How Adoption Shaped My Intimate Relationships

The older I get, the more I realise that we all have individual issues that affect our ability to meaningfully connect with others.  For me, however, I find that the emotional issues that are tied to my adoption and growing up in a regional area where I didn’t fit in are the most prominent.

Before we begin, let me shed some light on my background. I was conceived and born in Seoul, South Korea, during a short relationship that had ended by the time my birth mother realised that she was pregnant. The reality of this situation was in the mid 1980’s, as it still is today, unacceptable to have a child out of wedlock, especially if that child was a girl. So, my birth mother did the only thing that she could do and put me up for adoption.

I was one of the lucky babies to be adopted from birth. My adopted family came to collect me from my foster parents when I was 4 months old, so they are the only family that I have ever known. I had an amazing childhood, growing up on the NSW Mid North Coast right on the beach. Having the freedom to safely ride my bike on the streets, head down to the beach for a swim and walk to a friend’s place or the park.

It wasn’t until my sisters were born (biological children conceived through IVF) and certain (extended) family members now treated me differently because my parents now had their ‘own’ children and I started to realise that I was different. After the initial shock (at the age of 2 ½ – 3) it just became the new normal, that is until we were all in primary school and people were in disbelief that my sisters and I were siblings.

That was when I started really thinking about my background and the circumstances behind my adoption. With this came the questions and the feelings of shame and guilt that seem to be synonymous with adoption.

It seemed to overtake my thoughts and seeded (what I realise now are) irrational thoughts such as:

“If my mother didn’t want me, no one ever will”

“I’m only worth as much as someone wants to pay for me”

“If my mother loved me so much and she walked away, that’s what everyone else will do”

… Irrational, I know.

As an Asian in a family full of model-like Danish blondes, I was constantly reminded that I really didn’t fit in and the taunting from my peers and older kids about not being the same and that my mother just threw me away, shaped the way that I viewed myself. Ingraining that belief that I would never be loved unless I looked a certain way, that was if anyone wanted me in the first place.

From what I have read of other international adoptee’s blogs and articles, it seems that I am not alone in my feelings of not quite belonging. Feeling like you need try twice as hard as anyone else to fit in.

Despite the affection given to me by my family throughout my life, I have always found it difficult to express and verbalise love. Being that one person who awkwardly hugs someone and then quickly pulls away, or the girlfriend that says, “me too” when their partner says, “I love you”.

I was also the person who leaves when it starts to get tough. The person who just shuts down and doesn’t know how to tell their partner what the issues are in case they decide to leave first. The idea of being abandoned again, to me was more confronting and stressful than just taking on all the emotional baggage and just walking away.

That feeling of worthlessness, I have now learnt, was the driving factor behind why I stayed in all 3 of my long-term relationships well past their use by date and why having friends with benefits worked better for me. Allowing me to keep people at arm’s-length emotionally. I feel as though it somehow helped to keep my fragile self-worth intact.

The types of people I was attracted to

It was also something that I had discussed at length with my councillor when I was younger, and up until recently, I didn’t understand how my adoption really did affect the type of people I formed relationships with.

Quote about self discovery
Image: Self discovery

But since the end of my last relationship, I have been on a life changing journey of self-discovery. I have realised that my ‘type’ seemed to be emotionally insecure men that had never really (emotionally) made it past puberty or their early 20’s. I somehow thought that by mothering these men, they would never want to leave me because they didn’t have the capacity to be on their own. Not really a healthy reason to start or continue a relationship. What I have come to understand is that these men, because of their inability to think for themselves or accept responsibility for their actions or how their words and actions effected the relationship.

How I am overcoming my emotional insecurity

For me, the turning point that took me from seeking acceptance from others in a relationship to being accepting of my own flaws and being worthy of having someone want me despite those flaws, was when I met a man that I had an immediate emotional connection with. He was the first person that I didn’t feel the need to try to impress with how much of myself I was willing to give up or hide. It has been such a liberating experience.

That connection has also allowed me to further explore my sexuality. It’s amazing how feeling safe and not judged allows me to pull down my walls that I have built and hand over the control of my emotions that I have held on to, that kept me locked in my little emotional bubble. It has also shown me that I don’t need to just settle for anyone that will pay attention to me, that I am worth more than that. The process has helped me understand what impacts my sexuality too.

Author: Mia is a consultant from Oh Zone Adult Lifestyle Centres

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Jennifer works marketing at Adultsmart an online sex toy shop. She has a non-judgemental approach to sex, sex toys and sexuality. Her favorite saying is if it feels good and right and is not illegal then why not!

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