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family ties

April 24, 2010

I’ve been wanting to write a blog post for at least a week, but have not felt anything bubbling up to be said. So I’ve used the time away looking for inspiration in various places.

Last week, Spouse and I spent several days visiting my in-laws in central Kentucky for their 50th wedding anniversary. The culture shock I experience whenever we visit them is even worse than living in central Indiana was. I can’t quite figure out what ideas people are communicating, beyond perhaps, “we belong to the same tribe” — except that I clearly don’t belong to the same tribe. Conversations usually center around disease, disaster, death, and misfortune. No matter what happens, someone will chime in with a dire prediction about its likely outcome. Since I’m an optimist, I grit my teeth a lot as I keep quiet, because I have nothing to add.

I’m also disconcerted by the idea that if one marries into a family, one is never truly part of that family. My father-in-law clings to that idea, and comments about it fairly often in diverse circumstances (not always directed at me personally). In contrast, whenever I encountered a significant other of one of my own relatives, I began thinking of them as “family” in some sense, even before they married in. Some of them didn’t marry in, as it happens, but I still tend to think of them as “(distant) cousins”. I don’t love them less because an affiliative tie (marital or otherwise) wasn’t formalized, or formed but later dissolved.

My conception of family, though, seems much more fluid than a lot of people’s. And it’s definitely based on feelings of affinity and connection, rather than social roles or structures.

Now that I think about it, though, if “my tribe” consists mostly of people I feel connected to and/or affinity for, that actually excludes most human beings I know, including most of those I am related to. In an abstract sense, I think of everyone and everything as being part of my tribe. But in a practical sense, I definitely have favorites (my inner and outer circles).

The Internet (forums, listservs, and now blogs) has been a big help in finding like-minded people, but I don’t want to (and can’t) spend my entire life online. I wish I could find an easier method than the haphazard trial-and-error thing I’ve been doing because I’m always interested in finding people to add to my inner and outer circles.

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