‘Promises’: Demi Lovato & what I wish I had known about my parents’ divorce

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For at least a month (up until last week) I was driving around with no radio. I know…the horror. My car radio (intelligently) locked me out after I had the battery replaced and even though I looked and looked, could not find the code for it. I finally called Honda a few weeks ago and they attempted to help but after a little bit on the phone were also unsuccessful.

Resigned to the worst, I was preparing myself to visit the Honda dealership in person when Nicholas rode with me one day and – as I was telling him the radio malfunction saga – he pressed a button that miraculously turned on the radio for the first time in weeks.

I wish I could say that I was surprised, but things like that happen to him all the time…and I’m not bitter about it at all.

Having had a fair break from the current radio stations, I was eager to catch up on the latest releases. One that stuck out to me was by Demi Lovato called ‘Promises.’ The gist of the song is that love is difficult and so even though I care about you, ‘promise me no promises.’

I was a little disappointed at this message, especially because it’s not the first or second or tenth time that I’ve heard it spoken to me from various sources recently. I think my generation has become very guarded and as I’ve gotten older I’m starting to understand why.

From 1960 to 1980, after the no-fault divorce bill was passed (saying that you could get a divorce without proving spousal wrongdoing), the divorce rate more than doubled.

A lot of us millennials and some from those in the previous generation (gen x) were born to those parents.

Ex: my mother and myself. We were both born into families whose parents went on to get divorced.

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What has occurred as a result of this breakdown in the family, is that we are terrified of making a promise that could later on be broken. What we have learned is that a vow doesn’t mean anything, it is unsafe. I can say ‘I love you’ and still walk away. Marriage, therefore, has lost it’s place in society as an outdated and ineffective tradition.

We treat relationships lightly and avoid getting attached at all costs.

The problem with this, is that family is the foundation of society. We learn to love in the home. The best example we’ll ever have of love is that which our parents show us through their love for each other. That is why we are falling short today, we don’t know how to love.  It is something we have to learn, we are not born on an island; our ability to love, our identity and sense of self are all things we develop in relation to others.

I wish I had known all of this earlier; my dating relationships have been made dramatically more difficult because of my own experience of what happens when we fail to keep our marital vows. We make a vow for a reason, it is not meant to be broken. Not merely because of the heartbreak that happens to the individuals who were married, but because of the damage it does to the children affected and society at large. The children of divorce live with that for the rest of their lives.

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Distrust, skepticism, and overwhelming fear often get the best of me, leading to strife between myself and the person I love. These thoughts and feelings aren’t things that come from nowhere, they are leftover from the reality that I’ve seen what happens when our love falls short and the pain that it causes. It honestly has gotten between us over and over again. I am constantly battling the voices in my head telling me to run…I am wary of being hurt and willing to do just about anything to avoid it. At times it is excruciating, exhausting and entirely discouraging for both me and my s/o. Experience and the fear it causes are powerful forces, more than I’d like to admit, however it is evident in myself and the culture around us.

This secondhand effect of divorce is rampant in people my age who refuse to ‘settle down’ and avoid family life altogether. We have, instead, become concerned with career achievement and having a good time. While these are good things, they are not the best things. The most convincing lie out there today is that you can’t have a good job, have fun and be married with children. It is either one or the other. If that were true, then I wouldn’t blame anyone for not ever wanting to get married, that sounds awful!

The reality, however, is that family life doesn’t steal our joy, it increases it. The studies concerning singles vs. married couples shows us that married couples tend to be happier.

This makes sense, because we are made to be in relation to others. We are born into families for a reason. Our deepest joy doesn’t come from getting drinks with friends (again, not a bad thing), it comes from loving and being loved deeply.

I know how discouraging it can be when people left and right are leaving their marriages. I know what it’s like to grow up convinced that family life is for the sitcoms and love doesn’t work. I know how hard it is to love when all you know is what happens when we don’t love.

However, Nicholas reminded me in a moment of frustration that hope is a virtue because it only makes sense in the context of hopelessness. If things are just fine, we have no need for hope. We need it when we are most tempted to despair.

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As millennials get older, I hope we realize the absolute necessity for family life. I hope we’re brave enough to give it our all, even if we’ve seen others who haven’t. I hope we learn to prioritize what is truly important and to overcome the fear that tells us to run the other way…because if we don’t, I guess I’m not sure who will.

It’s up to us to undo the cycle of broken promises and give the generations after us the opportunity to be learn what it means to love and to love others themselves.

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