After staying late at work, Allison Smith*, a 32-year-old event planner, has 45 minutes to get ready. Vampire Weekend blasts through her East Village apartment as she shimmies into her blue Betsey Johnson dress. She applies eyeliner, straightens her hair, rushes out the door and hails a cab to Hunkmania, the male cabaret at Duvet, a nightclub in the Flatiron District.
There she spots her friends standing on 21st Street. Like a scene from Sex and the City, they squeal and run toward her. One of them places a tiara on her brunette head. Another slips a necklace, its plastic beads shaped like penises, around her neck. All signs point to one hell of a bachelorette party—this group is ready to throw back a few drinks and ogle some six-pack abs.
But Allison is no bachelorette. In fact, tonight’s bash is her divorce party—just two days ago, she signed the final piece of paperwork to finalize her split from John*, a writer who is also 32. “I was married, not very happily, for four years, and spent 18 months going through a hellish divorce,” Allison says. Now “I want to have fun.”
These freedom celebrations have become increasingly popular for New Yorkers ready to reinvent their lives. “We’ve done quite a few divorce parties recently,” says Sabina Belkin, owner of Duvet, the club where Allison held her bash. “These women want to have fun. There’s the possibility of meeting new men, too.”
“It’s really caught on,” says Christine Gallagher, author of the Divorce Party Planner. “Every other significant life moment—birth, marriage, death—has a ritual and a coming together of people. In a divorce, people become isolated, so it’s important to have that.”
And now a cottage industry has emerged as a result. You can buy divorce announcements, party favors (from “Forget About Him” lip balm to “Happy Divorce” chocolate bars) or a coffin in which to “bury” your wedding ring. And many bakeries, including New York’s Sylvia Weinstock Cakes, offer divorce cakes—an idea pioneered by Shanna Moakler, former wife of Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, who commissioned her own gruesome dessert in 2006 with a triumphant bride standing on the third tier, and a groom lying at the base in a pool of fake blood. But divorce parties aren’t always about anger. “It’s about marking a new phase in my life, where my friends are going to be important and where there will be love again,” explains Allison.
In her new novel, The Divorce Party, Manhattan author Laura Dave explores the growing phenomenon of “compassionate divorce parties,” where a couple celebrates their parting together. “I wanted to write about a couple who was celebrating their divorce rather than a 35th wedding anniversary,” explains Laura. “On the surface, it’s to say, ‘There’s no bad guy here,’ but in reality there’s more going on.” In other words—no matter how civil and happy a breakup, there’s likely some drama that triggered the split.
In NYC, divorce is difficult. The concept of “irreconcilable differences” doesn’t exist, so unless a husband or wife can prove adultery, abandonment or cruel and inhumane treatment, a couple must wait a year after separating to even file for a divorce. And, when the deed is done, newly single New Yorkers are in need of a release.
That year can be a roller coaster, as Erica Zeichner, a 28-year-old Upper East Side lawyer, knows. “My husband left me after 15 months of marriage,” she says. “It was an emotional whirlwind. I felt I was in limbo that year.” By the one-year mark last summer, she was ready to celebrate. “I called it my Me Party,” she says of her bash at R Bar on the Lower East Side. “I wanted to celebrate me coming back—and the fact that I’d survived the year.” Erica sent out an Evite to 200 friends, and while most people were supportive, she was shocked by a few reactions. “One friend confronted me over Instant Messenger—he said what I was doing was disgusting,” she says. “But I needed to do something.”
While on her book tour for The Divorce Party, Laura has heard many similar stories. “One woman told me that she had a divorce registry—like a wedding registry, only her friends chipped in to pay for her to take a vacation,” she says.