 100 that Charles and Bonnie Bronfman are throwing in Manhattan for their friends and family, complete with engraved invitations.
As the writer, Geraldine Fabrikant, put it:
"Mr. Bronfman, the former chairman of the Seagram Company, and Mrs. Bronfman, an architect, explained that their 'friendship is stronger without being married' and that they wanted to thank their friends for the support. On the invitation, they wrote that they looked forward 'to continuing these relationships with everyone.'”
I love their stated intention to keep all their friends rather than encourage people to take sides. (I'd also like to be invited to what sounds like a pretty lavish affair. Most of my friends are married, meaning there are never weddings to attend. A divorce party could another chance to get dressed up and do all those line dances I perfected in my 20s.)
Renee Beck, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California who does divorce ceremonies, put it this way, “To really bring closure, as humans, we go back and look at what happened. What have we learned, what have we gotten out of our experience? Marriage is initiated with a very special energy. For a relationship that started that way to end without any formal marking is sad, and can make it really difficult. It’s wonderful to acknowledge how important it has been, how much we have learned, what we have given to each other.”
Or, as Carl Jung said: “Only the symbolic life can express the need of the soul.”
For many of us, signing a paper in a lawyer’s office lacks the pomp and significance we need. Simply watching our marriage sputter out over the months—or explode, shrapnel flying—fails to fully capture its value in our lives, or the momentousness of moving on.
I believe in the value of ceremony and ritual to help us reconnect to a sense of deeper meaning and that feeling of being part of something larger than ourselves—or at least than ourselves in our most difficult moments.
Read more about the Bronfman's planned party here.
Wendy Paris is the author of Splitopia: Dispatches from Today's Good Divorce and How to Part Well (Simon & Schuster/Atria, 2016). Splitopia and her work on divorce have been covered by The New York Times, Real Simple, The Washington Post, The New York Post, The Globe & Mail, Psychology Today, The Houston Chronicle, Salon.com, Parents.com, Family Law Quarterly, PsychCentral.com and radio and TV shows nationwide. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and is an advocate for family law reform. She is divorced, and lives in Santa Monica, California, a few blocks from her former husband, with whom she has a warm co-parenting relationship.