I don’t know if I believe in love. At least, not in the traditional sense of the word.
When I was 14, my entire life was turned upside down. On Christmas Eve morning, my mom came downstairs shouting, with a handful of paper: emails, between my dad and another woman, depicting the intimate emotional relationship they were having.
Now, almost five years later, I’m sitting on a bed in a house shared by my dad and that same woman.
The last five years have not been easy. It’s still not easy. I can’t say I have a healthy relationship with my dad, or with love, or with marriage. I had to see a therapist twice a week at the peak of the divorce in order to keep my sanity. As the oldest child, all I wanted to do was protect everyone. I wanted to keep the peace between my parents; I wanted my siblings to remain blissfully oblivious to the turmoil that became our everyday lives; I wanted to protect myself from becoming the ball of apathy that I watched my mom become. In the end, I think I ended up more hurt than anyone because my siblings inevitably learned what happened too, and soon they were also in the line of fire.
It’s hard to explain the intricacies of a divorce. I know there were other factors besides my dad’s affair contributed to it, but there are too many to list here. I can’t explain to you the ways each of my parents hurt me. But I can tell you that a divorce affects your day-to-day life more than most kids let on. For example, there was a time when I was afraid to come home from my dad’s because my mom would verbally attack us for even just seeing him. My siblings and I used to plan out exactly what we would say to one parent in the safety of my car, on the way to the other parent’s house. My vacation in Florida last summer was ruined by the crippling anxiety of telling my mom that my dad was going to move in with his girlfriend, the woman who my mom believed was the reason their marriage ended. I have seven different letters saved on my computer telling my dad that I didn’t want him in my life anymore. I never sent them. I lost a lot of friends because they told me I talked about the divorce too much. It weighed on my mind and heart every second of every day.
The biggest impact the divorce has had on me, however, lies in the concept of love. I used to want to get married and have children. I used to believe that I would find my “soulmate” and spend the rest of my life with them. I still believe in love, but I don’t know if two people are supposed to spend their entire lives together.
I think that we’re continuously changing and growing, and as we shed one skin and crawl into the next, the person we once loved isn’t always meant to follow.
I think we’re supposed to love several people, each a perfect fit for the current version of ourselves. Yes, there are plenty of love stories that end happily ever after – hell, my grandparents have been together for 50 years – but I often wonder if they really love the person they’re with, or if they’d be better off with someone else. I mean, my dad is definitely happy and in love with the woman he’s with now, but I also know he loved my mom at one point.
I guess I do believe in love. I believe that I’ll fall in love over and over again and learn from it each time. I don’t believe in forever, and that affects a lot of my relationships. Oftentimes, after a few years, people start to think in the long-term, but not me. And I need to find someone who is okay with that, and sometimes it’s hard for other people to understand. While many want to commit to a marriage and settle down, I have different plans. I dated my last boyfriend for almost three years, and sometimes he’d mention something about marriage and I’d start to panic. It’s hard to be in a long-term relationship when you both want different things.
When I’m older, and I inevitably fall in love with someone, I will be with them. We will live together, and we will share the joys of life together, but we won’t need a ring or a piece of paper to show that we love one another. We won’t need the trickiness of making it official by law. That relationship will end, I will appreciate what it gave me, I will find someone new, I will love them too.
The words above are filled with anger. They were written by my 18 year old self, a self that is now difficult to recognize. I feel like this was a page ripped from my journal which I put out into the world in hopes someone would notice me, and validate my pain.
A lot happens in two years. Time uncovered a lot of truth that I couldn’t see then, and my perspective on the whole situation has changed drastically. Although honestly, things within my family haven’t gotten better.
My sister and I are both in college now, so we no longer have to follow the schedule laid out by the Martial Settlement Agreement. Our parents tell us that we have a “choice” now, and we are free to decide how much time to spend with each of them. Though, apparently there is always a wrong decision, for when we don’t do what one of them believes is “fair,” they tell us not to bother seeing them at all.
During winter break, there’s no time for friends – instead, we are guilted into staying home and watching a movie while our mom makes passive-aggressive remarks from the other side of the couch. We have to hang out with our friends at our dad’s house instead of going out. “It’s only fair.”
Our only saving grace around the holidays is that my brother is still 15 and has to follow the MSA. We stick together, in part because it’s easier when things are decided for us, when another party decides for our parents what is fair. But it’s also because it will always be us against them, and with my sister and me out of the house, my brother suffers enough alone. He told me during Christmas, he’s “always in the trenches.” He’s now the only one walking on eggshells, always waiting for a bomb to go off in the war-zone we call home.
My parents don’t talk to each other. They talk through us. We hear our dad say that my mom is crazy; we hear my mom call my dad’s girlfriend a cunt. We’ve learned to tell little white lies about what we’re doing or where we’ve been; to submit to emotional manipulation rather than get in a fight, to accept that we will probably always cry on Christmas Eve. But, despite all of this, this year was different.
For the first time ever, my siblings and I are all in happy, healthy relationships. I can’t speak for them, but I can say that I’ve changed my mind about love. I’ve met someone who looks at me with nothing but kindness, and suddenly the thought of waking up next to him every single day isn’t so bad. In fact, forever with him doesn’t seem long enough. I’ve learned my lessons. In talking to him, I’ve realized something very important: I am not my parents.
If one day you find that you no longer love the person you wake up next to, just leave. If you have children together, don’t yell at them for having your ex’s blood running through their veins. Sitting down and having a conversation is a lot more efficient than a screaming match. Don’t be selfish. Christmas is just a day. Be willing to reschedule. Maturity has nothing to do with age. Being the bigger person all the time can make you feel really fucking small. Money can, and will, ruin relationships. Don’t keep a joint checking account. There are two sides to every story: the canopy of a tree embraces the sunlight, while the web of roots grows in the darkness underground.
My parents have made so many mistakes, but that doesn’t mean I will. My first step toward healing was allowing myself to believe in love again. Yes, we will change. Reading what I wrote at 18 is proof of it. But more important than changing, we will grow. Love takes work, and as long as we’re both willing to endure the growing pains, we will grow together.