The absence of family

19 Apr

As my mid-30s rapidly creeps up on me, I find myself in a strange place – effectively living within a bedsit in my parents’ house, tentatively rebuilding a career following several mis-judged life choices. I’m not the only one of my friends to find myself returning to the family home after a period alone or living with others, and I’m not the only one whose career has stalled. There is no shame in having to revert a little – something many of Generation-Y are compelled to do. It has helped provide a safety net as I start again.

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An ideal family – image from Flickr’s Commons Collection

Where things are perhaps a little different are in the romantic front. While I’ve had romantic liaisons, I have been without a romantic partner for years, and the prospect of finding oneself in such a situation again seems increasingly unlikely. Not that I think I’m past it – far from it – but the older one gets, the more baggage one takes on board – the larger the volume of detritus that one inherits from their previous relationships.

There’s a notion that families are only complete with the addition of children. If you and your partner are without them you are merely a couple and not a family. But then families in turn can be built on such fragile earth that they aren’t really families at all. By the time you hit your 30s it becomes near impossible to move for folk around you settling down into long-term relationships with children in tow. It is inevitable that you start asking questions of yourself, because everyone else is asking the same thing.

Finding a partner of a similar age frequently comes with a warning. Women in particular are aware of the limitations of their biological clock, and there is an urgency among some of those I have met or perused online, to settle into a relationship and pop out offspring as quickly as possible. Irrespective of how well suited their new partner actually is. There is no time given to living a life together, getting to know each other, and deciding if they could make it work long-term. I’m a huge advocate now of living with someone before you get married and have children. To do otherwise is to go in blind, and a very foolish thing to do (once bitten etc.).

More often than not, the prospective partner in their late 20s/30s already has at least one child of their own from a failed relationship. This in itself isn’t a bad thing. Relationships can fail for all sorts of reasons, and love itself is not a fixed guarantee, it resides in a transient state of existence, modified by circumstance. But the partner with a child from another relationship has baggage. The active involvement of two parents is to be encouraged for the child, but leaves you as a new partner in a strange space – you have no legal rights over the child unless you formally adopt, and in this circumstance that isn’t appropriate. There may also be friction remaining between the parents, which will be exacerbated by both the involvement of the child and your interaction in this new family space. And no matter how much counsel you take beforehand, nothing will prepare you for the emotional upheaval caused by actually living through it.

The choice of someone so desperate to have children that they are blinkered to reality, or someone who has already had a family, in which you can never be 100% part of, is not one to be relished.

This is of course a personal response. I know plenty of people who have found both choices to work very well for them. Families who excel with 2nd or 3rd marriages, or family units. There are those where the step-parent is able to treat a child like their own, particularly in the absence of their own biological offspring. But not for me.

I am deliberately disregarding adoption outside of the existing family unit as a possibility in this discourse. Those who adopt are doing a wonderful service to those children who find themselves without a parental influence for reasons beyond their control.

While I’ve written at various points in this blog about my search for a relationship, the reality is that it isn’t something I’m actively pursuing. I have tried to open up avenues so that I maximise the potential to meet someone, but like children, if it happens it happens, and if it doesn’t it doesn’t. I am not the sort of person that needs to indulge in sexual congress on a nightly, weekly or even monthly basis in order to feel complete. I would find more satisfaction in a good relationship than a simple orgasm. And even the relationship isn’t an essential for my life experience.

Because I have set aside the hot pursuit of relationships, I have also put aside the pursuit of building a family. Children at this stage are something that look like only happening unintentionally. It is foolhardy to deliberately procreate in a situation where the relationship is in poor health. Children do not fix relationships, they hold up a magnifying glass to the cracks that pre-exist.

Elmo and Bowie - my boys at home in the garden

Elmo and Bowie – my boys at home in the garden

Without a partner I throw myself back into my other pursuits, including the rebuilding of my professional life. I have a revived social life, which fits hand in hand with that. An existence which keeps me from wallowing in self-pity and mourning a love I’ve never had. I have concentrated relationships with a number of individuals which satifsy much of the need for social interactivity and personal connection. Friends I can trust and care for.

The absence of my own biological children has its own alternative too. While I am not a father figure for any child, I do find myself in the wonderful position of being involved in the lives of several children, with the added advantage of being able to send the children back at the end of the evening without ultimate responsibility. As an uncle, I have a genetic connection to my nephew (and any of his future siblings or cousins), which creates an immediate bond. I get to watch him grow, spend time with and play with him. But I’m not kept up at 3am, will not have to do battle over his homework, etc. It is much easier to make a positive impression when you don’t have to spend your days with someone – true with children and partners alike.

I’m also a god-parent (well, we had a non-religious service, but godparent is a term I think most understand). While I don’t see my godson nearly so often at the moment, it is humbling and an honour to be brought into a family unit as something a little more than an observer. Of course, his dad I’ve loved for years anyway, so to keep the connection running is wonderfully apt.

I know that I can talk about these boys with pride and a sense of ownership and belonging. Maybe it was the simple fact that I was aware of them from before they were born. It makes sense, I’m not muscling in on someone’s territory. I don’t have to worry about upsetting a biological father by taking their place because I am not there to do that. And there isn’t the same turmoil to worry about in the event of a relationship breakdown, because it won’t be me that is breaking apart the family unit.

And if I do want to take more routine care of someone vulnerable, I have my pets to fill that need. I can wash, groom, walk and feed them. They don’t talk back (well, the dog does a bit). And if I need to I can cry to them.

Families are complex. Families are about more than the presence of children. They are about connections and bonds. About trust. Relationships. Common ground. I have friendships which have stood the test of time, bonds which are as close as those of blood. Friends who are as family to me.

I have had loving homes in the absence of a ‘family’, and in the presence of a pseudo-family felt nothing but fear and guilt. I am aware that I am perhaps making substitutions, and that there are those that would consider all of these musings an excuse – protesting too much. But  for me, it is because of the absence of family that I am able to create, and strive for better things. If and when I meet someone I want to settle down with, and who wants to settle with me, then I shall cross the other bridges and re-evaluate. Providing we understand each others needs, idiosyncrasies, and aspirations, then it should be possible to retain ones’ sense of self while also forming the compromise that is a family unit.

Aside from the absence of the occasional hug, I’m not doing too bad at all.

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One Response to “The absence of family”

  1. Lex Lamprey April 24, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

    We’re atheists but we wanted “godparents” for our son, we settled on “sponsors” as a secular alternative.

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