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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

Divorce Parties and Family Photographs

In the throes of wedding planning, many engaged couples quip that if nothing else, the stress of preparing the biggest party of their life to celebrate marriage is enough to dissuade them from divorce. Today’s new trend, however, features lavish gatherings to celebrate the “end” of a marriage.

The Associated Press’s Leanne Italie recently wrote an article, “Today’s Divorce Can Mean Cake and Eating It, Too,” informing readers of the rise of the divorce party.

Richard O’Malley, a New York event planner, said, “I’ve taken to naming them freedom fests, as you aren’t celebrating the end of the marriage but the freedom you have chosen in your life.”

O’Malley planned one woman’s divorce party that cost $25,000. The new divorcee wore white and celebrated at a fancy venue with several features, like a sit-down dinner and live band, similar to a wedding reception. There were new variations too.

“We set up a chapel-looking area and her father walked down the aisle by himself to take her back, instead of give her away,” said O’Malley.

The woman who caught the bride’s bouquet at the wedding reception eight years before threw a bouquet back to the former bride. The wedding gifts from the original event were photographed and framed, and the pictures were given to the gift-givers who attended the divorce party.

“This is something you don’t have to regret, like the wedding,” O’Malley said. “It’s something without any shame.”

The divorce party cake is a main feature of these events, with some bakeries reporting that they make one such cake each month. Creativity is encouraged with the designs – from weapon-wielding brides to black frosting.

Larry Bach, a cake designer in Orlando, Florida, said his first divorce cake was requested eight years ago by a woman whose wedding cake he created 18 months before.

“She said, ‘Your wedding cake was the best part of my marriage,’” he recalled. “We came up with this upside-down cake, with the cake landing on the groom. I’ve repeated that design several times. I think it’s a healthy thing. When my sister got divorced about 25 years ago, she and my mother went into mourning. Divorce was so embarrassing in those days.”

Steve Wolf, from outside Austin, Texas, celebrated his recent divorce, or “conscious uncoupling,” as he referred to it, with his wife. (See an earlier Marriage in the News column on “conscious uncoupling.”) In fact, Wolf’s ex-wife baked the cake in one of their favorite flavors – lemon.

“We cut the cake together like we did the wedding cake 10 years before. When life gives you lemons, make lemon cake,” Wolf said, referring to what was written in icing.

Wolf said the party offered a sense of closure in their amicable split, which he deemed particularly important because of the couple’s three sons.

He said, “We wanted to do something that expressed the fact that we were doing the divorce not so much as an end of our relationship but as us moving into things like co-parenting and co-business management.”

But will the lemon cake and the celebrating offer enough “closure” for the three boys?

Kristen Ploetz’s recent reflection as an adult child of divorce in her New York Times piece, “Long After a Divorce, the Question of Family Photographs Lingers,” suggests that such closure is elusive.

Ploetz’s parents split when she was 18, weeks before she began college. Now 40, she says “the last stinging tentacles of their divorce have largely dissolved, though some still linger. They tug and burn when I least expect it.”

For example, what should she do with childhood family photographs, Ploetz wonders. Should she throw them away? Is it worth displaying them, even though the pictures will likely bring pain? Should she wait until her parents’ death in order to pull them from a dusty box?

Ploetz reflects: “All of the photographs from my entire childhood were taken while my parents were married. The lens through which we all viewed our lives together did not crack until I became an adult. Until that breaking point, there was happiness in the home. My parents loved each other and us, and you can see it in the yellowing photographs.

“But something happened to those old photographs when my parents divorced: In an instant they became outdated and irrelevant. As a result, it feels inappropriate to display these pictures in my home. I instead hide my history under the bed. The lack of visible memories renders my childhood as, well, fake.”

Ploetz’s sobering thoughts contrast greatly with images of lavish cakes (“freedom cakes” as dessert chef Lisa Stevens in Tampa, Florida refers to them) and expensive parties to celebrate a divorce.

Something as seemingly simple as what to do with family photographs is complicated by the same event celebrated as a “freedom party.”

Ploetz continues: “It feels unfair that I cannot openly look back at those moments. Those photos memorialize my childhood, my history and my family, at least for a time. They are me, and yet I cannot showcase them without triggering pain for myself or someone else. I envy those who can hang photos in their living room because their parents’ marriage is still intact.”

About the author
Emily Macke serves as Theology of the Body Education Coordinator at Ruah Woods in Cincinnati, Ohio. She received her Master’s in Theological Studies at the John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC, and her undergraduate degree in Theology and Journalism at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Emily shares the good news of the Catholic faith through writing, media appearances and speaking opportunities, which she has done on three continents. She and her husband Brad live in southeast Indiana.