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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Does emotional independence inhibit personal connection? [20090319|09:18]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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My family is very small and very close emotionally, though quite distant physically. I have no siblings. It seems to me that a lot of people with siblings feel sorry for those who don’t have them, but I’ve never been able to understand why. I have never been through a period of rebellion or prolonged misunderstanding with my parents. They are my rock. They strive to love me unconditionally and have been successful. They have let me be free to make my own choices since I was sixteen years old. As I’ve gotten older, my appreciation for their support and their pride in me has only grown. I don’t like to contemplate life without them. I know it’s going to be devastating and possibly permanently crippling. The loss of my maternal grandparents was bad enough, as I was as close to them as I am to my parents, but without all four of them, I don’t know what I’ll do. I think I’m reasonably independent from most of the people in my life, but my bond to my parents is part of what gives me the strength to let others be free of emotional responsibility towards me.

I sometimes wonder, however, if this has made me seem remote and inaccessible to most people. I still remember keenly the first time I was called aloof. My gymnastics coaches had a party for the team after our state competition and they made little speeches about each team member, praising their accomplishments during the season. When they got to me, they said, “Although she’s quite reserved and never speaks about her personal life, nanila has been a wonderful co-captain and an encouraging influence on the other team members.” It’s seared onto my brain because it felt like an accusation although I believe it was probably said because they couldn’t think of anything else.

[User Picture]From: ursarctous
2009-03-19 10:25 (UTC)
are gymnastics routines supposed to include a little speech about your family? what an odd thing to say.

what you wrote about your parents matches how i feel about mine - and i can't bear the idea of life without them to the point where i'm still in that childish state of absolute denial that it will ever happen. watching them lose their own parents was awful, and, strangely enough, proved to me that it's not always a good thing to have siblings - there were far too many disagreements about the way things should be handled and they don't seem to be entirely ironed out even now...
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-03-24 10:31 (UTC)
Hee, that would be amusing, especially at international competitions. Imagine the 1984 Olympics. "In Soviet Russia, beam balances YOU!"

I distinctly remember my mum & her sister's reactions to losing their father. They both became very efficient and organized, and took care of things to give the grandkids (my cousin & I) a chance to grieve. I know they grieved, but they did it all privately. I admire them, but I also felt a bit shut out.
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[User Picture]From: cataragon
2009-03-19 10:48 (UTC)
I have 4 siblings, and I can't comprehend a life where I was just one. But that doesn't mean I think it's a bad thing, just that I can't get my head around it.

When I first met you were very intimidating, on account of being all brilliant AND cool AND beautiful. Plus, I was 22 and easily intimidated. I'm not sure, really, how you come across in person, because apart from meeting you briefly all that time ago, mostly I know you online.

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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-03-24 10:41 (UTC)
It's strange how different an experience it is. I mean, I spent a good deal of time around adults, but I made an effort to seek out other children as friends, although I had very mixed success with my efforts, as I tended to latch onto one person whose company I favoured over everyone else's.

We've been online LJ friends almost since we met, haven't we? Therefore, you know I'm really just a goofy geeky bookworm, which I would think makes me far less intimidating.
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[User Picture]From: alice_mccoy
2009-03-19 12:03 (UTC)
My family are fairly reserved. My brother married into a clan who are always talking and always know everything about each other and turn up en masse to any family event. (and are gossiped about if they dont.)
Complete culture clash.
At his wedding the clan filled the church on her side with a hubbub of noise, and the 6 of us from his side sat politely in silence. (More were invited but most didnt even bother to decline the invite.)

The reserved nature of our family means that it is easier to walk away. It also means it is difficult to build bonds.

As for you dear, its odd, I feel we are friends on line and would happily chat for hours but in the flesh its just harder to start that conversation. Is that my reserve, your 'aloofness' or an artefact of online friendships?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-03-24 10:44 (UTC)
A bit of all of them? I find I'm very bad at the initial approach. Sometimes I forget to say hello to people and I just start talking. Other times, I forget to say hello because I'm wandering off on some tangent in my mind, and then I drift in and out of a room without acknowledging someone's presence. It's not meant as an insult or a slight, but I know it's probably quite easy to take it that way.
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From: secretsquirrel7
2009-03-19 15:55 (UTC)
I can totally relate - I'm an only child as well. When I was young, I though it was great. Lots of presents at Christmas, no one forgets your birthday, no one shaving the cat and blaming me. I learned how to behave more or less like a little adult from a very early age. I also found that the only way to "go be a kid" was to isolate myself from the adults, in other words, run off outside and play by myself or solicit a playmate from the neighborhood.

My parents divorced when I was 11, a trauma likely magnified by the simple fact I had no one else to lean on. Of course, my parents love me told me all of the "it's not your fault" kind of crap, but it doesn't help with the increased sense of loneliness and isolation. These days I have a decent, although somewhat aloof, relationship with my parents.

I personally find that being an only child has affected my social skills and how I handle stress, and people also react back when finding out my dirty little no-sibling secret. Most people (people with siblings) seem somehow cautiously concerned, like I just told them I'm a recovering addict - they seem okay with the idea and proud that I'm still alive, like I'm a person who can overcome a shitty problem, but still remain a little scared of what I may do next. People can't relate, and think that somehow I must be broken or disadvantaged because of it. Maybe people assume me and my family are a bunch of retards because they could only produce one child. Maybe it's simple fear of something they don't understand, even though there's not really a hell of a lot to understand.

All this being said, somehow I don't think it's just simple coincidence that my longest relationship, my ex-wife, was an only child as well.
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[User Picture]From: nationofsheep
2009-03-19 17:31 (UTC)
I am not necessarily close to my brothers, but I am appreciative of their presence and more appreciative of who they are as we age. But the sadness for my friends with no siblings has been watching them experience the death of a parent. Even when there is one parent alive, it's still tough not being able to hash out emotions and logistics - like what are we going to do with them. The two health crises my mother had so far were managed in pieces by all of us - but way more by my brothers having money. I can't imagine how it would have all panned out if I had been the only child.

That being said, there is no guarantee that all of the children will outlive the parents. So there is no way of knowing. I think the saddest only child situation I encountered was a girl in HK who's parents were divorced. She grew up in a SE Asia expat family. Mother from Georgia and father from UK. She didn't step foot into the West until her parents divorced and she went back to Georgia. Mother died a year later. Joined her father in Malaysia. But as an adult, she really had nowhere to turn to as home. But she could have had 4 siblings and that would have still been sad.

And I don't find you aloof at all by the way. But of course I haven't met you in person.
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[User Picture]From: chibaraki
2009-03-19 17:53 (UTC)
I should point out that having siblings doesn't necessarily mean having a bond with those siblings. My brother and I were enormously incompatible personalities, and when he died we were just getting to a point where we might have a relationship. Most of our lives we fought like cats until I moved out for college, and we literally did not contact each other at all until like a month before he died, when he emailed and called me to ask for help with some things. Oddly, that meant a lot, because in the past he would have contacted anyone BUT me.

I do think it made losing him easier on me, as cold as that seems. What upsets me is not the loss of a bond but the loss of a possibility of a bond. I don't have the experience of wishing I could turn to him and not being able to because I never was able to. I suspect it might be more of a big deal when my parents get older, but then again I was always the "responsible one" anyway so I never expected him to help. We'll see.

I'm not incredibly close to my parents either (long, sad, wangsty story), but I manage to seem remote and aloof sometimes anyway. I do have to say that since my brother's gone they're more vested in being a part of my life (and my mom was always VERY vested in that -- we had a period of about six months where it was a cold war standoff re: her being really clingy), but because of the way our relationship has been until now that's something I vaguely resent.

.....that got very long and very personal. Feh. Sorry.
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[User Picture]From: automatic_kafka
2009-03-19 22:35 (UTC)
I'd guess maybe, because of the support and acceptance from your parents, that you don't really look for those things from others? I wouldn't say that inhibits personal connection, but people tend to think you're odd if you're not striving for some kind of acceptance.

I'm mainly an only child raised by a single mother. We've seen through a lot hard times together and because of that we have a very strong bond. I make friends very easily, which I attribute to my willingness to be open and honest, but oddly I find most the friends I'm close to - and especially women I have dated - accused me at one time or another of holding my cards too close to my chest.

I'm not quite sure how those last two things relate but there they are.
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[User Picture]From: sanat
2009-03-20 02:20 (UTC)
Wow, I had no idea that there was such--is stigma too strong a word?--against being an only child. I tend to focus on friends as individuals and not in relation to their families (perhaps out of a subconscious wish for people not to fear me based on my own dysfunctional clan). I do recall asking my best friend at uni what being an only child was like; she professed to being very lonely, but her father running out on them when she was 7 probably compounded that.

I thought my older brother was SO MEAN the way he beat on me and generally picked on me, and we are distant now, but I don't resent him now that I can see it in evo-bio terms: blue-footed booby nestmates will frequently try to peck each other's brains out to ensure more food for themselves. ;) Maybe it'd have been better to have a sister, but I have a friend who was a tomboy with an uber-girly sister and they are little different from me and G.

I don't think you're aloof at all, but then again I respect reserve more than the average person. Friggin' extroverts.
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[User Picture]From: opheliablue
2009-03-20 16:03 (UTC)
I think you're right.. I've always felt that way and had a few people say the same kind of thing about me (also am an only child).. I wonder sometimes if it's more to do with being an only child than the being a small and close family thing though. I used to think it was that - my mum and dad and I were always a real 'unit' - though not really that close - particularly because we moved a lot, I think. I always got on better with people older than me because I was just more used to other 'grown ups' than other kids.. but then I did have major problems with my parents and they broke up and I lost contact with my dad a few months ago.. sometimes I think going through the break up and being an only child made me more emotionally independent. It's something I'm glad about but I do think it's made me find it hard sometimes to open up to people.

And I'm rambling away in your journal - sorry! Interesting post, got me thinking :)
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[User Picture]From: senusert
2009-03-21 18:49 (UTC)
I have one brother, and cannot imagine my life without him. Honestly, he's the person I'm closet to.

According to your theory, I shouldn't be aloof. But, I've found that despite my best effort, I seem to come across like that. It really bothers me: I like to think I'm approachable - but momentarily, I lack the social contact I crave.
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