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It puzzles me when people say things like “blood is thicker than water”. This cliche implies that family bonds (blood) are more binding than friendships (water). It suggests that friends are temporary but family is forever.

I wonder if this is true, especially when some familial relationships feel more like a duty than a choice. When relationships are not a choice, when they are not something we engage in freely, friend or family, then they tend to be stifled by obligation. Things that should be said, aren’t. Perceived slights go on some silent scorecard while resentments quietly seem to fester. The inclination to resolve misunderstandings becomes lost in mixed up silence.

So, if silence rules, how can these relationships be anything more than an obligation? If they were born out of some expected responsibility because of “blood”, instead of genuine interest, how can they evolve as the people in them grow and change? They can’t, because the only thing holding this type of relationship together is a shared history, and history does not evolve. History is not enough. History alone only breeds indifference and indifference stings. There has to be respect and there has to be a desire to build new memories together.

This is not to say that forging meaningful, lasting, enjoyable familial relationships cannot be done. They certainly can and often are. When the bond is strong, it doesn’t feel like work: it comes naturally. But when it is weak and distance grows, it feels like an obligation and obligatory relationships don’t work even if “blood” is supposed to be thicker than “water”.

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