My boyfriend and I have been together for a little less than a year and a half and we are very happy together. However, we recently had a fight about the holidays coming up and because we also fought more than usual last year about the holidays, I’m worried we’re heading for a couple months of frayed nerves and emotional outbursts. Here’s the back story: my boyfriend is an only child and was raised in a home-schooled Jehovah’s Witness household. He gave up his religious upbringing years before I met him but because he does not have a close relationship with either of his parents, he had never had a traditional family Christmas or Thanksgiving get-together until I brought him to my family’s last year.
For the most part he enjoyed himself and felt welcomed by my family. However, there were problems that neither of us anticipated that led to a lot of arguments. An example is I took him to go Christmas Caroling with my family expecting him to enjoy the corniness of the whole thing. Instead, he was tense and silent. I realized later that he did not know any of the Christmas carols and the religious theme of some of the songs made him feel like an outsider (though my family is not very religious). Another example is the way my mom would gently nag him at Christmas/Thanksgiving dinner in a cheery matriarchal host kind of way (it’s her way of making someone feel welcome). My mom would say something like “Don’t eat too many peanuts, save room for dinner!” or “Did you like the pie? I’m sorry if it tasted bad. I made it just for you!” and I could see him getting a little defensive and tense at this attention being put on him. He wouldn’t say anything rude or impolite, but he would give answers in kind of an humorless/uncomfortable tone and I could tell he was not his usual happy and goofy self. I didn’t want him to feel left out and I was overprotective of his feelings, and defensiveness about my family seeming big and loud and weird.
Cut to this year. My boyfriend asked my advice on what presents to give my family because he wants to take an active part in the gift-giving this year. I throw him a few ideas and I tell him about how sweet he is to get them all gifts because he didn’t have to. He looked a little confused and asked why he didn’t have to and I said “You know, because you’re a guest.” Immediately, that made him defensive and hurt because he thought it implied he was still an outsider. We moved past that, but it has made me nervous that this year’s holidays will be just as tense as last year’s.
Is there any way to address potential issues about the holidays before they happen, or will that just make it worse? Is there anything I can do to make him feel and act less agitated and uncomfortable this time around, for both our sakes? Or should I just trust that he’s trying to take more of an active part to feel more comfortable and stop letting myself get worked up? — Already Holi-dazed
First of all, your letter just gave me a mild panic attack at the thought of the holidays being right around the corner. I love turkey and stuffing and pie and presents and stockings hung by the fire as much as the next person, but my usual stress over getting everything done that needs to be done is going to be multiplied by, like, a million this year with a newborn wrapped around my leg. OK, deep breath. In… out…just like they taught us in childbirth classes. Ahhh… that’s better.
Now, onto you! To answer your last questions first: no, you should not just “trust” everything is going to be fine this year if your boyfriend is already giving you indication that it won’t and last year’s fiasco is still fairly fresh in your minds. Don’t leave anything to chance this time. Have a talk with your boyfriend about what you can do to make him more comfortable. Have some suggestions ready at the get-go.
For example, give your boyfriend some ownership in the festivities, which is probably what he was after when he decided to get gifts for your family. In addition to giving him some (reasonably priced) gift suggestions for your immediate family members (and going shopping with him!), ask him if he’d like to share a favorite dish he likes to make (or remembers fondly from his childhood), or make a playlist for your commute to your family’s and/or for all of you to listen to during some part of your holiday festivities. Bring something jokey from the two of you for your whole family, like pilgrim collars or reindeer antlers, to cut the tension as well as to establish you as a unit so he’s less likely to feel like he’s playing on some team all by himself.
Finally, and above all, communicate with your boyfriend. Talk about some of the issues you had last year and discuss how to circumvent them this year. Would he rather sit out Christmas caroling? If so, maybe you should arrive to your family’s after that traditional event. If that isn’t possible, consider sitting out the caroling with him so he doesn’t feel like such an outsider. While the rest of your family is singing “Jingle Bells,” it would be a great time for you and your boyfriend to set your own tradition as a couple and enjoy a little one-on-one time. How about filling up a mug with some spiked hot chocolate, getting in a car and driving around your family’s neighborhood to check out all the Christmas lights? Of course, another alternative is that you start teaching your boyfriend some of those Christmas carols he didn’t know the words to last year. You could even fire up the ol’ Christmas channel on Pandora and start filling your home up with festive yuletide tunes to get you both in the mood…
The most important thing is to let him know about how important he is to you and how much it means to you to have him be part of your family holiday celebration. Assure him that he is not only welcome there, he’s wanted there — and not just by you, but by your whole family. And communicate with him about how much your family means to you, too, and that it’s equally important that he accepts and welcomes their quirks as much as possible. Tell him that that’s the best holiday gift he could give you this year. Well, that and maybe a new car full of cash.
*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow me on Twitter.
Carolynasaurus November 2, 2011, 3:08 pm
The holidays are stressful in any relationship, be grateful you don’t have to fight over where to spend them or try to figure out how to fit three Thanksgiving’s meals in your stomach.
That being said, I agree with Wendy’s advice that you do need to find a way to make him feel include, but was anyone else a little creeped out by the fact that he didn’t think of himself as a guest anymore? I know he’s latching on because he didn’t have this growing up, but I found it odd that after only a year and a half he, what, thought he was part of the family?
Anyway, create your own rituals, your own food, your own gifts, and talk to him about all of this and it should reassure him enough to make things easier. And honestly, the biggest thing that will make this easier is time. He will eventually not be an outsider but it takes time and you can’t really force it.
JK November 2, 2011, 3:10 pm
I clicked through to your blog, I loved it!! The Minnie Driver entry was funny. And I´ve bookmarked the recipe for peanut butter nutella cookies, they look amazing. 🙂
GatorGirl November 2, 2011, 3:18 pm
I don’t think it is strange for the BF to think he is more than a guest after a year and a half relationship. The LW and her BF may spend a lot of time with her family which would explain his reaction. My BF’s little sister and her fiance got engaged in less than a year and a half – and he was definitely treated as family before that.
Britannia November 2, 2011, 3:24 pm
They’re not engaged, though, and LW didn’t allude to there being a significant relationship between him and her family. There’s a big difference between just a boyfriend expecting to be treated like family, and a fiance hoping to be treated like family.
silver_dragon_girl November 2, 2011, 3:31 pm
You know, I think this can vary a TON by family. I have a feeling a lot of big, boisterous families would be pretty quick to treat a serious boyfriend like family. Smaller, more reserved ones might take longer. It probably depends a lot on the family’s history with SO’s, and what their own dynamics are. So there’s definitely some variation.
I kind of assumed that they’re in a pretty serious relationship, even if they’re not engaged yet, since she must have brought him home for the holidays after 6 months if she did so last year. This will be his second year with them, so I think it’s normal for him to expect to be less of a guest. He could also be really uncomfortable being a “guest” in that environment…I know a lot of my friends’ families I kind of fall into that category with…more than a guest, not quite family, and it can be pretty awkward. I’d always rather they didn’t make any fuss at all.
bagge72 November 2, 2011, 3:39 pm
I agree with you! My family was considering my GF family pretty much from the day they met her, because that is how they are, and they could tell by how I was acting with. It took a little bit longer for her family, but I would still say a year and a half they are probably going to stop treating you like just a guest if they can see that there really is something between the two of them.
GatorGirl November 2, 2011, 3:49 pm
I definitely agree with you. If you’re bringing someone to Christmas it has to be a fairly serious relationship- clearly the BF isn’t just the LW’s booty call.
amber November 2, 2011, 3:55 pm
i lived near one of my friends and her family during one of my internships and she invited me for to all the major holidays they celebrated from st. patrick’s day to christmas. by the time christmas rolled around i was like family but not quite and i didn’t know if i should bring everyone a gift (her family was gigantic) because i wasn’t included in the official family exchange but then her parents ended up getting me gifts and my long winded point is, i agree it can be awkward. i always brought hostess gifts with me and baked something, but it never felt like enough.
my husband and i had been dating a year before he came to my house for thanksgiving and by the time he left he had definitely shed his guest status. like you said, totally depends on the family!
silver_dragon_girl November 2, 2011, 3:26 pm
I agree. After a year and a half, and especially since this will be his second Christmas with her family, I don’t think it’s at all strange that he feels more like part of the family than a guest. In fact, I’d worry if he didn’t.
Carolynasaurus November 2, 2011, 3:41 pm
I think their age would play a big of it, too. I imagine if he would be treated differently by the family if he were 20 or if he was 37 and they were dating a year and a half. But it sounds like this is the first time he’s been to a girl’s house for the holidays so I’ve got to imagine he’s on the younger side of things.
Britannia November 2, 2011, 3:23 pm
I didn’t want to be a Negative Nelly, but I noticed that too about getting offended about “still” being considered a “guest”. Just because he went to the holidays last year doesn’t mean he’s now “family”. I may be presumptuous here, but my last boyfriend did the exact same thing and it alienated him further from my family because my family didn’t appreciate having all these expectations of accommodation and affection put on them when they didn’t know him well and he hadn’t made any sort of serious commitment to me. Honestly, it just sounds very demanding and a little bit crazy. I would tread carefully with him, because this sort of sensitivity and awkwardness has been, for me at least, warning symptoms of an emotional user/abuser.
Hopefully that’s not the case and you two make things work! Sorry to get all crazy on you, LW, I’m still reeling from that boyfriend I mentioned. Wendy’s suggestions are very good ones; “practice makes perfect” is true even in regard to Christmas traditions!
Carolynasaurus November 2, 2011, 3:32 pm
Yeah, maybe I’m tainted too. I had an ex who tried to force his way into my family functions and may have now skewed my view.
But that being said, I think the only things that can make someone less of an outsider are time, or as couple of people have pointed out, more of a commitment.
Britannia November 2, 2011, 3:37 pm
I agree. Also, if these ARE his first significant social interactions with her family… that’s pretty harsh, to be “thrown to the sharks” instead of building up social interactions slowly. Christmas is NOT the time for boyfriends to spend their first significant amount of bonding time with the family. Maybe LW should try to get him to interact more with the family outside of the holidays — like, weekend dinners and Sunday afternoon outings — so that he and they feel more comfortable with each other.
camille905 November 2, 2011, 4:58 pm
But it’s not his first interaction with his family- they did holidays last year.
Britannia November 2, 2011, 5:06 pm
If the holidays are his ONLY interactions with the family, that makes it more awkward. Sorry I didn’t make it clear, but that’s what I was getting at.
SpaceySteph November 3, 2011, 9:51 am
I met my boyfriend’s family for the first time at Thanksgiving. We live in a different state from both of our parents (which live in different states from each other), so someone has to fly if we’re gonna see either set of parents. Sometimes its not so easy as “Sunday afternoon outings,” or other low pressure events. Neither of us goes home very often, except for holidays (because we need the long weekends to make flying worth it) and his parents dont visit often. He met mine when they came for a random week, but I basically had to meet them at a holiday.
6napkinburger November 2, 2011, 3:26 pm
It might just be a wording thing, in that she worded it that way when there was more to it. With this family, I’m guessing they gave him presents and he felt uncomfortable with the fact that he didn’t have any for them. Or at maybe he strongly felt that they would this year, and wanted to be prepared. Her saying “don’t worry, you don’t have to give us gifts” might imply either (1) they had no intention of giving him a gift, or (2) they consider him the kind of “guest-guest” that you only give to and don’t expect anything back from.
If it was (1) and this family is a big ole gift-giving bunch, he could feel very uncomfortable during that time (excluded from the fun and very clearly delineated from the group), as well as being sad that he’s still not considered on the inside enough to be part of the trade, especially if LW’s siblings’ SO’s are.
If it was (2), getting presents when you are empty handed is one of the most awkward things ever. I get that. It’s clear that being the role of the “guest” whom people cater to makes this guy uncomfortable, and going empty handed means an entire gift-giving session of feeling like that.
And it is often can seem like you are separating yourself by not bringing presents, purposefully separating yourself from the tradition. If he felt like he was inadvertantly doing that with a bunch of other things that he didn’t mean to, just by not knowing the protocol, maybe giving gifts was something he felt he could be a part of to show he wasn’t separating himself. Her suggesting that he shouldn’t might have made him feel like he had nothing that he could do to include himself.
My exBF’s family gave me crazy amounts of (horrible) presents last year and I went empty handed, because my BF told me not to worry, that I was a guest, and I shouldn’t bring presents. I figured that would mean his family would give me a token and all would be fine (i had brought flowers as a token). I felt like the biggest shit ever when there was a whole pile of presents for me, and was crazily uncomfortable during the whole present-opening time. (Though in my case, it was a little of the opposite problem, his family had no boundaries and refused to treat me like a guest at all, and I was “part of the family” from literally day 1 which I thought was batshit nuts.)
So there’s a good chance he isn’t being weird; he’s trying really hard to feel normal.
Linds November 2, 2011, 4:41 pm
did we date the same guy? From the day I started dating my exBF, his family had NO boundaries.
Guy Friday November 4, 2011, 3:05 pm
100% agreed. Honestly, that whole scenario (minus the caroling) was exactly how I felt during my first holiday season with my now-fiancee. I was with her a little over 6 months at our first Christmas, and her parents — who are truly wonderful people — hung me a stocking and got me these incredibly thoughtful presents that showed they had clearly talked to my fiancee about what I might want. Her mom even found out what kind of cookies I liked and made them for me! Even her brother and sister-in-law got me a small goofy present. And, honestly, since their family generally has an understanding that their parents don’t really want or need anything from us, when my fiancee just signed my name on to the card that she gave with the tie for her dad and the ornament for her mom . . . well, I felt like the scummiest guy on the planet, like I was abusing their hospitality. So when last Christmas rolled around (which was a couple of months after my proposal), I absolutely INSISTED on being involved in not just choosing the presents for the family, but paying my fair share too. It’s not even about guilt; it’s feeling like if I’m going to be considered a part of their lives enough where they put effort into getting me gifts, the very least I can do is make the same kind of effort for them. It’s me not being a “guest” anymore, but pulling my own weight in the equation. And, honestly, call this chauvinistic if you want, but I feel like any guy who is involved in a relationship that he considers to be exclusive and/or serious should be doing the same thing.
So, LW, don’t look at his reactions as his hating the holidays, because to me it sure seems like he loves you enough to care how he presents himself to your family, like he cares enough to want to show them he’s not just in it for the free food and the place to stay. When he gets upset about the carols, look at it as him not wanting to embarrass you by not knowing the words. When he wants to give presents, look at it as his making an effort to show your family that they matter to him in the same way he matters to them. And, honestly, if you’re feeling like this is a serious and committed relationship you two have, don’t wait for your family to get him involved; get him involved too. It sure sounds like he’d jump at the opportunity to do just that.
Flake November 2, 2011, 3:51 pm
I would say that it definitely depends on the family, and also on their culture. In my family, pretty much all of my and my brothers’ SOs were treated like family right away. My parents know that if I am not sure about a person, I would never introduce him to them in the first place. And personally, I treat all guests in my home like family, and I guess I expect to be treated the same way. Hospitality is a very big part of our culture.
theattack November 2, 2011, 6:39 pm
My boyfriend and I are in our early & mid twenties, we’ve been together a year and a half, and he is now a member of my family. It’s not weird at all since he’s around my family a lot. However, I’m around his less, so things are still very much “Here’s the best guest towel” at their house. At my parents’ house, he’s at home enough to throw away the stale crackers, eat entire bags of chips, and go through cabinets to find whatever it is he wants. Different families behave differently, and time spent around each other is what makes the difference.
Allison November 2, 2011, 10:00 pm
We don’t know that he explicitly said that he should be like family (and he probably didn’t). In the LW’s words, he felt like an outsider. Thinking of yourself as a non-outsider is a lot different from trying to intrude on someone’s family. Plus, he doesn’t understand holiday traditions, so it’s not like he has the ingrained knowledge about how serious a couple has to be to spend holidays together. So, I’m all for cutting him some slack.
atraditionalist November 2, 2011, 3:14 pm
Good advice Wendy! in reading this letter I felt as if the boyfriend was whiney and was bringing the exclusion on himself at times by assuming he is an “outsider”. Who doesn’t reply in a friendly manner to a mother that made you Christmas dinner? I think you need to talk to him about his attitude as well if he continues to put a damper on things. He’s a bit of a negative nancy
SweetPea November 2, 2011, 3:25 pm
I think her boyfriend was just raised very differently and feels awkward. Not everyone is perfectly comfortable and confident in new social situations.
I think it is pretty awesome that the LW is trying so hard to be accommodating here. And Wendy gave great advice : )
silver_dragon_girl November 2, 2011, 3:34 pm
Yeah…he might be kind of introverted, too. I often have the BEST of intentions to be friendly, peppy, polite, charming, and all those lovely things with strangers…and then something happens and I just can’t get any words to come out, and the ones that do sounds all wrong. Which makes it harder to talk at all.
Britannia November 2, 2011, 3:40 pm
It could be that some of this stems from him being a Jehovah’s Witness. I know that no religion can be stereotyped into a certain personality set, but it is true that Jehovah’s Witnesses’ children have it pounded into them that it’s very “all or nothing” when it comes to how they practice their faith, and also that perfectionism is paramount. Such high standards can often breed social anxieties, problems with being obsessed with doing everything perfectly. Either way, this is all up to him at this point, but it is understandable that he has anxiety about being “perfect” when considering where he comes from.
Greebo November 2, 2011, 7:24 pm
Greebo November 2, 2011, 7:25 pm
It might be unclear that was a reply to silver dragon.
bagge72 November 2, 2011, 3:48 pm
I kind of have to agree with atraditionalis here. I can see somebody being awkward, and not knowing what to say, and saying all of the wrong things, but to get into arguments about something like that makes it seem like the LW’s BF was a little bit of a baby with the way he was reacting to these things, and maybe he is trying to make up for that this year with the presents, and things will be a lot better this year since he knows what to expect, but he seems be a little dramatic with everything that is said to him. Also LW I wouldn’t consider those things your mother was saying as nagging, it sounds like she was just trying to act normal, and make him feel as comfortable as possible.
SpaceySteph November 2, 2011, 4:27 pm
I completely agree with you both. The whole thing read like he seemed to be bringing it on himself and picking fights over silly things.
I mean who gets mad over a mom being a mom and saying “Don’t eat too many peanuts, it’ll spoil your dinner?”
Also being a Jew dating a Catholic, I can sympathize with the getting weirded out by Christmas carols (I went to private Jewish school as a kid and so do not know any Christmas carols, just songs about Macabees!) but I think his behavior shows his immaturity or inflexibility. I went to church with my boyfriend’s catholic family last Christmas, and though I was a little nervous, I can happily report that I did not burst into flames…
Ask if someone has a song sheet, so you can follow along with the words. Or politely beg off the outing to stay home. Or actually communicate with your gf about being uncomfortable and maybe she’ll volunteer to do something else with you. I just think that going and being a wet blanket on the whole thing shows that he’s approaching the family with the wrong attitude.
Greebo November 2, 2011, 4:26 pm
I don’t know. LW says the boyfriend mostly enjoyed himself with awkward moments thrown in. I still sometimes feel like that around my in-laws, and we’ve been through…well, more than a couple holidays together. That’s not “whiny”. It’s just part of finding your own place. That he’s thinking ahead to the next holidays and talking about getting into the gift giving scene suggests he wants to compromise and belong.
Public Pearl November 2, 2011, 3:26 pm
“How about filling up a mug with some spiked hot chocolate, getting in a car and driving around your family’s neighborhood to check out all the Christmas lights?”
Nothing says the holidays like drinking and driving! I’m guessing this was just badly worded. Though it did remind me of Troy discussing Jehovah’s Witnesses on Community: “We can’t drink, but it helps!”
BecBoo84 November 2, 2011, 3:46 pm
I thought I was being a weirdo for picking up on that, but yes, getting a DUI would probably not do much to alleviate all the tension.
bagge72 November 2, 2011, 3:58 pm
Yeah I noticed that too, probably not the best thing to do when there are a bunch of people walking around caroling, but I just assume it was a slip there.
Wendy November 2, 2011, 3:50 pm
Oh, right. I forget these things since I live in the city and “driving around” means sitting in the back of a cab. But, at any rate, not EVERYONE in the car would be driving, so spiked hot chocolate for the passenger, virgin hot chocolate for the driver.
Public Pearl November 2, 2011, 5:28 pm
I don’t know how accurate wikipedia’s page on open container laws is, but it says:
“only eight states (Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia) allow passengers to consume alcohol while the vehicle is in motion.”
theattack November 2, 2011, 6:44 pm
It’s not accurate. Tennessee does not allow any sort of open container in the car. Even a previously opened liquor bottle can’t be transported in a car, though there may be some sort of exceptions to how this works (like I”m thinking locked in a tool box in the truck bed might be okay). If the seal is broken, it’s illegal.
Public Pearl November 2, 2011, 7:48 pm
Yeah, that’s what I figured.
cdubs November 3, 2011, 1:00 am
Actually for the states that have no open container laws, it’s left up to the localities, which mostly ban it. I live in Virginia and I’ve been trying to find out if my county bans it (not that I’m looking to drink and drive, I don’t even own a car). I’m just insanely curious.
sohara November 2, 2011, 3:48 pm
I was also horrified by the “drink and drive” suggestion. Assuming that they don’t have any ill effects from the “spiked hot chocolate”, if they got pulled over by the cops they’d probably be arrested for driving with open liquor in the car (assuming the cops smelled it on their breath or in their cups). I think this might be the worst advice Wendy’s ever given. Probably post-partum loopiness.
bethany November 2, 2011, 4:07 pm
In certain states it is perfectly legal to drink in the car, so long as you’re not the driver.
I wish I lived in one of them!!
Kerrycontrary November 2, 2011, 4:13 pm
Yeh I attributed this suggestion to “new mommy brain” because driving with an open container is the easiest way to get a DUI in my hometown (since the cops have nothing better to do!).
Matcha November 3, 2011, 9:04 am
Not to be encouraging illegal activities, but even if a cop did stop them for speeding through a neighborhood, I doubt he would see the Thermos of (one spiked, one unspiked) hot chocolate and think, “Open container!”
GatorGirl November 2, 2011, 3:29 pm
LW- do not ignore this, it will only make things more difficult and stressful. Talk to your BF and identify some things that are big stressers for him. Once you two are on the same page about what triggers his stress you can help him avoid/minimize his stress, which will allow him to be his “usual happy and goofy self.”
I’ve been in the situation your BF is in- an “outsider” who grew up very differently from my BF’s family. I grew up a liberal Northern, his family is a conservative and Southern. The first Thanksgiving was definitely a challenge but the BF and I have talked before and after every family gathering about what happened. This year is my 4th Thanksgiving with his family and I can not wait to see them all. It will get better if you two just talk about it and work to minimize each others stress.
Also, think about telling your mom to cool it a little bit. Your BF may have been overwhelmed by her (seemingly) constant checking up on him.
YouGoGirl November 2, 2011, 3:30 pm
Your boyfriend is experiencing culture shock because he was raised in a very different way. People who leave radical Christian cults often have similar experiences because they have not learned popular American culture. I know this is hard to imagine because we take our culture for granted.
He is nervous because he is not familiar with how most Americans celebrate Christmas and does not want to make cultural blunders or look foolish. He is probably also embarrassed of his ignorance of American customs because as an American he is expected to know them. But he is trying hard to learn these new customs and with some orientation from you, he can be more comfortable this year.
savannah November 2, 2011, 4:56 pm
This might come off as nit-picky but I think it’s worth noting that ‘popular american culture’ includes a lot of different traditions, there are a lot of americans out there who don’t celebrate christmas, or even just don’t celebrate it the way the LW’s family does. I’m an American, I don’t know many christmas carols and I don’t think i’m ignorant of american customs or expected to know Christian culture just because I live in the same country as many people who do. I think this perspective is even more important in the LW’s situation. If she doesn’t see his different upbringing as ignorance then she can really educate him about her family and their own traditions without judgment as you suggested.
Calle November 2, 2011, 3:33 pm
I noticed that Wendy didn’t pick up on this but the LW’s mother sounds passive aggressive. LW wrote “My mom would say something like “Don’t eat too many peanuts, save room for dinner!” or “Did you like the pie? I’m sorry if it tasted bad. I made it just for you!” The first one isn’t terrible, but the last one is textbook passive aggressive. If someone doesn’t eat a lot of pie, you don’t comment on it and if you do you don’t say “I made it just for you.” Perhaps LW’s boyfriend picks up that the mother doesn’t want him there, hence the awkward interaction with the mother. Plus, I don’t think it is weird to be a little annoyed at being called a guest by a serious girlfriend. It seems off putting. Really close friends, or serious boyfriends, or family members are not really guests unless you are talking about putting out guest soaps and towels.
Britannia November 2, 2011, 3:42 pm
Everyone’s humor is different… and considering that it’s the boyfriend’s prerogative to fit into the family, not the mother’s, it would behoove him to learn how to see the humor in her jokes. “Passive aggressive” humor is common in families, and since he wants to be treated like family… he is!
silver_dragon_girl November 2, 2011, 3:49 pm
Yeah, seriously….my grandmother is/was the WORST at this at holiday meals. CONSTANT “oh, you don’t have to eat that if you don’t like it, it’s probably no good.” Of course it was delicious.
Temperance November 2, 2011, 7:19 pm
My FH’s grandmother does this, but her food is freaking nasty, so it really IS no good. I usually choke it down or feign stomach pains, lol.
Calle November 2, 2011, 3:50 pm
Eh, I read your earlier comment and I think you and I just have very different families. I come from a very open, liberal, beach town, relaxed Southern Californian family. Everyone is family in my family once we get to know them and if we like them. Others are far more reserved. Different strokes for different folks and all, but I would have a hard time not being offended if I was the significant other for over a year and a half and I was just a guest. Granted, that is based on if the LW’s relationship is serious. However, I’m fail to see the humor in the LW’s mother’s comment about pie, even when trying to look at if from various different angles.
silver_dragon_girl November 2, 2011, 3:55 pm
Could be that Mom’s the one who’s awkward around strangers. It happens…the first time I cooked dinner for my boyfriend I was pretty panicky about it, because I consider myself a good cook but I started second-guessing myself and wondering if it was even a dish he’d like. It’s easy to start throwing out the passive-aggressive comments when you’re insecure about something.
Britannia November 2, 2011, 4:11 pm
Yeah, I guess we do. My family operates in a “country club” sort of way. Very exclusive, but once you’re in, you’re in. If my boyfriends don’t just “naturally” fit in and get along well with my grandparents and extended family, I know that our relationship is just not going to be successful. We may be “hoity toity” or whatever, but that’s just the way we are. It takes a while for them to warm up to people, so if a guy tries to force things along, demands to be treated like family right away, or expects to have US conform to HIM during Britannia’s-Family-Events, they’ll close up like clams and he’s just screwed himself over. The right guy for me is not going to make it difficult to keep the fun alive during our get-togethers, so that’s where I’m coming from when reading this letter.
6napkinburger November 2, 2011, 4:15 pm
Exactly like my family. It did NOT mesh well with someone who was raised in the family i describe below. My family always thought he was trying too hard, was being disengenous and was forcing it. Even though I knew he wasn’t faking it and tried to explain that to my family, it didn’t matter; it was basically a lost cause.
Britannia November 2, 2011, 4:40 pm
It’s kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. If you try too hard to be accepted, it puts them off because they can smell the desperation and the fakeness. If you don’t bother to try at all and just say, “This is the way I am, ACCEPT ME” then they’ll basically say, “Uh… okay… BLACKLISTED”. It really is the case with my family that you just have to naturally be a good fit. Get nervous about it and you screw yourself over, be apathetic and you screw yourself over. But then again, that makes it so that the right guy for me will just be himself and that self will be a perfect fit for my family. High standards and “exclusivity” may make us seem bitchy and seem rude to potential suitors, but in the end, my family is my foundation, my support, and my genesis, so they and their standards are more important to me than the difficulty of finding “The One”.
honeybeenicki November 2, 2011, 4:26 pm
My family is a lot like Calle’s family – we are very open and pretty much everyone is family. Basically it works like this – we love you and accept you until you give us a reason not to. And you have to mess up pretty bad to get booted from our little family world.
My husband’s family, on the other hand, is more like yours Britannia. I have been with my husband for about 6 years and I’m STILL not treated like family (ie: excluded from family events, told I shouldn’t have kids and should be happy with “the two he’s got”, snide comments comparing me to his ex-wife, etc). They don’t really have a close family (its very small and not quite what I’m used to as I have a HUGE, very loud family that spends the holidays talking, playing games, etc while his family sits and watches TV in separate rooms).
Some families are just different. It happens and I have learned to accept it. I wonder if the LW’s bf is just feeling extremely out of place and struggling to gain a sense of normalcy in such a different family style.
Britannia November 2, 2011, 4:34 pm
I wonder if the LW and her boyfriend are considering this relationship as something permanent, or that will result in marriage. You can’t really force “chemistry” when it comes to someone else’s family, and to me, I can’t consider marriage with someone who isn’t a shoe-in with my family. It’d definitely be very important for LW if she is considering becoming permanently attached (marriage license or not) to this fellow, and I also wonder if she and boyfriend are on the same page. Maybe he’s seriously considering her for a wife, and a lot of social anxiety is coming from that? If such is the case, he should try harder to become friends with the family outside of the major holiday events. Maybe even talk to a therapist about his social anxieties and how to handle them so that he doesn’t feel so awkward or abnormal when with the family.
honeybeenicki November 2, 2011, 5:02 pm
That is an excellent point. I feel the same way with someone fitting into my family (really not hard to do) and generally felt the same way with me fitting into my spouse’s family, but in the case of my husband apparently his family just really doesn’t accept anyone into their family. They still don’t accept my sister-in-law’s husband and they’ve been married for 10 years or so and it took about 9 or 10 years for them to truly accept my husband’s ex. They are a very closed off family (I should mention its not his whole family. His sister is pretty good to me but was really good friends with his ex, so it was hard for her to open up to me at first).
bittergaymark November 2, 2011, 6:08 pm
Yeah, the pie comment is very off-putting as there is no good way to respond to that. It would make me feel very awkward.
Ktfran November 2, 2011, 5:03 pm
I’m glad you said something about the mother’s comments. I picked up on that too. I’m usually not bothered by passive/agressiveness because it basically describes every member of my immediate family, but those two statements completely rubbed me the wrong way. Heck, I wouldn’t know what to say to something like that either.
LW – I don’t know how many times the bf has met your family, but maybe talk to your mom too. Ask her to cool some of those kind of statements. Or, better yet, help your bf out to break the tension. For instance . . .
Mom “Don’t eat too many peanuts, save room for dinner!”
You “Mom, have you seen him eat? He’ll have plenty of room for dinner!”
Maybe the bf doens’t know how to deflect these kind of statements. Help him out!
6napkinburger November 2, 2011, 3:45 pm
Going to tradition you aren’t familiar with with a “rambuncious” family can be very stressful and uncomfortable, especially if it is very different than what you experienced.
My exBF’s family was like this. We’re all jewish but they do christmas with his mom’s boyfriend. The first year, I didn’t go because I was spending the vacation week with my own family (we had been dating for 2 months) and up until the day we broke up, I never stopped hearing about how I missed it.
The next year, I clearly had to go and thus hauled ass to get there even though I was out of town that weekend. They rescheduled it so I could be there, even though I repeatedly told them I was fine missing it and had prior commitments that day (my bff from college’s bridal shower and bachelorette was the night before in a different city which I had to leave at the crack of dawn to take 5 buses to make it to freaking staten island for christmas dinner).
I was SO freaking uncomfortable with everything: from the guilt-inducing comments from his mother that I could not figure out why she wouldn’t drop (how they were lucky i didn’t have to work and miss it again, like i had last year), how we never visit them, how he works too hard and I should make sure he eats right and sleeps better.
I smiled as I opened horrible present after horrible present that they couldn’t afford but insisted on giving (including a non-refundable leather jacket for my bf that didn’t fit him) and enormous clothing that his mom (who has a good 15 pounds on me, and I have at least 5 inches on her) told me “she tried on and they were big, so they should fit me”… they didn’t.)
They were all happy as a clam and i was trying to figure out how to handle it with a smile the best that I could. Every time his mom nagged me about what her son was eating and how i should be monitoring it better, how she knew i took cooking classes and maybe next year I would make something so we wouldn’t have to eat her attempts, which she apologized for, which by the 18th comment and 20th compliment from me were grating on me, I tried to smile and laugh when appropriate, reassure and shrug when appropriate, and not let my face give away the fact that i found the whole thing bewindering.
The LW clearly has a very outgoing, “rambunctous” family (caroling is not passive) and she might think its awesome and welcoming for her BF, but it might be more than just “different” for her BF; it might be downright awkward and unpleasant at parts. My BF’s family sure was welcoming… incredibly uncomfortably so. I think everyone thinks their family is amazing and thus, paints that picture, but guests might not see it the same way and that doesn’t make them ungracious or killjoys. It takes a little while to adjust. And if they treat him like “one of the family” with all the bad shit (like the compliment-begging, unnecessary guilt-inducing mother), it would be surprising to be told you aren’t considered that in other contexts.
So I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Greebo November 2, 2011, 3:46 pm
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t read “fiasco” in last year’s holiday events. I read “fairly new couple still working things out regarding traditions”.
Frankly, it sounds like LW’s mom (being cheerfully matriarchal) was trying to make him feel like he’s not “just a guest” (although in my family, the word “guest” implies the phrase “honored guest” rather than “just a guest”). Does the bf not enjoy singing? Then he shouldn’t sing. Is he just uncomfortable because he doesn’t know the words? Then teach him some! (If the religious theme is bothersome, “Jingle Bells” and “Frosty the Snowman” are secular).
I would personally take it as a sign that bf is looking long-term in this relationship in that he wants to bring gifts and seems to want to ingratiate himself. However, my husband and I go together on gifts for our family members, and I don’t see why LW and bf shouldn’t do the same, each contributing a little and shopping together.
As for getting used to mom and the family traditions…this takes time. And experience. My family is small but kind of crazy, in a mostly good way. (My father would say we don’t suffer from insanity. We thrive on it.) When my husband (then my boyfriend) first met them, some very dear family friends were over and we had a WILD game of Win, Lose or Draw (if you think that’s impossible, I cordially invite you to my next family function). By the time everyone wandered to bed, my “uncle” was joking that “Well, that’s the last we’ll see of THAT guy”. At our wedding a couple years later, my “uncle” congratulated Mr. Greebo and said “I guess you’re tougher than I thought. I was sure you were a goner.” We all still have a good laugh over it.
My long-winded point is that adults deal with their discomfort. You can ask about ways to make him more comfortable, but it sounds like he’s already exerting himself. That suggests that everything will work out fine to me.
lk November 2, 2011, 4:23 pm
Your boyfriend sounds like a cutie!
Agree w/ all of Wendy’s advice, minus the slightly questionable drinking spiked cocoa while driving – maybe while walking?
Holidays are stressful for everyone, & I’m usually the weirdo having to excuse myself during pie-time to take a nap or read by myself – so set up a signal that means you & he need to take a little walk around the block between courses (or in lieu of rowdy group activity) to get some air, some quiet, & some calm : )
Greebo November 2, 2011, 4:31 pm
lk–Are you my husband, by chance? I didn’t know you were on here!
lk November 2, 2011, 5:54 pm
Oh, thank god – that gives me hope that someday someone will actually want to marry me ; )
Greebo November 2, 2011, 6:57 pm
Lol. I’m sure that’s unjustly hard on yourself.
Ktfran November 2, 2011, 5:09 pm
I love your idea about the LW and bf doing something together, privately. And LW, I think it’s a great sign that he wants to participate in gift giving. Especially if he was given a gift or two last year.
Read my response to Calle’s statement about helping your boyfriend out when your mom says something that might make him uncomfortable. After you do this a few times, he’ll hopefully pick up the cue and will be able to fend for himself.
MiMi November 2, 2011, 5:25 pm
I must be getting crotchety in my old age but, Oy Vey!
The boyfriend knows he had an alternative upbringing and has a very different experience from the large majority of folks, so why is he so danged touchy? Is the whole world supposed to tiptoe around his delicate feelings and bend over backwards to make it okay for him, while he doesn’t have to do anything but act tense, look shocked, get hurt feelings, and generally be a giant pill?
You’re plotting and planning on how to ease his way, LW, but how hard is he working to make things dandy for you this holiday season? Did he learn some carols to sing this year or look up some jokes to tell at the dinner table? Is he interested in expanding his horizons enough to accommodate your holiday needs or is it going to be ugliness from November to December every year? Something to think about…
caitie_didn't November 2, 2011, 5:45 pm
YES! I’m glad I’m not the only person! Although- I think by asking the LW about gift suggestions he was trying to make a legitimate effort to have things run more smoothly this year.
But seriously, if he’s not willing to tolerate (put on a good face) for your family Christmas, he is being kind of selfish. Particularly if Christmas is a really important time for your family.
6napkinburger November 2, 2011, 5:53 pm
I really don’t get that attitude.
She says: “He wouldn’t say anything rude or impolite, but he would give answers in kind of an humorless/uncomfortable tone and I could tell he was not his usual happy and goofy self.” Nothing indicates that he was less than polite and put ona good face for her family; SHE just knew he was uncomfortable.
And: “Another example is the way my mom would gently nag him at Christmas/Thanksgiving dinner in a cheery matriarchal host kind of way (it’s her way of making someone feel welcome).” While she says “it’s her way of making someone feel welcome”, that doesn’t mean that’s how it comes across. “My mom is a heinous bitch to everyone she loves!” doesn’t make it any less awkward or uncomfortable the first time you have to deal with it.
So taking it at face value, his gf’s mom nags him and guilts him, he doesn’t get the joke, smiles and nods politely, and you guys think he’s a whiner who won’t try. Except this year, that’s exactly what he’s doing: trying. I don’t think your description is especially fair.
caitie_didn't November 2, 2011, 6:17 pm
Sorry, but in my book “answering questions in a humourless tone” and “making sure your significant other knows how much you AREN’T enjoying yourself” counts as whining and being manipulative. People deal with awkward situations and go to social events they don’t enjoy for the people they love all the damn time. He can suck it up for Christmas.
6napkinburger November 2, 2011, 6:25 pm
But he did go! And he’s defintely sucking it up this year and planning in advance.
And just because she can tell he’s uncomfortable doesn’t mean that he’s purposefully making sure she knows. And even if he was, it usually is a “help me!” type of thing, as running a sort of interference/translation service/tour guide between relatives and new SO’s is your job at a holiday.
And manipulative is so strong here. Being uncomfortable and unable to hide it effectively (which I don’t actually think is going on, but even if it were) is not manipulative. It’s certainly unfortunate and not awesome, but one can hardly call someone having genuine negative reactions and not successfully hiding it “manipulative.”
CMF November 2, 2011, 6:21 pm
I agree! Being invited to spend the holidays with someone’s family is kind of a “more than a guest” thing in and of itself, isn’t it? I see absolutely nothing wrong with the mother’s comments. In fact, I bet that’s how she talks to her kids. Like they’re family and she’s the mom. So if he dosn’t want to be treated like a guest, he needs to shut up about it when they treat him like family.
6napkinburger November 2, 2011, 6:35 pm
My guess is that the LW chose tame versions of her mother’s quotes as examples to help her support her “that’s how she welcomes people” thing. Which is fair; I’m not faulting her for that.
But she also says those comments were over thanksgiving and christmas, as in, not isolated. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been around someone who uses guilt/self-depracation as their number one means of communication with their children, but it really sucks. And its just feel bad. The kids are probably used to it, but for strangers coming in, it’s really unsettling.
there’s a chance I’m projecting, but I thought I knew guilt until I went to my ex’s house. 93% of the things his mother said was making you feel bad about something. You aren’t eating the pie? Well she made it for you, so you should feel bad that you aren’t eating it, even though you didn’t know she made it for you! Look, his sister brought the dog who’s birthday party you missed last month. things like that. Like, how did his sister bringing a dog over turn into a guilt trip on you? Sometimes its hard for kids who grew up in houses like that to recognize it, and they just consider it “welcoming.” It’s not.
Temperance November 2, 2011, 7:26 pm
I really disagree with you, but I’m looking at it from my perspective. I have a very large family, and my FH doesn’t. However, his family is loud, clingy, and once they’re together, they will talk intensely about nothing for hours. It’s torture for me. I feel boxed in and panic once they start, because they will corner you at the kitchen table and that is IT.
It’s really hard for me to be anything beyond polite and cordial because I think their humor is kind of vulgar and crass, and I don’t talk about sex or poop with anyone, must less with my mother in law.
caitie_didn't November 2, 2011, 5:41 pm
Am I the only person on here that thinks the boyfriend was a total whiner last year? Look; if something is making you uncomfortable, you do the adult thing and TALK ABOUT IT with your S.O. He had the opportunity to say “it makes me uncomfortable when your family does ___; could we do an alternate thing by ourselves instead?” or whatever. Instead, he chose to sulk and pout when, presumably, the LW was concerned about her family liking him.
I’m glad he’s making amends by trying to be more involved this year and I think Wendy’s suggestions were great, but I don’t think he should have been let off the hook so easy for his behaviour last year.
Also, no, sorry, but you’re not “a member of the family” until there’s an engagement or similar commitment. Dating for a year and a half means you’re still a “guest” at family functions.
Jess November 2, 2011, 6:25 pm
yea I also thought his behavior seemed pretty rude, regardless of being unfamiliar with the holidays/her family. i wouldn’t be surprised if he acts like this in other social situations he isn’t 100% comfortable with, and that’s not really okay.
Fabelle November 3, 2011, 10:28 am
“Also, no, sorry, but you’re not “a member of the family” until there’s an engagement or similar commitment. Dating for a year and a half means you’re still a “guest” at family functions.”
Definitely agree with this! Obviously the boyfriend in the letter has other thoughts, however. But he should be expressing it better– I don’t get why he would automatically become upset at being told not to worry about gifts. I STILL tell my boyfriend not to worry about gifts, and we’ve been dating over 2 years & he’s been over my house constantly the entire time.
Anyway, I also agree that he sounds a bit whiny. He’s going to sulk and jump to conclusions that he’s an “outsider” over one family function? I can relate to feeling awkward in social settings, but I don’t get upset or perceive the people I’m around as being un-welcoming. He sounds like he could have other issues…?
Ktfran November 3, 2011, 10:11 am
I wholehearedly disagree with this . . . “Also, no, sorry, but you’re not “a member of the family” until there’s an engagement or similar commitment. Dating for a year and a half means you’re still a “guest” at family functions.”
That’s a blanket statement that shouldn’t be made. Every family is different and every culture is different.
My ex fiance’s family welcomed me and treated me as one of their own from the get-go and well before we were engaged. Vice versa. My family was the same way with him and my sister’s current boyfriend. Not even just our immediate families. This was with aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins. I went through two christmas’s with his family before we were engaged. Sort of. I wanted to spend Christmas with my family and he wanted to spend it with his family. We lived in the same town as his family, so they held a Christmas dinner with me where I exchanged presents with his parents and brother before I left for my family 1800 miles away.
Just because your family is not this way, does not mean others aren’t.
Meaghan November 2, 2011, 6:41 pm
My first holiday season with my now husband’s family was stressful to say the least despite me having a good time in the end, and I can fully understand how the LW’s boyfriend is feeling. I think most of you are treating him like he’s a child for when he underwent a stressful situation over a period of time (holidays, especially christmas, are almost never a one night affair for families) where he was out of his comfort zone and I don’t think he deserves that.
When we visited my in-laws for the first time it was a twelve hour trip to a massive family that by all accounts is completely different than the one I grew up in. For the short time (we could only stay a couple days due to my husband’s duties) I met over fifty people with all their children, questions about my family (which was not ideal in the slightest way so answering questions was very awkward), and being dragged into various traditions one that included me getting significant money as a reward for winning so I felt incredibly awkward and on the spot.
Many times I felt like I was overwhelmed, cornered, and grilled when I knew in my heart they were just trying to be kind to the woman who my now husband said was very special to him even after just six months. And, since I was no where near anybody who I could vent to, I took some of these frustrations out on my man. What else could I do? I had never been exposed to such things before, and I felt guilty every time I had to be vague about my childhood or not participate in the traditions because I thought that I should be so happy instead of awkward and bombarded. That made me angry at myself and my then boyfriend for just throwing me in to sink or swim.
In the end communication on the way back about how I felt and things I’d appreciate next year (some more time alone with each other so I could recharge was the biggest thing for me) and that we visit them on a much more low key occasion before the next round of holidays so I could slowly get accustomed to his immediate family and broaden out to the rest. Now that we have done that I am very excited for this year’s holiday visit!
Long story short: don’t accuse him of being a baby or a rude person just because a person from a very strict religion had a hard time being accustomed to an open and completely different family. Holiday’s aren’t like a one night party where you’re a little off center: they’re a compeltely crazy time where everyone is stressed. Give him a break!
LW: Talk to him about making him feel better, and if you want him to see you guys as family and be open with your family then don’t call him a ‘guest’. He’s not just a place-card at the table; he’s someone special you’re bringing home on the holidays to share that precious time with your family. Help him pick out gifts, teach him the non-religious carols, and give him some time with you alone to gain his bearings when things get a bit out of hand. Make a phrase or something where he can let you know discreetly he needs a break and trust me everything will go by so much smoother!
6napkinburger November 2, 2011, 7:03 pm
This. What a better way to say part of what I’ve been trying (and failing) to convey.
Greebo November 2, 2011, 7:19 pm
When my husband and I visit my side, we stay for a weekend and go home. I promise you that each and every time, Mr. Greebo hides in the bedroom for an hour or so to get a break. I don’t blame him, and my family understands that they can overwhelm people because they/we have a different way of relating to each other.
When we visit his side, I sometimes feel like I need to run and hide. It gets wild there, too, but in a different way (sometimes with subtle–or not too subtle–digs between family members). And there are a LOT more of them, which is overwhelming to me.
My point is that it takes time and flexibility on everyone’s part to allow a new person into a family dynamic, as a guest or as new family. Some people adapt more easily than others to certain styles. I don’t get that bf was mopey. LW said he mostly had a good time. I get that he got overwhelmed and confused. It happens.
Also, LW on the one hand implies she wants him to blend tiny in, sing caroles and wassail with the best of them. On the other, when he suggests getting gifts, she pulls out the “no, you’re just a guest” line. Maybe he’s a bit confused about her expectations?
Meaghan November 2, 2011, 7:30 pm
I agree on the “guest” thing. I know I’d feel like I just got put back into my “place” if I was reminded that I was a guest somewhere like a family function that I had already attended the year before where I had already been treated seemingly like family. It would make me very confused as to where the boundaries and expectations were for the coming holidays.
SpyGlassez November 2, 2011, 10:04 pm
THIS. Were you me last Christmas? I traveled 13 hours to Ohio to meet the BF’s extended family; we stayed with one grandma who doesn’t approve of us living together (even though her daughter lives with her boyfriend and is twice our age….) for the first half of the week. The BF has never gotten along with that grandma and I had just lost my beloved grandmother a few months earlier, so it was VERY hard when his grandma was gruffly telling me to call her Grandma. I didn’t have a way to tell her that I could NOT do it at that time. Then for the second half of the week we stayed with his aunt and uncle who are 1) rich and 2) live in a huge house and 3) have all of the family over for the Christmas celebration. So for the whole time we were at THEIR house, there were people constantly wanting to meet the first girlfriend that their precious cousin/grandson/nephew/etc had ever brought home for the holidays. My family is NOT close, and so having 40+ people milling around wanting to chat with me – and expecting me to remember WHO THE HELL THEY WERE – was insane.
I did get bitchy at the BF a few times, and at his mom (with whom I generally get along) and it didn’t help that I came down sick while we were there.
Temperance November 2, 2011, 7:14 pm
Wendy’s advice is right on, except I would add something else:
LW needs to talk to her mother and family. Frankly, they sound overwhelming to me and they need to take a step back. I would hate having someone watch everything I was eating and comment on it, or be forced to join caroling, for example. It’s something that she might not be considering, that her family’s holidays can be super intense … especially for someone without any frame of reference regarding normal holiday celebrations. I freak out about being expected to go to Mass because I don’t know all the rituals and bending and holy water stuff, and it makes me upset.
LW also needs to set up some traditions of her own with her boyfriend. Why not set up a small Thanksgiving together, or their own Christmas? I’m not suggesting skipping out on her family, just setting up something to look forward to for him. It’s silly, but having special traditions that aren’t his family’s makes me happy.
Deb November 2, 2011, 7:35 pm
Um, I haven’t read through all of the comments and I’m sure this wasn’t intentional, Wendy, but “spiking” the hot chocolate, then getting into a car and driving? Separate and apart, both great ideas, but together a potential train wreck. Or car wreck, as it were.
Otherwise, great advice, as always!
Sue Jones November 2, 2011, 7:39 pm
It is always going to be a culture clash when you get 2 families together. I was raised Jewish so Christmas at various boyfriends house was always a bit of a cultural experience. And different family styles can really grate on nerves and be confusing for those unfamiliar. If he can be included and if you warn him about some of the weird stuff he can anticipate, perhaps he can develop a tolerant sense of humor about it all… and given that he has already been through this before perhaps it will go easier this time around. Also at my husband’s house (atheists that are big on Christmas dinner and gifts), usually we give gifts as a couple to individuals ( to my brother in law from “us”, to his wife from “us”, etc) since the one related knows the person and their tastes better. And also now that there are so many kids we just gift the kids (and my MIL) so it doesn’t get so expensive. I find cultivating a compassionate sense of humor about family personality quirks is the best way to get through holidays. Have him watch “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and have a laugh….
ele4phant November 2, 2011, 7:43 pm
Can I just say that no matter how wonderful your SO’s family is, sometimes putting up with a family and traditions that aren’t yours is difficult.
I love my boyfriend’s parents dearly, and I know he totally digs my family too, but spending christmas, or any other holiday, in a way that is not what I am accustomed to can be hard.
I think that maybe we should aknowledge that spending holidays with someone elses family (or people who are now your family virtue of marrying in) is not always the way you want to spend your christmas but you make that sacrifice because you love your SO.
My boyfriend and I alternate who we spend holidays with, and when its our turn to be at our families, we try to remember to be cognizant of each others enjoyment, and find ways to take the pressure off, by doing things like taking walks or splitting off from the main group for a bit.
While I may be “family” now with my boyfriends parents, it will never be the same as the family I grew up with, and that’s okay.
spark November 2, 2011, 8:07 pm
Great advice, but, I have to say, “spiked hot chocolate” and “getting in a car” do not belong together!
Skyblossom November 2, 2011, 8:57 pm
“Did you like the pie? I’m sorry if it tasted bad. I made it just for you!”
I wouldn’t know what to make of this joke because it sounds like she knowingly made it taste bad just for him. What is the proper response when someone makes it sound like they purposely ruin things for you?
I’ve never been around a family like the one described. Maybe it’s regional but I’ve never seen it.
bittergaymark November 2, 2011, 9:47 pm
Yeah, it’s a strange comment that makes it hard to respond to in a way that makes you look nice, that’s for sure. It’s just awkward…
Britannia November 3, 2011, 12:44 am
It sounds to me like she had made a type of pie that she isn’t used to making because the boyfriend has very specific tastes. That would explain both the self-depreciation and the reasoning for why she “made it just for him”.
It would’ve been pretty easy to answer that, in my opinion: if he actually is liking it, then say, “Oh no, it’s wonderful, thank you!” If he made a nasty face: “Oh no, it’s very good, I just had a sneeze come up and was trying to stifle it!” And if it’s truly awful, just say, “I’m just not used to cinnamon, is all! Thank you for making it though, I really appreciate it!”
Seriously, as someone who works with uppity and sometimes horribly disrespectful people for a living, I can honestly say that there’s a gracious way to respond to ANYTHING.
HmC November 2, 2011, 9:13 pm
Agh. My guy and I have also been together for almost a year and a half, we are doing our first big family holidays together (he’s coming to my big family Thanksgiving on Thursday and his mom invited us and his other immediate family for a Thanksgiving dinner on Friday) and this letter totally raised my blood pressure about the whole thing! I’ve spent time with his family and think they’re very sweet, and they’re actually very similar to mine, but now I’m starting to worry about seeming like a kiss ass (I’m sort of an uber polite person) or him feeling uncomfortable for whatever reason… Happy freakin holidays. :/
katie November 2, 2011, 9:21 pm
i was raised just like your boyfriend.. homeschooled, religious, no christmas or any other holidays for that matter…
I think that your boyfriend really feels like an outsider… because while he is an outsider to your family, he is even more an outsider to the general culture, so he is like doubley sitting outside looking in. so while most people meeting their SO’s family are somewhat of an outsider, but still understand family dynamics, christmas traditions, ect… he doesnt get ANY of it. he doesnt even understand how to act around a bunch of his own family! that would be scary for anybody, i can understand why he is feeling the way he is. and then, you mention nothing about some pre-party talks about what your family does on christmas, why you do it, the food you eat, ect, so it sounds to me like he was just kind of thrown to the lions.
but, on the flip side, i think that he is being really standoffish and just sitting neutrally at your house. not trying to fit in, not actively being fit in by you, just kind of there.
i think you guys need to kind of gain each other’s perspective- you need to understand that all this christmas business is absolutely foreign to him, and he needs to understand that everything that happens at christmas time comes from a place of love. I think that ultimately, if you love him, you will let him become a part of the festivities by letting him know how he can become part of the festivities. if he loves you, he will go along with them, and actively become a part of your family.
fast eddie November 2, 2011, 8:53 pm
I didn’t notice anybody suggesting the LW have a chat with her mom and/or other family members about her concerns. From the letter they sound pretty neat fun people and might be very understanding and eager to making him feel welcome. He’s trying to integrate with the gifts, build on that and let him run at his own pace. All the other comments contained good ideas also. May your holiday be merry and bright. 🙂
Temperance November 2, 2011, 9:57 pm
I did! 😉 I think your advice here is spot on. It’s very likely that this is extremely overwhelming for him, and maybe asking her parents to give him a bit of space (not in a “don’t talk to him” sort of way, but maybe some breaks in the intensity of the holiday) would be helpful, since he is trying.
Allison November 2, 2011, 10:04 pm
I’m sure the boyfriend will get more comfortable as he spends more time with your family. Do you live close enough that he gets to spend time with them in other settings than just Christmas? That might make things a little easier so that it’s not the pressure of the holidays and him trying to get used to your family again compounded.
On the flip side, as a guest at your family’s home, he should make some effort to be pleasant. It sucks to be an outsider, but it’s no excuse for being standoffish.
L November 3, 2011, 9:46 am
Ohhhhh the holiday season. I do love the holidays but they can be so overwhelming if you bring a significant other…or even more so if you ARE the significant other!
My best advice is to try to find ways to reassure him that you are on his side. There have been some great suggestions both from Wendy and from comments on here to do just that. Make sure he knows that you and your family want him to be included. You and your family don’t mean to make him feel like an outsider. Ask him what bothered him the most about last year. Maybe you can talk to your mom to help alleviate some of the awkward comments.
Large outspoken families are fun, but they can be very overwhelming to a significant other. Sit down and have a chat with him to see what it was exactly that made him uncomfortable and try to help him feel more at home, whether that means you jumping in when conversations lead to the land of awkwardness or whether that means that you stay home while others go caroling. Good luck!
Shadowflash1522 November 3, 2011, 10:16 am
As someone who sometimes has trouble taking cues from someone else’s family, I can see where your BF is coming from.
First off, he’s probably torn between the logic of his position (non-religious) and the desire to please your (semi-religious) family. Especially if his experience with religion was…less than cheerful, it probably still makes him uncomfortable being a nonbeliever in a sea of believers. Either way, he doesn’t know how to act since your traditions are wildly different from his. Show him some of your traditions; teach him some of those silly songs. He’ll probably appreciate your attempt to smooth his way rather than hover over his feelings like a mother hen.
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume your BF is something of an introvert, ergo the trouble taking cues. I often have trouble sorting out whether someone is genuinely concerned about me or if gentle nagging is just their way of being affectionate (i.e. your mom). The pressure to perform when out of your element is worsened when you especially want to please someone you love. Your BF was probably so proud when he determined that giving gifts was a good idea since he figured it out all by himself (yeah, I know it sounds a little sad, but the socially inept among us *cough* me *cough* have to take small steps), and then when you told him he’s not obligated to you basically told him he got it wrong. Again. I know you didn’t mean it that way, but he’s clearly struggling to understand your family’s social dynamics and fit in, and your “guest” comment probably didn’t help.
Here’s the vision I’m having in my head:
BF [to self] “OK, this year I’m going to fit in and not be awkward. How can I fit in? Gifts. People who fit in bring gifts. Gift-giving I can handle. It’s just like birthday presents, but all at once, right?” [out loud] “Hey, LW, what kind of stuff does your family like?”
LW: “Awww, that’s so sweet since you’re such an awkward person who doesn’t fit in!”
BF: *tumbles back into the pit of despair*
If you’d left it at “Awww, that’s so sweet!” he would have felt like he’s on the right track instead of stressing about his “guest” status.
SGAC November 3, 2011, 2:44 pm
Wendy, if you haven’t decided on a Weekend Open Topic thread yet, I propose that there needs to be one of memorable holidays with the significant other meeting the family. I’m sure everyone has one story to tell. I know I do.
misslisa November 3, 2011, 5:21 pm
Arrgh! I just typed a huge comment and an error occurred, obliterating it! It must be the universe’s way of forcing me to rewrite more concisely, ha!
Jehovah’s Witnesses not only do not celebrate any holidays at all, they believe that the celebration of them is a damning sin. If he left the faith, then the BF is not only estranged from his family, he has been disfellowshipped by all his relatives/friends/support system who are still JWs. If his family is still in that faith, then they believe they’ll go straight to hell for communicating with him.
Now put yourselves in his shoes, with not only Christmas, but the entire family-interaction thing. LW, your BF may still be carrying the scars of being raised in an isolationistic, cult-like, punitive religion, and the Xmas behavior could a symptom of his just needing to unload the general baggage of the past. I saw this in my ex-BF who was an ex-JW. Even 10 years after leaving them, certain things would just throw him for a loop. At first I thought he was just being a big baby, but in hindsight, I should have steered him toward a support group or counselor for ex-cult members. (Not sure if he would have gone or not, but he’s a different story).