What does it feel like to be an only child in adulthood?

Our contributor reveals what it's like to grow up without siblings

Cher Clueless

Our contributor reveals what it's like to grow up without siblings

My friends from university have a running joke that I suffer from a debilitating illness known as ‘Only Child Syndrome’ – a condition which means that I always have to get my own way/get the best room/have first pick out of the chocolate box.

While I wouldn’t say that this is completely unfounded, it’s not wholly true either.

Was I spoilt as a child? Yes.

Did I have a prom-themed 16th birthday party? Yes.

Have I been known on occasion to insist on taking the front seat on long car journey? Hell, yeah! (I get travel sick, ok?).

But, all things considered, I still like to think that I’m nowhere near the stereotype of the indulged, precocious child who is incapable of sharing. It can be annoying when people assume this about you. If anything, as an only child you feel the need to compromise more, to share more, all in the name of disproving the cliché.

That said, living with other people at university was a real culture shock. Yes, I’d been on a gap year and shared a room for the duration, but the novelty of my alien location made it feel like one big adventure rather than your run-of-the-mill life experience.

At Durham though, learning to live with other people in mundane domesticity was painful. One housemate would come into my room when I was out and raid my wardrobe, trying on clothes and discarding them on the floor afterwards. When I asked her about it, she seemed surprised that this would bother me. ‘But my sisters and I do this all the time?’ she said, puzzled. So I eventually learned to live with it. After all, who was I to argue?

It was the invasion of privacy that was a struggle – I simply wasn’t used to having to spend this much time with others. I remember being genuinely amazed at how many people are incapable of spending time on their own.

As a child, I’d was never really bothered by the fact that I didn’t have siblings. I was perfectly happy spending hours on end reading and playing on my own (and by playing I mean organising my toys in my own unique version of fun). But at uni, I was forced into spending endless hours with other people whether I liked it or not.

It was probably a good thing – it definitely made me more tolerant. But this enforced intimacy was also confusing. As an only child, you’re constantly searching for pseudo-siblings to make up for the ones you never had. Your friends become more than just friends to you – they become the brothers and sisters you always wanted.

But the problem with this is that, no matter how much you might want them to be, they aren’t family. Thinking otherwise can be dangerous because if they do let you down, it hurts so much more.

The hardest thing, though, is the thought that one day you’ll be alone. It makes me envious of my mother’s relationship with her sisters. When my grandmother died, I understood the support network that having siblings brings. When she fell ill, my mother and aunts shared the burden. When she passed away, they comforted each other, understanding what each other was experiencing like no other person could. It’s something that I wish I could have for myself when the time comes.

But the truth is that as an only child I had the most idyllic childhood with parents who doted on me – I couldn’t have asked for anything more. My boyfriend (incidentally one of those housemates from uni) has two lovely sisters who have seemingly adopted me whether I like it or not. I have somehow managed to acquire some of the most astoundingly brilliant collection of friends – we’re all still a little confused as to how it happened.

Together, they make the future a lot less daunting. And the truth is, I wouldn't change being an only child for the world.

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