PARIS Sylvie Razafindrakoto, whose divorce was finalized three weeks ago, came looking for tips on coping with difficult teenagers as a newly single mother.
But the 46-year-old was sidetracked by an image consultant and booked herself in for a wardrobe makeover and consulting session on which colors suit her best.
"I need to boost my self-confidence a bit more. I need someone to tell me whether or not my look reflects my personality," she told Reuters at the first ever Divorce, Separation and Bereavement fair in Paris, held at the weekend.
Visitors could find everything they needed to ease the pain of separation, from legal and financial advice to life coaching, seduction tips or even cellulite removal.
Singletons or soon-to-be singletons could also hire the services of a private detective agency to uncover evidence of infidelity or hidden financial assets.
"The aim was to bring together under one roof a range of solutions, help for people facing all the problems that come with a separation," said event organizer Brigitte Gaumet, who has been happily married for 25 years.
In a city better known as the capital of romance, the fair shone a stark spotlight on the reality of modern relationships.
The annual number of divorces has more than doubled in France since the 1970s to over 134,000 in 2007, according to national statistics office INSEE.
The figure does not include the separations of unmarried couples or of those who have signed civil partnerships.
Early bereavement is the tragic lot of some 24,000 women and 6,000 men under the age of 55 who lose their partners each year.
For Gaumet, whatever the causes, the end of a relationship is one of the most traumatic events a person can go through.
"To move on, people have to go through a process of grieving for their past life, for the hopes they had, for the image they had of themselves and of their relationship," she said.
Aside from providing help with legal or financial problems, the fair was strongly focused on dealing with these emotional issues, and rebuilding self-confidence.
There were workshops on "How to bounce back," "How to love yourself in order to bounce back," or, more prosaically, "The role of plastic surgery in reconquering one's self-image."
David Herzog, a former sportsman and now a life coach, said he used a mix of fitness training, hypnosis and neurolinguistic programing to banish negativity and help people turn the page.
The School of Seduction, meanwhile, provided tips on how to cultivate charisma, or rekindle a romance gone awry.
Rosalie van Bremmen, a former model, was there to promote her book "For better, for the future," an autobiographical account of her separation from French actor Alain Delon and divorce from the French tycoon of spectacles Alain Afflelou.
She offered hard-headed advice on coping with break-ups.
"The first time I was cut off from my bank account, I panicked," she said.
"The second time, I knew it was coming and I'd taken steps to prepare for it."
Despite all the evidence of emotional trauma on display, the fair organizer said she remained a firm advocate of marriage -- though not for romantic reasons.
"There's nothing worse than just living together. If your partner has an accident, or leaves, you've got no rights," she said. "It's catastrophic."
(Editing by Paul Casciato)