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Second Hand Heartbreak by Romina Reina

My life with my mum has been far from conventional, even by separated parents standards. Out of everyone I’ve met who’s also the child of separated parents, there seem to be two paths that their parents take: 1. The parents find new partners and get married to them, or 2. They stay single, potentially afraid of going through a similar story with another person. This probably isn’t very representative of how it really is, but it’s what I’ve picked out from the people I’ve encountered.


My parents split up before I was even weaned off baby food, so I have no memories of my own parents together. My dad went down path number one and married my step-mum when I was very young, so I have very few memories of the start of their life together. All I know is that my dad’s new family never made me feel anything other than welcome and loved, so I’ve never felt any bitterness or jealousy.

My mum, on the other hand, did not take quite such a direct route.

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At heart, my mum wanted, and I think still wants, to take path number 1. She is a woman who loves to love, loves to be loved, and she wanted her child to have a “normal” family dynamic to grow up in. She met her first partner after my dad when I was about 3, so I also don’t remember much about this. But my mum has told me that I was very fond of her new friend, and as I grew older I can remember him treating me very well, like I was his own daughter.


The first heartbreak hit a few years later. I think my mum tried to protect me from what she was going through because I can’t pin-point a definitive end. But I must have known it was hard on her and that she was struggling. At aged 6, I can remember very boldly telling my mum “I won’t have children until I’m married, and once I have children I won’t get divorced”. I didn’t have any nasty intentions when I told her that, but looking back now I know my words would have shattered her heart.

My mum found someone else and tried again, the same story goes: I met him, I was very fond of them and he treated me very kindly, like I was his own daughter. Maybe I was too young to understand what “in love” meant, but I knew she was happy. I was, however, old enough to start noticing when cracks in the relationship were uncovered. My mum would tell me some things that would bother her or not sit right with her about the relationship. These words never developed into any actions though, and her relationship continued; I grew up knowing you could be happy with someone despite your differences.


The timescale may be slightly off, but when I was about 7/8 my mum asked me how I felt about moving in with her new partner. I was very fond of him, he made me laugh and had a big house (which was clearly an important factor at my age), so it was one big yes from me. What seemed like a week later, my mum asked me how I’d feel if her and her first partner, the first heart-breaker, were to get married. It was a bit confusing, and I remember feeling a bit disappointed about not moving into that big house, but knowing what my mum wanted to hear I told her that it was a good idea.


They didn’t get married. After being the heart-breaker herself, she was heart-broken for the second time by the same person. It didn’t take too long for my mum to feel like she had made a bad decision, and to this day she talks about how much she regrets not only leaving but hurting someone who loved her.


The cycle kept going: new partner, building relationship, growing fond, they’re gone.

Her break-ups from her partners had been sad in a confusing way to me. Even though my mum would tell me about little things that made her unhappy, her relationships ending always felt sudden to me. Through the 2000s the norm was to have a mum and dad to make up a normal family: it’s what I saw in films, television, my friends’ families, so I wanted that for my life too.


I got older, understood more, and the cycle kept going. Her relationship ending when I was 13 was the hardest one I went through, what I would say was my first heartbreak. Her partner had felt like a dad to me and I was old enough to understand and appreciate the dynamic. For the first time, I knew what it felt like to be in a family. So when that ended abruptly, I went through the heartbreak alongside my mum. In fact, she moved on a lot faster than I did, even though technically it was her relationship that ended.

I would be lying if I said that my mum’s relationships and heartbreaks have had no influence on the person I’ve grown up to be. I’ve lived through her relationships and learned from her own experiences. In turn, they’ve changed my own perceptions of relationships and the kind of person I want to be in one. In a way, my mum’s heartbreaks prepared me for my own when my first relationship ended, because I had seen my mum pick herself back up without an eternity of sadness following her, so I knew I could do the same.


Despite all the heartbreaks, my mum isn’t cynical about love, in fact I would describe her as the ultimate romantic. She’s learned from her heartbreaks too and now just looks back at the good times in her relationships. All these years and heartbreaks later, neither of us feel like we need a conventional family structure to be complete - if you asked, we would proudly say our family is just the two of us.

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Romina Reina

Physics student at University of Exeter

I’m working towards having the happiest life I can possibly have, studying what I love, doing things that make me happy and making sure to keep that my top priority.

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