It's the stuff of countless TV shows, just as many movies, and fodder for some of the funniest stand-up comedy acts I've heard. It's the other "f" word.
After recently spending a day with my own, and then collapsing in a pile on the couch after their departure -- and this was for a kid's birthday party -- I wondered how it is that these people I call my family can take so much out of me.
"I don't feel this exhausted after spending the day with friends," I thought to myself, kind of horrified at my feelings, and totally perplexed.
"Why was that so hard?" I kept trying to figure out.
After having friends over my house, I usually feel just fine, having had lots of laughs most times, lots of merriment, etc.
So why, then, after hosting my family, is the feeling I'm left with so different? After all, wasn't my family my first real group of friends, so to speak? Shouldn't things be easiest, most comfortable with them?
"Is something wrong with me that I just found it so tiring to be with my family? Is my family that dysfunctional? Is it just me? Do we just not spend enough time together ...?"
But no. I don't spend a ton of time with my friends, either, but whenever we have a planned or even impromptu get-together, it's just so much easier.
And then, as usual, it hit me. The classic perfectionist issue: For perfection-seekers, family is a constant, losing battle. It'll never be perfect. Not in the clean, tidy sense of the word, anyway.
Family is totally imperfect, because as much as it defines who we are, it also defines exactly who we're not. We may be related and have so much that makes us alike, but that doesn't mean we're the same. And that can equal wrinkled and messy.
Despite our best individual attempts to be who we want to be, sometimes family can fly in the face of that, and we'll look at them and wonder, "What the *&%#?"
The very fact that no matter what, they're a part of us, can be endlessly frustrating when you can't for the life of you figure out where they're coming from.
While we can accept the imperfections of our friends because we're probably thinking, if we even notice, "What's it got to do with me?" the imperfections of our family are just too close to home to ignore, aren't they?
For some of us, maybe it's because their imperfections remind of us our own, and that annoys us on a level we're probably not even aware of.
Or maybe it's because were so closely entwined just by the blood running through our veins -- or our shared history, or even our lack of shared history, as the case may be -- that what our family does just cuts deep, holding some kind of meaning for or reflection on ourselves, whether we like it or care to admit it or not.
Sometimes with the fam, the little things don’t just roll off our backs the way they could with a friend. Families are tied together whether we like it or not, whether one of us is being awesome or horrible, funny or annoying, kind or mean. And unless we plan to ditch the family, we just have to deal with it.
Of course, we can address the things that bother us with the offending family members, perhaps even with greater ease than we could with a friend. But this -- for the reasons it bothers us in the first place -- can be even more exhausting, and begs the question, "Is it even worth it?"
Friends can be pains, too, don't get me wrong. But family is supposed to be our place of safety, of security. At least, in a perfect world it would be that way.
But as long as perfect to the perfectionist -- or the over-achiever or the Type A personality, whatever you want to call it -- means neat and orderly and tidy, family will inevitably be exhausting.
If we take a step back, though, and realize that all the years of love, arguments, joys and sorrows could never be orderly, this new perspective might make the imperfect thing we call family just a little bit easier to deal with.
So the next time I find myself wondering, "Where did these people come from?" I'll try to remember this:
"My family is a wrinkled, imperfect mess. They may exhaust me -- and I them -- but they're my family, and they make me, me. The good parts and the bad."