The idea of the urban clan loomed large for me. I saw it in my future -- a pack of pals that would sit around my dinner table at the holidays, closer to each other than we would be to the families we were born to. We'd care more. We'd share more. We'd trust more easily. The families we were saddled with might remain, because everyone has responsibilities, but our chosen family would be the one we'd love. Our chosen lives would be real. And then, I guess, I was hoping everything else wouldn't matter so much.
Around fourteen years ago, I was finishing up University and living briefly in England on a sort of exchange program. September 11th had recently terrified us, and as a result, intimacies in my tiny community developed quickly. (I think I've written about this before.) Friendships slipped into overdrive, with no effort at all. One of the friends I made was a pretty Californian blonde with an open heart and a fondness for tarot. She encouraged me to have my palms read. I can't remember much about it -- not where we went, not the woman who performed the act, if we even went anywhere at all or if the reading was performed by another student over breakfast in the cafeteria. I couldn't tell you the supposed length of my life-line, even if I wanted to. I remember only one thing about the experience and it is this: The person who read my palm told me that someday, I'd build my own family.
I believed it. I'm not a particularly superstitious or spiritual person, despite a Catholic b̶r̶a̶i̶n̶w̶a̶s̶h̶i̶n̶g̶ upbringing. Nonetheless, what she said sounded so true to me -- so perfectly doable. Silly, I know. Embarrassingly naive. But I was young. The new millennium hadn't yet defined itself and the new-agey 90s had yet to disappear into the distant past. It was easy to believe. And after all, wasn't her prediction already beginning to come true? Hadn't I just spent the majority of my university years living in a house with friends I was more attached to than I was to any of my actual cousins? Didn't I have a so-called best-friendship that had already spanned more than fifteen years? Wasn't I, at that very moment, feeling at home in England, surrounded by people who'd been strangers to me mere moments ago? These were the people who'd make up my clan. It had already started. It would only get bigger in time. I was relatively sure of this. The idea of making my own family felt right because it was what I wanted. It was what I was already striving for.
I've seen the occasional movie. Haven't you? In Hollywood, the myth of the urban family is usually attached to gay men: Rupert Evert as George in My Best Friend's Wedding. Robert Downey Jr. in Home for the Holidays. But if that's too hard to recall, don't worry, you know what I'm talking about. We've all seen Friends. That's what I wanted. It's what I thought I had. And I'm not sure I've experienced a more disappointing realization in my life than this one: The urban family doesn't really exist. Not for me, anyway.
Who else can you count on? Not biology, certainly. Not those stupid cards you were stupidly dealt. I mean, within the last five years alone, members of my own family have threatened to sue me over a blog post, not to win, mind you, but for the express purpose of bankrupting me and making me miserable. "I'll make you poor for the rest of your life" was, I think, the exact threat. If I'd been invested in the idea of familial fidelity, I think this might have hurt more. Luckily, it's been a long time since I've counted on biology. This is, I think, I fairly normal impulse in our culture, particularly if you understand what it is to be disenfranchised at home.
Make friends, and they will be your home.
I put all my eggs in the friendship basket a long time ago.
In other words, I fucked up. I mean, Hello, Self! The idiom is 'DON'T put all your eggs in one basket.'
Don't. Not do.
I've been stupid in a lot of ways, but in one way in particular -- in thinking and feeling a certain way, I assumed others were thinking and feeling similarly. It's a rookie mistake. A friend is not a mirror. So while I was investing in my urban family, I missed a few really salient truths. One major one is this: Everyone I'd chosen for my little friend basket already had a family. And not just a family -- a nice family. For a long time, I benefited from those relationships. I enjoyed being welcomed by warm mothers who weren't my own. I felt honoured to be invited to family birthday parties, cottages, christenings and weddings, even funerals. I never felt like an outsider. I felt adopted. I made too much of these things, clearly. I enjoyed those comforting mom-hugs a little too much. I read too much into kindnesses that weren't me-specific. And as a result, even the slightest lessening of affection has felt like a death. But to them? It's nothing. A return to what they had before. That random girl? That woman who was at so-and-sos wedding? They don't miss her. They don't miss me. Why would they? This hurts me, but it isn't their fault. They weren't to know.
It's not as though I've lost these people entirely. My friends are still around. Like I said, we're still friends (at least according to many people's definition). We're still going through the motions. Things aren't the same, but is that so bad? Still ... why? That's the thought that nags. WHY? WHY? WHY? It's in my nature to blame myself so I'm always wondering what I did wrong, what I might have done better. I can't figure it out. I know I've loved enough. I know that. It would not be possible for me to have invested in or been more available to my chosen family. I've been a fucking Super Friend. So it can't be that. It has to be something else. I cared more. I cared too much. They didn't. Is that all? Is that really all? I expected too much to begin with?
I keep trying to change my thinking. If a friend goes from calling every day to emailing twice a year, is that really such a bad thing? Is it worth being this hurt over? We're still friends. We're just not family.
I keep telling myself to get over it.
It isn't working.
I tried to build my own family, but I fucked it up. Maybe my mistake was believing it was possible in the first place. Maybe the urban family isn't really a thing. Or maybe I just chose the wrong people. I don't know.
I guess I'll start over. I'll do better this time.