It’s Okay to Miss Things Without Wanting Them Back

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(Image/The Guardian)

Because I’ve been incredibly blessed, my parents’ divorce when I was 4 was the worst thing to happen to me until my own divorce 30 years later.

I was a little kid who didn’t like that if I was at my mom’s house, I couldn’t see my dad, or my family and friends who lived near him, because they were hundreds of miles away.

I didn’t like that if I was at my dad’s house, I couldn’t see my mom or my family and friends living in faraway Ohio.

From the age of 4 onward, I’ve been emotionally calibrated to dread goodbyes while simultaneously looking forward to an overdue reunion. Have you ever felt the joy of hugging someone you love after having not seen them for several months, while also crying because you’re saying bye to someone else you love and now won’t see for several months?

It creates contradictions. Internal human ones that probably don’t make sense to anyone who has read the magical “These Are The Things That Make Sense” book, and are likely responsible for concocting the subset of people I call Good Men Who Are Shitty Husbands. Of which I was/am a member.

I have a unique ability to be disengaged with people I love for long periods of time, but pick up warmly right where we left off once I see or talk to them again. People accustomed to higher-functioning communication habits sometimes get upset with me, perhaps interpreting a lack of communication as me not caring about them. Which makes sense.

When the two people you love, trust, desire and count on more than anyone else (which were my parents throughout my childhood) live hundreds of miles apart, requiring months-long stretches of not seeing one of them (in a pre-FaceTime world), you develop a capacity for limited contact in ways most people might consider unhealthy, or at least uncomfortable.

I’ve been asked approximately 78 billion times: “Do you wish your mom and dad would have stayed married?”


I didn’t know what a quandary was for most of those, but surely that’s what this was.

I knew my mom. I knew my dad. And even though I didn’t know how to articulate important relationship concepts like Shared Values, or having Alignment, I felt reasonably sure a household including both of my parents would have been awkward in ways difficult to articulate.

I’m pretty good at pragmatism, and I’m pretty good at finding silver linings. My parents’ divorce was the epicenter of any negative experiences in my life and the thing that hurt me most while tearfully waving bye to my favorite people disappearing in the rear window.

And if my parents had stayed married, none of that would have been the case.

But also? I wouldn’t have had my wonderful stepparents, friends, school and life experiences and opportunities that I did.

Like everything else in Life, there are almost always tradeoffs. Few are the moments we get to feel: Ahhh. This is perfect.

This was my first experience with this important Life Thing in adulthood — it’s okay to miss things without wanting them back.

You’re Allowed to Do Both

When we first become “real adults” with jobs and responsibilities, many of us sometimes miss the carefree lifestyle we enjoyed as kids living at home. But, do we really want to move back in with our parents? With curfews and other restrictions? With the parameters of your adult life dictated for you?

It’s okay to miss things without wanting them back.

When we first get married, many of us miss the “freedom” and relative ease of the single life. Do we really want to be single again?

When we first have children, many of us miss the ability to go out with friends, sleep through the night and have sex whenever and wherever we want. Do we really wish our kids didn’t exist?

I miss college. All my friends. All the parties. All my youthful ignorance and innocence. Do I really wish I could be back there?

I miss my hometown. Family and friends and favorite restaurants. Do I really wish I lived back there?

People’s marriages and relationships end. It hurts because we miss them. Not hurt like getting kicked in the shin, but more like your childhood nemesis digging out your insides with an ice cream scoop.

Sometimes we can’t breathe.

Sometimes we want to die to make it stop.

Sometimes we feel stabbing pains waving bye to our children while they disappear in the rear window.

Sometimes we feel all kinds of things. Even if you could somehow read “These Are The Things That Make Sense,” maybe nothing ever will.

You can miss your freedom without wanting your marriage to end or your children to disappear.

You can miss your youth without wanting to trade in the hard-earned wisdom acquired on the Journey.

You can miss your failed relationship without wishing you were back in it.

Sometimes the answers aren’t always right or wrong. Because you love, want and miss whatever you love, want and miss.

That’s yours. That’s just for you.

Uncle Rico wanted desperately to go back to 1984 and win the state football championship.

Maybe you want to go back in time, too. Cool.

Like freezer burn, you’re allowed to feel two seemingly opposite things at the same time. Even if we weren’t allowed, I think we’d still feel them anyway.

There’s nothing wrong with you.

There’s nothing wrong with us.

It’s okay to miss things without wanting them back.

23 thoughts on “It’s Okay to Miss Things Without Wanting Them Back”

  1. “I have a unique ability to be disengaged with people I love for long periods of time, but pick up warmly right where we left off once I see or talk to them again.”

    Sorry; this ability is not “unique”. Every person who has ever been in the military has it as well. My father was in the USAF for 21 years; I was in the Navy for 21 years. I was 43 before I ever lived in the same house for more than three years. My siblings are scattered across the country; I haven’t seen most of them for over a year, but when we get together, we pick up where we left off.

    That ability is called “human”.

    1. Touche, good sir. I am occasionally careless with words, as hyperbole is my second language.

      I would still say that MOST people don’t have those experiences, making people who operate this way the minority.

      Not “unique.” But perhaps “uncommon.”

      A thoughtful writer would not have qualified the ability with any adjectives at all!

    2. Perhaps “rare” would be better than “unique”.

      I think I am that way, too. In my case, my dad was a preacher and we lived in 8 places by the time I was 17. Perhaps the forced changes cause a difference in interaction style.

      However, I also wonder if this may be true for men more often than women, because of differences in the sexes.

      1. I might even dispute the characterization of “rare”; “uncommon”, perhaps. Back in the day when men got a job and worked for the same business for life, and women stayed home and took care of the kids, and people seldom moved, it may have been “rare”.

        But in these days of constant mobility, when vast numbers of people migrate from coast to coast as the mood takes them, and with the divorce level somewhere between 40 and 50%, and when snowbirds travel from Michigan to Florida (or Mexico) with some regularity, people pretty much HAVE TO be able to suspend their friendships and resume them when they meet again.

  2. I have a similar ability, though my parents divorce didn’t happen until I was a teenager. Not sure if it’s genetic or some coping mechanism I developed.
    I get asked all the time (post separation) “do you miss your old life?” My old life looked pretty good on the surface, resort town, big house, Mercedes in the driveway, kids in private school. On the inside though, not so great, cheating, lying, embezzlement, unpaid bills, living beyond our means. I catch myself missing the “things” occasionally, and the sense of accomplishment and ownership of creating a home, but I do NOT want the house, Merc, bills, or betrayals back. No, my song has sung, the curtain is down, the lights are on and the audience is leaving, it’s time to go on to the next thing in store for me. Nope, don’t miss it.

  3. So true. I would never want to get back together with my ex, but the one thing I miss is all of our inside jokes. We were together for 23 years — high school sweethearts who basically grew up together. We shared a million inside jokes and could recite movie and TV conversations/lines verbatim. Every time I see or hear something that was part of our inside jokes, I feel a very real pang of longing and missing that shared history.

    It seems like a silly thing to miss. I should miss his touch or his smell or something more intimate or tangible. But the biggest void I feel is the silly, sophomoric inside jokes.

    Election season has been particularly difficult. See, there was a Saturday Night Live skit that aired more than a decade ago where Will Ferrell was playing president George W. Bush. In the skit, GWB had just come back from a jog and was meeting in the oval office with his campaign staff to discuss his reelection bid. The staff was trying to get GWB to focus on his next campaign appearance, but all he was interested in was getting something to eat. So he slams down his Big Gulp, takes a huge bite out of a blueberry muffin from the breakfast buffet, and interrupts his staff with, “I’m George W. Bush and I approve this muffin!” For some reason, that really stuck with me and my ex. Every election season when the political ads would come on TV, we would both yell “muffin” in unison over the word “message” at the end. It’s practically an autonomic reflex at this point. And every time I say it, two things happen: I get that pang of missing the inside jokes I shared with my ex, and my new husband looks at me like I’m insane. I’ve explained the joke to him, but he doesn’t really get it.

    “I’m jessiesgirl and I approve this muffin.”

    1. So many things to, just, “get” from this.

      Excellent to see your name pop up, lady. Long time.

      Thanks for peeking in and sharing things.

      It’s a really good story. On all of the levels.

    2. I know this feeling quite well. My ex and I got together when I was 18 and split up when I was… 33? 34? I miss that shared history and those inside jokes and so on… but oh, gods, I would never want to get back together with him.

  4. My parents divorced when I was knee high to a grasshopper. I remember dreading the school holidays because I’d have to leave mum to go to dads and a town I loathed… and still do to this day. Dad would literally have to pry me off mum whilst I was screaming that I didn’t want to go. It wasn’t until I was older that I realised what that must have done to my parents. Regardless, I still avoid that town I hate. I’ve always been that kid that was glad my parents divorced, I love my siblings and step parents and mum would have killed dad… jks… maybe… however I always denied that that could be the reason why my relationships fail and I’m so damn needy on one hand but distant at the same time… something to think about. I’ve quite enjoyed your posts and have binge read them over the last week. ??

  5. “Sometimes the answers aren’t always right or wrong. Because you love, want and miss whatever you love, want and miss. That’s yours. That’s just for you.”

    That is bittersweet, but rings true for me.
    Allowing yourself to feel those things allows you to own them.
    They are part of you.

    Then, you have to practice gratitude for the life you DO currently have.

  6. Amen. When my husband and I first separated, one of the best pieces of advice I got was that it was okay to feel both happy and sad at the same time. Truly, to live wholeheartedly is to have contradictory thoughts and feelings. Lots of them. Thanks for this.

  7. My parents got divorced when I was 2yo and I have no memories of them being together.

    My mom moved me about 3 hours away to be closer to her family and I’m guessing away from my dad. But, my dad did make the drive every other weekend when I was younger to see me.

    When people ask me if I wish my parents had stayed together, it’s tough for me to answer because them being apart is all I’ve ever known. Also, I have no idea how the two of them ever got to the point that they got married and had me as they are so different.

    It’s been over four years since my separation and I still have times where I get choked up dropping off my kids. And that is knowing that I’ll see them in a few days. But, I’m glad for that feeling. I’d never want to be happy to let my kids go.

  8. I guess I’ll be the first one to say it: yes, I want my parents back together. I have been forced to carry water for the divorce culture for far too long. I recently stopped and let myself feel what I wanted to feel without worrying whether or not it was going to hurt them or upset somebody. First families matter.

  9. Matt – I’m torn here. Having you lurking about in my head knowing exactly what I need to hear is kind of weird. But then – knowing exactly what I need to hear means you write it and I hear it, so, um…

    I’m not divorced yet but it looks pretty inevitable at this point. I’m sad, and glad, and angry and relieved. Its good to know that makes me normal – not as crazy as I feel sometimes.

  10. I feel like i have a different take on this. My issue isn’t my Marriage. I’m the kid in all this separate parent business. My parents were never married. My mother has just graduated and my dad was a senior in high school. My dad gave my mom Money for an abortion and then didn’t see me till i was 10. My dad and i are currently not on speaking terms because he makes poor choices and didn’t think i would support him. Support to him is every one standing around with him, lamenting how things went wrong and nothing was his fault. I haven’t spoken to him for 2 years because hes “afraid” of me and I’m sick of being the adult and getting pushed aside.

    So anyway, i miss having a dad, even though i never really had a dad. And i don’t want a relationship with my father because i know I’m not worth anything to him. It breaks my heart every day knowing that I’ll never be a priority to him, but i can’t be the one who’s constantly making the effort. If what I’m going to get back is what I’ve always gotten, then I’m done. And he won’t make the effort because he expects everyone to take care of him and for life to be easy. I don’t know what to do.

    1. Molly – look for the stuff Matt has on appropriate boundaries and other things written about boundaries out side of here. It is completely ok to protect yourself and your feelings by have boundaries with your dad. The great thing about setting boundaries is YOU are in charge of them. If you think that zero contact right now is what you need then that is what you do. If you see changes in him in the future that make you feel it might be safe emotionally for you to have a different boundary – maybe you guys write or call one another but not get together in person – then you can re draw your boundary. If you never see a safe relationship – they you hold the boundary that keeps you whole emotionally. Hugs

    1. Hey Jason. I know this is the opposite of user-friendly, but I have to ask you to scroll STUPID-far to the place where the comments end (you can do it on any page on the site), and plug in your favorite email address where it says “Follow Blog Via Email.”

      I know it’s tedious, and I’m sorry.

      Thanks for wanting to.

  11. I can relate to so very much of this….

    My ex and I actually had a lot in common. I don’t have anyone to hit flea markets and auctions with. I miss some of those early-morning cinnamon-bun jaunts to antique stores and estate sales.

    I don’t want THAT marriage.

    I often say that divorce was like my college diploma. I learned a lot, and earned that piece of paper…but in no way do I want to repeat the experience. It left me exhausted and in quite a bit of debt.

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Matt Fray

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