I’m an only child and I don’t know how to share. It’s not that I don’t share. I do. It’s more that it doesn’t come naturally and I constantly have to check myself, are you sharing? I have to remind myself when it would be a good time to share, and sometimes I forget. Sometimes I don’t want to, and I have to make myself. And because sharing isn’t a natural impulse of mine, it doesn’t feel comfortable or free. A voice comes on saying, it’s going to look bad if you don’t offer that around, and so I do. Will you believe me if I tell you that I am damn embarrassed by the fact that when I share it’s a PR move, not a selfless act? Or are you rolling your eyes in disgust at this typical only child behavior? I agree with you, it’s gross.
I have friends who are only children who share beautifully, naturally and fluidly. I have friends who are only children who say the hard part of being an adult is having to share. I wish I could be more like the former, and I study their behavior closely for the notes on how to be.
Recently a friend told me about overhearing a father say to his child, “what do we do when we want more of something?” To which the child answered, “we share.”
Wait, what? No, sharing means you end up with less of something you want. It means relinquishing control over resources. It leads to diminished supplies, and right around the corner scarcity is lurking, that most miserable of states. If something is good, you keep it for yourself and that’s that. Sometimes you might even hide it, or hoard it, just to be sure it’s on hand for exclusive use.
The behaviors translated from that line of thinking aren’t pretty. It used to be so bad my roommates freshman year of college threw me out of our dorm suite. They weren’t allowed to touch, borrow or use any of my stuff because it was mine. I touched, borrowed and used their stuff without asking, with abandon, because it was mine. That’s what I actually believed, and it was so ingrained from growing up an only child it wasn’t a consideration.
The privileged life of an only child. You have your own room, and everything in it is yours, and no one comes in, and no one takes anything, and no one is even interested in any of it. The whole house is yours, really, and what your parents’ own is yours too, and you take it and use it without asking. Most of the time that’s OK, unless it’s something really personal or special. There is zero competition for resources, and anything whole stays that way, no division needed. It does not prepare you to live in the world, as an adult.
My roommates told me to get the fuck out after one too many of my tantrums over stupid shit like misplaced breakfast cereal (which to me had been “stolen”). I wouldn’t be able to easily locate something of mine and I’d go ballistic, accusing and questioning anyone unlucky enough to be home. Meanwhile, I’d waltz right into someone else’s room and help myself to their clothing, food, anything I wanted. One time a guy friend changed my computer wallpaper from my carefully constructed Cal Ripken Jr. collage to some silly picture when I was away and I lost my mind. I’m pretty sure I collapsed, sobbing, in a total rage over what I perceived to be a cruel prank. A betrayal, really. Ugh. I deserved to be tossed out.
I think of a line from Get Him to the Greek, when after a botched attempt at a threesome, Russell Brand admonishes Jonah Hill and Elisabeth Moss, “You need to look at yourselves. Honestly, this isn’t how people live.” My inability to naturally share is humiliating and utterly immature. Just last month I was at a party where the pizza lines were long so I grabbed a ton of slices and went back out to the patio. An acquaintance stopped me asking, “got enough there for me?” I’m going to just own that I squirmed inwardly because I wanted to hoard it for myself and the friends I’d come to the party with, and I felt I could not spare one single half slice. So I just stared, holding the plate close to me until he turned away.
Hours later I came back to the table where I’d been eating and saw two slices left on the plate, cold, and untouched. A slow burn seeped from my toes to the top of my head, pulsing in my cheeks. It was total, full-body shame. Who does that? I had had plenty when a slice was requested, and I rigidly refused. Here was irrefutable proof that I had more than enough, and yet I turned a friend away. For nothing, other than an ancient impulse forged in childhood abundance. I was too petrified at the thought of scarcity to share. Who does that? Over pizza, yet!
And so, when I heard about the father and child who believe that if you want more of something, you share, I knew I was going to have to spend some time exploring this idea. The PR campaign version of sharing is flawed, clearly and I need to get my shit together. This isn’t a valid way to live. And it’s not who I want to be.
If you want more of something, you share.
How does that even…but if you…except that…my mental blocks to this sentiment are many. And they come from a very primitive place that isn’t serving me in my adulthood. I look for workarounds: I’ll just make sure I have more of X than I can possibly want, and then sharing will be no problem. Or, I’ll share this thing that isn’t so special “freely” so that I can hoard this other thing that is. No one will be able to tell that’s what I’m doing, and that makes it OK. Whether or not people can see right through to my impure motives, I’m scared to know, but the point is I know.
I access that most gorgeous of states–gratitude–when people share with me. I know when its happening, and I don’t expect it, and I savor it, reveling in a sense of luck and appreciation from the gesture. I write thank you notes. I’m vocal with my thanks. I try never to let a thank-you go unsaid, no matter how small the act. I feel fortunate to see ordinary kindnesses (such as sharing) for the important moments that bond the human race that they are.
Well, congratulations for liking when people give you stuff. Very evolved. You enjoy the generosity of others? How lovely for you. And at some point, if you’re not sharing in return, and not just directly back to the person who did it first, won’t the ride end?
Maybe if I want to keep up that kind of karma, I’d better learn how to share. Like, now.