As a child of divorce I’ve lived my life with one enormous fear. The fear of not being wanted. It still haunts me. I’ve seen it haunt others. Like a monkey on our backs that lays dormant for a while but wakes up at the slightest hint of confirmation. I wish it wasn’t so. I wish I could shake it. I’ve even thought I had from time to time until something has triggered my fear and the monkey has raised it’s head from my shoulder. Whispering in my ear, “See? You were right. You weren’t wanted after all.”
I’ve always tended to be logical; a linear thinker. It always made me pretty good in math and not so good in the creative arts. And as a young kid, my logic went like this: If my parents no longer love each other and don’t want the life they created together, how could they possibly want me? Wasn’t I basically the sole representation of the life they had created and now wanted away from? If it’s children that turn couples into families and my family was broken, didn’t that mean I was too? And who wants a broken kid to lug around? I wouldn’t.
Of course my logic was never supported. My parents would tell me outright how much they loved me. How wanted I was. But that damn monkey wouldn’t go away. And a toxic script would run through my head at the slightest trigger. A missed phone call. A raised voice. A scowl. An off hand remark.
My internal dialogue would sound like this: They loved each other and created me. I am half of each of them. But now they don’t love each other, so how can they possibly love me? Maybe half of me. That I could understand; but never all of me. Not the parts that come from the other. But I can’t be split in two, I can only be one whole person. And if they can’t stand half of me, it’s not possible for them to love all of me. Maybe I can hide. But I can’t help being the constant reminder of the marriage they didn’t want. I can’t help always requiring an explanation. Wouldn’t their lives be easier if I just didn’t exist?
And the monkey would agree wholeheartedly.
It’s a scary thing. Worrying that the only two people in the world that are required by nature to love you, might not. Because if your own parents can’t love you, than who can? These are questions no child really wants the answers to but also wants answered most of all. And so the dance begins. Pushing and pulling. Testing and trusting. Seeing if they will hit their breaking point and admit what you’ve been so afraid of hearing and then feeling the flood of love and admiration when they don’t. This is what kids who are unsure of their relationships do.
But as I got older I did something else. And I’ve watched a lot of my ACOD friends do it too. I pulled back as most teenagers do. But I never really came back. A defensive action. My internal dialogue changing. It became: One day they might realize I was a mistake and get tired of being reminded of the union they severed. Tired of seeing their ex partner in me. And when that happens I’ll be ready. I won’t want them as much as they won’t want me. I can’t let them hurt me like that.
I’ve seen this so often and I did it too. Trivializing my parental relationships. Forming insignificant attachments with my most significant others. I had to be strong enough; indifferent enough. Because if it all came crashing down, that’s what would make it survivable. I thought of it as a preparedness measure. No different from stocking up on water and canned goods in case of emergency.
And the monkey would agree wholeheartedly.
It’s incredible how comforting the feeling of being wanted can be for a child. And how destabilizing the fear of losing that feeling is. The feeling becomes like the ground beneath your feet. One can focus on so much more when not preoccupied with the idea it might turn to quicksand. I’ve tried to build strong relationships all around me. Things I can point to and say, see? Look at all these people who love me, my parents would be crazy to not do the same. Also serving as, See? Look at all this support that I have. I’ll do just fine without them. A feeble attempt to firm up my ground.
In my adult life I have had times when I’ve felt close to my parents and times when I didn’t. Times when I’ve felt embraced by them and times when I’ve felt rejected. I still find myself distanced; struggling to trust. Even when the monkey is silent I find myself analyzing their reactions to me. Questioning the solidarity of our bond. And those are the moments the monkey loves.
He says “Be careful. They could destroy you. Remember when? Don’t give them the chance.”
Sometimes the monkey wins. I agree and I put up my front.
But sometimes the relationship wins and I tell the monkey to just shut up and go back to sleep. Maybe one day if he gets told that enough, he’ll get mad and move out all together.
What a liberating day that would be.
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