Dear Diary

October 5, 2011

Friendship breakups, siblings and the lack thereof, and Arthur.


Last night I decided to catch up on The Colbert Report. No matter how bad a day or week has gone for me, that show always reminds me how gloriously absurd so much of the “adult” world can be, which makes me feel better about myself, because I’m a smart teenager and not a ridiculous politician! Anyway, the guest on this one episode was the author of a book that looks at how siblings shape you as an individual. He said something like, “Your siblings act as the dress rehearsal for your life.”

But what about us only children? Did I never get the practice I was supposed to? Is my life, like, improv?

I know this was just one old dude’s opinion, but I let myself get really carried away in my own head and started thinking of examples of how being an only child messed with my idea of having a normal life.

I was frequently labeled precocious by adults when I was younger, which led me to avoid the typical teenager activities like they were a plague: dances, football games, anything that would label me clearly as a bona fide adolescent girl. Which doesn’t make too much sense, because I really like dressing up and I really like sports. I don’t know, no one ever told me being a teenager was cool while I was one. Actually, the impression I received from many was that it was looked down upon; no one would choose to hang out with an annoying teen. I spent a lot of time going to shows in basements and illegit spaces and I think the general assumption was that once the teenyboppers discovered a place, it wasn’t a cool place anymore, so I’d try my hardest to not be one of them. Which makes me, now, still somewhat out of touch and even awkward at parties with kids my age.

Now that I’m college sophomore, I’m hanging out for the first time with my own age group. Most of my friends here have siblings, and I can’t help wondering if that’s why they seem so happily normal: they talk about personal things like relationships and sex and gossip and borrow one another’s clothes and feel comfortable in social settings. They seem perfectly happy with being 18, 19, or 20 (besides that half of us have fake IDs, but that serves another purpose). For some reason, none of that stuff feels natural or normal to me. And I think the reason is that I’m an only child.

Growing up, while I occupied myself with achieving independence, I missed out on a lot of communal experiences—those events that people talk about when they talk about being an American teenager. I skipped every homecoming dance to go to a show with my older friends. I neglected almost all school-related extracurricular activities in favor of working with arts and music organizations, because they seemed a lot cooler to me than debate team or choir. I won’t be able to tell my proverbial grandchildren about some dramatic first love in high school, or about cruising around with the first friend with a driver’s license, or getting trashed at football games or whatever goes on there. All of these experiences were strategically avoided because they just seemed too teenagery.

I can be pretty self-centered. I don’t mean that I’m selfish. It’s more that I’m so caught up in my own goals and ambitions, I might have blinders on sometimes. I talk a lot about myself. And I expect everyone to care as much about what’s going on with me as I do. I told this to my mom a little while ago. She, one of four girls, concluded this was a direct result of my only-child-ness.

Maybe an older sister would have told me that I didn’t have to try to be an adult by the age of 15. Maybe she would have helped me understand that I didn’t have to pass off the pain and struggle of being a teenager as something insignificant—that I wasn’t the only one wrestling with identity and confidence on a daily basis, and that these struggles were important.

A younger sibling may have taught me how to be more empathetic and compassionate, less self-centered and singularly focused on my own goals. A younger sibling may have given me initiative to be a role model, a kind of mentor. I would be less self-centered if I had someone to look after.

I know my mom reads this diary weekly and that this one is probably going to make her feel guilty, but it shouldn’t. I’ve always been very grateful to be an only child. During about a five- or six-year period of family upheaval, serious financial trouble, parental separation, and divorce, I was relieved that there wasn’t another person to worry about. Fending for my own emotions was hard enough.

Yet I know that I did miss out on this idea of a life “dress rehearsal.” I’ve been learning about every social interaction outside of my home, in the real world, without practice. I’m definitely not a regretter, especially with things I’ll never be able to control. But right now, with this only-child stuff, I really feel like I missed out. Not only on some typical experiences of being young, but on personal growth. I still have so far to go emotionally, and I feel so behind my peers sometimes. I feel like a baby a lot of the time. I think it would have been nice to have someone like a sibling to help me, but I’ll never know. If you know what it’s like to have siblings, you might disagree and wish you grew up an only child like me.

But deep down, I really doubt it. ♦


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  • Annie October 5th, 2011 7:18 PM

    I usually watch the Colbert Report religiously, but I didn’t watch this one. I’m an only child too, so I knew it would probably just upset me. I relate to basically everything in this post; it’s really comforting to know that I’m not the only one going through this stuff.

  • Gretchyn October 5th, 2011 7:28 PM

    This is really honest + comforting for me, because I just went through a friendship breakup very similar to this + I’m still in a blunder trying to deal with encountering her/our mutual “friends” (I really didn’t like them, we had nothing in common) at school. This does help though, I’m really glad you shared this. X

  • junebuglove October 5th, 2011 7:34 PM

    Dylan, it is not because you are an only child. I am the same exact way and I have an older and younger sister. Go figure.

  • Marguerite October 5th, 2011 8:02 PM

    I have two older sisters and i would have failed at life without them! I have no idea how you do it Dylan!

  • Nomi October 5th, 2011 8:22 PM

    Dylan – I’m an only child too, and I’m actually quite a normal teenager. I do read a lot, and I know a lot of other only children, so that has helped a little. But I’m very very sensitive, so much that even the slightest, friendly insult comment can make me want to shrivel into a snail. I sometimes wish I’d had a sibling so that I could learn to defend myself–from what I’ve seen, siblings fight a rather lot. I also, actually, sometimes feel a little bit childish compared to my friends. I think since having siblings is such a norm, us only children may always feel a little out of place. (I always feel like people look at me funny when I tell them I have no siblings!) Our lives would both be different if we had siblings, that’s for sure, but who’s to say they would have been better? What if our siblings HATED us, or what if our parents played favorites? My friends all love their siblings, but they always express jealousy at me having my own room and getting all the Hannukah presents. Besides I’ve always felt like my friends are my siblings. But that’s just my experience, every only child’s is different, Im sure. What I’m trying to say is, hey fellow only child, being only doesn’t mean alone, which is something I’m still learning.

  • rhymeswithorange October 5th, 2011 8:50 PM

    That’s so interesting dylan, I feel sometimes like I miss out on all the typical teenage stuff too because even though I go to a public school, it’s an options school, meaning it’s not the usual big high school, everyone chooses (or their parents make them) go there. And when I talk to people not from my school honestly sometimes it feels like we’re from two different worlds. I’m not sure how this’ll effect me later.
    Also I’m pretty self-absorbed (or maybe in tune with myself?? I feel comfortable talking about/dissecting myself) and I have a younger brother.

  • Carol October 5th, 2011 9:20 PM

    Dylan, I too am an only child. I know exactly how you feel — though sometimes I’m thankful it’s just me, more often than not I crave for siblings. Your words rings true more so because as of late I’ve thought an awful lot about my only-child-ness. I found the following piece really interesting and somewhat resonant: I hope you enjoy it as well!

  • Mememeo October 5th, 2011 9:31 PM

    I’m an only child too, and I’ve experienced the same thing – not only a lack of typical teenager experiences, but I’m was also very awkward when socializing until I was 15… I was incapable of striking up any sort of casual conversation. I found out that I had to go halfway around the world in order to get the typical teenager experience.

    These days, though, I’ve learned the art of subtly injecting the weather into any awkward silences ||D

    But, for the most part, I’ve found that I DO like being an only child more.

  • koolkat October 5th, 2011 11:32 PM

    I have a younger sister, but I the near five years before she was born, I guess I developed the same personality as an only child. I get really shy and find it hard to join in with group discussions and stuff. And I did grow up really fast because my parents spent those early years stimulating and working with me so I guess I look into stuff deeper or something? I’m also really paranoid so either I’m just weird or I was badly hit by only-child syndrome!

    I think if you’re the older sibling it does help with being selfish, but ultimately you still don’t have the older sister. Luckily both my parents were only children, so my mum especially is really good at talking to me and stuff.

  • Angie Bitchface October 6th, 2011 1:24 AM

    Dylan — I have an older brother and I had a similar high school experience as you — I didn’t go to prom, didn’t go to most of the school events or parties, didn’t have a boyfriend in high school or all that many friends, always felt pretty out of place among people my age — but for me it wasn’t a conscious choice to distance myself from people my age, it seemed more at the time that they were distancing themselves from me. later on I found out that everyone in high school (other than my friends) apparently thought I was really shy and kept to myself all the time, but I had thought that people just didn’t want to talk to me. anyway, my point is, I don’t think it’s the number of siblings you have that determines these things. maybe it’s one factor, but there are many other factors to consider. there are other factors in my upbringing that I think could have contributed to me feeling out of place in high school.

  • chloelrd October 6th, 2011 2:27 AM

    I hear you! I am an only child and I don’t like it very much, i think that it has made me more closed off to other people. I also feel more lonely, I really wish I had a sibling. All my friends have great relationships with theirs, it would just be nice to have someone from the sam parents etc.

  • JennaF October 6th, 2011 8:03 AM

    I think the problem is not lack of siblings really but lack of unsupervised, unstructured time with other kids. I’m an only child and was lucky enough to have a lot of that — I’d come home from school and go outside and find the neighborhood pack and we’d stay outside until dinnertime. And if it was summer, we’d go back out after dinner.

    Kids are different when they aren’t being supervised.

    That was easier back in the day, but still possible. I was happy enough being an only child that I had an only child myself. I made sure to find a community that had a lot of free-range-type kids, and she spends more time with friends rather than whomever just happens to be outside, but also is a very socially comfortable creature (at 11).

  • erin October 6th, 2011 11:04 AM

    I think you might have a point about the only child thing, though I don’t know many. However, I think the same might go for eldest kids, since they’ve got no one to look to for advice either. I feel sometimes like you did, and I’ve got a little sister. I think though, that having older siblings does kind of guide you…

  • WitchesRave October 6th, 2011 12:48 PM

    You could drive in sophmore year?
    Jeez, we cant drive till we’re 18 in my country..

  • jeanette October 6th, 2011 2:46 PM

    Just to let you know that this diary sounds exactly like what mine would! I love your diary the most because you’re both in England and the same age as me. I thought I was being prepared for the unexpected hot weather today but it was unexpectedly expectedly cold. Like, freezing cold. Like, what the heck! Currently re-watching Arthur too. The new CBBC shows are kinda sucky now. Remember that show, 50/50? & Watch my Chops? Was reminiscing about old shows like that which I’d forgotten. Sighhh!~

    • Naomi October 6th, 2011 6:36 PM

      i remember 50/50! that used to be amazing.

  • Illusen October 6th, 2011 4:00 PM

    Dylan- I am also an only child, when i was a kid my parents used to talked about having another baby, after a while, i started crying when they did it because i knew it wasn’t going to happen.
    I also think being an only child shaped my personality, in fact, the way you described yourself sound much like me. :)

    Naomi- I never liked summer, it burns my skin and makes me sweaty and sleepy!
    Cold has its beauty and it’s much “cleaner” than heat, besides (and i don’t care if i look superficial by saying this) winter clothes are so much cuter!

  • back2thepast October 6th, 2011 7:08 PM


    • Naomi October 7th, 2011 6:39 AM

      that is AMAZING

  • Izzy October 7th, 2011 10:33 AM

    Naomi, I can agree with your post so well! I live in Bradford, in England, and all geared up with my gloves and my jumpers and chunky boots, and then, WHAM! Heat! It just did not feel right…and now it is cold and rainy and windy!
    (And I’ll always have a sneaky go on the playground slide)

  • jessejames October 7th, 2011 3:26 PM

    Naomi- i think Arthur was my favorite show for far too long. Did you see the ep. with the World Girl Dolls. It’s hilarious, esp. how the Tibetan doll was discontinued because there weren’t enough accessories.

  • GraceHF October 8th, 2011 5:33 PM

    I’d just like to say that my mom and I are both only children, and it’s working out really well for us. I love being an only child and I don’t feel that I’ve missed out. I think the way you see being an only child depends a lot on how your parents see having an only child.

  • stellar October 10th, 2011 8:44 PM

    yow! i had a best friend in 3rd grade who got taken away by a more aggressive girl who tried to get me to say mean things about her that weren’t true. i was too afraid to say what was going on with that, and regret i didn’t speak up more. later on, i made friends who were alternately catty and nice; just sort of tolerated it. years later, pretty much the same because it feels ‘disloyal’ to point out when something is off. well, that’s a good way to lose potentially better friendships, but maybe they weren’t friendship material to begin with –sometimes just hard to know for sure.