Life (and Love) as an Adult Child of Divorce

I can name the date when my mother and sister moved out, and my family as a whole ceased to exist; the boundaries of the emotional reverberations of divorce, however, are more difficult to identify. After the age of thirteen, I never again lived under the same roof with my mother and sister. Unlike the overwhelming majority of children whose parents divorce, I remained with my father, living in the house we once shared as a family. Yet nothing was the same. The rooms rang with loss, reducing my home to four walls from which to escape, not seek refuge. The holidays and weekends turned into days dissected into hours claimed by each parent. Protected by a carefully constructed armor of indifference, I sailed through these changes, my emotions tightly self-contained. I never once allowed myself to miss having two parents as one unit, residing in one home. Why would I? I knew my parents were unhappy together, so it was for the best, really that they were apart. I never engaged in any of the Parent Trap fantasies that my parents would reunite; on the contrary, the mere thought of having them in the same room, tense and silent, sent me into a panic.

At some point, though, as I crossed the line from childhood to adulthood, the experience of divorce was no longer limited to my past and present, but began to infect my future as well. It became harder to put a finger on my feelings, to relate the confusion, the wariness, the lingering sadness to my parents' divorce. A year or so out of college, my "tough girl" facade from childhood started to slip. Small slips at first. I would see a mildly sad movie and, surrounded by the safe cloak of darkness in the theater, dissolve into tears. I skipped through relationships, ending them abruptly for the most minor of transgressions. I constantly felt anxious, worried about my future, yet never fully satisfied when things appeared to be going well. Every decision, from my relationships to my career, was harnessed by my own ambivalence. What if I'm hurt? What if I'm making the wrong choices? What if, just what if, I am starting down a path that will take me back to those empty rooms of childhood? These questions swirled in my head, leaving me paralyzed. Strange as it may sound, it wasn't until I left home that I started to acutely feel the effects of growing up in a divorced home.

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