Why Are Only-Child Women (And Men) So Self-Centered?

Hi Evan,
Before I got married 10 years ago (now recently divorced) I had and just recently have had ‘coffee dates’ of at least a dozen to two dozen (no exaggeration) with only-child women. The same personality trait in all of them can be found when I meet them: They rarely ever ask any questions, show little interest or just passing curiosity about me, even just to fake it. It’s astounding.
Additionally, if I don’t keep up the conversation by being interested with questions about them it becomes dead silence. They don’t ever engage or banter. Not a sentence comes out that requires a question mark. I almost never see this trait with anyone else. Just only-child women.

I actually have seen it in non-dating situations (groups, friends, etc.) of lack of interest or inquisitiveness about almost anything in social situations. Before I got married I had a few hundred coffee dates over many years. My experience is not weak. I can recount all of them because they are glaring in my mind and consistent. Too many for it to be a coincidence.

Is there any anecdotal evidence to suggest a strong correlation of only child and almost a self-centeredness or just plain lack of social interest in other people? Any thought or experience you had with this?

Thanks, Steven

Dear Steven,

I usually don’t get to talk like this, so I’m going to relish the moment:

You’re wrong.

We stereotype. We generalize. We have a sliver of evidence, and we blow it up to become the entire story. And, as a result, we fail to judge people on an individual basis.

I can see why you feel the way you feel, but, if anything, you’re just referring to a well-worn stereotype and finding evidence to support what you already believe.

Alas, my friend, science has spoken, and only children are no less adjusted or socialized than any other children. The only thing that’s different is that their test scores are a little bit higher, probably because they get all of the attention of both parents.

This New York Times article was particularly illuminating on this topic.

So if you’re wrong, then why am I running your letter? Well, because it illustrates a perfect example of what people tend to do when evaluating romantic partners.

We stereotype. We generalize. We have a sliver of evidence, and we blow it up to become the entire story. And, as a result, we fail to judge people on an individual basis.

What kind of stereotypes are we talking about? Well, probably ones not that different than “only children are self-centered”. Destructive things like:

Men who have never been married by age 40 are damaged.
Women who are lawyers are difficult as girlfriends.
Psychologists are all crazy.
If he’s divorced, it means he doesn’t value commitment.

Might you be cautious of lifelong bachelors, separated people, and intense lawyers and shrinks? Sure. But you might be similarly cautious of anyone who is:

Successful (too ambitious, workaholic, puts his drive over his wife)
Attractive (too vain, too shallow, too narcissistic)
Intelligent (too arrogant, opinionated, difficult, moody)

In other words, EVERYONE has issues – and we can’t spend our lives avoiding all only children, or all divorced men, or all psychologists.

We need to take each person at face value and judge on merit, rather than prejudice and stereotype.

Put another way, what would someone say about you, if they were being highly critical and discriminating?

If my wife bought into that – and tried to protect herself from the admittedly slutty, 35-year-old “dating expert” who’d passed up over 300 women and never had a relationship for longer than 8 months – well, then, it would have been both of our losses.

I’ve said it recently, and I’ll say it again: don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Read the whole thing, and if you don’t like it, then don’t read the sequel. Anything less than that, and you’re discriminating without knowing the full picture.

Put another way, what would someone say about you, if they were being highly critical and discriminating? Takes Prozac? Makes no money? Single cat lady? Too independent?

How unfair if someone didn’t see past that label to the true you inside…

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Honey

    Yeah, that immediately struck me as ridiculous, too – right on, Evan!

  2. 2
    Shalini

    Its totally wrong. I have a sister and in all my school life i could not start conversations with people or ask much questions because i was introverted. It had nothing with being an only child.

  3. 3
    Patti

    I agree with Evan. Also, I think Steven just wanted a way to brag about how many dates he’s been able to get.

  4. 4
    david

    No, it’s people with siblings too — a lot of women (prob. men too) — hey, let’s say just say ‘coffee dates’ (men or women) — suck at conversation with a stranger — I’ve experienced exactly what he has — you end up doing most/all the ‘heavy lifting’. I went on a date recently and as soon as she sat down, the woman started asking me all kinds of detailed questions about my business and I said, “That’s more questions than my last 6 dates asked me — COMBINED.”

  5. 5
    Honey

    Though this is interesting because in your comments on the last post, EMK, you said that generalizations *had* to be made whenever one talks about a large group of people, and that just because the generalization doesn’t apply to every member of the group doesn’t mean it’s not valid overall. So which generalizations are okay and which aren’t?

  6. 6
    Selena

    I tried to think about the only-child people I have known and could off-the-top of my head come up with relatively few. None of whom I would describe as self-centered.

    So I’m wondering…perhaps there is some trait that is drawing Steven to the these dozens (no exaggeration) of only-child women. He’s the one who is choosing them for coffee dates, what is his initial selection criteria? There is likely some pattern he keeps repeating just like the woman who continually chooses “bad boys” and then complains about “all men”.

    Curious to know what it is.

  7. 7
    Evan Marc Katz

    Great question, Honey. I just don’t see the contradiction that you see.

    Generalizations can be made about people – and can be perfectly valid stereotypes… the mistake is when we assume that ALL people fit the stereotype.

    Are brilliant people more likely to be intense and difficult? Probably. But that doesn’t mean that every single one is. You have to judge each person on his/her own merits.

    As this pertains to the OP, my point was that even his GENERALIZATION wasn’t factually correct. Many generalizations and stereotypes are – we just have to be open to the fact that no group of people: men, women, Asians, Jews, doctors, only children – are monolithic.

    Long story short: all valid generalizations have their merit; but we can’t live our lives as if there are no exceptions.

    Which is why I always don’t quite get it when some commenter says: “This doesn’t apply to me, so it’s wrong”. Just because it doesn’t apply to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to millions of other women.

    I try to write for the majority and hope that the exceptions can distinguish when there’s well-intended advice that may not apply to them…

  8. 8
    Betty

    By “only-child women” I thought he meant that the woman had only one child. So I really didn’t get this post.

    I find ACOAs to be very self-involved, though. And good-looking women. And children below the age of 5. And alpha males. And people going through trauma.

    A lot of self-involvement out there.

    Personally, I never even know if my coffee partners are only-child women/men. I never ask. Should I?

  9. 9
    Lisa

    I wonder why this man chooses to have so many coffee dates.

    I know that the economy is bad, and many people’s finances are tight, but it seems that by choosing something inexpensive like coffee dates, he increases the number of dates he has. In turn, perhaps he’s going out with many more women who are not suited for him, or vice-versa.

    Something about such a casual environment can perhaps lead to both parties behaving differently than they would on a different type of date. IDK, just thinking out loud.

  10. 10
    Michael

    Great as usual, Evan.
    The issue at hand is actually not generalization: it’s something called “confirmation bias.” And confirmation bias is a problem for a lot of people, whether it’s interpersonal relations or politics.
    As Evan says, our search for confirmation (and it’s usually not proof positive, just mental confirmation) prevents us from seeing two sides of an issue or the good qualities in a person.
    We all do it – those of us who are smart recognize that and try to get past it.

  11. 11
    Honey

    Thanks for the clarification, Evan. I still think that “most only children are self-centered” isn’t any more or less of a generalization than “most women prefer validation over advice,” but really I don’t think it matters if something’s a generalization or not (or even necessarily if it’s a valid generalization or not) – it’s how you live your life as a result of that conclusion that matters. Does the generalization assume the best of people or the worst? What options does believing it give you, and what options does it take away?

    In the case of this guy, he has the option of using this only-child thing as a screening tool and simply not meeting any woman who was an only child, if he really believes that is such a huge factor (and since he apparently does, one wonders why he didn’t institute this a heckuva long time ago). Of course, he loses out on all the women who were only children who are well-adjusted and compassionate, but I’m sure he can find a woman with siblings who is right for him. The reason his stance rankles me is that it’s assuming the worst about a group of people.

    The validation/advice thing, while I think it is not as widely applicable as perhaps you do, is not as offensive because neither wanting validation or wanting advice are negative things. The trick is identifying which one you are better at giving to someone, and then finding someone who wants the thing it is easy for you to give. And identifying the one you want more, and finding someone who gives the thing you want easily.

    But then, that’s the trick, isn’t it?

  12. 12
    starthrower68

    I have seen/heard it said that if a woman asks a man too many questions on a date, then he sees it as The Inqusition and is turned off. I try to walk that tightrope, but some might prefer to err on the side of caution and not ask unless encouraged to do so. Or sometimes I’m concerned that I’m doing all of the talking as I’m gregarious by nature. Some people just have a difficult time with small talk. It could be any number of reasons.

  13. 13
    Jo

    I enjoyed this blog. I am a only child and I am self-centered, however, I am very social and want to learn about other people. I do talk about myself but I ask a lot of questions about other people too.
    Good Blog Evan.

  14. 14
    Irina I

    I disagree that this guy was completely wrong. Yes, he made generalizations, but there are many studies out there about birth order (<a href=’http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0800734068/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1‘>for example</a>) and I think birth order really does play a role in relationship dynamics. And the most difficult people to have relationships with are only children.

  15. 15
    anette

    I love the point you have made, and I’m really starting to embrace it. No matter what, take each individual as they come. Were you really slutty and had only dated for 8 months max evan?

    oh and on the generalization thing, one thing I’ve noticed is that generalizations can be true and are fine to embrace, and we can alway’s have exceptions to the rule.

    But sometimes we generalize, and are completely and utterly wrong. This , I think is why we are wary of generalizations. I just try and figure out wether it’s a true one, or just a weird/bitter/incorrect/ignorant one :)

  16. 16
    Honey

    “generalizations are bad” is kind of a generalization. Ha! It’s Friday :-)

  17. 17
    Ruby

    How the heck is Steven managing to find so many self-absorbed only child women to have coffee dates with anyway?
    Personally, I’ve known only-children who were extremely caring and curious, and others from larger families who were completely self-centered. So many factors come into play regarding personality besides birth order.

    I checked out some articles about birth order that I found on-line. Here’s a common description of only children: “Only children bring many relationship skills to the table. They’re dependable and sensitive, and willing to sacrifice for the people they care about. They’re good communicators, and since they lived alone with their parents for so long, they’ve already had lots of practice at being in relationships with adults.”

    That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

  18. 18
    DatingForLOLs

    I don’t understand the idea that all generalizations are bad. They exist to aid our instinct, and while it’s important to judge each individual on merit…I’d say that generalizing saves us more trouble than it creates.

  19. 19
    sayanta

    i was laughing hysteric ally at this- I’m an only child and not to sound egotistical, but people always tell me that they like how I take a genuine interest in them during conversations. But hey- I’m used to the stereotypes by now. They’re so ridiculous, and come out of so much ignorance, it’s impossible not to laugh.

    BTW- one thing I noticed- most posters agreed with Evan right away that this ‘only child’ generalization is ridiculous. But it seems to be okay to generalize good-looking people (like “10”s) as being arrogant and self-involved. Very interesting…

  20. 20
    Shay

    Steven, I think you should take it that if women are not talking much to you, they’re not interested. No chemistry. Move on. Rather than behaving like a girl to analyse why the guy don’t call.

  21. 21
    Evan Marc Katz

    Sayanta – the difference is that there is no basis for theory that only children are self-involved. And while I’m not a scientist, I do believe that people who are 10’s in looks have been given so much attention outside their families (far more than only children) that they really are more narcissistic. Hot people are like celebrities – actors, athletes, politicians – who believe that the rules no longer apply to them. To me, this generalization has a greater basis in truth than the only children one, which was debunked in that New York Times article.

    Or are you suggesting that if the only children generalization is false that therefore no other generalizations about people are true?

  22. 22
    bob

    @Starthrower #12

    I feel for you ladies and the seemingly mixed message about asking questions. Too many and it’s the inquisition, too few and you’re not showing interest.

    I think, maybe, that analyzing the source of one’s questions may be a help. If a woman (or a man) is engaged in the conversation, they’ll ask questions out of plain interest and curiosity. I would venture this type of questioning feels natural to the other person, and doesn’t ring their alarm bells.

    It’s when questions are asked which indicate an agenda…say when you’re asked a series of questions which aren’t directly related to the conversation at hand, that it puts people off.

    As for your gregariousness…well, if your talking about stuff you’re interested in, at least your not grilling your date! :-)

    Hell, even outside the dating game, this type of questioning is disruptive to any conversation, because it forces a stiffness, an unnaturalness into the conversation.

    So, don’t take it as “all you gals ask too darn many questions”, but rather, sometimes, some people get distracted by their own inner dialogue and forget to focus on being in the moment.

  23. 23
    sayanta

    EMK-

    Well…it’s possible that people ‘believe’ the generalizations that suit their worldview. Someone with no bad experiences with only children would be unlikely to believe a stereotype about them. Someone who’s been slammed by a lot of hot girls (or guys) would probably be likely to believe a negative generalization to support them. And if you really want to believe something, I think you’ll always find evidence to support it, no matter what.

    But- y’know. To each his own. It doesn’t really matter to me- I was just kinda throwing that out there.

  24. 24
    mic

    Maybe being an only child magnifies self-centeredness in those prone to it, such as the good-looking types mentioned in another post. (Studies link certain negative personality traits and behaviors to physical attractiveness.) Imagine the doting and showing off parents do with an attractive only child.

    Anyway, it’s possible that Steven’s experience is true. For example, because he’s appealing enough to get plenty of dates, perhaps they’re with good-looking women. Perhaps the lookers who aren’t so self-centered are less likely to be single. Perhaps only children who aren’t particularly attractive aren’t as interested in dating as their peers with siblings (or couple up faster), thus leaving a self-centered subset for men like Steven to meet.

    There’s always room for more research.

  25. 25
    starthrower68

    When I took a critical thinking class not too long ago, the text stated that we all rely on generalizations to some degree, because of time contraints, size of the situation, etc, and are merely forced to use them to make a snap decision. However, in a one-on-one situation, that would not be an appropriate response. There you have the time and ability to take that person on their own merits, and take other things into consideration, as in, “is that person nervous?”; “have they had a bad day or are overly tired?”. On the road to love, we have to be able to see things from another point of view or at least ask questions about their perspective.

  26. 26
    Donna

    @25: I work with abused dogs and one thing that you see all the time is a dog that always has an aggressive or fearful reaction toward people of the same physical type–petite, older women with frizzy hair (in one case), men with loud voices, hyper children–or sometimes toward certain objects (sticks, pipes, etc.). (I know. Awful.) You see it so often that you just come to understand that the dog is making “generalizations” about the human s/he comes in contact with. If it looks like an abusive human, it probably is, in their world. Seems like a survival thing.

    It always makes me wonder if our biases derive in part from a similar kind of survival mechanism rather than moral failing.

  27. 27
    mic

    Such biases surely are stronger with strangers than with others. Hence, the importance of first impressions.

  28. 28
    Christie Hartman

    I loved this post. I am tired of the stereotype of the self-absorbed only child. As Evan said, there is no research to support this idea. Even birth order research has shown that birth order effects are there, but they are quite small. And doesn’t anyone find it odd that this dude chose so many only child women when, statistically, they aren’t very common?

  29. 29
    Karl R

    Christie Herman asked: (#28)
    “doesn’t anyone find it odd that this dude chose so many only child women when, statistically, they aren’t very common?”

    Not when you look at the numbers. Steven said he had “a few hundred coffee dates over many years.” Of those “at least a dozen or two dozen” were “with only-child women.”

    If he had 200 first dates, and 20 of those were with only children, that would be about 10%. That’s probably reasonably close to the US average.

  30. 30
    Christine in UK

    Where you are going wrong is going for coffee dates. Why coffee?! In the UK, we tend to meet up at the pub for a drink and see how we get on. With a glass of wine or cider, its much friendlier. That’s how my relationship started with my man.
    I also agree stereotyping means you could be missing out on someone lovely.

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