Is it okay to feel ambivalent?

Shikuza blue asks: I have quite a big family. Sometimes I feel that it would be better if I could live on my own alone. But now when my house is empty because everyone is abroad, I am alone – and not liking it too much. Even though I know that my parents will return from their trip and I will go back to my wanting a more solitary life, I can’t live it now.

Hi Shikuza blue –

To put it in the most confusing way I can, you’re not alone in your wish to be alone but not be alone!  This feeling is very very common, especially in teenagers.  It’s called Ambivalence, and its what we feel when we either don’t want anything, or we want two or more things that are completely opposite.

There are lots of things that look a bit like Ambivalence, but aren’t.  For example, when you’re wanting to diet so you can lose weight, but you really want that yummy chocolate cake you just saw.  You’re not ambivalent about it – you just want two things and have to decide which you want more.

But when you really want to be alone but don’t want to be alone, or when you really want to hang out with someone you often don’t like, or when you want to try something new that you think you won’t like – those are Ambivalence.  And it’s really difficult!

The most famous case of Ambivalence ever was a character named Hamlet, in a play by the same name.  This poor guy was a prince who found out his uncle had murdered his father, and then goes pretty much nuts trying to figure out what he should do about it.  But he also struggles over a bunch of other things too.  At one point, he’s so confused, he considers ending his own life, and famously even struggles with that (“To be or not to be, that is the question.”).

So Ambivalence can be a mess, no question.  But there’s one thing about it – it shows intelligence.  Hamlet is a very very bright guy.  We dogs hardly ever show Ambivalence, because our brains just don’t have as much capacity for thought as yours.  If we sniff something, you won’t generally see us be ambivalent about eating it – we’ll either want it or not.  We might struggle with a choice (Should I jump onto that chair and eat off that person’s plate?), but that’s usually weighing the reward (yummy food) against the consequence (getting yelled at and put outdoors).

But your Ambivalence about your family just shows that you’re thinking and feeling deeply, and aware of your thoughts and feelings.  You’re at just the right age to think about breaking away from your home and family and living life on your own, but you’re also disliking loneliness.  Both are true.  And that’s why this is hard.

Some day, Shikuza blue, you’ll have a reason to leave home.  Maybe it’ll be to go to school, or maybe to move in with friends, or with a spouse, or maybe you’ll travel somewhere.  Whatever it is, you’ll have lived through this struggle you’re in now, and most likely you’ll have learned some things.  Like how to take care of yourself, and some things about making new friends, and how to stay safe…  It’ll still be new and adventurous and a little scary, but you’ll be more ready for it than you are right now.  And that’s just the way it ought to be.

For now, all I can suggest is that you use this time to learn as much as you can, so that things are as easy as possible when you do take that step.  And try to, as much as you can, appreciate your family while you have them – with all their annoying flaws!  You’ll have a whole lifetime apart from them – so enjoy what you can of them now.

All my best,

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