By Emma Specter, Vogue
I love divorce. I know, I know; this sounds like one of those clicky openers designed to get people to yell at me, but let me explain. My parents split up when I was eight years old, shortly after we relocated to New York City from Rome, and while I certainly wasn’t a fan of the concept at the time—except for the promise of two Christmases, which my parents royally botched one year by accidentally getting me the same thing—now, two decades later, I can honestly say that it was not just the right move for our family, but a game-changer in terms of how I approach my own romantic relationships.
If you’re tempted to feel bad for me, I’d like to remind you that almost 50% of marriages in the U.S. end in separation or divorce. I didn’t feel alone in my experience, particularly not in New York City, where many of my friends were navigating life between two households, but what did suck was encountering a lack of relatable portrayals of divorce onscreen and in books (save the ubiquitous “Very Special Episode” of the late 1990s). As a kid, I wanted a home like my literary heroine Anastasia Krupnik’s, warm and safe and full of laughter; only as an adult did I realize that I’d done Anastasia one better; I didn’t have one such home, but two.
It’s not like I had a totally rosy experience of my parents’ divorce (does anyone?), but I can now appreciate just how hard my mom and dad worked to remain amicable and keep things easy for me, with my dad moving out into an apartment just around the corner so I wouldn’t have to commute too far. It can’t be easy to dissolve a marriage and still have to stay in constant contact with your ex about child-rearing, and obviously, as a bratty teen, I wasn’t much in the mood to hand either of my parents credit, but now I have full appreciation of what they modeled for me: a relationship that wasn’t a success romantically, but was still respectful and thoughtful and centered around keeping an occasionally fragile peace.
I know my experience doesn’t mirror that of many children of divorce, and I’ve seen many friends deal with the pain of being put in the middle by their split-up, constantly fighting parents. To be clear, I don’t think my parents were any “better” than theirs because they got along post-split; they worked hard to remain civil and not put me in the middle, but they were also bolstered by the privilege of not having to worry or fight too much about money, custody, or any of the other potentially thorny issues that so often accompany divorce. (To be honest, maybe arguments of that nature did take place, but I recognize how fortunate I was to be shielded from them.)
I’m 28 now, and while I can’t say that my parents’ divorce hasn’t affected me at all as an adult, I honestly think it’s given me more than it’s taken from me. Not only did I grow up with two parents who were infinitely happier apart than they were together, I also learned by example to prioritize my own stability and pull the ripcord on any relationship that’s leeching me of my comfort. This, of course, is a gradual process—I can’t count the number of relationships I’ve stayed in well past their sell-by dates—but these days, I’m so much more excited by the prospect of being on my own than I am at the idea of trying to make an ill-fitting, off-the-rack partnership fit like tailored couture.
I’m generally loath to write about new relationships when they’re still in the “butterflies in the stomach and long texts composed in the Notes app” stage, but I can say that I recently met someone I like a lot, and who seems to like me too. Usually, when that happens, I’m halfway down the aisle in my mind before our second date—I am, after all, the same girl who had to put herself in a dating time-out—but this time around, I’m not fantasizing about some rosy, Instagram-hued version of the future; I’m trying to enjoy where I’m at right now, while reminding myself that I know and trust (and, crucially, like) myself enough to know when something isn’t working for me anymore. As Nora Ephron, the patron saint of divorce, wrote in her 1987 semi-autobiographical novel Heartburn, “We hang on, and if it doesn’t work, we try again with the next one.” To some, that might sound depressing; to me, it sounds like freedom.