August 17, 2006

Childfree Social Network: Part 1

How do adults make friends? In the context of my last post on this subject, and the recent study that highlights how isolated Americans are, I feel it is truly important to examine because being connected in a postive way to other people is a key to happiness. Hey, I read Walden Pond and I like the great outdoors as much as the next gal, but you can’t talk to a tree stump forever.

Being an only child from the beginning and being childfree as an adult, is like a double-handicap – to borrow a golf term. I have made up for it some by marrying into a large family. This increased my social network ten-fold, but I still have some work to do.

Too Close
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with my mother-in-law. She’s one of the smartest women I know and although we are entirely different, we do have one thing in common, her son. She was speaking to me one day about her aunt and uncle who were childfree. They were favorites of hers and she would always look forward to seeing them at family gatherings.

As it turns out they were not really blood-related family, but close family friends. Uncle Harold taught her how to drink martinis after all, and his wife sounded just as delightful. My mother-in-law had drawn a conclusion about childfree couples, having observed them and other non-parent couples she’d met over the years, and she felt that childfree couples become too close, almost like one half of the other. This struck me as odd initially, but I was curious and I listened, because the older you get, the smarter mothers get. Ever noticed that? She said her observation became particularly evident when a partner dies.

In my mind I wondered “What’s the harm? Can you really be too close to your partner?” Her words still haunt me as I delve into the realm of being childfree. Now that I’ve turned 40-something, I’m committed.
I believe what my mother-in-law was referring to was the lack of a circle of friends, a sort of social safety network that one can rely upon in times of need. Childfree need to consider this, married or not.

Relationship Satisfaction
I have reflected on her words many times since I met and married her son, and I’ve come to agree with her. Studies have shown that childfree couples indicate high level of satisfaction in their relationships. I was always taught to find the silver lining, but it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge the dark side – the yin and the yang. If you live through your spouse, it’s just another form of isolation if you don’t have other friendships, other interests.

A Purple Woman who was profiled in Unwomanly Conduct (1994, Carolyn Morell) summed it up best pointing out that what we, as a surviving spouse or a perpetual bachelorette, will lack in our golden years is an advocate.

I say why just one? Why not a circle of friends; a devoted niece and nephew wouldn’t hurt. The good news is, you can choose not to be isolated. You can decide to participate in a circle beyond your own small life. You can also have a really positive influence on a young person’s life, or an entire organization if you chose to.

Next post: Childfree Social Network: Part 2 on Tuesday

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Tiara Lynn said...

My husband and I are very blessed to have a large circle of friends, many of whom are childfree couples. For those of us whom are the closest, we have thought about each other in our wills, proclaimed each other health advocates in the absence of far-flung family and as beneficiaries for beloved animals.

It's interesting that one of the reasons we don't want to be parents is because of this wonderful circle. We've seen our childed friends become isolated homebodies, moving to the suburbs in search of good school districts, proclaiming they miss all of us but never making an attempt to find a babysitter to join us on outings. It's as if they've grown old before their time. As we enter our thirties, we're enjoying the best years of our lives. We don't want to become homebodies with no one but our kids to entertain us. There's so much more to life, and our friends have taught us that.

twiga92 said...

I feel blessed to be close to my family as part of my social circle. We don't live near each other, but we are there for each other. I know that my sister will be an advocate for me as a I get older. I also hope to be close to my nieces and nephews, but time will tell on that.

Teri said...

Tiara Lynn - Thanks for sharing how creatively you have addressed providing care for yourself when you get older. Well done. Way to lead. You have given me, and possibly others, a good idea.

My husband has a nice circle of friends from his college days that we look forward to seeing en group each year. We have often wondered out loud at how each couple is childfree. I wonder how they have handled their end-of-life affairs? We decided to invest in long-term care, but it would be nice to have a will and an advocate/executor designated.

You're right, the "isolated hombodies" syndrome is not an exclusive domain of the childfree!

I think my MNL's point was more about putting all your emotional eggs in one basket, which may not be a dull life at all, just heavily invested in one person.

Twiga - You are blessed. It's nice of you to share it us!