By the time we arrive at our mid-twenties, we’re either independent or almost there, and relationships with families are settling into a pattern. For some twenty-somethings, they’ve managed to hammer through any teenage drama and emerge on the other side with a healthy family relationship. But for some of us, the drama and passive-aggressive communication continues, which, if you’re a like me, you’d rather turn your back on.
Once we’re independent, functional twenty-somethings, we reacquire the means to negotiate our role in family relationships. So, much like a choose your own adventure, you get to choose the way each relationship will play out. What will you choose?
Often, much like Kristin, I’d rather just avoid my entire family (minus some that I’m a fan of) as the level of anxiety and emotional distress is just too much sometimes. Turns out that when you spend the first two decades of your life being the overachieving, rule-abiding, conservative, oldest child, deviating from that pattern is not highly looked upon. I dealt with the pressure and probing questions while I was still dependent on someone else’s money and health insurance, but now I’m not. I’m an independent misfit adult who would really love to be an authentic person to everyone in my life—especially my immediate and extended family. But sometimes things just aren’t that simple.
For example, I have a family member who identifies as gay, and after twenty-plus years of knowing this, my large, politically and religiously conservative family has yet to accept that part of her. In fact, they’re actually quite horrid to her on a regular basis. She’s one of my absolute favorite family members, and is a loving, caring, generous, and vivacious person—yet the family still shuns her. It’s with my knowledge of this long-standing rejection that I’m simultaneously terrified, yet feel almost obligated, to be authentic. The likelihood that my deviations from the family norm will be forgiven and forgotten is pretty slim.
But, perhaps the freedom from being an authentic human being—consequences be damned—is worth the initial blood, sweat, and tears following the ripping off of the mask. For some, like me, who already know that a majority of the family has written you off as a “lost,” “deviant,” child/niece/cousin/etc, the act is feeling a bit futile. I know, deep down, that I was lost up until the point that I began to find the person I am today. I know that if I had not deviated from the norm, I would have “deviated” right into a long-term psych facility. Yes, my family often becomes myopically caught up in how I’m not sticking exactly to the life plan they had for me, but their judgements literally have no bearing on how my daily existence will play out.
This kind of decision isn’t for everyone and it’s definitely not something to do lightly, especially if your family has made you feel like you need to shield them from your true self. Contrary to what mainstream dramedies and rom-coms would have us believe, unveiling your “indiscretions” at the height of an emotional moment doesn’t often elicit open-armed acceptance. So, much as you would (hopefully) make any other informed decision, lay out your options, pros, and cons. What kind of social support do you have outside of your family system? Are you financially stable, with healthcare in place? Are you mentally stable, with professional support standing in the wings, if necessary? What are all of the potential consequences, and are you prepared to handle them?
Then what? Then, you take the leap and hope for the best. Maybe outing yourself is a last hoorah before you break up with your family. Or perhaps it’s just a matter of putting up some more sturdy walls because lines in the sand just weren’t enough. Perchance this is your first dabbling at putting up any healthy boundaries, and in that case, bravo! Differentiating from the family is healthy, and those who truly care for you will want you to be yourself. No matter what, my darlings, I’m inclined to believe that leading a more genuine existence is to be more content, and is instrumental in mental and physical health.
How do you handle being a misfit adult in a complicated family? Share with us via the comments or to @litdarling!