Just divorced? Congratulations, and here's a voodoo doll!
Two days after putting a legal end to 20 years of faithful marriage, Stacey Carkhuff decided to celebrate.
At her step-mom’s house in Kansas City, Mo., her friends welcomed her with a surprise.
They lit 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, a garter with the words “bad girl,” flavored condoms and a sticker with the phrase: “There are two sides to a divorce: shit head’s and mine.” She also got a necklace with little penises. “I only wore it once,” she said.
“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.
“With every passing year there are more and more divorce items on the market,” said Wanda Halstead, who founded a divorce support group in Virginia. “Maybe there are people who need an ex voodoo doll to make them feel better.”
Clearly, people are growing more comfortable with the notion of divorce.
“It reveals that divorce is no longer stigmatized,” said David Popenoe, a sociologist at Rutgers University. There has been a big shift over the years, he continued. In some areas you had to leave town when you were going through a divorce and now people celebrate.
About 40 to 45 percent of all first marriages end in divorce in the United States. And a second marriage has an even higher divorce rate.
Celebrating divorce is a middle-class and upper-middle-class trend, Popenoe said, because splitting up has less financial impact on these households. For lower-class couples, divorce can be devastating. “I doubt that they get any gifts,” he said.
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. Halstead has seen different reactions to a variety of gifts. 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.
Some find the gag gifts psychologically counterproductive. Terri Matheis, founder of a divorce national support group called Sassy Pink Peppers, dislikes items that are disrespectful of the former partner. She thinks they put too much negative energy on the past.
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.
Whether these gifts are therapeutic or not, several companies have been trying to market them for quite some time.
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 offers a small selection of both 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.
They are not as popular as Valentine's Day or birthday cards, according to a Hallmark spokeswoman, but there seems to be a growing demand for them.
At Cafepress.com, an online store, the number of divorce items has grown to 3,800 in 2007 from 367 in 2005.
Noticing the trend, Scott Schmeizer chose to bet on a revenge-related item. And it worked.
For Schmeizer, chief executive of CSB Commodities, his own separation became a business inspiration. After his divorce, he fell in love with the design for a knife holder: a human plastic figurine with five knives going through its body. Thinking of what he had gone through, he called it "The Ex Knife Holder.”
Schmeizer said customers had contacted him to say how much they loved the design. He added that it was the first time the company had gotten such an enthusiastic reaction from the public.
He doesn’t view the product as mean-spirited or sadistic. “It is artistic, and many people laugh because it is cathartic to view this and think of an ex,” he wrote in an e-mail message.
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.