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( Dec. 15th, 2003 02:13 pm)
In this entry, [livejournal.com profile] hopeforyou asks what is the difference between a clique and a family? I've elected to answer here rather than there because I want to keep track of my thoughts, and also because I feel a rant about language coming on.

For me, defining family revolves around two questions: "How difficult would it be for this person, or for me, to walk away from our relationship?" and "In an ideal world, how soon would I be notified if this person was hit by a truck?" With the added component that [livejournal.com profile] brian1789's family is my family. This goes beyond the traditional notions of blood and marriage, thus being able to accommodate OSOs (all of Brian and my sweeties, for example, would fall within the definition of family), without being open-ended.

Part of the problem for me with defining concepts like "family" so fluidly is that at some point, the word loses meaning. I see no problem with having a circle of very close friends, and am somewhat mystified by the need to define that as "family". Emotional intimacy has only a little to do with it: my siblings are part of my family, because that is a relationship that I cannot leave and because when important things happen, I hear about them; [livejournal.com profile] frankenboob is not, although I talk to her much much more frequently (and, truth be told, like her a great deal more) than any of my siblings. She knows me a great deal better than they do, too. She is my dear friend -- and to me, that actually matters much more than being part of my "family."

I've often mused if some of the opposition to expanding definitions of marriage and family was not linguistics based. "Family" is a form of shorthand for certain types of relationships, with certain types of responsibilities, and when you expand that definition, people are not sure how to understand what you mean. The same goes with marriage. Which is not to say that the definitions should not be expanded beyond their present socially understood parameters, but that if it is done willy-nilly people get confused. And, unless you take the position that one's family is nobody's damn business other than the people in it, that matters.

I wonder if a great deal of the emotional pressure that people feel to expand "family" comes from the societal devaluation of the word "friend." When businesses trumpet themselves as "Your friendly neighborhood banker" and say "You've got a friend in the diamond business", when people you just met feel free to ask you relatively intimate questions, of the sort once reserved for friends, it becomes tempting to find some name to define a relationship of emotional intimacy with words other than "friend."
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