I don’t know which came first for me: the chicken of caring deeply for human beings, or the egg of desiring very meaningful relationships. I was a bit of a loner in my childhood and adolescence, but lately, as I’ve been looking inward a bit more to try to understand my relationship to myself and to love, I’m realising it wasn’t by choice.
I was a precocious, independent-minded, but slightly socially awkward child. I didn’t want to be alone (I still don’t!), but it was clear that something about me just didn’t quite "fit". I was extremely clever and sensitive, so not at all cool. Adults loved me until I inevitably challenged their authority. My peers didn’t really seem to know what to make of me. I didn’t quite succeed with boys, as I didn’t understand that I wasn’t supposed to be better than they are at stuff. Nor did I succeed with girls, since I could never really drum up the appropriate obsessions with my appearance and/or boys.
Until I started university, my school experience consisted of being well liked by my juniors, tolerated but not really invited to participate in things by my classmates, and used for entertainment by my seniors. And my teachers? They either adored or detested me. There was almost no middle ground. Church was the only place where I could really shine, since my talent for singing, taking on leadership roles and memorising lengthy texts was very useful there.
OK, this is starting to sound like I had a terrible time. I didn’t, really; it felt pretty normal. Perhaps that’s one of the perks of having been so oblivious to how odd I was. I just talked to myself a lot. (I still do; it confuses my daughter very much.)
It wasn’t until I became an adult – and indeed, a mother – that I began to discover how my emotional sensitivity, cleverness and psychological distance from most people could equip me to really care about and understand the human experience. I’ve always had a big heart, but it’s only in the past half-decade or so that I’ve really started learning how to use it to meaningfully connect with people. And I love that, because I love love.
But I realise I’ve fallen into a bit of a trap. Even though my work as your Othering correspondent is to try to expose the impacts of assuming that everyone is or should be like us, I’ve been doing the same thing with regard to love.
The fact that my own life is made richer by the pursuit and maintenance of deep, reciprocal relationships and by a commitment to actively caring for other people doesn’t mean that everyone needs, wants or benefits from this.
Roughly 90-97% of the human population is heterosexual and gender-conforming, but that doesn’t erase or invalidate the existence of the small minority whose sexual orientations and gender identities are more expansive.
In the same way, even if it is the case that most people have similar desires to me when it comes to relationships (which I have no way of proving), it is extremely likely that there are those for whom less social connection is more. Or, even if not "less", then a different type of social connection. In any case, even if you are like me, your way of achieving our shared objective of establishing loving connections is likely different from mine.
So I’d love to hear from you. What does love mean to you? How would you go about defining "family" for yourself? What do you think of friendship, and how does it affect your life? If you had all the freedom and resources you needed to shape your social life to suit yourself perfectly, what kind of relationships would you choose, and why?
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a hermit or social butterfly, an oddball or an average Joe, a life partner or serial dater or lone ranger. Your way is valid as long as you approach love, relationships and social connections in a way that affirms who you know yourself to be. Just as there can be no one way to be human, there can be no one way to love.
I can’t wait to hear about your relationship to love.
Till next time,