Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The Divorce Present

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.


theobromophile said...

A divorce party seems to be a crass extension of the bridal shower. As it's not something to be celebrated, no matter how lousy the marriage, it's just wrong.

Dinner, yes. Hugs, yes. A small group of girl friends who are spending time together, yes. Party? Eeewwww!

As for annulments: my Catholic parents divorced and got an annulment. No, it wasn't pretty, not by any stretch of the imagination, but nothing worth taking out on strangers.

Anonymous said...

I own to being a bit defensive about my fiance's right to an annulment myself. The trouble is that celebrated cases of annulment (think the Kennedy family) do incline one to suspect that some annulments are rubber-stamped. But that's no reflection on you and yours, Seraphic, and it seems awfully presumptuous for anyone to suggest it might be.

To those who do presume, remind them that the Church might have avoided a whole pile of trouble for itself, and changed the course of history, if it had been willing to rubber-stamp one particular annulment. I refer, of course, to that of Henry VIII.


Francesca said...

The end of my marriage was a) not my idea and b) emotionally hideous. When my divorce was eventually final, I did make a day of it -- lunch and a hot tub with my sisters, dinner with friends.

My annulment was just me in the foyer of the building breathing a huge sigh of relief as I read the letter from the Tribunal.


Kate P said...

This actually reminds me of my mom's reaction to the recent movie "It's Complicated" which involves a divorced couple--the husband left the wife for another woman, whom he then married. . . and then the divorced pair start carrying on an affair. Mom said to me, "I know it was intended to be funny, but it was actually really upsetting" to watch these people continue to hurt each other.

Divorce, even when it's a necessary evil, is really not something to be celebrated, IMHO, and attempts to paint it otherwise just underscore the sadness of it all. Denial is a powerful coping mechanism, and throwing a party over something sad like divorce is like self-medication.

My brother and SIL wouldn't be married 3+ years now if it weren't for the annulment process, so. . . it's a rough thing to go through, but I personally am glad it exists and we certainly don't treat it lightly in my family.

Sheila said...

It might be worthwhile to mention divorced people who do not get annulments. In more traditional Catholic circles, the attitude seems to be, "You have an annulment, okay, fine; but if you don't have one, you must be a Sinner." In fact, being divorced doesn't make you a Sinner -- remarrying afterward, without an annulment, does.

I worked for a wonderful Catholic lady who was divorced. I chose to be polite and never ask why -- as the nanny to her children, I just didn't consider it my business. But eventually she told me anyway -- she had sought a divorce because her husband was harming her children. It was a valid marriage, as far as she knew, so an annulment wasn't something she'd pursued. BUT, it was a perfectly valid reason to divorce her husband. She needed to be away from him, and she needed to be legally independent from him, despite the sacramental bond. This left her in a state of a perpetually single mother -- not the easiest state in the world. The last thing she needed was to be judged, as she often was, by her Catholic circle of friends.

So, just as divorced-and-annulled people need a bit more respect, divorced-and-not-annulled people could use it too.

Pat said...

As a divorced and annulled woman, I agree that we are most definitely looked down upon by "traditional" Catholics.

I have been on a Catholic dating site for 5 years (I just left recently). Most men will not have anything to do with a "previously married" Catholic even IF she is annulled. Their take is that these women are STILL married and that the annulments are not valid because the church gives too many of them anyway. Therefore, they have no idea which ones are valid and not valid etc.etc.etc.....

I was divorced on my birthday as was an acquaintance. I have learned that this is a common thing for men to do to their wives.

That being said, it was a sad day for me. A good friend sent me flowers on my annulment and said that this was the beginning of new chapter.

Sheila's comment was spot on!

Seraphic said...

Pat, it amazes how complete strangers, people who haven't a clue what went on before one's supposed marriage, during that supposed marriage, or during the annulment procedure, assume they know better than the annullee and the marriage tribunal, including the canon lawyers.

It's very annoying. However, I know what I know, and I can see the fruits of the Holy Spirit in my sacramental marriage, and so I personally don't care what the scrupulous-for-me people think. Silly blighters.

Aquinas' Goose said...

I am a divorced Catholic in the annulment (and PhD) process. I did not have a divorce party, but I had an anti-anniversary party. The ex and I had known each other for 7 years and after 6 months of absolute Hell (where I discovered that stress causes me to starve myself) the ex walked out. Actually, the ex had decided that marriage was not "the thing" approximately a week after the "I do." Needless to say, I was rather miserable the day of the one year anniversary and feeling like the worst creature on the face of the planet: so I had all my single, opposite sex friends come over while I dressed as attractively as possible and we had a good time in my parents house with my parents and siblings. Was that crass? Probably. But as horrible as I felt and as small as I had been made to feel it was good to just be admired and talking about everyone else's life and their dreams instead of drinking alone on a day that ought to have been a celebration of a year of marriage. I wouldn't have done it if I had not been living with my parents at the time and I don't regret it.