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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  1. 31

    As time is making headway, online dating is becoming popular in India. Few years back, people don’t like to talk about the same candidly as it was supposed to be the part of the Western culture and was not accepted by the Indian society. But with the introduction of western culture in India, online dating do found acceptance in Indian society gradually.

  2. 32

    I am an only child, and I was in New York recently and read the article in the New York times.  I am none of things but dated guys who have sibilings who are all of those things.  I agree with Evan being an only child does not tie you to a set of personality traits.  What I find that I am able to do because of my experience as an only child is treat my partner as a priority in my life, be totally focussed with my time and attention when I am with him and I am able to devote myself to someone at the same time as being independent and enjoy my own company to give my partner the space he needs.

  3. 33

    I found this to be very interesting. I am an only child(and a woman no less), and honestly I can see where Steven got this idea. I am self-centered, or at least according to his idea of self-centered. Whenever I’m seeing a new person for the first time, its usually them that are asking the questions and sparking conversation.
    Growing up, it was just my mom and I; on top of this we moved a lot. Sometimes several times within a school year. Due to this I had very few friends, and even fewer opportunities to practice socializing. Because of all this, I have a hard time coming up with things to say to someone, and even when I do think of something I’m scared to say/ask it in case it might be socially unacceptable. I’m sure I’m the only person, only-child or otherwise to feel this way. Which could appear as me being “selfish”, when in fact all I’m doing is trying to think of something to please the other person.
    I usually wait for the other person to start the conversation, as it helps me figure out whats okay to say and whats not. And if I can’t think of anything, I wait for them to ask a question, answer and then say “Right back at ya,” or something along those lines.

  4. 34

    Generalization or not, I too have had similar experiences to Steven — Not dozens as in his case and not necessarily always in a dating context.   Bias exists everywhere (especially these days  in psychological and pharmaceutical research)  and perception clouds knowledge.  The women Steven is attracting:  “only-children” who fit his description, while it may be random coincidence, as described, do in fact fit a valid and extant pattern, FOR HIM.  

    My suggestion to him would be to read the following articles and sites which may have more correct and complete answers to his question:

    Everyone Has Stereotypes


  5. 35

    THANK YOU so much for this post! People are not dolls in boxes with labels! I met people who had siblings with loving parents who were abusive and extremely self-centered whilst having an only child best friend who is very social, open and very generous and caring. How can one ask a question with an already directed answer, as if convinced that only children are not normal. Maybe the only children women this guy dated FOUND HIM TOTALLY SELF-CENTERED and just wanted that terrible date to end???

  6. 36

    I actually agree with Steven. Everyone on here is attacking him..defensive much? Only children sometimes ARE different than children who have had siblings growing up. There is a much different dynamic. Instead of being so politically correct all the time why don’t you tell it like it is? They ARE different and need to be handled differently. Oh Steven…I at least feel you on this one…

  7. 37

    People are not attacking Stephen. They’re rightly being critical of a stereotype that has no basis in fact. Are some only children self-centered? Yes. Are some people with siblings self-centered? Yes.

  8. 38

    This is a good topic. What Stephen doesn’t realize is that many women don’t ask questions about the guy on dates. I have heard from my single female friends that many guys only talk about themselves. So this isn’t gender based. Whether or not these people are only children should have no bearing. Stephen’s filters are just bad.
    Before I meet any woman, I talk to her a couple of times on the phone. If she doesn’t ask me personal questions on the phone, then she wont in person. If she does ask about you on the phone, then she will do more of it in person. Simple as that.
    While I feel for you Stephen, this problem seems to be partly your own doing. I bet all of these women you complain about showed these red flags on the  phone and you just ignored it. Take my advice. If the phone calls aren’t easy breezy and to your liking then don’t go on the date. Every good first date I ever had always began with a great phone conversation with both of us asking things about each other.

  9. 39

    No he’s right, about 90% of only children have the same self centered attitude.  Do all only children have this trait, no, but in my experience they do.  I understand that no two people are alike, but his observation of traits of only children are completely valid.

  10. 40

    I’m an only child, female – 34yrs. I ask TONS of questions, LOVE banter, am very inquisitive about people in general, especially what makes them unique. I think it’s definitely a stereotype. One that can be said for any individual. Let’s take youngest child for instance. I can go on and on about how in my experience they always act out, command attention, do stupid and dangerous things, and don’t take life seriously because they were babied by everyone, parents and siblings and because they’re taken less seriously in their family where everyone is older. But I won’t judge, it’s simply and individual thing. I think believing in that stereotype is like believing in Astrology, that all Geminis are two faced and indecisive and flighty, or that all Leos are conceited and attention grabbing. Everyone is an individual and should be treated as such.

  11. 41

    Thank you, Evan. I would hate anyone to stereotype me. Likewise, it would be self-limiting for me to reduce every man that I meet to a specific, crass stereotype! Every guy deserves a chance to be seen as an individual, who has their good points as well as some not-so-good aspects – just like any, normal human being! Thanks, again, for pointing out this aspect in your frank, warm manner.

  12. 42
    jeffrey hesson

    I’m going out on a limb and defending the under dog. He’s simply illustrating similarities that he has recognized in only children. He never said that those traits only exist in only children. He was interpreted as black and white. There is introversion, social anxieties, etc.. that do exist in people with siblings. He asked a question in his letter that was never answered, he asked about universal health care, and he was told how bad it was to be a liberal. Truth be told there are probably similarities with individuals that belong to a certain category. So let me explain why I might be defending the under dog. I’m dating an only child whom I very fond of, I have strong feelings for her, I really like her. At this point I’m retreating to the Internet for answers as to why she is the way she is. Stevens generalizations hit the nail on the head. Now this isn’t to say that potential generalizations to only child adults for dating purposes, would be a factor in future choices.

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