Give, but you might not receive in return

This is an archived article that was published on in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dear Carolyn • I've always been the one in my family to give whenever possible. When I went to college I took on student loans so my sister wouldn't have to. A few years later, when her car died, I purchased a new one and gave her mine. When family needed help, I was always there. Now I'm trying to purchase a house and no one seems the least bit interested in helping me. I swallowed my pride and asked for financial assistance, even if it was a "loan," and was told tough toenails. Would it be wrong for me to cut my family out of my life? I feel as if I was the great son whenever I went out of my way to help, but now I'm just some annoyance.

Always the Giver

Dear Giver • It would be wrong, because it's the family version of going nuclear in response to, technically, a first offense. There is a qualifier for sure: For you to have been so giving in the past, and for you now to be receiving zero sympathy from your family, suggests this isn't a first offense so much as an awakening to the possibility you've been taken for granted for quite some time. Nevertheless, your awakening — "Wow, my family isn't what I've always thought it was" — is resounding in its banality, except perhaps in degree. What young adult doesn't experience that first moment of seeing childhood assumptions through adult eyes and thinking, "Ouch"? If everyone reacted to that pain by deciding to sever all ties to family, then we'd have to redefine family from "emotional core" to "food and shelter till the day we can bust out and not look back." So please look at your family with some of your signature generosity: Consider, say, that they'd have helped if they were able, but aren't right now. Maybe they didn't explain this out of shame. Maybe you didn't anticipate this because you've long been seeing the family you want to see, and not the one you have. Or, maybe they're exactly the takers you see them for now — but isn't it sad for them, in that case, to lack the emotional range to appreciate the beauty in giving? These people made you the giver you are. Consider letting this latest experience with them make you emotionally smarter about your gifts, instead of just angry and gone.

Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.