Miércoles 25 de Abril de 2007, Ip nº 188

To some, divorce is a present
Por Claire Levenson

Two days after putting a legal end to 20 years of faithful marriage, Stacey Carkhuff decided to celebrate.

At her stepmother’s house in Kansas City, her friends welcomed her with a surprise.

They lighted candles and asked Carkhuff to read 30 phrases celebrating her new life: no more NASCAR, only half the dishes to wash and no seat up on the toilet.

Then came the divorce gifts. The 44-year-old travel consultant received a pink and black negligee and a garter with the words “Bad Girl.”

“It was like bachelorette party gifts preparing me for my new life with sexy underwear, a new address book,” Carkhuff said. “It helped me boost up my ego.”

A growing number of Americans like Carkhuff are celebrating their divorces, and retailers are trying to take advantage of the trend.

From Vermont pottery boutiques to shops selling erotic toys, gift designers are exercising their creativity on break-up and divorce themes. Friends and family can buy ex-wife toilet paper, “Happily Divorced” T-shirts or special voodoo dolls.

“It reveals that divorce is no longer stigmatized,” said David Popenoe, a sociologist at Rutgers University.

There has been a big shift during the years, he said. In some areas, someone going through a divorce had to leave town. Now people celebrate.

Celebrating divorce is a middle-class and upper-middle-class trend because splitting up has less financial impact on these households, Popenoe said. For lower-class couples, divorce can be devastating.

A particular etiquette has developed for divorce gifts.

Leah Ingram, a gift etiquette specialist, recommends monogrammed notepads or hand towels with a woman’s pre-marriage initials. But if your friend has a silly sense of humor, try the toilet paper, she said.

Divorcees have diverging opinions on the issue of gag gifts, said Wanda Halstead, who founded a divorce support group in Virginia.

One of her friends was given the ex-husband toilet paper and was offended. Another friend was offered a cake with her ex-husband’s picture on it.

“She took a knife and hacked into his face. It gave her relief,” Halstead said.

Therapists usually like the idea of gifts, but they wouldn’t recommend voodoo dolls or silly T-shirts.

“My guess is that these gifts were designed by people who never divorced,” said Micki McWade, a clinical social worker and group therapist who has written three books about divorce.

For those who feel betrayed by an ex, revenge gifts can be welcome.

After Carkhuff’s ex-husband left her for another woman, she ended up wishing him pain. She even wished he were dead.

“I think I would have liked the voodoo doll,” she said with a laugh.

Change is in the cards

In 1958 Hallmark introduced its first greeting card with a message ahead of its time: “Want to get rid of that ugly fat? Divorce him.” It didn’t sell. When the divorce rate went over 50 percent in 1973, the company introduced another array of cards. But America was not ready to openly discuss divorce.

Today Hallmark sells a small selection of funny and serious divorce cards. The front of one card has a painting of a mountain landscape and the words: “There’s been a change in my life.” The inside of the card announces the divorce.

  29/03/2007. kansascity.com.