Divorce can be a lot harder than people think, and at some points, leave you at a breaking point. My parents got divorced in high school and it changed everything for me. But when I got to college, everything changed.
To start, my parent’s divorce was extremely messy.
My parents were happily married in 1996 and remained so for almost 20 years. We were a tight knit family because we moved all over the place. That made it hard to stay in contact with extended family. So, for almost all of my life, it was just my mom, dad, younger sister and me.
In 2014, when I started sophomore year of high school, things got complicated. My parents decided to separate for many reasons: They had grown apart because of my mum’s illness (she’s been sick since I was two years old and had gotten worse in the last few years) and my dad’s job (it became much more demanding than in the past). Overall, they became very different people.
They told us about in October 2014. My dad left within a week. He moved down the street, but we didn’t actually see and talk to him properly until December. He was “busy.”
In January 2015, a perfect start to the year, my parents decided to get a divorce. My dad had a girlfriend and “fell in love.” Convenient, I know.
The divorce wasn’t finalized until May 2016. This also happened to be the month of my final IB exams. I needed to do well on these to get into college. It came, as you can imagine, at extremely good timing.
Consider that all background. Throughout that period I felt deeply unhappy, constantly arguing with my dad about why he left. He thought he did nothing wrong. Meanwhile, I also tried to get my sister to talk to any of us and get my mom through her depression.
But I know many people have it much worse than me. There are also many, many different sides and details that I left out of that story. But this isn’t about my high school experience with divorce. This is about my college one.
I moved into my dorms as a college student very much alone. My parents couldn’t afford to fly from Europe. I knew no one, I had no family over here and I had no idea what I was doing.
The University of California, Los Angeles was not actually my first choice. I chose it because it was as far away as possible. This far-away reason was also why I neglected to apply to the UK.
I didn’t want to live geographically close to my family in any way.
Not a great motivator now that I look back on it, but it all ended up working out perfectly; UCLA really is my dream school. I am so, so happy that I ended up over here—even if it is very far away.
And wow, what a perfect segue. The first challenge of divorced parents in college is figuring what to do when you get a break to go home. Naturally I couldn’t go home for a weekend or even Thanksgiving weekend (L.A. to Europe is not exactly a day trip). But for Christmas, I didn’t really know what to do.
My mom lives in Edinburgh, Scotland with my sister and my dad lives in Zürich, Switzerland. I knew I would go to Scotland mainly because my dad started his own new family during the divorce.
So my mom, sister and I formed our own family.
But did I have an obligation to see him? I hadn’t seen him in months. And yes, we had had an awful relationship at the end of high school. I didn’t even invite him to my graduation.
Despite this, our relationship improved. The distance brought me some healing and we began to be friends again. He will always be called “Greg” in my head, instead of “Dad,” but we spoke on the phone every once in a while.
So I decided to go to both places but spend much less time in Zürich. And it worked out fine. So far, that’s what I do every break. It just means I need to figure out when I’m going, where I’m staying, how I’m paying for the visit. It’s a lot harder than just going to one place for the whole break. I suppose it’s made me fantastic at airport security lines. I’m a demon of speed in airports.
The other thing that’s bothersome is calling both parents separately and give them the exact same information, updating them on your life and the big things you’re doing.
I’ve started to resort to “update emails.” I write out everything big for that month then send it out so I don’t need to repeat absolutely everything all the time.
In line with that is the emergency contact section. Which one do I put? I know my dad would be more likely to answer. But if I put my mom, she probably wouldn’t notify my dad, who would definitely be better at dealing with an emergency.
And who will I invite to my college graduation? My mom can’t stand to be around my dad. Am I going to need to go to two separate graduation ceremonies so they can both be present?
These small accommodations may not seem like a big detail. But they do remind me of what I lost—my complete family.
My family meant a lot to me. My mom has been sick since I was two, and my sister has hearing loss and mild ADD. It’s sometimes really hard to live with them, and they both know this. I love them both to death. But it was hard growing up, and my dad was always there.
He always told me, “If you can manage your mom and sister, you can deal with anyone.” But then he left me to do it all alone. I couldn’t rant to him about what they did or ask advice on how to deal with something. He just wasn’t there. And that’s something he still hasn’t really understood, and never will.
The saddest part is that he really did change. He became a new person and broke our relationship. He left me alone to grow up, bitter and angry, and it took coming to college to really grow out of that and stop swallowing the pain in my heart.
When I got to college, I healed. I accepted what happened. I used it to make me stronger. I took a creative writing class fall quarter of my freshman year and wrote a poem about it.
I grew up in college. I was always grown up, but I learned how to live a little and have fun. I also started to understand that adults are imperfect. Relationships don’t always work. People are really difficult.
I learned how to use the pain I experienced. It became my armor. I don’t regret this pain because it made my skin so much thicker. It taught me to accept if someone’s a lost cause. It brought me closer to my mom and sister. It showed me that even though my dad isn’t the person he used to be, he’s still there for me. He’s still cheering me on at my successes and that’s worth something.
College showed me that no one is perfect. We all make horrible mistakes. We learn to live with them, learn from them and forgive them if they’re done to us.
We must learn to accept the pain and not let it break us. I’m proud to say I’ve learned how to do that, and expect that I will keep on learning about so much more on my college journey. The learning’s not over yet.