Category Archives: birth order

Only the Martyr

I was having lunch the other day with a new friend of mine, who happens to also be an only child, when it suddenly occurred to me. We onlies are expert martyrs. We stink at receiving. Not compliments. Not money. Not gifts. Sometimes, not even solicited advice is welcome.

Maybe it’s due to the fact that we spend our entire lives attempting to negate those stereotypical labels of being spoiled brats. Maybe it’s because we became SOOO good at sharing that it morphed into sacrifice. Whatever the case, it’s not ‘healthy’ to stink so badly at receiving. It’s not ‘healthy’ to play the martyr all the time no matter how naturally it comes for us.

So, why isn’t it good to be a martyr? I mean, giving is good, yes? Taking is bad, yes? Well, not all the time. Here’s the thing – martyrdom, like anything else, is good in small doses only. Here’s my experience-breeds-wisdom based list of WHY you should take up….errr…taking.

  • It makes others feel good to give or help – I am aware that this isn’t ALWAYS the case (but really, what is?), still…9 times out of 10, if someone is offering to help you with something, it’s because they can and they genuinely want to, and by giving them the satisfaction of helping you with something you need, you are actually still participating in a different form of giving, right?
  • Sanity Maintenance – The more we take on, the better we feel about ourselves, right? Wrong. Up until a certain point, we may feel quite impressed with ourselves, but if you keep throwing more balls into the juggling queue, eventually you’ll end up dropping them all, and it’s not so funny when someone signs you up for the funny farm.
  • Taking time for you and yours – Chances are, when we say ‘yes’ to help, we are also saying ‘yes’ to sharing that freed-up quality time with loved ones. While you may do no more than spend that time cuddling or sharing a meal and conversation, one thing is for sure, you won’t regret it. Life is so full of activity sometimes that we forget to enjoy the moments. The more moments we have in full presence, the fuller our lives. Period.
  • Reciprocity – If none of the other arguments worked, this one SHOULD. The more we allow others to give and ourselves to receive, the more others will allow us to give in the future. Nobody should keep score in love and friendship. I have bought into that philosophy since first watching ‘Love Story’ back in the 90’s (I know…. a little late). The motto for that movie was ‘Love means never having to say your sorry’. If either love or friendship were tallied on a simple putt-putt score card, I’m betting that neither the scores aren’t always tied. This is because we’re human! I’m also betting, however, that when all is said and done, the two most successful ‘players’ end up pretty close to each other – both numerically and emotionally.

In other words, we have to work on being REAL. Being real means admitting when we’re exhausted, lazy, overwhelmed, or just plain over-committed. For the sake of our sanity and the sanity of our loved ones, we’re doing no one any favors by playing the martyr, no matter how naturally it comes to us.

So go on…take that outreached hand. It’s actually comforting to know that we onlies are not doomed to forever be lonely, but we have to make that choice to ‘take’ a chance on others.

Solitary Contentment

Do I enjoy alone time? Absolutely! I always have. I can remember as a young child, sitting in my room, listening to albums & playing paper dolls for hours on end. On some days, the only reason I left my room was to eat. Truth be told, If I had been blessed with a real working kitchen in my room (at least with a microwave, fridge, and pantry), my mom and dad probably would’ve entirely forgotten me!

While mom was busy taking care of my dad, I was busy amusing myself. Not that she didn’t do her part of the raising, but the ‘entertaining’ part was up to me, especially after dad’s kidneys failed.

As only children, most of us learn at a young age how to self-entertain, self-console, maybe even become self-aware, and have a strong sense of self-love. Maybe that’s why we (as a species;) come across as so self-absorbed. In reality, most onlies that I know are actually so self-aware that we can become rather lost in our own thoughts and appear to not care what others are feeling or thinking at all. BUT also in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Most of us truly want to understand others, but we’re too afraid of putting ourselves out there, which is really what it takes to form healthy relationships.

As onlies, we don’t always know how to relate to others or how to reach out and ask others for help. When we feel as though our worlds are crumbling, many of us turn inward, to the only person we can fully rely upon; ourselves. That’s not to say that people with siblings aren’t the same way at times, but I would say that onlies have nailed the whole solitary confinement thing….to a fault.

I remember when my boyfriend (also an only) and I started dating. We fervently read every article and blog we could find on ‘only’ couples… ‘only’ to find discouragement and disappointment. Most opinions and stories erred on the side of either ‘don’t do it’ or ‘it never works out’. After almost two years together, I think we would both agree that this is not true. Like any other relationship between any two people, effort has to be made, people cannot take one another for granted, and compromise and full communication should be practiced daily.

In fact, I would say that the most difficult factor in an only dating an only is that we are so fiercely wired to turn inward when we don’t know how to react to an emotion that we choose instead to bottle up the hurt. While my boyfriend and I rarely fight, I can honestly say that any and all of the disagreements we’ve had have resulted from one thing; a lack of communication.

Lesson… in progress…

Still, communication takes lots and lots of effort from both people. Leaning on each other when we’re accustomed to sucking it up solo is the first step. While that feels a bit awkward and out of our neat little boxes, it’s not nearly as uncomfortable as I had expected. I think this is monumental and essential for all couples, but especially for relationships involving two onlies.

While one only can understand another only better than anyone, we also tend to have the same passive aggressive tendencies, and let things go on far longer than we should. It’s far easier and less confrontational to shove those small disagreements under a rug than to sweep them out into the open and work through the kinks. Unfortunately, as we all know, if you gather enough small things together they collectively become a very huge thing. That huge conflict under the rug becomes a major obstacle over which neither of us can avoid tripping.  And because we really ARE two separate people, with two separate pasts and two separate loads of dirty laundry baggage, we’re not always going to completely understand. And that’s okay.

We all come at these relationships with our own muddled perceptions, and whether we’re onlies or otherwise, it takes oodles of communication, effort, and determination to build a strong healthy relationship. But above and beyond everything else that takes effort in this world, love is worth every last bit of blood, sweat, and tears. After all, we may have come into this world alone, but that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to live a lonely life. Like my good friend Michelle always says (and I couldn’t agree more), there really is a ‘lid for every pot’.

how this only prevents the lonelies

I remember as a child, sitting in the room of our little basement rancher playing paper dolls for hours on end.   My parents would be doing their thing. Typically, dad would be down in the basement building go-carts, or out in the carport waxing his super cool Knight Rider Trans-Am. Mom would be downstairs as well doing 6 loads of laundry that had accumulated through the week. I didn’t know what boredom was. I’ve never known the meaning of boredom.

Today was the ultimate only day. My boyfriend is gone on vacation, both of my boys are at their other homes, and my Hayley dog and I have had the day completely to ourselves. The only exception was that I watched my youngest play in a heartbreaking soccer game this morning, so I was afforded the pleasure of mingling with my parent friends & running up and down the field yelling for just one more goal. At that point, I had already had breakfast, worked out, showered, and succesfully landed myself at the start of the game with minutes to spare. That’s very unusual for this fashionably late little lady..

After the game, I stopped by the car wash, scrubbed and detailed my Sante Fe that I hadn’t driven in over a year, making sure to finger nail all of the nooks and crannies for french fry crumbs & other funky unmentionables that had gathered in inconvenient cracks and crevices. I came home, ate lunch, felt sleepy, and proceeded to change into my swimsuit for a sunbathing siesta. Why not? Time has been my friend today afterall. Time was my buffet, my smorgasboard to fill however I chose. After about 30 minutes of laying there upon awakening, trying to decide if moving my tired muscles in order to arouse them back into production was really worth it, the workaholic part of me won out. So I got up, mulched, and pulled, and tugged, and weeded out in my three small flower beds until sweat was dripping, and my face had turned a brighter shade of apple.

That would have probably been enough, but not for me. I was on a roll. I came back inside, folded two loads of laundry, and worked out yet again. I finished the day with shorts shopping and a visit to Earthfare. In between some of that, I talked to my boyfriend’s mom, who had called to tease me about picking up Doug. We had our usual banter over who would get the privelege, but I finally won out. The call from her pretty much made my day.

I wouldn’t want to be alone every day of my life. I have a strong belief that we all need people. But having this day by myself was refreshing. There was no tv watching, although there was lots and lots of music. Hayley got more than her fair share of dog walks, and my own thoughts never failed to keep me entertained. I miss my boys. I miss my man. But what I learn on days like these is that I also miss myself sometimes. It feels good to be reunited with me.

All About Stars

Last night, my son and I read ‘How to Catch a Star’. A wonderful children’s book all about trying to attain something too far away, something impossible, that at first seemed quite possible. The main character attempts many times to reach and capture the star using various methods, and at the end, finally captures not a celestial body but rather a star fish – just sitting there for the taking.

Tonight, both of my sons and I watched ‘The Fault In Our Stars’, an adaptation of the John Greene novel bearing the same name, about two Cancer ridden teens who fall madly and deeply in love. Again, something that seems so possible – falling in love – becomes something that seems completely impossible, living out that love. What we took away from this gruelingly sad story however, was that the ‘stars’ we were looking for were not the stars we captured, and (as it turns out) maybe it truly is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.

Having experienced so many losses in a small period of time, I think we all understood the message of this plot in its entirety. The story initiated a conversation between my boys and I about the shortness of life, about the sense of urgency that exists and results from an understanding that living is only a moment, and we are fortunate enough to have the ability to choose in this moment how we wish to spend it, how we wish to live this life. And if we are blessed enough to have our health within this moment, we should live it to the fullest, reaching for every star along the way – be they reachable or completely impossible.

I have been struggling with impossibilities lately myself. Whether or not I can continue breathing life into a company I didn’t create, whether or not I will be completely accepted by those I love, baggage and all. But what the combination of these two starry nights have revealed to me is that it’s all about perspective. Whether or not we choose to believe we can reach those stars, those wants & dreams, we have that choice, and that in itself is a miracle. We may not get what we’re reaching for in the way we imagined, but if we believe we can lasso a star, we will do just that – even if only for a moment. And it’s in those moments of living life that purpose is revealed, love is captured, and our stars become aligned for the taking.

Orbiting Onlies

What happens when two onlies date? Studies show that it’s not a good idea. How could two ‘onlies’ be compatible, afterall, when we’re so self-absorbed and self-reliant? How could two people raised in separate families where they didn’t have to compete for attention, didn’t have to share their toys with anyone, didn’t have to share their rooms or beds with anyone learn to get along with each other? Sounds logical enough, but only if you also subscribe to the idea that only children will never marry, will never actively participate in a successful relationship with anyone. Period.

In my experience, other only children truly ‘get’ me in a way that others do not. I’m a sharer to a fault, and maybe  because I’m told by the world that I’m not supposed to be. I have an incredible relationship with a man that is also an only, and is exactly the same way. He is thoughtful beyond anyone I’ve ever known. My best friend is also an only. She has become like a ‘soul sister’ to me in our sixteen year friendship. There is  nothing she can say or do that will change that. We’ve been through our hard times only to learn that nothing can penetrate our bond.  Over the years, I have built relationships with other onlies who I have also had the pleasure of getting to know, and truthfully, I’ve never felt quite as accepted as I have with other only children.

My boyfriend and I have known each other for 20 years, but only have grown to truly know each other for the past two. We spent that time in other relationships, while at the same time building our own friendship based on an understanding that we had this one huge thing in common. As onlies, we have discussed the possibility of starting an ‘only’ support group because we have felt misunderstood at times, and everyone needs a place of refuge. When people have siblings, they have someone that shares memories of their childhood from a perspective very different from that of our parents, whereas as onlies we ‘only’ have our parents with which to share those stories.

My mom was my best friend for many years before her passing last year. She and my stepdad were my world outside of my two sons. I took solace in them when the world seemed to sit squarely on my shoulders. I always knew they had my back, and I could relate to them as well as confide. Now, as an ‘orphan’ I have felt lost at times. No one on the planet remembers my whole life anymore, which makes me feel a little more lonely than I did. So having other onlies that I’m already close to makes the loneliness a little less pronounced, because of one beautiful word: Acceptance.

When I become weird, which I often do, about things like numbers, dates, emotional triggers, I don’t worry about whether or not I will be patronized or that my concerns will be belittled. In reality, I have a huge family of other onlies that share in my struggles and relate to my challenges. I have a built-in support group quite similar to what siblings have. All that I have to do is keep the lines of communication open enough to receive that support. And really, isn’t that all any of us needs to do?

This world can feel lonely, whether we’re onlies or not. All it truly takes is a little bit of trust and sharing to find that none of us are lonely after all.

Common chameleon

If you’re an only child, you may have had a relationship or two in your life where you felt a little more like a chameleon and a little less like yourself. Don’t get me wrong, this can happen whether you’re an only or not, I’m sure. But I think it may just be commonplace amongst singletons. There’s a reason for this….

There is endless chatter, rumors, and misconceptions that an only child is self-absorbed, narcissistic, even bossy. I’ve spent a great deal of my life practicing the opposite approach, maybe even in an effort to deflect such evil stereotypes. I’ve been expending so much energy into  that other direction in fact, that some of my biggest flaws include (but are in no way limited to) being under-assertive, passive, and self-sacrificial.

Having been married and divorced twice and also having just ended a difficult relationship has shown me – finally – the err of my ways. I recently told a close friend that I felt like some kind of a universal soul mate because guys tend to see me as the ‘marrying type’, and believe that I must be their magical one. I don’t say this out of vanity, rather I say it out of sheer embarrassment. See, I think that different people bring out different sides of me…to a fault.

While we all feel comforted by relating to one another, I find that everything about me shifts in the direction of ‘him’. So much so that I end up feeling like an over-worked piece of play dough, that after so long of being molded, played with & left out in the cold, finally dries out and breaks. There is absolutely nothing wrong with compromise in a relationship. Just as there is nothing wrong with some sacrificing. But there is a fine line between sacrificing some of one’s self and sacrificing all in an attempt to ‘be loved’ or ‘be accepted’, or even ‘be adored’.

I fully believe that two souls can be inexplicably drawn toward one another, even when there’s very little compatibility, and that those two people can still have a loving relationship as long as one of them caves in. Ultimately, though, that’s not going to work. The caver feels trapped in an image that she herself created, and the powerful leader in the relationship is left feeling confused because he was leading the dance the whole time and she never stepped on his toes. Not once. Everything was perfectly synced! What changed?

What changed is that this ‘strong-willed’ only child became not only a follower, but a martyr as well.  What good is an only if they become a nobody because they’re only self is acting like somebody else?

So my own challenge for this time of solo-spiritual-growth is to become strong enough to let my self-awareness shine; to speak up for what I want; to have a voice in what I do; and to be a full-out ‘only’ – not the vicious meany that everyone expects from a singleton – but a watered down version that also derives happiness from giving to others from a place of strength…. not desperation.

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