To cure myself of “veil brain,” which is how sex therapist Lou Paget describes the adoption of the wife persona, I performed a few un-marriage rituals. Not that they are undertaken to cure anyone of the desire for love – that is never-ending, if you go by dating reports from old-age homes – but they help to underscore the over-promise (and overselling) of marital bliss, which I had completely bought.
And it seems that I am not alone, among the legion of the divorced. I read about one divorced client of Celebrant USA Foundation & Institute, a non-profit organization that helps train professionals to tailor ceremonies for life’s milestone events, who glued back together a broken glass in a reversal of the Jewish tradition of smashing a glass at the wedding.
Divorce parties are reportedly on the rise, an exit ritual from the wedding industry complex that lured them into marriage in the first place. People serve cocktails with names like So Long, and Sucker, and play Hit the Road, Jack and I Will Survive.
Some people bring presents, which is an excellent way to replace the 15-piece Wedgwood dinner set the ex walked off with. Burning things is big. Women often torch their wedding dresses. I read about one woman who celebrated as she watched her ex-husband’s trophy deer head go up in flames.
My favourite un-marriage ceremony is that of Shanna Moakler, former Playmate and participant in the reality show Dancing with the Stars. In November, 2006, when she split from her husband, Travis Barker, a drummer – for the first time, that is, as they have reunited and split again several times since – she threw herself a break-up bash in Las Vegas, a popular destination to play roulette of the heart, where many about-to-be-marrieds go to enjoy their last taste of freedom, quickie weddings occur, and the end of a union is celebrated like New Year’s Eve. Moakler invited friends. They partied all night. The coup de grace? She rolled out a three-tier anti-wedding cake. On the top of the cake was a miniature plastic bride, arms raised in victory, wielding a knife. The groom lay at the bottom of the confection, nearly dead and bleeding red food colouring over the girlishly pink icing.
My un-marriage rituals were tame by comparison. At the end of our union, after having bought, renovated and sold two fixer-uppers during the course of our marriage, my husband and I were living in a large house that was an expression of full-blown family life. Bikes littered the driveway. The playroom in the basement was a vast Lego-land landscape filled with inventive buildings and ships. Running shoes the size of boats filled shelves. The new kitchen had a restaurant-grade stove, granite countertops, a Sub-Zero fridge. Our house boasted much of the domestic porn of our generation.
When we sold the marital home, I tried to make the most of that difficult move. The boys and I moved into a house less than 20 years old, not in need of renovation. There was no lawn. I could open the front door and a window at the back, and the wind would practically blow the dust and dirt out. But if my living space was reduced, I used it as an excuse to remove unhappy karma.
Gone was the husband clutter. I took only the things I loved. My three boys fit into the new house like loaves in a baker’s cooling rack. Ketchup found his spot under a table.
I threw out the sheets we used on our queen-sized bed, bought a new mattress and painted my bedroom a bold shade of pink.
Less house, more life was my mantra.
In the last two years, two of my colleagues have announced engagements. They came in to show off their engagement rings. This is such an iconic high point in a woman’s life that it’s a cliché – the left hand fanned out for all to admire. I am happy for them. I did the same thing myself. I know the joy.
My post-divorce ring ritual had been significantly different.
I had sold my gold wedding band (inscribed on the inside with love, forever) as well as my diamond engagement ring. I took them to Russell Oliver, a.k.a. “the Cashman,” a salesman who runs odious ads on television in which he screams at people that he will give them cash for their old jewellery.
At his storefront, I walked in the outside door, only to be caught in the small entranceway so he and his employees could assess my potential shadiness before buzzing me through the next, locked door. I was wearing my best Saturday sweats and a soccer-mom smile.
“Let’s see what you have,” a man behind the counter said gruffly, without making eye contact.
I put my rings on the little velvet counter pad.
I knew their strategy was to look unimpressed.
“Look, I want you to just give me the best price. I’m not interested in playing games,” I said.
He eyeballed me then, this balding bulldog of a man who looked as though his job required training in martial arts.
He held the diamond ring up to his monocle again, non-committal.
“Is Russell here?” I asked. Years ago, for a magazine, I had written a small story about him.
The salesman pressed a button under the counter, and out popped Oliver from the back room.
I introduced myself. He recognized me.
“You were mean about me!” he shrieked, clearly recalling the piece I had written, and pointing a finger in my face.
I had simply described his ebullient personality. “But the story gave you publicity, no?” I retorted.
His face twitched like that of a skunk smelling a foe.
“I’m divorced,” I announced plainly. “I want to sell these rings. I know the diamond is good. All I want is enough money to buy something new.”
Oliver’s eyes widened a bit behind his large round glasses.
I was not the usual animal who wandered into their locked showroom. I was prey, I knew that, but I was not the kind who had sentimental attachment to her jewellery.
When I had entered the store, a man was on his way out, indignant over his treatment at the hands of the bulldog, who had told him that his prized gold watch and some earrings were “garbage.”
Oliver took over the assessment of my pieces. “This is worthless,” he said of the gold wedding band. “I can’t resell it. The gold will just be melted down.”
I thought about keeping it for my children as a token of their parents’ marriage. But why? It would be a reminder of what they no longer had: the two of us together. I could instead pay for Godammo.com to melt it and mould it into a bullet. That’s their divorce-happy anti-marriage service.
“Take it, anyway,” I said.
“The diamond is good,” he acknowledged, turning it under the light. He offered about what I had thought I would get.
Still, I asked for more. “Look, I want to sell. Just sweeten the deal a bit.” I smiled.
He upped the price by $200.
Oliver counted out a wad of crisp bills. I left with a wave, and immediately headed for a store downtown, where I had seen a cocktail ring – my divorce bling, I later called it – for the exact amount of money he had paid me.
It was not by accident that the ring that came with “I do” in a church was now being handed over a seedy altar in an unceremonious transaction. It was a way to close the door on what had once been my domestic fantasy.
Excerpted from Happily Ever After Marriage. Copyright 2010 Sarah Hampson. Published by Knopf Canada, which is a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.