I felt guilty. I was at a family gathering of a dozen people, and I knew I was supposed to feel kinship that is deeper than with friends. Yet, as I listened to them, I was unmoved. The conversation flinged from single-malt to bathroom remodelling, oft-repeated family lore to simplistic but ardent political pronouncements. These people are supposed to be My People but I couldn’t make myself feel that. Indeed, after just a few minutes of the multi-hour affair, I would have paid good money to escape.
In contrast, because I’ve chosen my friends rather than having had them thrust upon me in the genetic and marital lotteries, I rarely feel that way with my friends. Sure, as an introvert, I keep my friend-time limited, but I’d pay good money not to escape from my friends but to keep them.
Yet society exalts no institution higher than family. When I privately and cautiously asked a “trusted” family member about this, she seethed, “Don’t you realise that blood is thicker than water?!” Huh?
And I speak here only of family that’s merely less appealing than friends. Of course, there can be family members who, perhaps inflamed by familial expectations and emotional issues, are downright cruel: from jealousy-based putdowns to physical violence. Whenever a murder occurs, the first suspect is usually a family member.
Of course, in individual situations, family warrants primacy. Let’s say you’ve been too-often spat out by the world. In some families, at least some family members will give you the much vaunted, not always realised, unconditional love. Especially if you’ve been beaten up in life’s first rounds, it’s tempting to not come out for the next but to remain safe on your stool, ministered by your cutman/cutwoman.
But before we reflexively genuflect before the hallowed institution of family, we should invoke, as usual, our understanding that one size does not fit all. Rather, decide, given you, your life, your family, and the friends you have or want to try to find, what you should consider primary.
And just maybe, the choice isn’t binary. For example, let’s say you’re one of those people who is best off spending much time solo, as has often been defended by fellow Psychology Today blogger, Bella dePaulo. When you’re alone, you have the freedom to think what you want, learn what you want by reading and watching, enjoy what you want. Yes, on average, people are “social animals” but it’s not like a light switch — on or off — it’s more like a slider that has solitary on one end and social on the other. Decide, where, at a given hour or for longer, you’d like to position it, and the extent to which you want your social engagement to be with family or with friends, in recreation or working.
— Psychology Today
Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach and author of 13 books
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