There's a heartfelt article up at the Daily Mail today about the crassness of divorce parties. Celebrating a divorce, says the author, is like celebrating a miscarriage.
I am of two minds about this article, having gone through a bitter divorce and skin-peeling annulment procedure although not, thank goodness, a miscarriage. On the one hand, I agree that celebrating a divorce is in very bad taste, but on the other, I think a divorcé or divorcée may feel in need of extra comfort on the day the divorce becomes legal.
I'm not sure I did. I recall my sister coming upstairs at midnight, knocking on my bedroom door, and saying "You're divorced now." My reply was, "Yay! I think I'll get married again."
"Maybe not just yet," said my sister, which was rather witty for a 15 year old, I thought.
But whatever the day itself was like, I found myself crying a lot beforehand. I cried so hard at a funeral that an elderly priest mistook me for the widow.
"Dana," he said, voice shaky with sympathy and age. "I'm so sorry for your trouble."
"I'm not Dana," I said.
"Oh," said the priest.
So I cannot say I sailed towards Divorce Day with a light-hearted tra-la, although the divorce was definitely my idea and for a few years I celebrated the day I ran away. What I really wanted was to be absolutely free, the freedom that only an annulment could bring.
I was not looking forward to being "a divorcée". Divorcées in 20th century pop culture are rather raffish, sometimes unsavoury, figures. I saw them as wearing leopard print, long red fingernails, cigarette holders. (Of course, this strawwoman had rather softened by then, 1 in 3 marriages producing divorcées of all kinds.)
So it was a great surprise when my best friend, not a Catholic, gave me a divorce present. The divorce present was wee, just a trifle, and it was, in a sad way, supremely funny. It was a tiny notebook, bound in leopard print fabric, hanging from a key chain. I suppose the unsavoury divorcée of the mid-20th century might have used it to collect gentlemen's phone numbers.
I loved that little notebook. It had everything: the element of surprise, a friend's desire to comfort, my worst fears made tiny (the leopard print), and a nod to my love of writing. Where is it now, I wonder.
So although I am down on divorce parties per se (shudder), I cannot say that giving a tiny divorce present, if intensely meaningful, given by a best friend, would always be wrong. At very least, asking your friend if she'd like to go out for dinner on the Day would be kindly.
Divorce is a supremely touchy subject for Catholics. Having had no children, I could have gone through life without telling anybody about mine. And indeed, I generally kept it to myself once I got beyond my mad post-divorce talking stage. If a Catholic asked after the ex, I would mention my divorce and annulment in the same breath.
This always got a friendly word from Catholics of a traditional outlook. But to my surprise, it did not endear me to Catholic divorcées less willing to beg Rome for freedom. If a Catholic woman of a certain age* confessed that she was divorced, and I volunteered the information that I, divorced-and-annulled, understood where she was coming from, the divorcée would stick her claws in about the annulment: "Oh, well THAT makes you better than me, doesn't it?" This happened twice, so I shut up.
A few years later, I discovered that even Catholics of a traditional bent were beginning to second-guess annulment decisions. John Paul II had apparently been annoyed by the number of them in North America, and this had cast doubts on the validity of our declarations of invalidity, rumoured to be rubber-stamped by "liberals". When I mentioned mine in "Seraphic Meets Bridezilla", I received some the nastiest messages my blogs have ever received. Complete strangers spat on my happiness in being free to marry B.A.
Fortunately, there is an old Latin motto to deal with such second-guessing. It is Roma locuta, causa finita: "Rome has spoken, the matter is done." And any frightened doubt I may have had about the validity of my decree of nullity has been completely dispelled by concrete experience. My first marriage had none of the fruits of the Holy Spirit--a situation that tipped me off to the fact that something was seriously awry. But this marriage, my sacramental marriage, has them all. Deo gratias.
*Annullées of the John Paul II generation can be hilarious. When I told a remarried one about mine, she said, "A virgin again!" and we giggled like loons.
Update: I've just received this blog's first negative comment: it was in response to this post. It was anonymous, from someone looking up "marriage, annulments, Catholicism" on Google, so it wouldn't have been posted anyway.
I am telling you all about it, as it helps prove my point about the supreme touchiness of the subject of Catholics and divorce. It could have been by your run-of-the-mill anti-Catholic, but it could have been by a soul in pain. There is just so much pain around divorce---a very strong reason for no-one to "settle" and for everyone who marries validly to make their marriage top priority.