Close relationships can hinder ability to live independently

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

At lunch, the other day, my friends and I were discussing holiday activities and we got on the subject of families. Somebody brought up the fact that some families she knew insisted on celebrating the holidays apart because every time they got together there was a big family fight. It turned out we all knew families like that. On the other hand, we all also knew families that never spent their holidays apart.

An interesting thing about families is that some people assume that close families who spend most of their time together are happier than other people. Several of us agreed that in some cases these kinds of relationships can lead to disaster.


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When the issue came up, I was thinking particularly of a woman I worked with years ago. At that time, she was living with a sister who has since moved away. These two women were closer than anyone I’ve met before or since. They literally lived in each other’s pocket or at least I, and the people where we worked, thought they did.

In spite of their closeness they were opposites in personality. The sister had sparkling disposition, made friends easily and was popular everywhere she went. Our co-worker was quiet, kept to herself and spent most of her time with her sister. When I left that job I lost track of both of the women and ran into the woman I formerly worked with only a few months ago.

I encountered her at the grocery store and she told me she retired two years ago. She said that she was recently widowed, lives alone and that since her sister left several years ago, she doesn’t see anyone anymore and no one ever visits, even her own children. She seemed so lonely; I was bothered by this for several weeks. Shortly thereafter, I was introduced to the woman’s daughter and I heard the other side of the story.

For most of her life this woman had lived in her sister’s shadow. Consequently, she never really learned how to build a life of her own. It was really her sister and the people and events in her sister’s world that made up the stuff of her existence. Even when she married and had children she was dependent on her sister to supply the substance and energy that kept the family going. When her sister moved away, the woman simply stopped living.

The daughter admitted that she found visits with her mother extremely tiring. She said she had tried unsuccessfully to interest her mother in a variety of things. She suggested that her mother volunteer at the local hospital or food pantry. She offered to introduce her to the senior center. She invited her to join her book club. None of these things interested her mother. The woman’s constant companion, her daughter said, was the television.

Unfortunately, this woman seems to be part of a growing population of lonely people who have given up on life. One suspects that she gave up a long time ago. Once she settled into the role of sister, mother and worker, she made no further effort to stretch her possibilities into any other direction. Many people in her situation find a new role as grandmother and become fixtures in the homes of their children until they are no longer needed as babysitters.

Today’s world is filled with people who have made friends with their television set. Instead of investing their time in relationships with human beings they choose to watch movies. And even though people are said to be born social animals, many individuals insist that they are happy with their lives devoid of true friendships. I’ve heard some people say they go weeks without human contact. While this woman doesn’t pretend to be happy with her life, she does not seem able to change it.

It is sad to watch individuals who have no lives of their own, cling to another person’s. I know siblings, close friends and some mothers who seem to be incapable of making friends of their own, developing hobbies and joining groups with whom they have interests in common. These people can easily become totally dependent on the other person to create his or her reason for living.

The only life anyone can live is his or her own. Starting early and finishing late is a good way to go.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at


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