Adoptees Crossing Lines

Navigating Relationships as an Adoptee: Insights and Challenges

January 27, 2023 Dr. Noelle, Tosha, Lia Season 1 Episode 6
Adoptees Crossing Lines
Navigating Relationships as an Adoptee: Insights and Challenges
Show Notes Transcript

Most challenging parts of friendship and dating for adoptees 

Why friendship and dating are so hard for adoptees  

What friends and partners don’t understand about adoptees 

As adoptees, we never want to rock the boat in any relationship we’re in be it with friends, family, or partners. The fear of abandonment is always lingering, and never an afterthought. So, what does that do to our minds? How does it affect our ability to bond? What do we need from our friends and partners? Should our partners meet our families? If yes, which family?! We share how we’ve tackled these disorienting questions in our lives as 3 adoptees. 

What we discussed 

(00:00) Dating as an adoptee OR Do you tell your partner you’re adopted?

(03:59) Partners meeting the family OR Meeting the family: which family would they meet?

(06:12) Educating partners about adoptee life

(10:06) How does adoption affect friendships?

(14:43) Are adoptees people pleasers OR Adoption and people-pleasing OR Standing up for yourself as an adoptee (people pleasing) 

(20:14) Protecting our parents’ “image”

(27:48) Most challenging aspects of relationships for adoptees OR Hardest thing about relationships for adoptees

(29:05) Advice for partners of adoptees 


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Special thanks to Samuel Oyedele for editing our podcast, support his work on
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Lia    00:00:05    Hey everybody. Welcome to Adoptees Crossing Lines, the not so feel Good podcast. If you're looking for something that's grateful adoptees, this isn't the one for you, go ahead and keep scrolling and looking for another podcast. That's not where we're about over here.  
Lia    00:00:20    All right, let's get into it. So for today's episode, we're gonna be talking about navigating relationships as an adoptee, and I think there's a number of things that we can cover under that umbrella, right? We can talk about dating as an adoptee, we can talk about friendships. There are a lot of different types of relationships, right? So maybe let's start with, with dating as an adoptee. Um, someone brought that up on our, on our Instagram. So when you're dating, and maybe in previous relationships or current relationships, if you are in one, do you tell your partner about being adopted? And if so, at what point? And if you don't, why not?  
Dr. Noelle    00:01:05    I always tell people that I'm adopted. I can't seem to help myself. It just falls right outta my face. It's such a central part of my identity. What I have found though, in telling people that I'm adopted is that very often then I have to go into education mode. People really don't know what that means, or they say, oh, that's so cool, or right, and I have to stop them and be like, not cool. It's, it's not cool. So I do tell people, but it tends to lead to exhausting, uh, conversations and a lot of education for my partner.  
Tosha    00:01:47    I also disclose that information and I do it pretty early because I know how it affects me mentally. So it's become an important thing versus in the past I tried to not say anything and try to mask it, and then I just look like a crazy person, <laugh>. So I decided to go ahead and start telling people I've matured in my dating. When I was younger, I, I would kind of throw it out there as well, but then I learned that, um, that information from me at that time wasn't for everyone. It wasn't always handled well, but as I grew up, it became more of my identity. And like Noelle said, it just, it, it comes out how my name is hash, I'm adopted. Like that's how it works a lot of times these days.  
Lia    00:02:29    Yeah, I tend to tell folks pretty early on too, because I, like, um, Noel said, I do feel like it's pretty central to my identity and how we navigate the relationship. And I think it can bring up a lot of pain points. And I also think that it can help a partner understand why I operate in some of the ways that I do. Um, specifically when it comes to like trust issues or this really intense fear of abandonment or feeling like I'm not good enough or not worthy enough. I think a lot of that stems from my trauma that is connected to adoption. And we had this conversation before, but it, all the partners that I have dated, none of them have ever met my family. And I guess because it just feels really painful because I have an estranged relationship with my family. And the thought of trying to navigate that and explain that on top of like the trauma that I endured before I even met this person just seems so daunting and so overwhelming to either of y'all struggle with like the abandonment or the trust issues.  
Dr. Noelle    00:04:05    That's an interesting point. I actually haven't thought about that until you just said that Lia. But my partners do not meet my family. First of all, which family would they meet? So they definitely don't meet my adoptive family and one person has met my bio family and the, the questions that come with that for them, it's, it's, it's disorienting for them as it is for us. I think the fear of abandonment is, is real and I worry that my family and my partner will have a moment that causes some kind of friction that will cause us to disassociate to, to not be together. So I keep those pretty separate in my life and have not taken, uh, my partners to meet my family. And again, which family would they meet?  
Tosha    00:05:04    So for mine, you know, I'm still, I feel like my reunion's very fresh. I have not met them yet, so no one has met my biological family, including myself. So as far as my parents, yes they've, they've met them. Um, but again, those are all prior to my current, uh, relationship, those were situations where I wouldn't say they were as serious. We didn't talk about some of these issues too much, but that fear of abandonment is, is really heavy. And I think that's where the education piece has to come in a little bit. Like some need just to fill out education about adoption itself and then all the wonderful side effects that come with adoption. And yeah, abandonment is, is huge because at some point I was actually nervous to get too deep into my thoughts and emotions thinking I would get abandoned because I, I'm just, sometimes I think I'm too much. Like, you know, like you become a burden to someone, I'm like, I've been a burden before. So if I overshare and tell you how I really feel, you may feel like it's too much. And so, yeah, that abandonment issue is huge. But yes, I have brought them around my family  
Lia    00:06:12    And I think when it comes to education, and this is not just speaking for, for dating, I think the burden often falls on us. And I, I would like to see more relationships, partnerships where our partners are taking the initiative to educate themselves. I feel like it shouldn't always have to fall fallen us. We've already done so much work to, to heal and to get to where we are. And so to continue to do that in a relationship, I don't know, but for, I don't know how it feels for y'all, but for me it's just really overwhelming. And then it's like sometimes they don't understand where you're coming from and it becomes very like frustrating to explain like how this is dramatic or like, oh, why don't you want me to meet your family? Or like, why aren't you close with your siblings? Or why aren't such and such? All of those sorts of conversations and nuances that we have to continually explain.  
Dr. Noelle    00:07:22    I have my partner now who is actually doing a lot of work to learn more about adoption and I find myself just in awe of that because I've always been responsible for not only educating about adoption, educating about me and how it impacts me, and then apologizing for how it affects me, and then apologizing that I don't have a family like they have and you know, on and on. And so having a partner who is invested in learning this part of my life has been really, really huge. And I appreciate very much that she puts that kind of time and energy into it.  
Tosha    00:08:07    I think that is super awesome. I would say for me, because I was that little girl for so long, just struggling with basic identity, I, it took me a while to work on my relationship maturity and my emotional maturity. So I say that to say that I didn't have too many expectations of others dealing with me in that space until I got to this age, until I went through therapy, until I understood things. So yes, that is a requirement that I have now that at least to be with someone who is at least emotionally open enough to have that conversation to not blow me off. Cuz nothing's worse than sharing these deep emotions and adoption is trauma and opening up yourself. And they're like, oh, okay. You know, so you want someone who is invested. So I feel it's very important to, to be ready on both sides and to recognize, you know, don't be too hard on yourself. Recognize mature relationships and the ones that aren't so mature. So I think we have to have a little bit of onus on ourselves sometimes with some of that. And we know that every relationship is different and you know, whether it's a dating relationship or it's a friend relationship, you know, we're always gonna have some people that are more invested in us than others.  
Dr. Noelle    00:09:28    It's interesting that you say that because for me, every relationship is the same relationship. That has been the impact of adoption for me. Every relationship is the same relationship and that relationship is largely the relationship that I've had with my adoptive mother. So I often cannot disentangle myself from the dynamics of that relationship to have this new and independent relationship with this person that I wanna partner with.  
Lia    00:10:02    Yeah, I resonated with that a lot. Well, how do you think that adoption impacts friendships?  
Tosha    00:10:13    That was a huge one for me. I literally talked to one of my girls about that the other night. I just, I don't know. And it, it, i, I wanna say maybe it's the adoption trauma. I also moved around a lot growing up. So I've had trust issues all over the place. So my thing with friendships was actually trusting and believing they were really my true friends and that they actually cared. Cause my thought process, well if my mother can give me up and burden me, then what are friends gonna do? So I had what I would call more surface relationships. And I have, I have friends that I've known for years that within the past few years I've learned more and more about them because the trust is finally there. I remember we were at a round table conversation at one of my friend's apartment and like it was a one of those breakdown sessions, tears everywhere me, like, you guys really do love me.  
Tosha    00:11:08    I didn't really know. I've never like trusted people like that. And they're like, yes. Like, what's so hard to believe it? But I, it still took time to like even trust that like, well they said that, but, hmm, I don't know. They can still like abandon me later. And I know there's dynamics in friendships where you have things, but being an adoptee is just that extra layer that, and I had to share that with them. This is why I feel this way, cuz they weren't quite understanding why I was so disconnected. So yes, I think it plays a heavy role in all types of relationships, dating, friendships, work relationships, all types.  
Lia    00:11:42    I think it's interesting because I think so much of what we learn about relationships comes from our family. And I'm putting that in air quotes. And if what we initially learned about family was to be separated from them, I think it would only be natural that we would feel this intense fear of abandonment and inability to trust others. I know for me, I just constantly feel like I'm disposable. And I feel like, again, that comes from adoption, right? Like then of course being adopted, and I, and I talked about this in a previous episode, but being abandoned within my adopted family as well, being kicked out, you know, multiple times. And so how do you learn to trust people and trust that everyone isn't going to leave you? That is something that I really, really struggle with. And like Tosha said, just really struggling to believe that people actually care about me. People actually like me, that I have something valuable to offer, which I think also ties into identity, which might be like another episode in and of itself. But I think your identity plays in a lot to your relationship with others.  
Dr. Noelle    00:13:08    For me, relationships are a pitfall. They're an opportunity to fail. So I have a lot of suspended relationships where I just kind of stopped participating. Often I wonder if people are trying to trip me up, trying to get me to expose myself in a particular way and then punish me. And I know all of tho all of that comes from my relationship with my adoptive mother. But I have very few deep relationships. I have a couple and they've listened to the podcast and their feedback is, wow, I had no idea that you were going through all of this or that this is what adoption was for you. And I think to myself, these are my closest dearest friends. How do they not know? And it's because I never told them because I was taught not to complain. I was taught not to look for comfort because there was no comfort to be had. I, I just think that that formative relationship with my adoptive mother, and again, like Lia said, the abandonment within my adoptive family has left me really unable to bond. I have a lot of friends, a lot of friends, but I have very, very few close deep relationships.  
Lia    00:14:43    I think another way that adoption impacts relationships in general for me is I am probably the world's biggest people pleaser. And I think that my people pleasing not only comes from my relationship with my adoptive mom, but adoption in general. Because with adoption, you're essentially in exchange or a transaction or a product to meet the needs of somebody else. And if you don't continue to meet their needs, they can terminate, you know, their rights, they can return you, whatever the case may be. And so I think in a lot of ways that shows up as me just trying to make sure everybody else around me feels okay, everybody else feels comfortable, and then I end up being on the back burner in my needs not being met, but everybody else is okay. Right? And I, and I've found myself, you know, dealing with resentment, right? But there was really nobody to blame but myself because that's something that I have to work through. And I've been able to do that in therapy, but it's really, really hard to not have the mindset to put others first before I put myself. Because the very nature of my existence and my being and being adopted is predicated on the fact that someone else's needs needed to be met before my own.  
Tosha    00:16:22    And to piggyback off of both of you, um, I also had friends that were like, that are listening and you know, they were like, I had no idea. And so at first I had a quicker answer like, well, I was going through things, we're in college, da da da da. But now that as I'm listening to you both and talking things through, it's what both of you said. And it's the fact that I would talk about adoption. I would tell that to anybody, but I never talked about how it actually affected me. So like, they always, like, I knew you were adopted, I knew this, I knew that, but I didn't know you actually felt that way. And I'm like, well that makes me think well, because being a people pleaser, I was always taught that I was a gift and did all this. So I'm not gonna talk about how it affects me to anybody.  
Tosha    00:17:09    I even talked to a therapist until I'd actually how it really felt until like semi recently, like really opening up all those layers. So it's, it's, it's been eye-opening even for myself. I thought I was at one point and I'm still realizing there's a lot of growth here. Um, but at least it's been a positive experience with my friends learning about this and offering comfort and being excited for the next episode. Um, and loving that we're all in a place where we can talk about this and share our three different experiences. So they all look forward to just us keep doing this as long as we can.  
Dr. Noelle    00:17:46    I know that one of the things I bring into relationships is the desire, that's not quite the right word. I can't handle other people being uncomfortable. So my current partner is often frustrated because I don't stand up for myself over even tiny, simple things. I just cannot stand to have other people uncomfortable, especially if I feel like I'm causing that discomfort. And I'm not sure if that's people pleasing or not. It, it feels different to me than the people pleasing part of me. But I, I just can't, I can't stand up for myself because I don't wanna make other people uncomfortable.  
Lia    00:18:28    Y'all can't see us right now. But I promise when Noel started talking, we all started cracking up because that really resonated with us. Like the idea of other people being uncomfortable in our presence and like standing up for myself, like that is a conversation that my friends have with me all the time. Like, Lia, like, you have to stand up for yourself. Like, we're not gonna yell at you. We're not gonna do X, y, and Z. But so much of that was ingrained in me as a child that it's really difficult to just break out of that. It's, it's so, it's so hard. It's so deeply rooted inside of who we are. Like we have to do so much work to break out of it.  
Tosha    00:19:11    It seems so simple, but it's so hard. And I cracked up because I recently a few months back went through that and I felt like I put was put through like a crash course on speaking up for yourself and see if you just do this, look what happens to Tosha. I'm like, but I can't. But <laugh> it, it's, it's really hard and it's, I didn't really realize that was a commonality and it's kind of oddly fascinating. Like, why can't we do it?  
Dr. Noelle    00:19:35    So it's so bad for me. I have children and I cannot, I cannot parent them because I do not want to make them uncomfortable. So there are a lot of conversations I've not had with them because I did not wanna make them uncomfortable.  
Tosha    00:19:55    Well, that is really deep and I can see that sometimes where I probably should parent a little bit differently, but I wanna keep the peace and I don't realize that I've been living this way for a very long time and how that actually adversely affects us. Um, I'm gonna be thinking about this one after this podcast today, <laugh>,  
Lia    00:20:14    I'm not a parent, but where this gets me is for a really long time, Tosha, you were talking about how your friends and folks knew that you were adopted, but they didn't know how it impacted you. And I really resonated with that because for me, I just felt this inherent need to protect my parents to protect their image. And that was because like, that's how they are. They're very mindful of their image and want the public to know that they are upstanding citizens, when in fact they did a lot of really cruel things. And it wasn't until, you know, I started to go to, I know we talk about therapy a lot, but therapy was really impactful for me. It wasn't until I started to go to therapy and I began to realize that I didn't have to protect them and I wasn't doing anything wrong by telling my story or by telling the truth, right? There's a quote, I'm, I'm going to butcher it, but it says something to the effect of like, if you didn't want people to talk about you in a certain way, you should have behaved better. And I really feel that strongly when it comes to my adoptive parents because if you didn't want all of this to be out there, quote unquote out there about you, then maybe you should have acted in a different way that would have been in the best interest of your child and not in your best interest.  
Dr. Noelle    00:21:42    I am no contact with my adoptive family. I might have mentioned that before in other podcast, but I am wondering if part of the reason I'm no contact is because I actually cannot manage the relationship. The relationships are so difficult for me that I can't handle it and it's easier to not engage at all.  
Tosha    00:22:09    That's, that, that could be it. I find myself it's a lot easier sometimes just to not engage. I always say I'm non-confrontational, but that's just an easy way to say, I don't handle things properly, don't handle things well. And I think it's because it's just what's ingrained. I overthink it'll come out weird. So sometimes I'm just like, I'll just won't say anything. And it's interesting you point out Lia about keeping up, I guess their image and what they're trying to do, because I always talked about it prior to 2020 in a more positive light. I never actually thought about how it would affect them. I think about that now with how I talk and I've been highly encouraged by friends and therapists to have a conversation with them about this, I'm gonna tell you is probably never gonna happen. I just, I'm not sure if I can ever do it. And then I'm, then I was asked, what value would you find in it? I'm not sure I would find any value in doing that.  
Lia    00:23:00    I attempted to have this conversation with my parents, my adoptive parents, per the recommendation of my therapist. And it was done through email. I sent a lovely email to both of them and it was not worth it. I did not receive a, a response from my adoptive dad. And the response that I received from my adoptive mom was absolute trash. Like no type of accountability, no type of empathy, nothing. It was all about how it affected her and all of these different things. And I don't, I don't wanna say that I regret it because I, I think that both responses were a response. I believe that no response is still a response. And it really propelled me. Like it just really showed me who they were. It was kind of like the final straw for me after that. That was when I went no contact with my adoptive mom because I just felt like if you couldn't feel any sort of empathy for your child, like you're, you're just never going to feel it.  
Lia    00:24:06    And so for me, I had to decide that that just, that just wasn't worth it. But it was really challenging for me because I really wanted this relationship with my mom and I'm a pretty like, hopeful person. And I held out for a really long time. And of course, as I've mentioned, my biological, both of my biological parents are dead. And I always knew that my biological mom had died, but I didn't know about my dad until I started my reunion journey. But it just felt like I was never going to have anything. And so I was holding onto it for a really, a really long time. And then I realized like, this relationship isn't serving me. Like it's not doing anything for me. So what is the point of continuing to hold onto it?  
Dr. Noelle    00:24:51    In order for me to have a relationship with my adoptive mother, I would have to have a very deep and critical conversation with her. I'd like to say I'm not willing to have it. I'm not able to have, it might be closer to the truth. I just, I can't even imagine what would come out of that conversation and how that conversation would go. And again, part of it is I could not handle making her that uncomfortable.  
Tosha    00:25:28    I can understand that. And I also, I feel that, I feel the, the fears and some of my fears are is it's not gonna get taken as seriously as I want it to. I'm not gonna get those deep answers that I've been looking for. So one therapist was suggested that I intro the conversation to allow them time to gather thoughts versus just having an impromptu conversation. Amari, like this is already starting to be too much. And even with my dad also being adopted, we have yet to even have certain conversations below the surface. Just the basics. Oh, abandonment issues, but not how that makes you feel. So if the two of us haven't had that conversation and they like to have all their conversations together as much as humanly possible, I don't, I don't, I don't think it's gonna work and I think it's gonna fail because of him being adopted.  
Tosha    00:26:24    And I feel like that's gonna affect her. She's not gonna fully understand. So I, I will still always ask myself if it's worth it. And I also have fear of disappointing people. I feel if it goes too far, like I can honestly say if this conversation ever happened, it would have to be over the phone. I could not deal with facial expressions no matter which way they go. It, I'm pretty sure I couldn't do it. And if I ever see anything that's not being taken seriously, I'll probably snap <laugh>. So I, yeah, I'm gonna, I would need more therapy. And which was recommended to me is that when you have those conversations, they might need to be a little guided, you might need some assistance. So no one ever fear that, you know, it's okay if you feel you can't do it on your own, even if you need a intermediary, whatever you need. But these are some really tough things and it's almost like with Reunion, it's almost like reverse reunion. They may think things have been fine for 30 or so, how many years? So if you come to them out of nowhere, they may be little shots. It just depends on everyone's situations and things like that. And I think with mine, I think my mother would be a little shocked and surprised and for whatever reason, I don't wanna rock her peace.  
Lia    00:27:37    So I'm hearing these, these themes of not wanting to disappoint anybody, wanting to keep the peace, not wanting to rock the boat. I know for me that's the most challenging thing of navigating relationships, like platonic, romantic work, whatever it is, that's always gonna be the most challenging thing for me. What would you say is the most challenging thing for you when you're navigating relationships from the lens of, you know, adoption and trauma and all of that?  
Dr. Noelle    00:28:08    The most difficult thing for me is believing that they're going to come back. So every time we part company, every time there's an argument, every time we say goodnight or goodbye, I have a moment of pure panic that they're not going to come back.  
Tosha    00:28:27    I would say for mine it's always the fear of how much to share. And that goes with, that's just not dating, dating friendships, coworkers, because I'm such a open book, sometimes I wanted, I end up just rattling off. That's usually more the surface stuff. So I, I fear that if I share things that are too deep, it's gonna be what Noelle just said. They might want not wanna come back. They're like, Ooh, that's a little touchy. Is she gonna be moody all the time? Like, do I wanna be around that? So I know I overthink a lot, so, but yeah, it's, it's sharing too much and how that could adversely affect relationships with people.  
Lia    00:29:06    If you had to give advice or words of wisdom to someone who isn't adopted but is in space or relationship with adoptees, what sort of advice would you give them for navigating relationships?  
Dr. Noelle    00:29:19    I would definitely want people to be mindful of the reality that that abandonment issue is real and it's not just something that we can get over. Um, and so they would take the opportunity to be thoughtful about how they say goodbye and how they leave conversations and how they could, um, do the work to reassure their adoptee that they're okay and that that's something that's needed. Whether you're 17 or 52, we need more reassurance than the average bear and they could give that to us. Uh, if they were being thoughtful and, and taking their time with us,  
Tosha    00:30:08    I would say my advice would be, uh, it requires a certain amount of patience and open mindness and, um, most of my crew is in and outta therapy, so we understand boundaries and how to present things. And it's okay to tell someone, okay, this might be too much for me, or I can't quite handle this right now. Or maybe in smaller chunks. I would just say my best advice is to keep your communication as open as possible and to be kind to yourself and others.  
Lia    00:30:44    I would say take the time to educate yourself. Um, like how Noel was talking about her partner has taken the time. I think that that would mean a lot to me, just to know that you care enough to learn more about what my experience is like, and also like that it's okay to ask questions. That's where boundaries can come into play. Like if I don't want to answer the question, then I don't have to, but it is okay to ask questions and then a lot of patience, a lot of grace. Yes, it takes <laugh>, it takes a special person, um, to I think be in space with, with adoptees. And I think you have to keep those things in mind and understand that it is, it's a journey. And my therapist always tells me like, Lia, like when I feel discouraged, Lia therapy is a dance. And I think that very much can be applied to relationships as well. It kind of ebbs and flows and you gotta be able to kind of roll with the punches and know that, you know, every day is gonna be different, but if you're willing to, to stick it out through it, I think that it's worth it.