My parents were just a few years older than I am now when they got pregnant and got married. I was eight when they decided it was time to get a divorce. Between then, there were trips to the zoo and blurry photos on disposable cameras, water battles in the front yard with the hose, two chocolate labs that I brought to school to meet my classmates, and a whole lot of laughter and warmth.
But there was also a growing coldness to the air of our living space, and eventually the photos began to fade and the fights began, or I got old enough to notice them.
Like many families, my parents sat us down one day after school and let us know that they loved us, but that it just wasn’t working between them anymore. My sister, six, began to cry, and my brother, one, probably just sat there playing with whatever toy was his favorite at the time. I’d been able to feel that it was coming, and I’d been reading the Ramona Quimby series, the one where she worries her parents are going to get a divorce, so I knew it was an option.
For a long time, I told everyone that the divorce didn’t have an impact on me. The way it affected my siblings felt so obvious, but I remained convinced, in a stoic-teenager sort of way, that I was too mature to care much about it. Besides, I had boys and school and friends to worry about.
It wasn’t until I started dating people more seriously and learning about how love, relationships, and breakups really functioned that I came to understand how my parents’ divorce had impacted me.
First of all, my parents have always been a little strange. They don’t hate each other like the parents of the other kids I knew whose parents got divorced during our childhoods. In fact, they’ve always been pretty chill. When my dad would come to visit, they would tell jokes in the kitchen and gossip like old friends.
When my parents are together, there’s that vibe in the air of warmth and charm that got mangled in the anger and frustration that took over our house in my late childhood. Somewhere in there, there’s a potential that just never got the chance to find its way to fruition.
Since I was little, I’ve always had the feeling that if things had been just a little bit different, they could have worked things out. The feelings were there, but the problem was that nothing else was. There was too much going against them – they didn’t want the same thing out of their twenties and thirties, they came from different backgrounds, they found joy in different things.
But I still believe they could have been right for each other in another universe.
Unfortunately, timing plays a huge role when it comes to love. Once, someone I was sort-of dating said that they felt like they’d met the wrong person at the right time (the person before me), and the right person at the wrong time (me). We broke up soon after. The timing just wasn’t right.
The next person I dated was a right person, wrong time situation for me. We met during a time when I was just beginning to struggle with mental illness (shout out to those early twenties!) and was going through a lot in terms of toxic friendships and self-discovery. I pushed her away; I was so immersed in rebuilding myself that there just wasn’t room in my life for anyone else.
Luckily, we had more time – and less pressure to get things right right now than the pressure of having three kids together and being in full-on adulthood – to figure things out and get it right the second time.
A few years ago my mom and I were chatting in the kitchen as she cooked and I skimmed through a book, and she told me that she felt like she was losing pieces of herself when she was dating my dad, as if the closer they got, the less room there was for her soul, or her being. Sacrifice and compromise took over and eventually there weren’t two sides in the relationship, just one blurred mass made up of parts of each of my parents.
When it comes to love, I truly think that sometimes you just need space to build yourself back up again, or simply keep yourself together. I believe in pauses, and breaks, and being able to take a moment for yourself without apologizing or worrying about jeopardizing the relationship. I don’t think I’d be in such a happy (and healthy) relationship if I didn’t know that I could step away for a moment just to be with myself and know I wasn’t going to offend my partner. I think that separation can play a huge role in maintaining individuality even as a monogamous couple.
My parents didn’t have that, or didn’t get to have it. Maybe they just became one person too quickly, or maybe there was just too much pressure to get it right the first time. The cold took over and the warmth began to fade. But working to cultivate a better and more whole self helps build a stronger and more durable relationship. One that can withstand the time it takes to build a person back up again.
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