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The Party of the Future?

L.A. STORIES. A slice of life in Southern California.

September 07, 1993|CHARLIE WATERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The shower honoring Kathleen Noe certainly had all the traditional markings.

Best friend and maid of honor Ann Lee's home in Glendale was festively decorated with streamers and balloons. A dozen or so guests provided the ooooohs and aaaaahs when Noe opened gifts ranging from the standard--towels, sheets, pillowcases and oven mittens--to a religious/kitchen tome called the "Cake Bible."

The Invited chose from a trio of tempting salads--spinach, pasta and fresh fruit--before feasting on a three-tiered chocolate cake. And for a special touch, '90s style, they viewed a collection of movie clips that detailed the full expanse of romantic relationships.

There were signs, though, this gathering was a tad different:

* Noe received the book "2002 Things to Do on a Date."

* Still another gift bore a card picturing a woman looking at a Habitrail with miniature men replacing gerbils. The message inside: "Oh, sure they're fun for a while, but you get tired of cleaning up after them."

* Only the bride decoration adorned the cake top; the groom had been toppled to the lowest layer. The balloons and streamers were pink--and black.

* And the film clips came from "Heartburn," "Irreconcilable Differences," "The Way We Were." And, as a finale, Pauline Collins' closing scene in "Shirley Valentine": "I used to be the mother. I used to be the wife. Now I'm Shirley Valentine again."

Lee stood up for Noe back on Feb. 27, 1982 when she tied the knot at a leather 'n' lace, cowboy-themed wedding. So she thinks it's only right that she's by Noe's side now that things have unraveled.

But a Divorce Shower?

Lee calls it a celebration of life after divorce, a chance for friends to show their understanding and share their feelings. She views such a shower as functional, possibly even more necessary than a prenuptial soiree: A couple has to split up communal belongings, she says, and "someone is going to be missing a meatloaf pan." (Yes, the honoree got one of those, too.)

Noe, who sent an announcement to friends that she was moving out last Independence Day weekend, says her split with husband Ron is most amicable. He agrees. And, she adds, he even asked "what he could bring" to Sunday's shower. (No, he wasn't there.)

Most of the guests work at the downtown L.A. law office where Kathleen Noe is a paralegal and Lee is director of client services. Among the firm's attorneys present was Mary Lou Byrne, who will be helping Kathleen when she files her papers. Byrne handles business litigation, but recently has been getting more familiar with the intricacies of divorce law. Noe shouldn't be concerned, though, Byrne assures: "I'm making all the mistakes on my own divorce before I start on Kathleen's."

There was newlywed Sherri La Com, Noe's La Crescenta neighbor of eight years. Just three weeks ago, she ignored any possible jinx and borrowed the special pans Noe used 11 years ago to bake her wedding cake.

La Com says the Noes' split definitely surprised her, but she was also caught off-guard by reactions when she told her family of the divorce shower. A happily married sister thought the shower idea was "terrible." And La Com's husband, who laughed at first, later questioned why a bunch of women needed to celebrate divorce, wondering, she says, if the shower would be little more than simple male-bashing.

He needn't have worried. Men, even the other halves of the participants' seven previous divorces, escaped pretty much unscathed.

And, possibly due to the presence of a male reporter and a male photographer, this shower's conversation rarely turned to, ahem , sex. That's all it would have been anyway, Lee says later: "Just talk. There's a lot less real sex to talk about than most of us care to admit."

Instead, as the women sipped white wine or sparkling water and nibbled at the requisite Brie, the shower more closely resembled an encounter group.

Much of that can be attributed to Roxane Cohen Silver, an associate professor of psychology and social behavior at UC Irvine.

Noe, 45, invited Silver after participating in a study the researcher has launched to examine the career, relationship and family choices of women ages 35-50. (Noe says she wept several times while answering the 36-page questionnaire.)

Silver, who has studied divorce extensively, says she accepted because most of the invitees fell in the study's age group, and she had never heard of the shower or party concept: "It's an interesting coping strategy."

She and Dagne L. Florine, who is working with Silver and hopes to write a book about the study, helped facilitate what came closest to resembling a traditional party game. Asked to reveal a critical point that has shaped their lives, few mentioned their marriages or divorces. Rather, many talked about parents failing to encourage them to excel professionally or prepare them for self-reliance:

* "I didn't realize until my late 20s that I just might have to take care of myself."

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