Columns / Discourse / May 4, 2011

Girl Meets World: All in the family

Brian Powell, a sociology professor at Indiana University, and his team tackled Americans’ evolving definition of family in a book-length study, “Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans’ Definitions of Family,” and separate 2010 survey. Between 2003 and 2010, his team conducted three surveys involving more than 2,300 people. The new research was released this past September.

“What we find is that people are moving away from a traditional definition of family and they’re moving towards a modern definition of family,” said Powell. “That includes a much greater array of living arrangements. They’re including a much broader group of people, broader combination of people as families.”

As Americans across the nation are evolving their idea of family, incorporating unmarried couples with children and same-sex couples into their definition more and more, I find myself making a similar, yet more personal, evaluation of the concept. I have been privileged enough to be blessed with a handful of friends in college who I have considered for quite a while to be family. Contemporary society generally views family as a haven from the world, supplying absolute fulfillment. The family is considered to encourage “intimacy, love and trust where individuals may escape the competition of dehumanizing forces in modern society, […] it supplies what is vitally needed but missing in other social arrangements” (Zinn & Eitzen, 1987). I would say the few I consider to be my family have done this and so much more.

To me, family is a constant. It supersedes arguments, relationships, spit circles and common interests. It holds strong through that time when you borrowed a real pearl bracelet to wear to the marine ball and lost it at the hotel, and when you almost lost their glasses in the grass outside of the foam pit on Flunk Day instead of guarding them with your life. Families share secrets amongst other each other, a history that feels like forever and a trust that members are committed to for a lifetime. Members of a family don’t necessarily have a high number of common interests and goals as friends would- the only thing they may have in common is each other. I consider my family to be the people who I would trust with my life, and who I am going to have my kids refer to as their aunts and uncles in 20 years.

I don’t know anyone in the state I’m moving to in June. Not a soul. I don’t know anyone who is going to tell me where I just put down my keys and lost them. I don’t know anyone there who is going to call me out when I’m being hypocritical, or push me supportively when I’m not taking enough risks. I do know, however, that 60 percent of Americans in 2010 said that if you considered yourself to be a family, then you were one. I also know that families supersede state lines. I could not have asked for a better, more hilarious, crazy, forgiving and dynamic group of people to be permanently stationed in my corner wherever I go. I love you guys more than anything and am ever so grateful for forts, bucket lists, road trips, tattoos, homemade dinners, tila tequila, so many firsts and wearing four pairs of glasses at the same time (along with many other things I won’t print here to embarrass you more than is necessary, though I know you would forgive me anyway).

Arianna Timko

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