To Leave or Not to Leave My Life Behind?
October 5, 2009 7:26 AM   Subscribe

To Leave or Not to Leave My Life Behind?

I'm interested in opinions on my situation.

I never really had much emotional support from my family.

I was always helpful to others when things were going wrong, even recently.

All I wanted was for people to call and ask how I'm doing, be encouraging, etc. Standard family stuff.

I received barely a congratulations on my wedding 6 months ago. I'm mid 30s from Canada. I have 3 brothers. I received no gifts. I gave gifts for their weddings.

The marriage isn't working out and we're separating. And I just lost my job about a couple of months ago. No one really called to support me (except my mom).

I think they secretly relish that my marriage isn't working and are thinking "I told you so". My wife and I are from mixed backgrounds and my brother's wives are the same ethnic background. No one really disagrees with my choice but there is something ugly in the air.

On top of that I gave them a good chunk of money - 50 thousand overall to pay off debts and I don't think they will ever pay me back. I feel betrayed and they simply don't want to talk about HOW they will pay me back, not even in small amounts.

Anyways, I left for another country thousands of miles away and am trying to start my life again.

The way I see it, I don't want to contact anyone from my family. If they have any interest at all in me, they will get in touch. I won't spend a penny visiting them - if they want to they will find a way.

My mom is the only one who calls me once in a few weeks for a basic conversation.

I feel unhappy when I visit them. I just want to branch off on my own.

Its hard cutting out everyone but I get very little emotionally from them and I feel that it makes me weaker being around them.

If I get married again and have children I want to protect them from their way of thinking. They aren't abusive or anything but they just don't have the same level of emotional awareness. I can't deal with that because I always get the short end of it.

I'm just healthier alone I think but I feel guilty for cutting everyone out. On the other hand they don't seem to miss me much either so I guess it doesn't matter.

Normally I'm ok but I have this guilt battle with myself.
posted by simpleton to Human Relations (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Soon you will have replaced your family with a new community. However, if a few years down the line, you find you want to leave your new community and start over again, I'd worry.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:33 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

If these were your friends, you would have told them to go to hell about a million times by now, right? Why should it be any different because you have some ancestors in common? Hell, we all have SOME ancestors in common. Go make a new family who deserves you.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:34 AM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Just remember that no matter how far you go you are still you. You may escape your family, but you still need to address your own problems. There is no geographical cure for depression. You sound a little bit depressed.
posted by Sara Anne at 7:52 AM on October 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

1. You can choose your friends but you can't choose your family.

2. They're family.

I would tell your mom, in as non-guilt-trip a way as possible. "I feel let-down by X,Y and Z. I'm gonna go off for a while on my own. I love you and this is how you can reach me."

Hopefully this way you can leave the door open. The road is l o n g, people grow and change in sometimes surprising ways.
posted by From Bklyn at 7:56 AM on October 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

Endorsement of the decision you already made: don't feel obliged to be close to your family now, especially when they have not been there for you recently. Don't make drama, don't slam a door in their face if they show up to visit, but don't go out of your way for them anymore: it's clearly not helped you, and has maybe even hurt you, and you probably are better off separated, at least for now. Do not feel guilty about it: your door is open, after all.

But do stay in contact with your mother. She deserves to know you're alive.
posted by rokusan at 8:00 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't think your family relishes any misfortune in your life. Love, familiar love, is very complicated. You mom loves you, you dad loves you. People aren't perfect in how they express their feelings, especially when they're older, but I think, from some of the things you say, they do love you, and you have to forgive them for not being the perfect emotional supports.

Maybe I'm wrong, but the way I'm reading this is that your family is not Western, but you were raised Western? I might be wrong, but that's the vibe I'm getting, and I think what I say is especially true if that's the case.

Sometimes you just have to model the behavior of being loving and caring just to show what it is you need. They might catch on.

But don't do anything unkind to them out of anger unless they are outright mean to you and are making you feel terrible about yourself when your sense of self is not established yet.
posted by anniecat at 8:02 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just because you share DNA doesn't mean you are going to be especially close or friendly with people in your family. It would be great if everyone felt like you did and were able to give you the support you need, especially now-but obviously they're just different. You're not getting your needs met from them so yes, it's fine to pull away and strike out on your own. I would caution you from cutting all ties permanently though, as you (or they) may change outlooks on the relationship later.

And n'thing the keeping in contact with your mom. She's still reaching out to you, albeit not in the way you'd like, but it's better than the rest.

Good luck.
posted by hollygoheavy at 8:09 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

In this beautiful comment of yours, you wrote: "I think the key is to address the ROOT problem". People's behavior, including but not limited towards you, is consequential to myriads of life situations, obstacles, perceptions and their personal goals/agendas that they go through. Embarrassments and avoidance are "wrong" methods for coping, but they are mass-applied in dealing with situations, obstacles, and perceptions. Sometimes all you need in these poor relationships is more time and probably mediation. But never underscore your own wisdom and strength. I am sure you have it. As far as family AND marriage goes, as long as there were no extremely nasty, transgressing boundaries things, you know the answer: this is adult life, remember to be real. You are free to leave everything and everyone behind. You cannot run from yourself. If at this moment you feel that it is better to be alone, then be alone, be truly alone for as long as it takes to discover how much you need loved ones.
posted by Jurate at 8:13 AM on October 5, 2009

Can you try to explain a little bit more about your family situation? Why do you think it is that they neglect and ignore you? When and how did this dynamic form? I think that we could give more helpful responses if you gave us some more information.
posted by kitcat at 8:13 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

It sounds a bit simplistic but have you tried talking to them and explaining how you feel? The response you get from this may make your decision easier.
posted by Laura_J at 9:07 AM on October 5, 2009

Some people place an extra weight on the word 'family' and the bonds that supposedly come with being 'part' of one. As has been said above, you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family. They're family. The emphasis, I assume, is to imply some sort of special relationship.

I look at it from the exact opposite point of view. I choose my friends. I don't get to choose my family, so I feel no guilt from having walked away from mine. I took too long to initially make that decision but have lived happily ever after since then.

We weren't all born into perfect families, after all.

Unless you believe in reincarnation, you've only got this one life to live. Don't waste it on people or things that aren't worth it. Only you can decide who or what is worth it. Choose wisely.

Best of luck!
posted by 2oh1 at 10:24 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

The large amount of money you've lent rings a big bell with me. There's nothing like debt and obligation to interfere with a close relationship.

Otherwise, I'm nthing what a few others have said above: don't go above and beyond to be close, but leave the door open in case they'd like to reach out in the future. Nurture the relationships that are satisfactory, like the one with your mom, let go of everything else. I have drifted apart from a few toxic family members over the years and it's not easy but it gets better over time. Sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do....don't feel guilty!
posted by weesha at 10:29 AM on October 5, 2009

If you've permanently emigrated you will find maintaining closeness with your family is the real task. So, if you wish to distance yourself from your family that's going to happen on all it's own without any effort on your part, as you create a new life in a new culture, completely divorced from theirs. Especially when the distance is such that time and budget will prevent anything but occasional visits.

Anyway, it sounds like you've had a string of disappointments from your family, in little and big things, but you can't expect them to know how you'd prefer them to act. They cannot read your mind and can't know how you're hurt and why. Just from the question it doesn't sound to me as if their behavior is so egregious as to warrant no future contact whatsoever. Of course that's a decision for you alone, but if you do want a different relationship with your family you'll have to talk to them about it, talk to them about what things you'd like changed and how. Also, relationships are two way streets. I've seen estranged family members both seem to want a better relationship, but only passive complain about the situation instead of making an effort. This is doubly so when one party feels slighted, rightly or wrongly.

A bit of modesty and self-reflection never hurts, either. An opening could be something like "In retrospect my marriage was not fully thought out/hasty/whatever, but I'd really appreciate your support now that we're separating. It's a painful process."

Things like the lack of wedding gifts may not have been intended out of malice. It could be thoughtlessness or laziness or not being fully up on wedding etiquette. Since you mentioned considerable loans maybe they didn't have the money to spend on presents, or were unable to give gifts that would match yours. There could be many reasons why they didn't give you gifts.

And speaking of money, a rule I once read here is good advice: if you loan money to family or friends, consider it a gift with no expectation that you will get the money back. If you cannot consider it a gift then don't lend the money.
posted by 6550 at 10:43 AM on October 5, 2009

Response by poster: Responding to Sara Anne, I do feel down sometimes but I am doing productive things and meeting friends so I don't feel clinically depressed.

Responding to showbiz_liz, I have in fact told everyone off for their behavior and then left. Not so mature of me but I couldn't take it anymore.

Responding to From Bklyn, I did complain very clearly to my mom that nobody else cares to call and see how I'm doing. Its been at least 2 months since I lost my job, my marriage.

Responding to anniecat, yes you are right. My family is not Western but I was raised Western. I feel like I am a forgiving person but I asked directly for very basic things. Just to have a phone call, just to pay back a bit of their owes to me, just for basic respect. Its just like the relationship with my wife - I feel like I am putting all the effort in the relationship and she simply doesn't want to - so I had to leave her.

They make me feel like I'm the crazy one but I'm the only one who reads about relationships and its very clear that they are the ones who are dysfunctional.

Responding to Jurate, what you say makes sense to me. The bottom line is that no matter what their reasons are, it is just not healthy for me to be interacting with my family at this point in time. They are just dragging me down.

Responding to kitcat, here is a list of things that bother me:
- my dad rarely calls and when he does, he asks for money.
- i went out of my way to help my family with financial difficulties. I spent literally days figuring out how to clean up their debts. In return, they haven't even said the words "thank you" and haven't paid a cent back, nor have they shared any plan to pay me back.
- A specific situation: I used to have a drinking problem quite a while back but one of my brothers pestered me to no end to go to a bar with him while I have non-alcoholic drinks. He kept asking like a child over 50 times so I gave in and I gave in to drinking too. He is not looking out for my best interest - just really selfish I think. I would never do that to non-family if I knew that about someone.
- Over the years I just seemed to feel like second class on birthdays, missed graduations, no gift for wedding, etc.

I'm just tired of being the caretaker of the family. None of my brothers remotely help the way I do.

There is no free bailout left - I won't be there when the sh*t hits the fan. And with the way they run their lives, it will hit the fan eventually.

I think I was too nice and they took me for granted and now they lost their son.

Responding to Laura_J, I already talked to them and they still don't get things. I'm burned out. My friend says I should try again and maybe I will when I have strength.

Maybe one day I can reconnect if they change. I'm not that unforgiving.

But I'll lose my sanity if I stay in that environment. I just need a more loving and encouraging environment.
posted by simpleton at 10:46 AM on October 5, 2009

Just a word as I agree with the advice above: please stay in contact with your mother. My greataunt's only son left home in his mid 20s and never contacted any of the family again. Until she died, she wondered and mourned. It was like a small stone in her heart. As your mother obviously cares for you, please do her this favour.

As for the rest: well, yes, they have not shown you consideration, respect or compassion and have not had the decency to return the money you loaned them. What, really, do you owe them?
posted by x46 at 10:59 AM on October 5, 2009

You have to take care of yourself first. Ideally at some point you'd be able to come back to your family from a position of emotional stability and strength from which you can negotiate a positive relationship. But that's not easy, because family patterns are so deep and hard to change (I really recommend Harriet Lerner's series of psychology/self-help books on this), and it's not going to happen quickly no matter what you do.

It seems like you're asking permission to leave behind your family, but you don't need it. "Family" is a big loaded word in pretty much every culture but at the end of the day it can only mean what you choose for it to mean. Take the time and get the support you need to rebuild a new and loving (where loving doesn't necessarily mean money or even regular contact) relationship with them on your own terms.
posted by Salamandrous at 11:36 AM on October 5, 2009

People who come from healthy families (or who weren't nailed as hard by crappy family behavior) aren't really going to get this. "They're family" is bullshit, and I can't apologize for saying so. Family should by all rights be held to the same standards as community rather than the much lower one most are held to.

As long as your mother is civil, stay in contact. But the rest are only ever going to have their hand out to you. Don't leave your forwarding address, and tell your mother not to give your information out to anyone.

You're going through a divorce, all your trust in everyone is damaged and you're in a lot of pain that your family has not even tried to address. Yes, they suck. But they won't heal your wounds. At best, you'll get an apology - and likely a less than heartfelt one - from your mother. At worst you'll get a massive guilt trip loaded on you about what an awful son you are, flying in the face of all the good you've already done under the guise of "family obligation."

Take care of yourself right now. It's always going to hurt that your family did not step in and help you when it came your turn, but if you wait for them to get better, you'll just get more damaged. Do whatever it takes to heal you - relocate, find a therapist, see a naturopath, whatever works, and if it doesn't work try something else until you find something that does.
posted by medea42 at 12:04 PM on October 5, 2009

Your father and your brothers are a source of hurt, resentment and a host of other negative feelings in your life. And, to echo what Jurate said: as an adult you are most certainly free to choose where you live, what you do and with whom you do it. Distance yourself, know that your anger is merited and go ahead and feel angry until you're good and done will feeling angry. This might take some time. Maybe even a year or two.

Now here comes the paradoxical and really difficult part. If it's not too late already, try not to cut your father and brothers completely out of your heart - not for their sake, but for your own. Doing that can have unintended consequences on that heart of yours.

Compounded with your job loss and the end of your marriage, these issues merit grief counselling. Grief counselling, *not* another type of therapy like CBT.

Finally, however immature, the fact that you told everyone off is not necessarily a *very bad thing*. I say this from experience: after more than a decade of putting up with a friend's rotten, abusive behaviour and feeling like it was my fault, I finally stuck it to this person. I expected to feel guilt and shame afterwards. But it felt FANTASTIC and like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I knew that what I was saying true; and when that's the case, you don't even have to throw in superfluous insults! The truth is hurtful enough, at least if the person in question has a modicum of shame. If you've suffered in silence for a long time, telling someone off can be healing. That's my opinion, anyway.

Maybe someday you'll be able to make amends and maybe not. That's your call to make and you don't have to decide or even think about that until you're ready. Good luck.
posted by kitcat at 1:45 PM on October 5, 2009

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