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Writer's Block: Go it alone

Do you think society puts too much pressure on people to be in relationships and/or have children? Do you think this ostracizes people who would be perfectly content to remain single and/or child-free? Is this pressure worse around the holidays?
Do you think society puts too much pressure on people to be in relationships and/or have children? Do you think this ostracizes people who would be perfectly content to remain single and/or child-free? Is this pressure worse around the holidays?
More interesting questions:
"How does social pressure happen?"
and
"If you perceive social pressure, what do you do?"
and
"Do you have ways to defend against uncomfortable social pressure? What are they?"


When I was in my mid-20s and single, I felt that society wasn't set up to support single people, and I felt pressure to be in a relationship. But part of this pressure was internal -- I longed to be in a relationship. So I think I was more sensitive to societal emphasis on relationships because it triggered my longing.

When I was 29-30 and single, there was a point where things shifted. I still wanted to be a relationship but I stopped being unhappy about being single. Part of the reason for the change was that for a while I was in a not-great relationship, so I had learned that I'd rather be single than in a not-great relationship. I also felt that I had access to a variety of supports and activities that welcomed single people.

I have never felt social pressure to have children. I know a lot of people do so I'm not sure how I missed it. I wonder if in this case, too, personal desire and social pressure are interacting, because I have never longed for children. So am I somehow less sensitive to the societal pressure because I don't have personal longings?

Another factor is that in my family of origin, a number of my cousins (who are all older than me) didn't have children. I gather that this was a deliberate choice in at least some cases, as opposed to lack of a suitable opportunity. So I think my family of origin didn't include the expectation that everyone would have children, which probably reduced my sensitivity to social pressure from elsewhere.

There's a certain feeling I have gotten sometimes when hanging around with people in relationships (when I was single) and people with children. It's that sometimes people with families are kind of wrapped up in their family experience and sometimes they don't make a lot of effort to connect with people who don't share those experiences.

When I was younger, this felt like ostracism. But now it feels more like a sort of ordinary, expected self-centeredness. That is, I believe most people aren't especially interested in connecting with people who don't share their experiences, and so they aren't very good at it. They'd rather connect with people who do share their experiences. I'm often this way too so I can't fault people for it.

I haven't ever felt that these pressures are worse around the holidays for me. But then again, holidays were generally a pretty low-key event for my immediate family. We didn't travel to visit other relatives or have relatives visiting us, and there were only 3 of us. So I don't think I developed expectations that the holidays were supposed to be a particular way and that they were supposed to include loads of family. My family of origin tended to be a little nontraditional about holidays, especially when I was away at college and after -- for example we'd declare that Christmas was going to be in January so we could skip the holiday air traffic.

As a single person or a person living far away from my blood family, I always had friends who were happy to invite me to their family celebrations, and I enjoyed that.

The weirdest part of the holidays for me when I was single was feeling like I ought to decorate but also not feeling like decorating and/or not knowing how to decorate, because I had become a pagan and didn't celebrate Christmas (for myself) any more. I eventually hit on putting up a pentacle of white lights. Then soon after that I got involved with the OH, who doesn't want any decorations during the holidays. That was OK with me.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
kokiden
Dec. 9th, 2009 07:00 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed your thoughtful response to the question. I especially appreciate your reflections on how social pressure happens and its relationship with our own desires and dreams. Wonderful piece!
firecat
Dec. 10th, 2009 04:09 am (UTC)
Thanks, I'm glad you liked it!
vito_excalibur
Dec. 10th, 2009 04:23 am (UTC)
I agree! Lots to think about.
leback
Dec. 31st, 2009 12:09 am (UTC)
I agree that your questions are more interesting, but I also think your answer to the one they asked is interesting. :-) Thanks for sharing!

Also, perhaps because I am a political theorist, I think it might be interesting to ask whether society puts too much pressure on people to participate in institutions of "family" in a broad sense, or only whether it puts too much pressure on people to participate in particular forms of family.

I have some suspicion that it is good that society encourages adults to involve themselves in strong, committed networks of mutual support, and also to commit themselves to contributing to the nurturance of younger generations into adulthood. I think society depends, and therefore all individuals depend, on the existence of those networks and commitments. To the extent that some individuals really are not cut out for these things, I think society should accept that and still include those individuals, but in general I think it's reasonable to treat them as matters of social responsibility and not just lifestyle preferences.

On the other hand, I think society does put too much pressure on individuals to do "family" in highly specific ways that are not necessarily good ways for those individuals, or even the best ways to accomplish the social functions of family. I would like to see more recognition of and more opportunity for alternatives -- more involvement of people without their own children in raising children in their community, for example, as well as social and legal frameworks more conducive to commitments among adults who aren't sexually/romantically involved or even necessarily cohabiting. If family weren't so narrowly conceived, more people might be able to participate in it more easily, and the ways in which many already do participate might be better understood and appreciated. I think what you say about people looking for commonality in their interactions is dead-on, but it also gets me wondering how much commonality goes unnoticed sometimes because it doesn't fit the frameworks in which we think about our experiences.

(For my part, I feel left out of things sometimes by virtue of not having children, and also I think I would really enjoy many aspects of child-rearing, but I can't see myself being able to handle it on a 24/7 basis. So I would probably really like living in a setting where children and the responsibility for them belonged a little more to the community, and not just to nuclear families. Maybe someday I'll have geographically proximate niblings or something, but it seems unlikely at this point.)
firecat
Dec. 31st, 2009 12:26 am (UTC)
I have some suspicion that it is good that society encourages adults to involve themselves in strong, committed networks of mutual support, and also to commit themselves to contributing to the nurturance of younger generations into adulthood.

I think it would be good for society to encourage this. But I tend to see society rewarding people who do it and expecting people to do it, but not so much offering the tools for learning how to do it to people who don't find it comes naturally. (Which is a big part of "encouraging," IMO.)

The tools are out there, but it seems like one has to make a concerted effort to find them.

I agree with all the other parts of what you say.

On interacting with children, I've always felt that if I wanted more children in my life I would be able to find ways to make that happen (volunteering as a tutor, for example; helping friends take care of their kids). But again that takes a bit more effort.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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