I have this party trick. I know the fastest way to get a group of people to imprint multiple untrue, and sometimes nasty, clichés onto your personality. All you have to say is ‘I’m an only child’ and there you have it! They all nod, wide-eyed with that look of knowing that you, my friend, are an oddball.
I’m almost 21 years old now, and somehow I’m still using this like some kind of personality trait. It’s my ‘fun fact about me’, it’s what I say in that awkward moment during icebreakers when you have to ‘go around the circle and say something interesting about you’. I mean, it was cute when I was three and presented in lime green party dresses to family friends, with my parents looking pleased as punch because they ‘got it right first time’. But now there are just so many bad stereotypes about being an only child that I’m waiting for someone to rub my arm and tell me how sorry they are.
An only child is a lonely child. Lonely?! I’m just thankful there’s no annoying older sibling ready to dish the dirt on an embarrassing childhood story when my boyfriend comes over. There’s no little sister to steal my clothes or little brother to wreck my room. I didn’t play with other children, I played with dolls that masqueraded as astronauts, princesses and storybook characters. Being an only child was the best thing that could’ve been done for my imagination. Every night was a sleepover with my whole gang of imaginary friends but I was always up bright and early to lead my classroom of teddybears in their morning lessons. Who is lonely when they only have to think for a moment to have any playdate possible?
I wouldn’t try to convince the puzzled onlooker though. If somehow they believe that I wasn’t any more lonely than they were as an angsty teenager, then there’s always those other clichés that make them back away slowly. I don’t have any brothers or sisters so I must be self-centred, attention-seeking, selfish or bossy. It’s very possible that in my life I have acted like all of these things, but it certainly wasn’t due to the fabled ‘only child syndrome’. Only children are the natural targets for bullies in schools, as they have not received the proper training on how to deal with other children’s taunts. But surely that makes me independent? Your big brother might want to beat me up after school but I ain’t scared. I’ve got this army of one. Nobody showed me what to do, I taught myself. I made my own friends. I fought my own battles. I found my own way. Who’s a shy onlooker now? Not this only child.
Something that really accentuates my particular ‘onlychild-ness’ is that I am also an only grandchild. I come from a genealogy of only children that have passed on their introverted, independent ways to me. That’s not to say, of course, that some only children aren’t massively outgoing or thrive on the company of others. I know plenty of only children that have found a place amongst a crowd of cousins. Not me though, I enjoy my silence, my space and my alone time.
As I get older, I’m going to move away from my family home. Firstly overseas on this year abroad but then hopefully into a shared flat with some of my closest friends. It’ll be the first time I’ve shared a home with more than family and I’m not going to lie, it’s daunting. I watch the way my boyfriend and his sister bicker, and I worry that my dream of a perfect american sitcom life will be a rocky road. Some of my best friends are only children like me, and some come from a brood as large as seven.
As the wise old fridge magnet says, friends are the family that you choose for yourself, and I’m lucky to be surrounded by friends that I have chosen to be my brothers and sisters… without having to compromise on my parents’ attention!
Do you have brothers and sisters?