My parents got divorced when I was 22.
It had been a huge year for me -- I graduated from college, started my first job and moved into my first post-grad Brooklyn apartment with my two best friends and my inbred cat Wayne. 2012 was also the year that my family unit as I knew it changed forever.
My parents had inexplicably agreed to allow me to sublet my old apartment up at school for the month of June so I could do nothing after graduation but bask in my post-thesis self-righteousness. This should have been my first clue that something was up.
I was visiting my parents on Roosevelt Island. My sister also happened to be at the apartment, having just gone on a run with my mom (does that give you any indication of which one of us is the 'bad one?'). I was eating cheese in front of the fridge, my sister was furiously sweating behind me waiting to get in for some iced tea, and my parents were awkwardly hovering.
"Girls, want to step into the living room for a chat really quickly?" my dad asked casually. this was a laughable request, as we lived in a relatively small apartment, in which the only separation between "the kitchen" and "the dining room" was a pass-through wall, and the "living room" was differentiated from the "dining room" with an area rug. We shrugged and sat down. I couldn't remember the last time my dad had sat us down like this. The only recent memory of a masked request like this was when I was fourteen and came home and threw up Goldschlagger onto my parents while they were in bed. The next day, I had a similar "Annie, do you want to sit on the couch and chat quickly?" But, I digress.
We sat on the couch with my father facing us. "Girls," he said, "your mother and I are getting separated."
I had friends who didn't believe in marriage, whether from an ethical standpoint or from bad experiences growing up, but I've always championed the cause. My parents aren't always the easiest people to get along with, and they've been happily together for 27 years! Love exists, for sure. You can imagine my shock when they came out with the announcement.
Separation quickly turned to divorce, and the papers were drawn up. My mom moved up to Madison Avenue in the '80s, and my dad stayed on Roosevelt Island, slowly but surely changing the apartment's aesthetic from blue and white toile to folk art store. They expedited the process so my mom could buy her dream apartment with the divorce winnings, and now, long story short, they're both definitely happier as single people.
It's awkward when people ask if my parents are together. Generally, the response after I explain "no, they broke up after I had graduated college," is a relieved "oh, so you were much older," as if my age pardons me from any real emotional distress. In order to save everyone embarrassment, I tend to nod vehemently, agreeing that "it wasn't a big deal." What's the other option, after all? Stomp my foot, insisting that I was as inconsolable as if I had been eight years old? I'm sure I too used to assume that adulthood meant less of a tangible dependence on your family.
Going through the breakdown of a family unit is difficult at any age. While I was lucky to be old enough to have an educated grasp on the concept of divorce without anyone explaining it to me, I also had control over the information and who I would be telling, and when. This, it turned out, was more of a burden than a blessing. Imagine your surprise when a friend from a seemingly happy home tells you of her parents' unexpected divorce. Now, imagine being surrounded by fifty of those same gaping-mouth looks. That is what telling all your adult friends that your parents are breaking up looks like. Granted, I can imagine the spread of information about your parents when you are much younger is horrifying in ways that feel less in one's control, but I often found myself wishing that I didn't have to be the one sharing the news.
When a young child goes through her parents' divorce, there are always moving parts that necessitate two parental figures being in attendance. Parent/teacher conferences, soccer games, or plays, for instance. There are aspects of a child's own life often keeping a semblance of her original family unit afloat. It will never be the same, but nevertheless, it is a modified family unit. Add step-spouses, a little awkward tension and the nanny, but it is still a distinct group that the child belongs to. My parents chose to separate a few days after the very last plausible event to bring them together (barring any unusual tragedies, extremes, my theoretical wedding, etc): my college graduation.
Nobody is ever luckier than anyone else when going through a life-changing event like a divorce. As the saying goes, we're all battling our own private battles. Or whatever. People feel pain and disappointment and shock and anger for different reasons and at different extremes, and it's unreasonable to be judged for why one feels or how strongly one feels. Both my mom and my dad are living much more fulfilling lives as separate entities, and I'm grateful for that. Sometimes I just wish I didn't have to trivialize my own experience once people hear that I wasn't technically a "child" of divorce. I haven't lost all faith in the institution of marriage, but I have certainly gained some insight into the benefits of divorce.