Love can be both an amazing and a terrifying thing. Marriage can be a beautiful and scary thing. Divorce can be an ugly thing. Hurtful. Painful. And according to the American Psychological Association, it is something affecting 40-50 percent of marriages in the U.S. Which means, unfortunately, that around 40-50 percent of students understand what it’s like to have broken or divorced families.
Whether we like to admit it or not, we are shaped by who our parents are. How we are raised, the traits we inherit, nature vs. nurture, all of that comes from our families. Having a mark like divorce can create a powerful impact on who we are and who we become.
Everyone has a different experience with divorce. Some people are so young when their parents split that they never know anything different. Some people watch their parents go through a divorce, sometimes when they’re old enough to understand, sometimes not quite. Some parents have nasty, ugly divorces, fueled by lawyers and custody battles. Some parents have relatively peaceful divorces, where amicable agreements aren’t uncommon.
One thing that every child of divorce can agree on though: it changes everything, including the meaning of one simple word. Not “love” necessarily.
“I think when you’re young, it’s crazy to think about spending the rest of your life with somebody, because our entire life we haven’t really done that, and we only see our parents or other people’s parents as real life models,” said John Robertson, sophomore business management major, whose parents divorced when he was six years old.
Our parents are the first friends we ever make. They’re the people who teach us how to walk, how to talk, eat, tie our shoes, open a door. They teach us how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. They teach us not to hit when we’re mad. They teach us how to share. They’re most likely the first people to ever tell us “I love you”. They are our first and often times our biggest role models.
So if our role models can’t learn how to love each other, communicate or work out our problems, how are we supposed to?
According to statistics, we don’t. Children with divorced parents are 40 percent more likely to get a divorce themselves. Children with parents who divorced and remarried are 91 percent more likely. Why? Because once you experience something like the dissolution of a marriage, the weight of commitment is something you begin to understand. For most people, it results in one of two reactions.
“I do deep down crave it and want that commitment, but I don’t ever force it,” Brandi Burnsed, sophomore nursing major said. Her parents’ divorce came as a surprise when she was twelve. They hid the majority of their problems until announcing the separation.
Children of divorce want to know that love exists. Maybe it’s not everything the love stories and the fairy tales promised, but it’s something even better. It’s something worth it. Something to prove that what our parents took a chance on was worth ultimately failing at. Why chase something when the risk is so high if the reward means nothing?
“It makes me more fearful to be in that kind of commitment because I can see it all crumbling down so quickly…The thought of opening up to someone and getting my feelings out to them is terrifying to me,” said Nick Wheeler, sophomore history major. Wheeler’s parents divorced when he was ten years old. His relationship with his father has deteriorated since.
No one knows how hard it is to make a relationship work than those who have witnessed it first hand. Our parents failed. Half the adults around us failed. Even in our own relationships we’ve failed and so have our friends otherwise we would have all lived happily ever after with the first serious relationship we had. The idea of opening ourselves up to somebody – secrets, fears, thoughts, hopes, dreams – is scary for everyone. The thought of it after you’ve seen two people who were so open they fell in love, built a life together, then tore it down is even scarier.
Sometimes we get confused because we want so badly to find that one person that we try to fit people into being that person. Other times, we refuse to allow someone that opportunity until they prove themselves.
Burnsed experiences one side of that spectrum when it comes to relationships while her older brother experiences the other. “I never go looking for relationships, I never jump into things. I’m kind of hard and critical. And my brother craves that attention so he always wants a person or someone to be with or hangout with. We’re just opposites,” Burnsed said.
That means sometimes we bounce around from person to person, keeping an eye out for it, but never quite finding the right person for committing to. Sometimes that means we shy away from dating in general, also possibly keeping an eye out but still not quite finding that person.
No one goes into a marriage thinking it’s going to end in a divorce. Whether you get married when you’re 16 or 60, everyone wants it work out. Even arranged marriages go into it with the couple crossing their fingers. Not everyone has the same views on marriage but most everyone can agree that it is a commitment meant to last a lifetime.
But guess what – that statistic is still there. That’s 40-50 percent of hope going into something just to fall back through.
As much as children of divorce want to believe that we can do better by marriage than our parents did, we’re not naive enough to believe that all a marriage needs is love, good faith, and good sex. We may want to believe that. We may think or feel that on the surface. But deep down, there’s still that scary feeling that we’re not going to know what it takes to make love last and commitment work until we’re too far gone in.
“Since my parents got divorced, I know what that feels like. It’s not an unknown feeling. It’s not an alien thing. It’s something you would be more willing to consider as an option. I could absolutely see that,” Robertson said.
Love affects us all. While we might go through periods of time in our lives when it’s not on our radar, it’s still there lurking in the back of our minds. In the millennial generation when we have a million other things to worry about – our school work, our jobs, our majors, our careers, our debt – love and relationships isn’t always our focus.
Our millennial movement is learning to fulfill ourselves – a generational mark we should all be proud to wear. Love should be something we find within ourselves before we find in other people. However, we can all agree that sometimes life wears us down a little too much. While our families may only be a phone call away, our roommates may be waiting at home, our classmates or coworkers may be there to help with the slack, we can all admit that there are times we just want someone there to help bear the weight. That doesn’t mean that we can’t carry it ourselves or even that we won’t. Sometimes we just shouldn’t have to.
It can be scary to trust someone with that weight though. For some reason, we can allow our friends or our colleagues to be there for us, but when it comes to the idea of letting a significant other be the one to take care of us, suddenly it’s gets real. Too real. Sometimes we latch onto that and rush into it, ruining it. Sometimes we refuse and push it away, ruining it. Sometimes we take a gentle, well-minded chance, and it falls through all the same.
Maybe though, just maybe, it’s exactly what we wanted and even better than we imagined. We may all be shaped by our parents but that does not mean we are defined by their choices.
Nick Wheeler said, “Don’t let it affect your relationships because you’re a different person than your parents.”