“We may have our differences, but nothing’s more important than family.” — Disney’s Coco
I recently watched the Bachelor and the Bachelorette. I’ve never been into it, but I decided to try it to bond with a friend. Together we watched a few seasons: Ali Fedotowsky, Juan Pablo, Andi Dorfman, and the most recent one, Clare Crawley and Tayshia Adams.
You might be wondering why anyone would binge that many seasons of the Bachelor franchise, and all I can say is this time in covid has been strange indeed.
Of course, the shows were entertaining, but after watching so many seasons back to back, I noticed some glaring patterns in each season.
1. “I’ve never felt this way before.”
2. “Family is everything.”
3. “He/She is from a nice family.”
Noticing how often contestants said these things, I began to ponder it a bit — especially the last one.
Lovely family, nice family. Now, what does that mean, and how important is it?
For some of us, we cringe each time we hear people on TV (or in our social circles) talk about nice families. You yourself might be in a position in which this kind of comment feels a little dated. You probably have your own ideas of what that implies, and you may or may not fall under that description.
What are nice families?
Picture a nice family. You might see a clean-cut family that made all the right choices and had solid marriages.
Aside from the white fences and golden retrievers, one interpretation is a family that is still together. This idea also paints a family that hasn’t experienced any significant fractures (divorce and/or estrangements) and long term effects of those fractures. Another idea is a family free from addiction or criminal histories.
That being said, families that have divorced still have a place amongst nice families. It’s important to note that they could be categorized more so under notoriety or wealth. Or perhaps take into consideration the level of fracturization during and post-divorce.
Aside from all this, we have to consider the validity of the nice family image. So much goes on behind closed doors, so it’s hard to know who truly fits this description but for now, let’s focus on the image projected to society rather than the truth behind it.
Do people still care about this?
I know what you’re thinking. Your first reaction might be that no one cares about this anymore.
However, some people care about this sort of thing, and there is a strong argument as to why it matters.
I know someone whose parents seem to be damn near perfect. She talks to them on the phone multiple times a day, and although they are older, they seem like a young couple in love. This family is tight! She once mentioned that she couldn’t be with a romantic partner who isn’t super close to their parents.
While I understood what she was saying, I couldn’t help but wonder if that meant potential partners from broken or fractured families were off the table.
Another example is a friend from a nice family who is dating someone from a “fucked family,” (her words) someone from a family with A LOT of drama and trauma. Her parents are notable in the community and still super affectionate with each other whereas her partner’s parents are divorced and had a wild and tumultuous relationship.
Perhaps you know someone whose parents are still together and madly in love. You might be part of one of these families or on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Who are these lucky people?
A friend of mine calls these people “normies.” As she explained it, normies are people who have experienced laid back or pleasant childhoods and adult lives with minimal trauma. Their families haven’t been plagued with addiction, abuse, or abandonment.
“Would you want to date a normie?” She asked. “Would you want to date someone close with their family? Wouldn’t you rather be with someone estranged from their family? Don’t you think it’s important that they’ve experienced trauma so they could understand?”
Some people feel they need to be with someone who has experienced trauma and hasn’t had a clean-cut life. As for my friend, it’s one of the first questions she asks when beginning to date.
Do people from nice families want to be with those who are from broken ones?
We know that your family represented the status you were able to reach in life and the partners and doors that would be open to you not long ago. (Think Netflix’s Bridgerton! Team Duke Hastings forever!) Arguably, it still plays a role in upward mobility in today's culture.
How far have we evolved from this notion? Does the family image still play a significant role in dating amongst lower and middle classes?
We hear it while growing up. We view it in movies, in books, and in other media around us. Aside from the period pieces in which this requirement is made clear repeatedly, there is still evidence in movies, TV, and books today.
Even in our communities, there are divisions in who runs together and who marries.
Yes, people marry outside of their own experiences, but as far as sparkling clean families, can we gain acceptance into those? Is it something we would want?
For those of us from broken homes or families with other baggage, these notions of well put together families can be a triggering reminder of what we can’t have.
What’s more, we must consider the range of reasons why those families are still together: love, loyalty, and obligation or fear, oppression, and stigma.
What about the other side?
On the other side are complicated or fractured families, families that couldn’t make it through life experiences seamlessly together for whatever reason. Some of these families never stood a chance financially or romantically.
You might be feeling like I am passing judgment on people from these circumstances. I’m not putting them down, but rather, I am curious and observing because I am from this group.
As a child, I experienced emotional abuse and witnessed physical abuse. I saw the effects of substance abuse (drugs and alcohol) and saw family members struggling with mental illness — never receiving treatment. There was also abandonment, poverty, and family fractures to the extreme. These ingredients put together a cocktail of family disfunction that has sparked my interest in this dynamic in dating.
Does this mean we aren’t desirable companions for relationships with people from opposing backgrounds?
What this means to those of us from fractured families
It’s not so much the potential partners that I worry about. It’s more about their parents.
Would their parents feel uneasy and disappointed? Would they see some significant flaw in character, regardless of intention?
Kids from alternative backgrounds have these kinds of thoughts that cross their minds as they get older.
How unfair, considering it’s not our fault that we can’t live up to it.
But on the other hand, isn’t it just as bad for fractured victims to be dismissive of those who had it better?
Fortunately, we have Instagram. To get some clarity, I reached out to my small group of followers and asked three questions:
1. Are your parents still together?
2. Did/do they have a happy marriage?
3. Would you date/marry someone with vastly different answers than yours?
Here is what I learned
- All answers: More than half had parents who are divorced.
- All answers: More than half had parents who had unhappy marriages, including those still together.
- Still together: Only a quarter of the ones whose parents are still together said their parents had happy marriages.
- Still together: The rest have parents who are still together and aren’t that happy, alluded to the notion that their parents didn’t want to deal with getting a divorce. They made it seem like their parents had just accepted an unhappy marriage and made it work, which has left them somewhat satisfied.
- Still together: Almost everyone from this group said they would date someone from a different family dynamic.
- Divorced: However, most hesitancy came from children from broken homes.
Some of the honest feedback I received from these groups mentioned a hesitancy towards being in a relationship with someone from a clean-cut background, expressing that it might be weird or uncomfortable as the families begin to get involved with each other.
Overall most of the people whose parents are still together said they would date someone from a different family dynamic as long as they were kind.
It seems that these days amongst modern couples, kindness and compatibility are still prioritized.
However, it would be naive to think that it doesn’t matter at all.
I know, I know, there is no such thing as a perfect family. However, some families seem so happy and put together that they seem close enough to call it. Kudos to these people for making a family unit work.
Having a unique dynamic keeps it interesting. Besides, not all trauma is family-based. We really never know what our potential partners have been through until we ask.
You might want to consider whether or not it is fair to judge someone based on family. Isn’t it the same as them judging us?
Are you in a relationship, or have you dated someone from a different dynamic? Let me know what you think!