What it’s Like to Be the “Ross” of the Family

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As my parents’ 35th anniversary approaches, I’ve been thinking a little bit about what it means to be the only divorced person in my immediate family (and most of my circles of friends, too). See, I come from a very conservatively religious family, one that takes marriage very seriously (as they should. I mean “until death do us part” isn’t supposed to be a punch line, right?). So divorce is pretty uncommon. In addition to my parents, my grandparents have celebrated over 60 years together, and my sisters are both 5 years into their wedded bliss. Despite the longstanding family tradition, divorce came calling at my door, and I, unfortunately, had to answer.

Since then, my dad has lovingly referred to me as “Ross.” If you aren’t familiar with the show Friends (for starters, I don’t think we can be friends), Ross is the only member in a group of twenty-somethings who has been divorced and is a single parent. Although Ross is arguably the worst character on the show, I can empathize with him. It’s not easy being the only divorced member of a group, even if that group is your own family. Here are a few observations I’ve made as my time as “Ross”:

  • You can’t expect people who haven’t been through it to know how divorce feels. They can sympathize, but they won’t truly understand the grieving process that accompanies the death of a relationship.
  • You can be completely happy for the couples in your life and completely envious at the same time.
  • Sometimes you’ll have your kids at get-togethers; sometimes you won’t. When you don’t, you’ll have to explain why (even though it is seemingly obvious).
  • People will take a very vested interest in your love life (usually harmless, often annoying).
  • You will have to keep your mouth closed when you witness other couples argue over whose turn it is to take care of a child or complete a household chore.
  • Some will wonder why you would even want to date or marry again after everything you’ve been through.
  • Like Ross, you might have to struggle not to be defined by your divorce. I am more than a divorcee–I’m a mother, daughter, aunt, writer, professor, friend, avid Netflix watcher–and you are, too.
  • Life will go on. For your friends. For your family. And for you. The waves of loneliness may hit at different times for varying reasons, but things will gradually get better.

It can be lonely, irksome, and even downright frustrating to be the “Ross” of your circle. You may feel like no one will ever understand what you’re going through. And you’re right–unless they go through it, they won’t; they can’t. And that’s okay. Because we don’t love people because they share all of the same experiences as us. We love them because, at our lowest, they look at us and say, “I’ll be there for you.”

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