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Child of Serial Monogamists

I met my mother’s fourth husband last fall. Now retired, they were traveling cross-country, from South Carolina to California, to be with my sister as she gave birth to her first child. My mother brought me a present, which included a coffee cup imprinted with the slogan “Life is About Creating Yourself.”

My parents have been divorced for as far back as I can remember—which happens to be around age five. In planning this issue of Chronicles on the societal effects of divorce, our editorial team decided that in addition to the sociological, historical, and political analysis provided by our two lead articles, we should include the personal perspective of someone directly affected by divorce. As a child of serial monogamists, I agreed to try to cast my mind back to that time and the years that followed.

There was trauma involved with my parents’ split, though I can hardly remember it now. Chiefly I remember feeling a sense of duty toward my mother. My father was gone now; I was the man of the house. When I was a kid in the mid-’80s, divorce was still relatively rare or unspoken of in the well-to-do middle class St. Paul suburb where I grew up. My neighborhood was filled with 3M employees, who worked at the nearby headquarters. Many of them were scientists and engineers, and many of those were immigrants from East Asia or the Indian subcontinent.

Divorce was beginning to spread like wildfire through...

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