A student of mine told me about a problem she was having with her boyfriend. At the end of the conversation, she told me the real problem was this: most of the parents around her were divorced so she was growing up without knowing what a married couple in love looks like. I told her that being married for 20 years and still being in love is quite an exceptional situation as if it was my job as an adult and a good citizen to give this information. She agreed with my sad but true comment. Still, this didn’t satisfy her need to see two people who manage to be a couple despite their problems.
At a time when the options regarding becoming and staying a couple are so easy, fast and various, it became more natural for people who can’t live together happily to separate. For most of us, it is absurd to stay in a relationship just for the sake of our children. Just as my student said, it’s not necessarily about being in love but managing to coexist peacefully. If we stay in a relationship without managing to do that and making life a living hell for our partner, our children become aware of this. On the other hand, they also become aware if we decide to break up without being able to find a middle ground. My student said that the smallest problem she had with her boyfriend was a big red sign for her mother. By giving examples of negative experiences from her own marriage, she was approaching her daughter’s relationship with skepticism. If the boy was 10 minutes late, he was lazy and irresponsible. If he stopped by his mother, he was a potential mama’s boy. If he didn’t want to do an activity, he was stubborn and discordant.
My student is just 20 years old but I thought she was much more mature than many adults after I listened to what she had to say. I’m sure she loves her mother and yet she can see sides of her that she doesn’t agree with. She loves her boyfriend but knows that she can’t change the sides of him that damage their relationship. She can see which examples the environment in which she’s living in is inadequate in providing.
Can we see these things?