I always thought my parents would be together forever, not because they were in love, but because that was the way it had always been. They waited until I was 23 years old and out of the house before getting divorced. After more than 25 years of marriage, I had assumed they were in it for the long haul.
My entire childhood, my parents were a unit that lived under the same roof, slept in the same bed, and shuttled my brother and me to soccer and marching-band practice. Sure, there were arguments, but they always recovered. I didn’t need my parents to have some grand love story. I just wanted them together in a way that was comfortable and safe to return to no matter how far away I lived. That was what I felt was promised to me when I was born.
Of course, those are the selfish thoughts of a 23-year-old who had not yet seen her parents for who they really are — two humans who made a choice to get married and who made a choice to have kids. They were not soul mates, and there was no guarantee they would stay in love forever. But I still held out hope because I couldn’t accept the alternative: that the two people I loved most no longer were in love.
After my parents split, they sold the house I grew up in, put their stuff in storage and found small apartments a town away from each other. I watched my mom tell her aging, Depression-era parents that, after 25 years, she was divorcing my dad. I watched my dad shop for groceries and cook for himself for the first time. I moved out of state not long after the divorce. But when I’d visit him, I was always struck by how much our lives paralleled each other’s. We both were diving into the unknown, living in cramped one-bedroom apartments, managing credit card statements and coming home at dawn (him because of a graveyard shift working at a printing press at a factory, me because I was 23 and living in a major city where the bars were open until 4 a.m.).
A few years later, my mom started dating. At this point, I had to acknowledge once and for all that my mom was more than my mom, more than a person who was married to my dad. She was looking for love and companionship, just like I was. It was really weird at first, but after the initial shock wore off, we were able to have candid conversations about what it’s like to date after 25 years. The short answer? It’s bizarre.
Luckily, it was not long before she met a man who is perfect for her. They’ve been married now for more than three years. When they are together, they act like newlyweds who are very much in love. Growing up, I never evaluated my parents’ happiness with each other. But to see the way my mom acts now with her new husband, their dynamic is almost unrecognizable to that of her and my dads. I always wanted my parents to be happy, but more important to me was to survive growing up. To do that, I felt I needed to be raised in a two-parent household, no matter what.
Eight years after the divorce, my dad and I are in similar stages of life. I just turned 30 and am getting ready to leave the city I ran away to when I was 23, for another, bigger city. My dad is close to 70 years old, retired, with his condo up for sale. When we talk on the phone each week, he tells me about his anxiety about where he’ll go and what he’ll do when his place sells. “Me, too,” I say. “I have to find a job and make new friends and figure out a whole new transit system. I’m overwhelmed.”
Before the divorce, we never used to talk openly about our feelings, but now we’ve both grown up. Neither of us has anything to prove, which puts us in great positions to be each other’s sounding boards.
This is not where I pictured my mom or dad at this point in their lives, but it makes sense. On one hand, you don’t completely change when you have kids, but you continue to evolve. My parents were humans before I came into this world, and they will continue to be as I grow up and make my own life. I couldn’t meet them when they were kids, and I didn’t try to know them as adults when I was a child. But now I’m excited to explore our relationship as mutual adults, navigating the real world together.