Standing in the doorway of an airplane soaring 15,000 feet above the Las Vegas strip, Kenny Heuer held his breath as his skydiving instructor told him to prepare to jump.
His plunge wasn’t just about overcoming his fear of heights, but also his fear of being single.
Heuer is among the growing ranks of people throwing elaborate parties to celebrate a new milestone in life: Divorce.
“This is going to be the start of a great adventure for sure,” Heuer said upon landing after his jump.
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Heuer, a father of two, said he was heartbroken when his wife walked out on him.
“My wife getting up and leaving, and moving into her own place was really a shock to me,” he said. “And so instead of being depressed, and wallowing in my pity, so to speak, I figured, you know what, this is a new beginning.”
Re-adjusting to single life, he hired Las Vegas divorce party planners Glynda Rhodes and Mari-Rene to help him plan a celebration in honor of this next stage is his life. In the end, they settled on skydiving because it was something Heuer and his ex-wife always wanted to do but never got around to.
Rhodes and Mari-Rene have discovered an exploding market in planning so-called “divorce parties” in Vegas, the quickie marriage capital of the world.
“I think the service is important ... [because] it’s customized. We get to know the person,” said Mari-Rene. “What we do that sets us apart is that we know you. We want to make sure you're happy.”
Rhodes said she came up with the idea for divorce parties while at a Vegas hotel.
“I was going through my own divorce, and someone came up and said, ‘Oh, do you do parties for weddings?' And I was like, weddings? No ... but I’ll plan your divorce party,” Rhodes said. “It was kind of a joke, and I thought, ‘Hmm I should do that, no one’s doing that.’”
And the idea was born. But jokes aside, both women, having been divorced themselves, understand the pain and loss that divorce leaves behind.
“When you get divorced, I mean, you grieve that process,” Rhodes said. “It’s your partner, you’ve done everything together, you’ve formed your life together. And then, when it’s over, you're kind of sitting there like, who am I? And I thought, ‘If I could get through this ... I deserve to have a party.’”
Vanessa Nockein, a salon owner and mother of four, is another recent divorcee who decided to find a way to do something fun for herself after ending her 15-year marriage.
“I was very happily married for a long time, and I think over time ... we just grew apart, maybe wanted different things,” she said. “It just got to be to the point where we didn’t see each other, we were just passing ships.”
Nockein also reached out to Mari-Rene and Rhodes for help planning her divorce party. Hoping to give Nockein, a former country Western showgirl, an opportunity to do something different, they signed up her and a few of her friends for a pole dancing fitness class. Then, they went to a salon to get their hair, nails and make-up done.
“I think the last time I had my makeup done was for my wedding, so it’s really ironic that I’m getting my makeup done at my divorce party,” Nockein said. “This is such a treat, take time out, especially to be with my girlfriends. Relax, have a day of beauty to myself.”
In planning these divorce parties, Rhodes and Mari-Rene said they are not praising the end of marriage or celebrating the so-called breakdown of the American family that divorce has come to symbolize, but merely helping people to move on. They said they don’t even advertise that they will plan divorce parties.
“We’re not celebrating the divorce. We’re celebrating the new chapter in someone’s life,” Rhodes said.
“They don’t have to wear a ‘Scarlet D’ and live in the corner,” Mari-Rene added. “You don’t have to be ashamed to be divorced anymore.”
In the end, the two women say what people get out of divorce parties is closure.
“After they do it, they really have this sense of relief, like 'Wow, I can actually move on now,'" Rhodes said. “There is life after divorce.”