Outside the bloodline: Learning to stay

RELATIONSHIPS | 5 mins

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Chances are, I’m not the only one who’s kicked family to the curb.

Not a bloodline family. That would have been obvious, melodramatic, treacherous.

I’m talking about those family groups that happen because of a shared life-phase, shared team, shared housing situation. The kind of family you don’t have to connect with, because they’re not critical. You can always retreat to your childhood clan, your cousins, your best friend. So instead of lingering with a new family group, working connection muscles and waiting to see what will happen if you don’t bolt at the first hint of conflict or doldrums…it’s a quick au revoir. You move on, figuring some other group’s got more promise. Or sadder: that you’re better off solo.

Maybe I’ve kicked a lot of my life (introverts kick when they’re exhausted; when you’re done you’re done) but I remember a big, significant kick: I retreated from the Army wives. Basically, all of them within a 10-mile radius. I had just gotten married, flown across the Atlantic Ocean for my husband’s assignment, and was trying to find my place in a new subculture called “the military.” These wives could have been my cohorts, my anchors, my lunchmates and laughmates. I have to guess with the could-have-been, because I never found out.

I went to one backyard party that still haunts me. A bunch of women in a circle of folding chairs. Conversations were surface-driven because that’s how it starts. Our age and personality all over the map. My parents trained me well for such events—how to host conversation, tend to others’ needs before your own, love your neighbor. I could make friends at the drop of a hat. Problem is, that skill was tainted with role-play. I didn’t know how to be transparent in a group of others because I was too trained in how to be liked. Bleck, blah. So because I didn’t know how to let down my “like me” guard and because I felt the wash of discord and inauthenticity, I slipped off my folding chair and literally snuck into the shadows. Pretty sure I left my empty wine glass in a tulip bed.

I went home and wrote to my best friend. “I don’t fit in here.”

We’re all broken people. We admit it on paper. We say it in books and from church stages. But when it comes to the real-deal moments of wading into a broken collection of people who have the potential to be your family group, it’s often incredibly, incredibly hard. It takes work and staying power. Maybe we make a vulnerability move, give a window into our realest self, and if it’s not received perfectly (Not enough empathy! Too much empathy! They’re not even paying attention!), we bruise and put the guard back up. Maybe we try again or maybe it’s one and done. We don’t admit to the women in folding chairs how scary it is to be the new wife. How you wonder if being a soldier is actually a horrible occupation. Or how being an unemployed Army Wife is so far from your dreams you want to cry. I bet those women would have had beautiful solutions and words of wisdom. Or at least been able to say, “Same here.”

I might have kicked the first wife group to the curb, but not the second set.

I accepted an invitation, walked into a woman’s dining room, and sat at a table with five others. No kidding, I remember the sweater I wore, which seems dumb—but I recognize is actually significant because I knew what was happening at that table had the potential to be a big deal, a new way of being brave and steadfast. I went knowing I was willing to stay this time.

Yes, there were days it faded. Days I wanted to bail. I didn’t know if I had time to build this kind of family. I didn’t know if we were similar enough or scratch that: too similar. Some conversations were duds. Some days I felt on the outside and weird in my skin and didn’t know if I wanted to feel that way around other people, other women. Some days they were weird in their skin and I was like Hey, where’d you go. But we hung in. We’re still hanging in. There’s nothing terribly special about us—this new family—in the sense that what we found isn’t available to everyone. To you. We just keep after it. We survive darkness together. We slip each other money when it’s tight. We fight for healing when our bodies give out. We share hope and heap on vision when our own instincts and confidence get weak. We talk about Jesus, warfare, gender, sales. We stay up too late and cry on occasion. There’s spilled milk. And wine. We make inappropriate jokes and terrible admittances. We group-hug. We kick and guard a little. We come back.

What if it’s as simple as family takes time. And instead of dipping into the shadows, stay. Stop trying to be so liked. Belong, instead.

Written by Liz Young on Jun 13, 2018