Hallmark and the Marketing of the Happy Divorce

Hallmark has built a brand synonymous with love and family. The Hallmark Channel is famously filled with happy endings; its slogan is “the heart of TV.”  Even celebrations derided as “Hallmark holidays” are all about love nurtured and sustained against the odds.

So it’s a little jarring to peruse Father’s Day and anniversary cards at the height of the wedding season and find Hallmark wishing Americans a happy divorce.

Life can be full of problems.  Fortunately, you’re divorcing your biggest one,” says one Hallmark card cheerily.

Other card manufacturers—those who aren’t busy hawking a countdown to thirty-three syrupy Christmas movies—can be edgier in their offerings.

You’re better off without him. I always thought he was a jerk,” says one card that opens to a necessary but impossible rejoinder: “Forget I said this if you ever get back together.”

As if you could.

The emergence of divorce cards was inevitable in a society in which more people are now single than married.  Their uniformly celebratory tone, however, remains a bit of a shock.  Wishing someone a good divorce is the equivalent of wishing them a happy Good Friday or a joyous Yom Kippur.  It conveys that, at best, you have no idea what you’re talking about; at worst, that you are merrily ambivalent to people in pain.

Even the “best” divorces, those of childless couples who amicably grow apart and remain friends after their marriage’s dissolution, are a kind of death. Just as no one gets pregnant planning to have an abortion, no one gets married dreaming of divorce.  Most “good” divorces still bear a thin veneer of disappointment.

And of course, many of the 800,000-plus Americans who will divorce this year do so unwillingly, their unhappiness shared by children and parents who have no say in the matter, but will be affected by it for decades.

Purveyors of the celebratory divorce—which includes dead roses, divorce cakes and divorce parties—defend such post-traumatic confetti as a useful, even necessary, part of healing. Humor can take the edge off of many of life’s troubles, the reasoning goes, such as a diseased gall bladder or your adult kid moving home right after you remodeled her room. (Yes, there’s a card for that, too.)

Some subjects, however, are dicier, or should be.

“Congratulations on your bankruptcy!” has yet to hit the card racks, even though hundreds of thousands will file this year and they could probably use an encouraging clap on the back. (Inside: “You can’t buy a house for 10 years, but at least you’ll have discretionary income again!”)

Greeting-card makers have wisely chosen not to take up the wreckage of one’s personal finances. But the wreckage of a marriage, they’re happy to cheer for a buck.

The shout-your-divorce industry exists primarily to make boatloads of money, but also to make people feel good about a decision that perhaps they should rue.  Like the “You’re better off without him” card, however, it comes with a cost: the diminishment of an institution once rightly deemed sacred; and the individual diminishment of someone you once valued enough to marry. No $3.95 joke justifies that.

To be fair to Hallmark, the company’s website doesn’t offer divorce cards (though it does have a “happily divorced” goblet).  And the cards in brick-and-mortar stores represent a sliver of a fraction of the anniversary and wedding cards that crowd shelves this time of year.

But greeting-card racks are a reliable thermometer of cultural trends, such as the cards that express sympathy for dead pets. And divorce cards, hands down, win the award for Worst Indictment of Culture by a Leading Greeting Card Manufacturer.

If divorce cards must exist, they belong near the sympathy cards, not in the humor section. They also should contain money holders, since the absence of a married father in the house is a telling feature of American households that subsist beneath the poverty line.

Until these are available, people seeking to acknowledge a friend’s divorce with cloying tropes written by strangers should browse the pet-sympathy cards instead, where the words are just as superficial, but are at least more fitting for the occasion. “So sorry for the loss of your faithful partner,” reads one. Another says, “The best walks are always too brief. So sorry for your loss.”

Such cards are best delivered in person, preferably with a casserole. Because the typical divorce is more similar to a death than a celebration.

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