I have a hunch that the stamps in my passport have contributed most of my insights, and prompted most of my questions.
Before this gets too self-pitying, I would like to say that, as far as families go, I consider myself pretty lucky. My mom is this lovable mash-up of "Xena: Warrior Princess" and a puppy (personality-wise) and Anne Hathaway and Lauren Graham (looks-wise).
She’s always been incredibly supportive, even when I’m like, “Hey, mom, by the by, I’m writing about my sex and personal life on the Internet now! Also, could you maybe spot me a $20? Two? Two $20s?” Her parents, my grandparents, are also lovely.
And I guess that’s pretty much it for my family, if you’re defining family as I do: people you are a) related to, who b) make even the slightest effort to get in touch with you on a semi-regular basis.
I mean, I have family members. But I also have awful daddy issues -- and for good reason -- which kind of screw up everything else. I’ve recently stepped waaay far-the-fuck back from my relationship with my dad after 20 years of scavenging for his attention (“Approval seeking,” mm-hmm’ed my shrink).
Beyond him, and scattered across the eastern seaboard and the west coast, there are aunts and uncles and cousins and another grandma. Over the past few years especially, I’ve cut some of those family members out, or out-ish, of my life. This is not, in fact, because I am an ungrateful dick, but because my relationships with them were kind of toxic, and toxicity is contagious, kids!
It took a long, long time for me not to feel selfish saying the following: My ever-fragile mental health and happiness have, have, have to come first, and sometimes, that means making painful decisions. Like ostracizing yourself from people with whom you share memories and genetic material.
As for the rest of my family, I’ve lost touch with them for various reasons: resentment over the cutting-people-out thing, forgotten thank-you notes, geography, other family dynamics so very, very far out of my control and, MY GOD, this is getting depressing.
The problem with all this, of course, is that I don’t particularly enjoy black sheepin’. I grew up watching family-oriented sitcoms, ya know? Mary-Kate-and Ashley everything! And who am I even supposed to play multiplayer board games with, or do whatever it is that families do?
Also, none of my friends are only children because, well, who wants to hang out with only children, especially only children like me who morosely nag people into, like, museum trips because MY DAD MAY OR MAY NOT LOVE ME, OKAY? Which is to say, my friends are great, but they don’t really get it, and besides, they all have their own families for family-type things.
So what’s a college-aged and sometimes lonely only child to do?
Why, seduce a guy with a big...
FAMILY, of course! (Penis.)
Not only have I never even casually dated an only child, but everyone I’ve ever dated has had a sizeable nuclear family, and a whopping extended family to boot. And these fellas of mine have always been family men, and their families have always been close. Thanks to the Internet, I benefit from this.
I am Facebook friends with my boyfriend’s parents and aunts and what-have-yous, and I “Like” their shit prolifically. I tweet at his cousins. I follow his little sister on Instagram. HI, GUYS, HEY DO YOU WANT TO HANG OUT?
To clarify, it’s not like I actively avoid dating men with small families. That would make for a cumbersome screening process, and, “I would never date/be attracted to such-and-such kind of person,” is not, in my opinion, a sound way to draw guidelines for your romantic life. Like, yeah, a serial killer isn’t ideal, but so many hot ones! Why would you limit yourself like that?!
No, all right, never serial killers ever, but you know. Open minds!
So far, I’ve just been lucky, glomming onto my boyfriends’ families with very little planning necessary. And, again, it’s by chance that these families have always been at least three times larger than my own.
Mostly, this is a great thing.
The big sister I always wanted? Supplied by an ex. Fourth of July barbeques, sporting events, family beach trips? Check, check, and check. Buying the FAMILY-SIZED bag of Tostitos on a supermarket run -- well, you just can’t understand how exciting that is to an only child.
“Eh, this sounds like standard girlfriend stuff, and in no way belies an unusually desperate need for love and acceptance,” you say?
One recent summer, when I was living in New York, I spent an entire paycheck on a flight to North Carolina to tag along on a family beach vacation with a guy I had been officially dating for approximately three weeks. It was a successful weekend, complete with me downing about seven glasses of white wine and belting that Journey song alongside Barely Boyfriend’s nine-year-old cousin on Karaoke Night.
What I’m trying to say is, you know it’s kind of weird when there is an AIRPLANE involved (and it’s not like I make bank as a student journalist) when you were getting introduced as, “And this is his friend from school, Rebecca,” not a month before. Also, everything is kind of weird when you’re pretty drunk and singing karaoke with a nine-year-old.
For the most part, courting dudes’ families has been working pretty well for me. I manage to build up enough shared memories with the fam that I don’t feel like an outsider, and I make note of all the important anecdotes (peeing-themselves stories, weird-injury stories, etc.) so I can chuckle knowingly along when they are referenced. Of course, it helps that I’m a serial monogamist.
But the breakups -- agh, the breakups. Not only do I lose my boyfriend, who invariably doubles as my best friend and the major male figure in my life (because, yeah, daddy issues). No, worse than that, I lose my much-beloved fake family, too.
There is withdrawal. There are dismayed text messages, and then there are no text messages, which are even more dismaying. You will want to send a Christmas card, but you cannot.
You block 17 people with the same last name on Facebook. And then you’re not only grieving over your ex (and grieving it is, because “you” here is me, and I haven’t figured out how to “just be friends” after a breakup), but you’re also mourning the loss of your ex’s siblings (YOUR siblings, you think selfishly) and parents (also yours) and dog (yours, except when it needed to be walked).
You get really sad and listen to sad songs while eating entire bowls of brownie batter. SAD brownie batter.
Suddenly, it gets better.
You’re not sure why today is different from the day before, but you can feel it -- you’re starting to move on. A few weeks later, you start to fall for someone new. He mentions his sister and brother.
You get the sense that his parents are still happily married (it’s that well-adjusted glow in his eyes!) and press him for details. Subtly. He alludes to rowdy vacations, holiday parties.
Over his apartment one night, for dinner, you comment, not too eagerly, that his family sounds lovely. He smiles and poses THE question: “Maybe you’d like to meet them sometime?”
At your next therapy session, you are chirping with glee. “I’ve healed,” you announce triumphantly.
One week later, you friend his mom on Facebook.
Rebecca is on Twitter @rebsanti tweeting this article at her boyfriend’s cousin.