When my parents divorced in 2000, the end of their marriage changed my perception of love almost instantly.
I’ve been honest about it before—I have an irrational fear of love (which I wrote about here) because the crumbling of their relationship has crippled me. I’ve spent years actively recovering from the downfall of their union but something about for better or worse, in their marriage and in their divorce, has made me reconsider everything I once thought had broken me.
In March, my dad suffered a massive stroke and in every step of his recovery, my mom has been there. As a vessel of love for me, for the love she once had for him and for the sake of him receiving the quality of care that he deserves, while he is at his worst, she is at her best. During his sickness, she is sacrificing her own emotional and mental health and it’s been life changing to witness.
Since their union ended 17 years ago, my mother has remarried but my parents have always been cordial and maintained a reasonable friendship for my happiness. I have never doubted that they didn’t have love for one another, it was simply one that had grown sour with remnants of something sweet having sprouted from it.
In the past, the separation of my parents has had a profound effect on how I navigate romantic relationships and in the future, I know the last four months will have a lasting impact as well.
When my mother walks into the room, my father is responsive and receptive to her presence. When she inquires about his care to medical staff, they address her with the respect of a spouse because of her attentiveness to his wellbeing. When she caresses his hand, he squeezes hers back.
In the same way their divorce hardened my approach to love, watching this dynamic between them has softened me.
I was seven when my mom and dad decided their marriage was no longer healthy or happy. I don’t remember a lot of the good times or the bad ones. I was too little to recognize that their wedded bliss had started to fade. Now, as a 24-year-old adult, watching them in this way has inherently challenged every frame of thinking I once had about love, marriage and divorce.
By no means are my parents a perfect pair—it’s why they weren’t meant to be in the first place. I never had high hopes that they’d rekindle their union, not as a young child and not even now. What the past few months of something devastatingly emotional has taught me is that for some, the vows of marriage even in divorce still hold merit.
My mom doesn’t have to leave her job on Tuesday evenings in the midst of rush hour traffic to go visit with my father in his nursing home room so that he sees an encouraging familiar face during his road to recovery. She doesn’t have to sacrifice her Saturday afternoons to join me as I sit in the same room with nurses and therapists as we cheer my dad on as he accomplishes once easy tasks.
What she doesn’t have to do, she does because of me.
These past four months have taught me a tremendous lesson about love, more specifically platonic respectful love. In their divorce, my parents set a standard for being cool and calm with each other even in moments of frustration. Over the years, as I have graduated from high school, college and beyond, my mom and dad have shown me what it means to sacrifice it all—even ego.
While the worst of their marriage got the best of them, they’ve grown from it. They’ve become better parents and most importantly better people because of it. There was a time when my parents resented each other and it was obvious, I carried that with me as I navigated in and out of relationships, situationships and friendships too. If the last four months have taught me anything, it’s that letting go isn’t always easy but it’s damn necessary.
So here’s to love: in sickness and health, for better and for worse.
Note: The couple pictured above are models, not the couple discussed in this piece.