“People are pretty forgiving when it comes to other people’s families. The only family that ever horrifies you is your own.” ~ Doug Coupland
I find myself becoming increasingly irritated by the cult of the family. I don’t mean the Charles Manson variety. I mean the nuclear family, the extended family or whatever it is that you mean when you talk about your family.
It’s not that I have anything particular against families in general, so long as they’re not like mine. It’s just the status that’s given to them by so many of the people I come across that irks me. And the clichés that come along with them. You know, friends come and go, but your family will always be there, that kind of thing.
The kinds of people who tend to subscribe to the cult of the family are often the same people who will tell you that nobody has more than a few real friends. Another ridiculous cliché.
I was prompted to write this post by one of those people. Something I read to the effect that, if you were to think about who you could ask to do a favour for you, such as drive you to the airport at 5am, if you’re honest with yourself you’d struggle to come up with two names.
I strenuously disagree.
The last time I needed taking to the airport at 5am, the guy that drove me was someone I’d barely heard from for three years except to exchange seasons greetings and happy birthdays. And I can name at least ten people, who aren’t relatives, who’ve told me they’d be mad at not being called the next time I’m contemplating suicide. So I know I’m not just being delusional.
And I just don’t think that bleak assessment holds true for anyone else I know either.
If you don’t have many people you could turn to, I suggest it may say very little about other people and their propensity to care for others and more about the self fulfilling prophesy that you’ve entered into.
None of those ten people I just mentioned would describe themselves as ‘family oriented’. That’s not to say that they don’t care about their families. Most of them do, and the ones that don’t have families who really aren’t worthy of being cared about. It’s just they haven’t set a limit of their family circle as being the be all and end all of their capacity for valuing other people.
Bob drove me to the airport, mainly, because he’s a nice guy. And nice people do things for other people. But if you go through life believing that there’s no point helping anybody because nobody will help you in return, then people are less likely to help you. Not because other people aren’t nice or helpful, but because you’re mean.
A similar principle applies to the cult of the family.
Now, my family are not a cult that anyone would want to belong to. My father was physically, psychologically and emotionally abusive towards me until the day I decided to cut him out of my life. My mother often joined in because she blamed me for making him that way by being born. And my sibling just isn’t a particularly nice person. All three of them have made it perfectly clear to me that my problems are just that, mine, and that I will never be able to count on them for anything.
Consequently, I have a more meaningful relationship with the guy who checks out my groceries nearly every day than I do with anybody who happens to be related to me.
But when I’ve dared to mention this to people who like to consider themselves devoted to their own family, more often than not they’ve admonished me for speaking that way. “You really shouldn’t because your family are the only ones you can rely on to be there when you really need someone.” – They’ll tell me.
I’m sorry, really? The only people I can rely on. The people who abused me. Well, that’s just…great.
The problem is that these people are in denial. They cannot accept that my family would behave in that way because they believe that The Family is sacred, and perfect, and mustn’t be denigrated.
The same people will often ask me, ‘Well, what did you do? You must have done something. You must have been a really bad kid.’ The fact that I really wasn’t a bad kid, that I didn’t do anything to provoke it and that’s why I call it abuse, just doesn’t compute with these people. They won’t hear reality because it goes against everything they’ve organised their lives around believing.
Just like cult members.
I certainly wouldn’t go to those people if I needed somebody, for fear of being told to go and ask my family instead. And you know what, I wouldn’t be there for them either. Or even for the family folk who do believe in my own kindred’s failings. Simply because they make it quite clear that they wouldn’t be there for me – because I’m not family.
I’ve eventually drifted away from any friends I’ve had like these because, ultimately, they weren’t worth keeping, weren’t worth investing in. No relationship can become meaningful if the other person is convinced that it can’t work that way. Why bother trying?
But what should it matter if friends come and go, anyway? Surely the quality of any friendship should be measured by where it’s at today? No matter if one or both of you changes, or even if life just gets in the way.
The people who have kept me alive today, are the people who have kept me alive today. And that’s valuable. Tremendously valuable. Irrespective of whether they were here yesterday, or whether they’re still going to be there tomorrow, or the next day.
Similarly, there are people I could once have called upon to do anything for me who haven’t contacted me once while I’ve been struggling this year. And that’s okay. It was what it was, and now life has moved forward. We all grew as people and now those friendships don’t fit the same way. It doesn’t mean they weren’t good while they lasted.
Life is change, and movement, this applies as much to relationships as it does to anything. If they don’t grow it’s not healthy, and even if they do grow, they could still die. You might as well embrace it, after all, you never know who’ll be free next time you need to get to the airport at five in the morning.
A Conclusion (thrivingisthegoal.com)