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Dr. Kenner: Here is a question I received about somebody who is very hungry for an older brother. This is from Brett. “Dear Dr. Kenner. I’m 18 years old and an only child. For the past few years, I’ll I’ve wanted in my life is a big brother. Someone to look up to.” You get that sense of wanting a hero. “I have dreamed of having a brother to depend on, to look after me when no one else is.” My goodness, where are your parents? “I watch TV and I see brothers bonding and having fun and I want that. I dream of a big brother to teach me right from wrong. I want someone to do the guy stuff with, to hang out with and just have fun. I try to fill that void with friends, but most of the time it doesn’t work. It hurts me every time I watch TV that shows brothers hanging out and having fun. Is this normal? What can I do? Thanks, Brett.”
Brett, I love your hunger for a brother. I love it. Because you’re wanting close relationships and being an only child, it must have been difficult for you and it sounds like your parents were not fully there for you if you are still wanting to learn right from wrong and have some moral compass in your life. You want a very close relationship and that is totally normal and healthy. You’re also wanting a mentor that you can admire, a hero in your life. Now, you can’t get it the way you’re setting it. In cognitive therapy, we say that you’ve framed it wrong and you want to put a different picture frame around it. You want to reframe it. As you have it as an impossible goal, because your parents, if they’re together, even if they had another child, he would never be an older brother! He’d be your younger brother and you’re 18-years-old and so what are you going to do with that?
What you can do is take the essence of what you’re looking for, which is a delicious friendship, same-sex friendship, a buddy – and it may not be romantic, I’m assuming it isn’t, but you just want a buddy – and you can put yourself in it. Instead of sitting back and feeling real despondent and sad, get into some healthy sport activities or after-school activities. Music, could be band or singing or art or a science club or athletic club or math club or drama or debating club or a history club or get on the newspaper staff, and search for a friendship. Learn how to develop it.
The next thing you want is a mentor, someone to help you know the difference between right and wrong. Everybody needs that in their life. Most people just have patchwork guidance from their parents and whatever they picked up. I recommend the book The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, and I recommend my book, The Selfish Path to Romance, because we talk about how to make yourself loveable and then how to reach out. That’s in romance, but you can try that too. You’re 18 years old. Most sibling relationships are not so happy. You see the good ones on TV, but honey, there are some really bad ones too. So, some people would thank their lucky stars to be in your shoes.
Male 1: This girl is like, you know, beautiful. She’s smart. She’s fun. She’s different from most of the girls I’ve been with.
Male 2: So call her up, Romeo.
Male 1: Why, so I can realize she’s not that smart? I mean, this girl is perfect, right? I don’t want to ruin that.
Male 2: Maybe you’re perfect right now. Maybe you don’t want to ruin that. But I think that’s a super philosophy Will. That way you can go through your entire life without having to really know anybody.
Dr. Kenner: How poignant is that? That’s from Good Will Hunting. We feel anxious when we want to start dating or go after someone that we’re so attracted to and we’re afraid that they won’t be the person we think they are. And we’re afraid that we’re not the person they think we are and we’re afraid to have those fantasies dashed and the reality of it is that you’re going to get to know one another in layers. You are going to discover things you love about another person, things that you love in their presence – the way they make you feel, the visibility you get feeling cared for and nourished – and there are things mediocre, you don’t quite like in them, and there are things you hate. Maybe they’re messy around the house or maybe they use foul language. How d the two of you who are noticing this in one another work with that? In any relationship, it isn’t going to be perfection. It isn’t going to come automatically and if you think that you can just meet each other across a crowded room, hug each other and rush off into your future, you are setting the wrong standards. What you want to be able to do is to grow together, to learn with each other, and to be willing to take the psychological risk. We call it psychological risk taking, to take, to put yourself on the line and ask her out for a date or to continue dating her or pursue her or him, whatever the case may be.
One of my websites is on what we were just talking about, romance. How do you make yourself loveable? How do you meet a partner? How do you choose the right partner? How do you maintain a relationship over many years? How do you communicate? How do you deal with conflict, sexual issues – we have a whole chapter on sexual issues. You need to get my book. It’s called The Selfish Path to Romance. And the subtitle is how to love with passion and reason. Self-valuing and valuing your partner is what the book is all about. It’s my book, along with Dr. Ed Locke. We’re co-authors on that book and you can get it at SelfishRomance.com, just as it sounds. Again, I’m Dr. Ellen Kenner and the show is the Rational Basis of Happiness.