Ok, so imagine a world full of people you are attracted to . . . but the catch is that there is a risk that someone you are attracted to might actually turn out be your sibling or maybe a cousin. YIKES!
Since I was adopted during the time of closed adoptions, I had no idea who I might be actually related to by blood.
I was confused about the idea that since I was not biologically related to my cousins I was growing up with, it would be ok for us to date!
I don’t know about you but my cousins were mostly gangly weirdos and geeks. (Disclaimer: If any of my cousins are reading this blog, I can attest that you all stopped being weirdos and geeks and became fine people.) So many challenges when adoptees reach the dating age! No one to talk to about these things made it even harder. I mean, imagine saying to someone, "Did you know I can date my cousin?"
As a teen, I was flat-chested and taller than most boys I knew, so the cards were already stacked against me on the dating scene. Imagine someone asking you out and you having to say, “um, well, I’m not sure. Can you ask your mom if she gave up any babies for adoption? Or if maybe her sister(s) might have?” Ok, ok, I mean you would not really ask that, just putting it out there that that kind of stuff ran through my mind as an adoptee.
Not to leave birth fathers out of this discussion, imagine having to worry about the chance that the father of the person you like might have impregnated someone, knowingly or unknowingly, in the past, and that baby might just be YOU!? These were real thoughts and fears. If you thought, "Did you know I can date my cousin?" was weird to mention to someone, how about, "Did you know I could accidentally date a sibling?" Yep, not a lot of room for sharing that kind of stuff and finding an empathetic listener.
When I was in my teens there were two brothers who were friends with my brother. They were close to my age and I found one of them kind of cute. They used to hang out at our house a lot and I tried not to be the 'pesky little sister' when they were around. Instead tried to be the 'attractive young woman' in order to capture his attention. I would make excuses to drop by wherever they were hanging out, or to stay home if they were hanging out at my house with my brother. Then one day my mother came in my room and asked why I was hanging around my brother and these friends so much. I hummed and hawed, trying to come up with some lame excuse but she saw right through that. She gave me the ‘stern mother face’ and said in no uncertain terms, “You will NOT BE DATING either of them so don’t even bother to try!” In fact, she went on to explain that if I didn’t cut out the flirting, she would not allow them to come over to the house anymore. Well, that was mortifying because of course I thought my flirting had been pretty subtle. What the heck was going on with my mom anyway?
Remember, everyone assumed that a birth mother’s baby would be matched with an adoptive family residing far away from her community. If you recall, I was raised just 118 kilometers from the community where my birth mother had resided. As well, my older birth half-sister was in foster care for over a year in the same community as our birth mother was living. Since there was a maternal birth uncle only months older than my birth sister, it is reasonable to consider the chances of my half-sister and our maternal uncle dating if both families had stayed in that community. The risk was real.
Years later, I heard about a concept called ‘genetic sexual attraction’. It’s a real thing, and I strongly encourage you to look it up if you were adopted or if you are adoptive parents. I recommend this site: www.cumbria.gov.uk for its clarity on the topic. Genetic attraction is believed to be a result of missed bonding due to the adoption process. If you are an adult adoptee, a birth parent, a birth sibling, or an adoptive parent this is important information to know. The potential for these feelings can be discussed and normalized before, during, and/or after connecting with birth relatives.
Cumbria County Council states, “The term, genetic sexual attraction is used to describe the intense physical and emotional feelings that some people experience following restored contact between an adopted person and a close member of his or her birth family.” In my career I have had birth mothers talk to me about the urge to curl up in bed with their adult child (in a post adoption meeting scenario) because they had missed that experience at the child’s birth. Cumbria County Council further notes, “Some birth family members report the urge to touch and smell each other, just as mothers and babies do after a birth and infant brothers and sisters do in play.” These reactions are normal. They don’t happen to everyone, but when they do it can be very confusing. Educating yourself about this topic is important.
Getting back to my teenaged dating life, such as it was . . .
When I was about 16, I remember going on a date in my grandparents’ very small community located hundreds of kilometers from where I was living. My date and I decided to go to a movie. When we went into the theatre lobby to purchase our tickets, we both looked at the ticket seller at the same time and said, “Hey, that’s my cousin!” I mean, in reality the ticket seller was my cousin through adoption but still, pretty much ended any romance on that date. After the movie we shook hands goodnight and never saw each other again.
I just wanted you to think a bit about the impact being adopted has on the social life of an adopted person. Dating is already challenging for many people. Being adopted adds another layer to that. Luckily, today’s adopted persons usually have a little more information provided when they join their new family than people of my generation did, and by the age of 18 years old many of today’s adoptees are now entitled to some identifying information through the government. (If you are from Ontario and you are interested in learning more about Post Adoption Services go to Ontario.ca. Then search Post Adoption Records. There is information about services and application forms for adult adoptees and birth relatives.)
So, what the heck was going on with my mom?? Years later I learned that the brothers who hung out at our house had a last name that turned out to be very similar to my birth surname. In hindsight my mom was afraid I was going to date a person who might be a sibling or close blood relative!
Ok, I can see her point. Thanks for trying to protect me mom!
I would love to read your comments/experiences. If you would prefer to share them privately, rather than on this public forum, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynn Deiulis' personal and professional journey sparked a passion to write a book that offers an opportunity for children to learn about how they came to be living together as a family or living with another family.