On December 29, 2014, my parents sat down with my little brother, Jared, and I to have a conversation that would change my life forever. It began with my dad stating, “So, your mom and I are getting a divorce.” My whole world felt like it was crumbling down around me. My parents just weren’t supposed to be one of those couples. My dad still told my mom that she looked beautiful every time she got dressed up for an occasion; my mom regularly listened to music she hated because she knew it made my dad happy; they were the couple that still teased each other every night at family dinners; they were the couple that would drop everything they were doing when their first dance song (from their wedding) played and start dancing in the middle of the living room, the kitchen, the backyard, anywhere. This announcement threw into question everything I knew about relationships. If my parents couldn’t do it, who’s to say I would?
The month immediately following my parents breaking the news was one of the hardest months of my life. I was breaking down in tears almost daily, but only to a select few people--namely, my boyfriend at the time and my best friend. In April my dad moved out of our family house to an apartment exactly seven minutes away from us. Over the course of the next two years, my parents would attend meetings with lawyers to arrange the specifics of their separation. I spent the majority of these years here in San Luis Obispo, nearly four hours removed from my family’s impending split. This created an unspoken divide between the divorce and the rest of my life. Overall, I found I was able to continue enjoying my first year of college without having to think about the brokenness of my family. My parents became legally divorced on September 3, 2016. This happened to be the day immediately prior to my departure for my study abroad program in Italy. This unfortunate timing is exactly what led my parents to not inform me of this development. However, I have no idea what prevented them from telling me for the next three months. Finding out about this in early December was very hard. I felt so hurt, betrayed, and guilty. I was 6,000 miles away from the conflict, which made it easier to forget about it, but also made this news that much more difficult to hear. I was also 6,000 miles away from Jared, who had to deal with this all by himself again. It’s also incredibly important to state that my parents’ divorce is the most unique divorce you will ever hear about. Ever. It’s amicable and cooperative. My mom and dad still do a lot of things together--visit me during Cal Poly Parents Weekend, watch my brother’s water polo games, celebrate holidays, and most importantly, parent Jared and I. There has been open communication between them from day one of separating, and while there have been cases where I’ve seen them fight, my family of four still functions quite well as a unit. Right about here is the part where people usually say “Oh, well that doesn’t sound so bad,” or “Well it could be a lot worse!” and that’s when I subconsciously learn to shut down again. If those are the majority of responses that I’m getting, why on earth would I want to be honest with people about something I’m really struggling with?
As far as how I’ve handled it, that is very much a work in progress. and truthfully, I don’t handle it well most of the time. My go-to strategy in this situation is something I like to call ‘geographic denial.’ As I said before, I was four hours removed from the day-to-day interactions with my parents. This means I wasn’t confronted with the issue on a regular basis and therefore didn’t feel like I had to deal with it at all when I was in SLO. I had created my own separate world here where my family was still together and my brother wasn’t left behind to face it by himself and life went on like it did before. While it has proven to be a relatively effective coping mechanism, it’s completely unhealthy and only delays the inevitable. I will have to face this issue head-on eventually, and I believe I am growing closer to accomplishing that with every interaction I have with my parents. My best strategy has been honesty--honesty with myself about how I’m feeling and honesty with those close to me. Another skill I’ve had to develop throughout this process is the ability to become more empathetic. I’m able to put myself in my parents’ shoes and, from that, decide to ask them how they are handling the separation, be okay with the two them having new romantic relationships someday, and at times, even defend their decision. Finally, I have been able to arrive at an increased point of vulnerability and openness on this issue today through the grace, encouragement, and unconditional support of some very important people in my life: Asia, my best friend Kara, my roommates, my mom’s two best friends Julie and Maureen, and my boyfriend, Blake.
Despite the divorce being legally recognized for over a year and a half, coping with it is far from over and I still have a long way to go. I have yet to work up the courage to come out and ask my parents exactly what drove them to making this permanent decision. I am absolutely terrified of learning the answer to this question because my worst fear is that it will turn out to be something I perceive as preventable. Ever since my parents told us about their divorce, I have reduced the amount of time I spend at home for the sole reason of not wanting to face reality. Every single time I come home I am reminded of my family’s brokenness. Recently I discovered a drawer in one of my mom’s dressers that was devoted to old keepsakes--things like cards, old photos, letters, etc. Most of the contents of the drawer were framed photos of her and my dad, as well as love notes or cards that he had given her over the course of their 22 years of marriage. Sometimes I still go on Facebook and scroll back through my mom’s profile pictures to see photos of her and my dad back when they were happy.
This problem is not one that I believed belonged on my personal social media account(s) for a few specific reasons. The 1st being that my parents asked my brother and I not to share this information on social media in the same conversation when they made their declaration. This made perfect sense to me (and still does) because it was not my news to share. The 2nd reason is that I believed it would cause me more harm than peace. While there could have been a cathartic element to having the information public (so I didn’t have to keep telling people), I didn’t want to paint my parents in a negative light and if we’re being really honest, I didn’t think people would respond well. Since divorces are so common these days, I imagined people thinking “Oh wow, another sob story about divorce. You’re not the only one. People have it worse.” I think it’s hypothetical people spewing hypothetical negativity that gets in people’s heads and prevents them from sharing their truths on public forums like social media. More than that, though, it’s our desire to appease these norms of beauty, success, and perfection as our “public face.” My advice is to speak up. Speak up to yourself in the mirror and remind yourself that what you are feeling is okay. Speak up to your parents when you have questions. Speak up to your siblings to ask for support. Speak up to your significant others to let them know that long-term love is a potential sore subject for you. Speak up because your voice matters and deserves to be heard.