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Scenes From a Divorce Party

A celebration of marriage liberation

On a Saturday night at any of the strip clubs in Las Vegas, you can probably find two groups of men sitting alongside each other — one celebrating their impending lockdown, the other their release back into the wild. Their nights will be almost identical — the steakhouse dinner to start, the steady binge-drinking that began at noon, and of course, the lap dances that fill the post-midnight hours. The main difference is what the guest of honor’s friends will slur as they toast him with bottle-service vodka: “It’s all over, man,” or “You’re finally free.”

The former is the familiar cry of the bachelor party, a pre-wedding weekend bacchanal that needs no further explanation. While the latter is the theme of the divorce party, a gathering that means different things for different people. Sometimes they’re about trying to forget (e.g., the one-sided affair thrown by Miss USA runner-up Shanna Moakler to commemorate her split from Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker). Sometimes they’re about making it seem like there’s nothing to forget at all (e.g., the joint, very congenial bash thrown by the White Stripes’ Jack White and Karen Elston). And sometimes they’re about exactly what you’d think they’d be about (e.g., here’s the pitch for the “Divorce Party” package at Sapphire, the largest strip club in the world: “For a few glorious hours, we help you and your friends enjoy a carefree world of long legs, perfect breasts, G-strings, Jack Daniels and Budweiser. This is a ‘mother-in-law-free zone’ where the hardest decision you’ll make all night is blonde, brunette or redhead.”).

But they always share one thing in common: An attempt at providing comfort — for the strange new world the divorcé(e) is about to embark upon; for the painful weeks, months and years that led to this evening of spouse-less bonding; and for the fact that they’ve failed at something our society still holds as more sacred than not.

Aaron Aguilar, a booker and host for party-planning company Vegas VIP, says it’s usually a friend of the recently divorced that calls him to book their “I Do / I Don’t” package; the divorcé(e) themselves is typically “too busy with their life in shambles.” Though a 2012 Time article reported that Vegas VIP’s divorce party business was up by 70 percent, Aguilar says they’re a relatively small part of his business. (Some empirical evidence: He typically closes just one a month compared to 100 bachelor parties.)

He adds that there are also some parties that don’t fit into either category. Once, for example, he took a couple out immediately after their quickie wedding ceremony. They said they wanted to go to a strip club. At first, everything was fine. The new wife bought her new husband lap dances and cheered on the strippers as they performed. But when he disappeared to the private VIP section without her, things took a turn for the worse. She hunted him down, threw a drink in his face, screamed about his tiny dick and then blurted out: “I want a divorce!!!!!”

Aguilar still can’t figure out if this qualifies as a wedding reception or a divorce party.

After seven years of practicing divorce law in the Twin Cities, Zach Smith has unique insight into why someone might have what he calls a “marriage liberation” or “litigation celebration.” “Realistically, a divorce changes your life more than anything I can think of, even more than getting married does,” he says. He cites numerous reasons why, the same depressing ones that drove him to scale back his practice to part-time: a complete restructuring of your finances, lifestyle and relationship to your kids. Under such circumstances, “Why not blow off some steam?” he asks.

That said, he’s only ever known his female clients to have divorce parties. “My male clients tend to be more private with their friends and family about the fact they’re getting divorced,” he explains. “A lot of my female clients are more open to talking about it and getting support from their loved ones.”

He cites another possible reason as well: 75 percent of his male clients already have new significant others by the time they sign their divorce papers, if not long before that, meaning the liberation party has already came and went.

The one divorce party Smith personally attended was a gathering of 15 women at a rooftop bar, hosted by a female client who he said treated it as a “second bachelorette party,” complete with a sash that said “single” and a never-ending cascade of booze.

Smith warns, however, that seeing a divorce party as the be-all-end-all of the disunion is a little naive, especially if kids are involved. “I have some clients that are literally lifetime clients — every six months they come back to me with continuous problems,” he says. Case in point: Last night, Smith got a call at 10 p.m. from a man whose ex-wife insisted on doing the “kid exchange” at a Pizza Hut instead of the agreed upon McDonald’s. She threatened to call the cops if he didn’t comply. “Criminal lawyers deal with bad people on their best behavior,” he says. “Divorce lawyers deal with good people on their worst behavior.”

It’s not a party in America without kitschy novelty merch. And it’s not a divorce party without a heavy dose of gallows humor. The merger of the two then is particularly hilarious. A few of my favorite Divorce Party decorations and/or favors: A #ByeFelicia banner, “Just Divorced” shades and ex-husband pinata.

The best, though, is the Wedding Ring Coffin, a 6¼” by 2¼” forever resting place for the symbol of your shitty union. (“Give a dead marriage its proper, final resting place,” boasts the website.)

At just $34.95 plus shipping, the Wedding Ring Coffin has a glossy mahogany finish, black velvet lining, and a ring insert so your wedding ring is comfortable as it rests for all eternity. For an extra five bucks, you can chose an “engraved brass plaque bearing a message which conveys your final thoughts about your marriage,” from the following options:

Naturally, the Wedding Ring Coffin’s founder, Jill Testa, had a divorce party of her own, at which she gave a eulogy to her failed marriage and feasted on a cake that featured the same bride-and-groom topper that sat on her wedding cake decades earlier — only this time, sans the groom’s head.

Ironically, when word spread of her ring coffins, Testa was saddled with an unexpected request to make the same coffins but in white, for ring bearers to carry down the aisle (“Till death do us part”). Though seemingly at odds, making two coffins makes sense as a business proposition: You get them coming, and you get them going.

“We’re here today to celebrate Adrienne Squier becoming Adrienne Hardin through the miracle of divorce,” Adrienne’s best friend announced to a crowd of 50 close friends from atop a long staircase that overlooked a wine bar. Drawing on the divorcée’s favorite book, The Princess Bride, her bestie turned the speech into part roast by hurling insults at her ex: “Beef-witted, feather-brained, rattle-skulled, clod-pated, dim-domed, noodle-noggined, saphead and Lunk-knobbed boy.” (It was actually in good fun; the divorce wasn’t nasty at all — Adrienne and her former husband had simply grown apart after rushing into marriage at 18 when she got pregnant.)

Now 10 years later and at the behest of her friends, Adrienne did her divorce party differently. The introvert dressed up in an uncharacteristically tight red dress while drinking a lot of wine and eating multiple slices of dark chocolate cake. “We promised never to feed off each others’ hearts and souls,” she says. “That’s a major part of why we decided to get divorced.”

“Happily ever after is a high bar, but I think you can make it to contentedly ever after,” Adrienne’s best friend said toward the end of her speech. “Besides, happily ever after is so mundane. Pick something else. Snarkily ever after. Sarcastically ever after. I’m not saying you don’t have range, but you do have a sweet spot. The important thing is, it’s your choice.”

At Miles Klee’s forthcoming joint divorce “rager” in L.A. next month, it’s entirely possible there will be multiple people in attendance who the couple fucked while married to each other. Their 13-year relationship was always an open one, a lifestyle that for them seemed natural given the young age they met (his freshman year of college) and the fact that “nothing about us was ever typical.”

It started with their marriage proposal, which went down in their Brooklyn apartment in 2010 while she was in the bathroom with the door open. “Wanna get married?” she yelled to him. Her reasoning wasn’t deep: They were “basically married already,” had gone to a few weddings recently and thought it would be fun to have a party. So, two years later they did, on the third of July, in the backyard of her mother’s home among 12 close family friends. It was essentially a pool party officiated by one of their friends who got ordained on the internet.

But the couple’s open marriage was a consistent problem for his family — the topic of a 2015 tweetstorm that was picked up by Jezebel as a cautionary tale about coming clean to your parents. Though at the time it was working for them, it eventually went south, as the couple grew apart and Klee met someone he wanted to be with more. His wife gave him an ultimatum that didn’t go her way. It was rough for a couple of months, but they’ve remained on good terms — so much so the idea for a divorce party was hers. (Interestingly, the experience hasn’t turned him off open relationships; he’s still in one, just with a different primary.)

“What would you think about throwing one when you’re in L.A. to finalize things?” she asked him over the phone recently, as he’s since moved to Northern California to be with his new girlfriend. This would be the moment for one last hurrah, the ultimate chance to celebrate the close of more than a decade of shared life experience.

He responded exactly as he did when she’d asked him to marry her seven years earlier: “Sure.”

Originally, September 26th was supposed to be the happiest day of 23-year-old Courtney Zanetti’s life. Instead, it had become a day of dread. Her engagement had fallen apart three months earlier when she found out her fiancé was cheating on her. Functioning as both a distraction and reason for celebration, her friends decided to throw a party on her theretofore wedding day with one main goal: “To protect yourself by replacing the things that hurt you with something that helps.”

It wasn’t a divorce party, exactly, but it had all the trappings of one. The guest of honor dressed in all black, drank in excess, danced and enjoyed a cake that read “Congratulations Courtney!” The coup de grace came late into the night, when they all walked to a nearby park, hung up her wedding dress from a tree and pelted it with paint-filled water balloons. To top it off, they brought a bucket of plain water balloons, too, so the entire party ended with a raucous drunken water-balloon fight at midnight.

On the walk home, however, Courtney broke down. “It was just so the opposite of what I thought that day would’ve been for me,” she says. “A little part of me was even ashamed for celebrating the end of the relationship, because I was still in love with him.”

It could’ve been a lot worse: She admits that she probably would’ve spent the night alone eating and crying.

Courtney hasn’t spoken to her ex-fiance since; he’s now living with the woman he cheated on her with in Las Vegas, in the same house Courtney had once picked out for the couple. Two years later, September 26th still looms large for her, but for a better reason. “Last year, some movie or concert or something was happening on the same day and my friend said, ‘Why is that date so familiar to me?’ In my head I thought, ‘Well, that was going to be my wedding day.’ But instead, he said, ‘That’s the day we had that great party, remember?’”