“There are lots of fish in the ocean”


Over the next few weeks, there will be a number of articles, television programs and radio commentaries regarding the problems we are facing with suicide. I will not go into these statistics, or comment on them at any great length. The purpose of this letter is to provide a background to what I think is happening.

What is becoming obvious is that many – not all – suicides are expressions of despair as a result of our young people not being able to resolve relationship problems.

This makes sense if we think of the age of most of the people who are committing suicide. Most are between the ages of about 17 to 25, right at the age where the development of a relationship with a significant other is very important.

When I was that age, romantic courting was a very familiar ritual in my culture. When I was working through developing a relationship with a girlfriend or several girlfriends, my parents warned me that these relationships might not last, and that likely I would have a number of disasters during this phase of my life.

Both of my parents would comfort me and tell me stories of their times when they were young.

In cultures where marriages were arranged, or closely controlled, romantic courting was not all that important or understood. Romantic courting in my culture was not new, but I think that in many parts of Nunavut it is fairly new.

Many parents or elders are not all that knowledgeable about it, and so when a young person experiences difficulties in a romantic relationship, it is difficult to find clear support or advice. In the old days, a young Inuk would be a child and then soon after puberty, would be expected to quickly assume the tasks and responsibilities of adulthood.

Now we have schools, and a long period of teenage living, much longer than before. With this come problems. A kid is a kid much longer than they used to be. This means that romantic courting is over a longer period of time, and rejection or romantic experimentation happens for a prolonged time as well.

In my culture, my great-great-grandfather owned a hardware store. It was called Andrew Riddell and Son. His son (my grandfather) worked in the store and became the eventual owner. My father worked in the store and eventually became the owner when his father died. I was expected to follow in my father’s footsteps.

In a way, there was predictability in my life, especially my vocational life. Things changed for me, but many of my boyhood friends did take over their father’s vocation. Similarly up here, in the old days, boys and girls knew what their life was going to be like (to a certain degree).

Now it is different, and young people have to struggle over a prolonged period of time to settle on who and what they want to be as adults. This affects the ability of young people to establish relationships that are not pre-arranged and expected.

To resolve problems of suicide, and to prevent it, we must turn to our families. Parents must learn more about romantic courting. We cannot go back to the way it was, romantic courting it is here. We have to support our kids as they work this through, and we must equip them for disappointment as they experience this new thing.

There are lots of fish in the ocean. Find out about as many of the fish as you can. In time, you will find someone who loves you and who you love for his or her sake, not just as a possession or a “thing” you can control.

Next, I will be writing a letter to the Editor, on jealousy and how this affects our young people in making decisions regarding suicide.

Bill Riddell

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