Human beings are creatures of ritual. Rituals gave our human ancestors a sense of control over all the uncontrollable and unpredictable events; weather, illness, famine, death. Rituals couldn’t prevent the death of your child but they gave you something to do; a candle to light, incense to burn, a blessing to repeat, so that you felt like you did something, anything, while you were slowly coming to terms with the inevitable. Modern life is a little more predictable. We know when it’s going to rain or snow. We are able to prevent or cure at least some of the diseases and illnesses that our ancestors succumbed to. Yet, no amount of modern science will ever make us completely in control, able to predict or prevent all of what life brings us. So, we still cling to rituals, whether religious or secular. They still bring us comfort and a sense of security.
All of our major life events still have a ritual involved, to prepare us for them, to help us through them. Birthday parties, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, bachelor parties, baby showers, weddings and funerals are all examples of modern-day rituals. Each of these events, whether or not they involve an actual ceremony, contains a certain amount of predictable elements. If you have ever been to a baby shower you know things are done a certain way, certain games are played and certain decorations are always used, just because that’s the way it’s always done! While all of these events usually contain some type of party or celebration (even funerals have a gathering afterwards with food and drinks), there is a point to the gathering that goes beyond just the party. The point is about family and community helping you transition into the next stage of life. It is about people who have been there and done that, showing support, giving advice and holding you up. It is about those who care for you validating your experience and the pain or the joy that goes along with it. “We understand”, these people are saying, “and we are here for you.”
There is, however, one major life event that does not have any rituals or celebrations. It is the one event that we still shy away from, avoid coming into contact with people who are going through it, as if it is somehow contagious. As if it will somehow call all of our own life choices into question. This event is divorce. Now let me be clear, when I say divorce I mean those marriages where people have committed to a life together and have been with each other through all those other major life events. No Kim Kardashian’s divorce does not count. What does count however, are all those relationships of two committed loving partners who had planned a life together whether or not some government or religious entity confirmed their commitment. I’m talking about those of us who really believed that forever meant forever, not the forever you said when you “loved” some in junior high school, but as I used to say to someone “real forever.”
I’m proposing divorce have a ceremony. I say it also needs cake. A mother and daughter team in New York may be onto something when they held the first ever Divorce Expo, an event that they say will help to empower those going through this life altering experience. The two-day event brought professionals together to offer the newly divorced advice on everything from finance to dating again. While I think they are certainly onto something, and I would have certainly attended something similar when I was going through my divorce, some of it may have just been a little too much. The advice from the Mary Kay expert might have come in handy but the plastic surgeon in attendance is just over the top. I certainly didn’t need anyone making me feel any worse about myself than I already did. Telling me they could fix all my problems with a little surgery may have elicited a tirade of unpleasant language on my part. The idea, however, was to offer things for a wide variety of people and I truly hope their event was successful and will catch on in other places around the country.
What would be even better though is to have an event held by those who know and love you. My own friends and family would have known I wouldn’t want to hear from a plastic surgeon. However, a new outfit, a fancy meal and bottle of champagne really would have hit the spot. A ceremony of some sort would have also provided some type of closure. I can verify that dropping a ring from a very high bridge into a very deep river on its way to the ocean feels much better than just keeping this old reminder in the bottom of your jewelry box. Maybe the newly divorced could also get “god parents!” You know, just some close friends who promise to help take care of you when you can’t take care of yourself, someone who promises to answer the phone at 2 a.m. when you can’t sleep and are up alone trying to answer unanswerable questions.
I think there should also be gifts! Let’s face it, when you get divorced you lose not only half of all your possessions but sometimes half of your income as well. Next time one of my friends gets divorced I’m going to try to remember all this. It’s time we started helping each other through this life transition and stopped treating it like some contagious social disease. Maybe I’ll get a gift certificate to a fancy restaurant so he/she doesn’t have to wait for someone else to invite them, or maybe a membership to AAA for those mornings their car won’t start and they are home alone. Maybe I’ll pick up some new towels for his/her new place. Even better, maybe I’ll make one of those little coupon books that says things like “one free rant and rave session” or “one weekend of designated driving so you can have all the wine you need.” Either way there’s going to be cake!