"We never really took the time to think that maybe we had lost something more than merely a person at the dinner table"Ceci Browning

In 2010 — the year my parents finalised their divorce — 42% of marriages ended that way. Close to half. All over the country, children and teenagers were packing their bedrooms into cardboard boxes and being moved elsewhere: to another house, another town, another part of the country. We showed up to school and came home again at the end of the day, to wherever it is we lived now, without ever really thinking that perhaps this wasn’t the best foundation upon which to be growing up. We never really took the time to think that maybe we had lost something more than merely a person at the dinner table.

My parents are two of the best people I know. My Dad is the dad you would get if you made a long list of all the qualities that a dad should have — and I mean the serious ones like respect and kindness and wisdom, not the ones like golf playing and beer drinking that characterise most father’s day cards – and then translated them into an actual walking, breathing human being. DIY is his only weakness.

“Both my parents love me wholly and unconditionally. However, with divorce, love ceases to live inside us”

My mum, while also one of the most thoughtful people I know, is markedly different. She is wild and outgoing. Her character is perhaps best summed up by the fact that her hair is bright auburn. Orange in the sunshine and deep red in the house, at her desk or standing over the hob. Occasionally, when it’s dark, it turns a sort of maroon colour, but she likes to wear a hat when it’s cold outside, a navy blue one with hearts on it, which means you can’t really see enough of it to tell.

My mum and dad speak of that historical period — their togetherness — only very occasionally, and only ever in passing. That time of their lives has since been hidden away, stored in a small box marked complete. They may one day deal with it, sit down across from me and start to talk, but I fear this will not be until I am much older than I am now. I already have a much more comprehensive understanding than they are aware of, having put together the pieces I have been given accidentally over the last decade, but there is always more to know, more to feel, and I am sure this can only come from real conversation.

Both my parents love me wholly and unconditionally. I think all parents feel this way about their children. However, with divorce, love ceases to live inside us. Children are the product of a union. Married, engaged, dating, or even just together for a night, however a child is conceived, it requires the union of two people. It is quite literally the sum of two parts. So when a child’s parents do not love each other their foundations are pulled out from underneath them. The life force that brought them into existence, a bright red forward-moving force, rushing, pounding, beating, ceases to animate them.

“That so many of us come from families that are not simply mum and dad and kids mean we all experience our first heartbreak early on”

As we grow up, we learn to live with it, those of us who have one parent, or two that are separated. We get used to it, just as one gets used to a new haircut, or riding a bike, and we stop noticing. On sad nights, nights when everything is terrible and the world is ending, we might remember, but on the whole it becomes a sort of numbness. Because I have spent so much time trying to decipher this strange feeling of always missing something, I have become acutely aware of it. I have trained the noticing muscle, and now it is thick and bulging: I cannot not notice. As a group, however, we children of divorce largely forget that it’s even possible to have parents which are exactly that, parents, rather than a mum and a dad.

Other people’s parents do not divorce until later. Very often, parents live unhappily and then decide to separate once their children have grown up and moved away from home. Left alone again, without the distraction of school dinners and teenage mood swings, parents look at one another and realise, hold on, it’s just us. They realise that the love has gone, dissipated into nothing over eighteen years or so, and call it a day.


Mountain View

Blood is not thicker than water

This is heartbreaking too. I haven’t experienced this version, but I imagine it feels much the same. Perhaps the difference is that if our parents divorce when we are in our late teens or our twenties, we have already learnt how to love, or at least have a sense of what it means to be a lasting unit. Still, it is never not devastating, seeing the two people who love you most stop loving each other.

That so many of us come from families that are not simply mum and dad and kids mean we all experience our first heartbreak early on. Before we even get to the difficulties of dating, we learn what it is like to be split apart, the feeling of a love that once existed suddenly ceasing. Maybe this experience is valuable. It hurts, yes, but maybe it also makes us tougher against the strain of modern dating.

Then again, maybe not. Maybe we’ll never understand what love looks like. But at least we’re all in the same boat.