A year ago, after what was for me an amazingly long period of contemplation and review, I took a monumental step.
I did nothing.
I'm talking about my siblings, who don't get mentioned in this blog much at all. Last summer, after a year of living with the Starman, I decided to stop all my efforts to get my siblings to like me, appreciate me, let me join in their reindeer games. I took two months to decide whether to implement this step. I thought about what they might do, or write, or say. I questioned whether I owed anyone an explanation before taking this step. I talked about it to a few key people in my life, to get their reaction and perspective. Then I pulled the (non-)trigger and did . . . nothing.
Turned out to be surprisingly easy. My sibs all have birthdays in the autumn; they didn't get cards. No Christmas presents or cards, or my Totally Impersonal Christmas Letter. [We got gifts from two of them; I wrote thank you notes on Christmas afternoon.] By my birthday, which is in February, the silence seemed to be in place on both sides.
Now, I could write something about how no one questioned this or contacted me to inquire if everything was okay, but that would totally miss the point. I actually don't know and don't care what they think. I just knew that it cost me too much to make what should have been casually affectionate gestures. A birthday card from me wouldn't just say, "Have a great day," it would also say, "Like me, please!" A gift would have dangling from the elaborate wrapping & bow a silent plea for appreciation. It was all too much -- exhausting to maintain, and impossible to satisfy. It was a relief, for me, to stop wanting love from them all the time.
This morning, though, something wonderful happened. I'd been talking yesterday about how my need for friendship had abated over the past couple of years. (I totally credit Starman for this wondrous change, btw.) When I woke up this morning, I had an image of the younger of my two brothers approving of the distance I've let grow between us. Twenty years ago, he'd told me how powerful he thought it had been that I'd insisted people call me by my full name, Magdalen, rather than the nickname ("Maggie") I'd had as a child. "Your name," he told me, "is so personal, and to tell Mum and Dad what they have to call you, that's a great step." (I'm paraphrasing, obviously -- even I can't recall verbatim what someone said to me 20 years ago.)
Well, I can imagine that same brother acknowledging now how powerful it is for me to have stopped seeking their love and approval over and over again. Again, there is no reality here, only my perception. I walk around all the time worried about someone's anger or disapproval; there's no one who feels that way toward me, but old, old experiences die hard. It was nice to wake up with a vote of approval in my head.
A postscript: I read someplace that what made siblings so important was that they are contemporaries with a shared history; you can grow old with them, and that history will always connect you. I'm not sure that the history I share with my sibs is worth revisiting in our sixties and seventies, let alone real old age. But I understand the power of having someone in the same age range who knows where you came from. For that, I have Hub 1.0.
H. and I met in 1971 when we were both 15. I vaguely remember him as a shy, gangly English schoolboy. I'd have been a fat, spotty American teenager. (I've been told by H.'s sister that her recollection was that I was funny. They both seemed impossibly smart and well-educated to me, but I did notice that Sis teased H. unmercifully, which just make me like him more.) I was in London for four months, and had dinner with H.'s family every week. Not quite the same as growing up in the same household, but a lot more knowledge of a spouse's upbringing than most people get.
Hub 1.0 stayed with us last weekend, and it was so nice just to hang out with him. I'm carefully resisting the "ewww" factor if I refer to my ex-husband as being like a brother to me, and anyway, it's not true. We're contemporaries, and both youngest children. We're friends, and our marriage was all about friendship, companionship, and . . . okay, so I was just a BIT bossy! But in a loving way, of course. When Starman married me, he knew that Hub 1.0 was part of the package deal; I wasn't going to lose that touchstone of history and affection that I share with Hub.
I am so aware today of the progress I've made vis a vis my siblings and my complicated, nuanced feelings about them. I've made that journey, I walked every step and climbed every obstacle, and as the forewords put it, every mistake made was mine alone. But I couldn't have done it without Hub 1.0 or Starman. Each of them has played an essential role in helping me to see that I'm not alone. With them, I have my family, and with family, I have my sense of myself.
And that's real progress.