I grew up with divorced parents. Boo hoo. That’s as synonymous with American culture as fast food and reality television. More than half of you are shrugging your shoulders in ambivalence while the remainder is expecting juicy tales of daddy issues and fears of abandonment. Sorry to disappoint.
While every divorce is different, life pretty much sucks for the kids stuck in the middle whether they’re two or 20. I was eight. And while I liked to believe I was a little woman, I see eight-year-olds now ? their nerves standing upright, soaking up every word, gesture and emotion of those around them and I think, “Damn. I must be messed up.” The answer to that is yes and no, but not in the ways I expected.
I overcame the initial grief and adjusted to my new lifestyle of “mommy and me, and daddy on the weekends.” I took part in a few recovery phases like latching onto my mom and embedding myself in music, dance, and books ? anything that provided me a recess from reality. Eventually I hit the ground running, socially. Nothing makes for a better cliché after school special than a know-it-all only child from a broken home speeding around town with her posse’ filled with enough animosity to, well, make stupid decisions. Like, say, a tattoo or drunk driving. And there were plenty of dark moments locked in my room, sad as hell, for no reason in particular. It’s debatable whether those behaviors were products of divorce or the evolution of a teenager. Luckily, I excelled in school and had enough self-preservation to keep from driving off the proverbial cliff.
What I didn’t see coming was the relationships aspect. Far past the time of my divorced parents’ woes, years of causal dating and hook-ups, I found myself at the end of three relationships. I’m not talking about a few months of courting, but years invested in serious commitments with guys that were now reduced to creased photos and lingering cologne faster than awkward one-liners were spat out the night we met. The scary part is, in hindsight, I knew they wouldn’t last. I didn’t want them to last. (Perhaps I knew that from the start.) So what was I doing? Avoiding relationships, that’s what.
Be careful to stereotype commitment phobes. Sure, they can come packaged in openly avoidant people (we tend to think males, right?) who run for the hills or sabotage a relationship as you become closer to them ? I’ve known tons. But I’m 100% extrovert with a high capacity for love ? an old school romantic who enjoys being in relationships, is ok with compromising and desperately wants my future husband to be my BFF so I can have a more fulfilling life than my parents did. The problem is my actions weren’t following through with that goal out of fear or inexperience or a lack of vision of what a healthy relationship looks like … who knows why. My most recent relationship was with someone that I did see a future with to a large degree, but we weren’t working. (I still question if we ever did.) Yet I remained for years trying to patch and fix and rework everything, perhaps because my parents were unable to, or maybe because I was still avoiding going out and finding a relationship that could work. I don’t know the exact answer and, at this point, could give a damn. There’s a time when we all need to get up off the therapist’s couch and just move forward. (Not an easy task for me ? I was also stricken with a psychotherapist mother.)
What I can tell you is that having divorced parents has given me many gifts as well and people rarely discuss silver linings. Being a child mediator between my parents, as unfortunate as it was, taught me how to read people easily, empathize with their emotions and know how to cope with my own negative feelings during times of hardship. All of that rebelling and teen angst? It was a survival technique. I taught myself resiliency and to this day I believe it’s one of my biggest assets. There’s something about a young child being dealt a difficult hand that makes them quickly turn to and appreciate the plethora of awesomeness out there. For me it was so many things: dance, music, all of the arts, traveling, literature and writing, to name a few. Yup, I can at least partially credit my chosen career path back to my tween rebellion years. I also got to know and like myself from a very young age because, well, everyone else in my family was too depressed or annoying to get to know at the time. I looked inward and that has contributed to a healthy dose of confidence as an adult and has given me the ability to love others easily. I hear that can help in the relationship department also. And while humor and being a social butterfly were maybe masks for pain at the time, they have become permanent parts of my personality and I can’t imagine life without them.
As for relationships, I think they’re great ? at least the idea of them. They’re hard work and require commitment on both ends, which means you have to be ready. Maybe I assumed I was ready but haven’t been because I was confusing the ability to love with the ability to be open to a healthy, lasting relationship. So I took part in love, not caring that these individuals were not going to be my long-term partners. Maybe I’m addicted to love and commitment phobic all in one whacked-out kids- of-divorce cocktail. (In my field, that bodes for a more exciting article.) I think I’ve just been pacing myself in my own way — following my heart but not ready to consider someone for the long haul, or in my case, walk away from someone who wasn’t going to end up there, and that’s OK. I’m closer to wanting that person now more than I’ve ever been and I’m more aware of my bad habits and plan to walk away sooner if I don’t think the relationship has a future.
For a child from a broken home, I have a decent sized dose of hope that good, lasting relationships can and do exist and that divorce is not inevitable and I think I’ve acquired many fundamental skills through my experiences that will be help me when I arrive there. Mostly, I have the guts to keep getting out there and trying while not taking it all so seriously and remembering to enjoy myself along the way. I’m pretty sure that’s half the battle.