Meeting new people can make me nervous.
It’s not shyness or distrust or a worry that they won’t like me (I mean, come on, who wouldn’t like me?). It’s because I know that within our very first conversation, the inevitable will happen:
“So…where are you from?”
“So…do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“So…how often do you get to visit your family?”
And then I have a choice to make: Do I lie to them – or do I tell the truth that I simply don’t have a family?
Because if I lie, it not only shames my ongoing, successful existence, but would make things really awkward if this person turned out to be more than a one-time conversationalist.
If I tell the truth, I risk ruining any chance at a friendship by their 1) feeling incredibly awkward about my answer or 2) labeling me as a less-important human on this Earth for not having a family.
95% of the time, I tell the truth.
But just because I’m not ashamed by the fact that I don’t have a family doesn’t make it any easier to live with in our society.
Families (that is, strength in numbers) are no longer organically important for us since we don’t risk getting eaten by lions every day, but we nonetheless continue to peg them as something far more than an unexplored cultural value.
If you tell people you lost your family in a horrible accident or through a string of illnesses, you’re “forgiven” by society for your situation. They can now at least pity you behind your back for the rest of your days. (Yay?) But if it turns out you left your blood or legal kin by your own free will—hoo boy, you’re an awful, awful person.
However, there are all sorts of reasons people may not hang onto (troublesome) families, including, but far from limited to:
- Individuals who leave due to abuse or neglect within the family
- Individuals who leave due to a familial failure to support them – either in general or during a difficult time (like death, divorce, or abuse)
- Individuals who leave due to a familial rejection of their identity (like being LGBTQIA+, for example)
- Individuals who leave due to family members engaging in debilitating activities (such as drug abuse, kleptomania, pedophilia, or homicide)
But these reasons aren’t often valid enough for the average, family-happy person, and are frequently considered inappropriate baggage to mention to someone shortly after meeting them.
To put it bluntly, our society will only allow us to not have family members if they’re dead. Or, in other words, if there’s no other possible alternative to having them.
This plays into the assumption that all families are good, if only to their own kin.
And when somebody slaps this assumption in the face (by putting their own needs first –the scandal!), they’re identified as the one at fault.
Some of us can’t imagine what it would be like to have not had our healthy familial support system through life, and so we don’t. Rather, we shun those who are already struggling.
Folks, this is oppression at its finest – so ingrained and prevalent that virtually none of us notices it unless we’re on the receiving end.
And it forces people to stick with families who hurt them, disrespect them, or otherwise keep their existences under their thumbs.
By avoiding and combating the rude beliefs below, we can get that much closer to freeing people from unhealthy and toxic relationships.
1. We Can Make Amends with Our Families If We ‘Just Try’
As said in a previous article, this is a statement often made by people who – bless their hearts – have no freaking clue.
They imagine any tiff can be remedied, that no crime is stronger than blood.
This is based on two assumptions: 1) that all family members automatically and unconditionally love one another through some sort of cosmic force, and 2) that no one family member would or could ever hurt another. It’s apparently just not possible.
There’s also the belief that you somehow are responsible not only for the problems you have with your family, but are to blame for not magically convincing them to give a damn.
It’s not on the individuals who perpetuated any familial wrongdoing – it’s on you. Because you’re the one leaving. You’re the one who had to throw up your hands at family therapy and court orders and anything else with which your family refused to meet you halfway (assuming these were even worth trying). You’re the one who took a stand in keeping yourself safe or sane or whatever reason it had been. You’re to blame for being awesome.
Illogical, isn’t it?
In the end, all of these negative assumptions put upon you equal one thing: The naysayers have never been there, can’t comprehend their own existences without their families, and due to the 404 Error in their brains, try to go for the only concept that makes sense to them: It’s somehow your fault.
2. We Should Be Pitied
For virtually all of us, leaving family hurts. It doesn’t matter the circumstances.
These are nonetheless the only people we may feel we truly know, and we’ve been conditioned to believe that these people should always be the most important to us.
It does stuff to your psyche – on top of whatever bull your family is tossing at you to begin with.
So there’s definitely a healing process, a paradigm shift of your life. And it’ll suck in varying degrees. But you know what? After a year or two of starting my new life, I realized how much more awesome things were.
When I sense pity from someone when they find out I don’t have a family, I do my best to swallow my irritation. It’s insulting to think that I’m somehow an incomplete being just because I don’t talk to those who share my blood. I mean, there’s so much more to me than that. I’m not a mere extension of the people before me. Mine didn’t own me and yours don’t own you.
Sure, there will always be hurt and longing and nostalgia for the few good times that were had. But then I remember how painful it was, too, and how those good times couldn’t justify or outweigh the bad.
In the end, I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I’m too busy living a pretty amazing life.
And if I’m not pitying myself, you shouldn’t be pitying me either.
3. We Have Nothing to Do on Family-Based Holidays
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had acquaintances or friends of friends approach me and say, “You don’t have a family, right? Oh good, so you can feed my cat/dog/bird/gremlin while I’m gone for Christmas/Hanukkah/Thanksgiving/My Sacrificial Goat Ceremony!”
I’ve sometimes had so many people approach me around the holidays that their requests overlapped, causing them to fight over me without anybody stopping to ask me if I even wanted to take on the responsibility.
First off, rude.
Second, I have a butt-ton of fun around “family” holidays. I often round up my fellow orphans for a day of board games, movies, food, or just plain knocking about.
Regardless of the method, I’ve always, always loved my holidays since I’ve left my family. I get really excited not only because of all the possibilities before me in how to celebrate, but because I’m simply no longer stuck in a toxic environment like a caged animal. How in the world is that less cause for celebration than what you’ve got going on with your blood kin?
So go get someone else to watch your damn turtle. I love the little bugger, but I don’t want my own plans interrupted just as much as you don’t want yours to be.
4. Our Personal Lives Are Less Important Than Yours
A bit like the above rudeness, only often involved with co-workers instead of friends of friends.
No matter what style of work I was in (food prep, customer service, corporate), I never failed to have people approach me and say, “Can you take my shift those three days before Thanksgiving? I really want to go see my family early, and I know you don’t have one.”
I’m sorry, please speak slowly and enunciate while explaining to me what exactly you just implied about my life. Because I have places to go, people to meet, and many date nights planned at the aquarium. So my answer is no. Go ask someone else.
In my experience, this is the assumption that gets the most pushback when challenged.
I just declined to take your shift or project when I know you have family to see and you know I don’t? Damn me and my lowly, non-family plans. My people could never be as important as your people. Even though they—you know—picked me up, dusted me off, and made sure I was cared for even though they weren’t legally required to.
5. Just Because We Don’t Have “family”, We Don’t Have Family
Which brings me to my next point: No, we don’t think we’re somehow better than you.
But remember that you’re not better than us, either.
We may not have blood kin, but we still have kin. Yours are just different from ours. You’re simply luckier in some arenas and we in others.
Basically, our families weren’t given to us as a gift from the get-go. And while we recognize and respect the importance and sanctity of your blood ties (and seriously, that’s wonderful for you), there’s nonetheless a sense of pride in having to achieve them on one’s own, sans blood.
It’s the official stamp that we’ve made it, that we’re going to be okay. These glorious people convince us that we are indeed worthy of love after all.
In short, our Families are very important to us. Don’t knock them.
If you knock them, you invalidate their importance to us as real, breathing influences in our lives.
You perpetuate the belief that some people have the right to possess other people. You signify that you’re better than us by mere fate and chance and privilege.
So please, do us all a favor and reconsider what family means to you.
It’ll help dismantle some of the oppression that hangs over all of our heads. Everybody has the right to remove themselves from toxic situations and people, to be safe and happy. It’s as simple as that.
James St. James is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. He isn’t particularly fond of his name, but he has to admit it makes him easier to remember. When he’s not busy scaring cis gender people with his trans gender agenda, he likes to play SEGA and eat candy.