I’m a big believer there is a lot to be said about personality types and birth order. If you’re the rare breed that is “The Only Child,” hello! I am glad I’m in good company. It’s possible we have both spent years being a little different from those around us, and maybe even attempted to unsuccessfully explain ourselves.
However, if you grew up with brothers and sisters and don’t know what it was like growing up alone and creating your own fun, read on. It might even help you learn to deal with people like me.
So, the most obvious thing about an only child: we grow up without siblings. It was never a bad thing to me. I spent the majority of my childhood reading, drawing, and playing make-believe. My street was filled with adults and senior citizens, so I didn’t have the luxury of hanging with the neighbor kids. Instead, I listened to my Grandma’s stories, went places with adults and did things on my own. I was a mini adult as a little tike.
As a creative person with a dry wit I was also quickly outcasted from social circles at school and I grew resentful when kids didn’t understand my sarcastic jokes. The teachers caught on, though. These traits were carried with me throughout college when I dated older guys and rolled my eyes at $5 cups. I later rediscovered my long-lost childhood living in the city, where I probably acted like a 16 year old who would sneak out late at night to cause mischief. That’s a story for another day. Nevertheless, it took me 24 years to loosen up and stop taking myself so seriously.
I desperately wanted a pet when I was growing up. Since I was the primary focus of my parents- particularly my mother- I was cared for and grew accustomed to having things done for me. I was 7 years old when she finally let me get a kitten. I promised to take care of it and learn accountability for things other than myself.
Perhaps this scenario goes a little differently for children with siblings, but for me, I neglected feeding Kattie (the tabby cat), avoided her litter box, and was grossed out by her coughed up hairballs. Enter, my mother. She took care of the cat, and me, and I got away with it. What a responsible little girl I was.
As an adult, I have absolutely never had any desire to take care of a pet. Sure, I’ve perused Pet Smart and looked at cute puppies and kittens up for adoption, but in reality I’ve never been in a position to run home and walk a dog or recruit someone to feed the cat while I’m away. Additionally, I certainly don’t want an animal following me around the house.
I didn’t really understand kids my own age, and I definitely didn’t want to share anything that was mine. I never had to before. My anxiety level went through the roof when kids would come over and play rough with my toys, neglect to put things back where they belonged, or spilled on my carpet. Kids were just so juvenile.
I caught this character defect later in my adult life, where I was uber conscious of lending out my clothes, counted how many pieces of food were on an appetizer plate, and worried about people using my computer in fear that they would snoop. Well, anyone should be worried about other people snooping on their computer. Nevertheless, I’m not an open book, nor do I like people in my personal business if I don’t want them to be. You better not spill anything on my shirt or eat more than your fair share, either.
When you’re young, broke, and beautiful, roommates are inevitable. It saves a ton on the cost of rent/utilities and can provide another social outlet. Well, I’m aware I have been a terrible roommate in the past. There have been a lot of days I’d come home and head straight to my room and shut the door. I ate in my room, watched TV in my room, and avoided everyone else in the house at all costs. Weird, right? I do like to socialize, but on my terms. I am also aware I’ve come home late being obnoxious, ignored dishes, and forgot about my cleaning duties. I’ve eaten my roommate’s food and occasionally forgot to replace it. As an only child, my mom took care of everything for me and everything was, well, mine.
Living with a significant other is a whole other challenge. I’ve done it, and it quickly lost its appeal. Unlike a roommate, your significant other wants to talk when you come home. They want to do things together. There is no escape.
As if peers, animals, sharing, and cohabitation weren’t enough of a challenge for you, I bring you the next woe of an only child: dating. Relationships always seem like an excellent idea until you’re actually in one. What? I have to answer to you when you call? I am not good at that. There are many days where I get home, exhausted, and want to be left alone for hours on end. This can come off as crass and neglectful, but trust me: we don’t mean it. Only children are strange creatures that enjoy the company of others, but everything is best in moderation.
There are many days I wonder if I’ll ever meet someone who understands this, and someone who makes me laugh and can hang without being high maintenance. Obviously it’s difficult for me to keep water in a pet dish, so how can I in turn make someone happy for years on end? It’s a mystery to me. Codependency is certainly not an issue for myself as an only child, but being a caregiver is.
Here’s what I conclude about my self-diagnosed “Only Child Syndrome:”
- I should probably live alone for now.
- If I ever get a boyfriend, he best understand I need time to myself.
- Stop worrying so much about sharing. What goes around, comes around.
- While it might seem like a good idea at the time, I should wait on getting a pet. I’m still working on taking care of myself.