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Carmen Maria Machado on marrying after your parents divorce

November 30, 2016 at 6:15 PM EST
Writer Carmen Maria Machado wasn't totally surprised when her parents informed her, 31 years into their marriage, that they were planning to divorce. But the news did produce a wave of anxiety over her own upcoming wedding. She shares how she and her fiancee are moving forward, keeping in mind her parents’ mistakes, as part of our re-launched “Essay” series -- now called “In My Humble Opinion.”
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Finally: Many families struggle with divorce. Tonight, writer Carmen Machado shares her perspective as one whose parents separated when she was an adult.

We’re relaunching our essay series as IMHO, In My Humble Opinion.

CARMEN MARIA MACHADO, Author: Two years ago, when I moved home to the East Coast, my parents announced to me and my brother and sister that they were getting divorced after 31 years of marriage.

I was both surprised and not surprised. My parents had many fraught, fragile years under their belts, but they’d seemed to weather them. It’d been bad, but I had assumed they had survived the worst of it, that their lives would mellow now that their kids were grown.

I have many friends with divorced parents, but all of them had experienced the process as children and adolescents. After my own parents told me the news, I learned that, instead of being an anomaly, they’re the new norm. So-called late-life divorce is increasingly common.

One recent study showed that, since 1990, the divorce rate for people over 50 has doubled. In a way, it was simpler. Yes, there were assets to divide, but my siblings and I were grown, so there was no discussion of custody, no decision about living one place or another, no shuttling back and forth between houses.

And I was happy for them, in a way. They could now independently live the lives they couldn’t live together.

My parents announced their divorce right before my fiancee and I got engaged. She asked if I wanted to put off the engagement just until the dust settled. My initial reaction was forceful. I told her, no, I just wanted to move on. My parents’ problems were not mine.

But then I found myself overwhelmed with anxiety. It wasn’t that I suddenly had large, cosmic doubts about love. Rather, I worried that my parents’ divorce was some kind of harbinger, a bad example that I, genetically yoked to them as I was, would be forced to follow.

It took a few months to figure out that the answer was somewhere in between. I realized I had been given a gift, that my adult self had a perspective that my teenage self would have never been able to conjure, that you have to have models of successes and failures to try and make something work.

I saw that my fiancee and I needed to create something with the mistakes of my parents in mind, not pretend that their problems didn’t exist. And then we needed to forge our way forward, together, with all of the data in hand.

Next year, I will get married. The year after that, I will be older than my parents’ marriage ever was. I don’t know yet whether or not mine will outlive theirs. But I hope that it will, because, as best as we possibly can, my fiancee and I are building it that way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Carmen Maria Machado.

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