I heard a confronting conversation recently between an acquaintance, Karen (not her real name), whose son just graduated from university, and her mother. We were at the ceremony and then going back to Karen’s place for drinks.
Karen’s ex-husband was sitting in a separate row with his new wife and his parents. Their divorce had been acrimonious.
Mother asked: “Is Brian coming to the lunch?”
Karen said: “No, of course not!”
Mother: “But he’s your son’s father. It’s not appropriate you don’t ask him, no matter what went on between you.”
Karen: “Mum, I don’t want to be in the same room as him.”
Mother: “But it isn’t just about you. It’s about your children, and me and his parents.”
Karen: “I understand about the children being hurt, but what have the rest of you got to do with it?”
Mother: “I haven’t divorced him. Neither has anyone else in the family. He was my son for 25 years. He is still my son, and an uncle and brother-in-law, no matter what you did to each other. He’s in all the photos of our lives. And I want him and his parents there.”
Overhearing this, I felt quite emotional and confronted, as would any of us who’ve broken up from long-term relationships.
There’s a presumption that when two people separate, everyone else involved has to break up too. Even if they don’t agree with the actions of their own friend or relative, or even if they can see both sides of the story. Any attempt to contact ex-partner is usually considered a betrayal of the highest order.
Karen’s and Brian’s families missed each other. So many years of dinners, births and deaths, standing by graves, crying into each other’s arms, laughing over drinks, good times/bad times, food, fights, forgiveness and love.
How does such intimacy, these life bonds, suddenly vanish because another two people don’t get on?
Stories are told that put the wedge between ex’s and partner’s siblings, parents, friends. Stories of cheating, meanness, narcissism. Many are true. But, regardless, loved ones must take sides and collude with one version of the story. Hence, innocent people are deprived of lifelong relationships in the greater circle.
I’m not innocent in such games. I too have put up barriers and asked those I love to “support me”. I too have been shattered by having others disown me.
Why do we do this? Karen remained stubborn even as both sets of parents glanced at each other sadly. There should be a new term: DBD (divorce by default). Because in truth, when there is a divorce everyone breaks up with everyone.
Unfortunately, there are very few amicable divorces because most are the result of betrayal and hence are a focus of intense hostility.
We can all only do our best even if it is unsatisfactory.