Rants and Whimsy

The benefits of being an only child

May 26, 2014

A strange thing happens when an only child grows up. Lots of your friends suddenly become best mates with their siblings and for a couple of moments there you’re left with a quizzical look on your face going, “but…. we’ve been fighting these people for hundreds of years! They’re like the French to us!” And there you stand, alone, without a built in friendship network and forced to behave cordially and civilly towards others in exchange for any kind of human contact. Which is a shame, because only children generally aren’t all about the social skills.

Only Child Cartoon Chicane

Then, you meet new friends in your adult life and when they find out about your lack of siblings they look at you with a satisfied “Oh”, which we all know is code for “you’re a bit of an anti-social prat, but I’m willing to excuse it because I like you”. Essentially, in my case anyway, this is true, but I decided to find an upside to being an unsocialised, snarky prat with the sparsest of family trees. Lucky for you, I found several:

1. You can have an opinion on small, unimportant things without having a breakdown
When I became a graphic designer, I was shocked by the number of people I encountered who could barely form an opinion on unimportant things – like the colour of their business cards – without having to explore the extreme corners of the universe for an opinion. And I mean just for calling cards for a small business in a small town. Choose something you like that won’t get you confused with your competitors. Oh no, instead they’d find a campaign for “Big Important Business” and tell you to copy that. “Do you like this?” you’d ask, and receive a “no, but if Big Important Business is using it, it must be because it contains the magic, money making CMYK code. Silly”

Oh. Of course. So you make the design based on that and every other weird piece of inspiration they bring to you. It’s a mess, but it’s their mess. No. When they show their mother, the guy who mows their lawns, their six month old cousin who shows real artistic potential and 17 people who rode the bus with them this morning, it’s your fault. And now you have to fix it while encompassing all these new opinions. Sigh.

I’ve never had this problem of having to get everyone else’s opinion to justify what I like. And I think it’s because for all of my childhood no one else’s opinion mattered and what I liked was of the utmost importance. Does that make me self centred? Yes. Does it mean I can casually say, “go with the red,” before heading down town and picking up a chicken jalapeno wrap and wearing a hat that may not be to everyone’s taste? You betcha.

2. You can do stuff alone
I can spend whole weekends alone and not worry. I can walk around all day alone and not feel lonely. I can sit in a room by myself and suddenly burst out laughing. Because I’m hilarious company. In fact, I hardly ever invite people to do stuff with me, because I have my ipod for company if I need it. In fact, hanging out with people requires some mental preparation for me.

I remember a time when I was leading a fairly sedentary lifestyle (which of course makes one feel flubby) so I went to the gym everyday. In a gym, while you may be surrounded by people, you are pretty much alone on that treadmill, with just your thoughts and your music. Basically, when I signed up the gym people gave me a fitness plan to work through. And I did. However, I noticed another girl who always went about the same time I did. I think she was supposed to be working through a weight loss plan. She never lost any weight even though she went for an hour every day. Why? She was a social butterfly. In the changing room she had to talk on her mobile so putting on work out clothes took forever. If she was was on the treadmill she’d see someone on an exercycle she just had to talk to and go and stand with them. Or she’d be doing weights and her phone would ring and she’d just have to take the call.

I don’t know this lady. It’s entirely possible that she is also an only child. My point is it’s ok to shut the hell up occasionally and be alone. Which I learnt by having to spend large amounts of time on my own, entertaining myself as a child.

3. You bring less family drama to a relationship
It stands to reason, if you have less people in your family, there’s less of a chance that you’ll have someone who can only be described as a glorious explosion of insanity who you’re forced to love due to a wealth of shared experience. Maybe if you come from a big family full of rumbles, you might consider dating an only child. Sure, your family might judge them as stand-offish and snobby, but their family is gonna be really easy to cater for if a wedding should eventuate. Let’s face it, difficult people are everywhere, but it’s nice when you can keep their numbers to a minimum….

Just to make myself clear, I know that there are stacks of people out there with all kinds of brother/sister situations who can manage eating alone and choosing the blue over the tan. But I like to think my upbringing helped me a little in learning these lessons. And if we’re going to go back to the stereotypes, maybe when people think ‘only child’ instead of just thinking ‘self-centred anti-social snobby twat’ they could maybe add an ‘independent’ and a ‘free thinker’ in there too.

Independent, self-centred, anti-social free thinking twat. Put it on my headstone.

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