One of the people I am struggling with the most is, “Sheila,” Hank’s older brother, “Jeff’s,” fiancée. She and Jeff are both 22, have been together since high school, and are getting married soon. They don’t want me at their upcoming wedding. Recently, she was snooping behind my back asking classmates of mine what they think about me, and then she discovered my private Instagram where she found pictures of weed, which she confronted my boyfriend about. She told him that “she doesn’t like me anymore and isn’t going to make an effort.” She said many hurtful things directed towards me but then “changed her mind” so she sees no reason to apologize. Hank’s brother has a habit of “tattling” on my boyfriend, who is 18. He told their parents about my boyfriend’s smoking, tells his parents when I’m over if we’re home alone (it is against their rules because I’m still in high school), and even looked through my boyfriend’s bank receipts, later telling his parents every detail about Hank’s finances.
Whenever I am over at my boyfriend’s house, I always feel a strange tension. His brother never looks at me or acknowledges me. At family dinners everyone is either complaining, talking politics, or talking about Sheila (she is always topic of conversation). I feel like such an outsider and have no opportunity to chime in. I also feel like no one makes an effort to include me in conversation.
Hank has recently been getting into it with his parents over this. His mom thinks that I am dragging my boyfriend away from the family, and his dad thinks I am a “bad influence.” (My influence: Hank is more accepting of people now and isn’t as negative and judgemental. I have cooked him healthy lunches every day for work and got him into working out.) His father thinks I am going to end up trying more drugs in college and become a “druggie.” I did go through a small party phase in the beginning of high school that they don’t agree with, and his mom claims that “people don’t change.” I come from a very successful family who wants me to also be well off. I have PLENTY of family members who smoke weed and drink socially who have never tried other drugs. I’m very good about keeping my grades up, and I plan on getting into a good university, which his family knows.
I don’t know how to handle the growing drama around his family. I constantly feel unwanted and uncomfortable around them, and it is not a surprise anymore that Jeff and Sheila don’t want me at their wedding. I really wish I could be there to support my boyfriend, but I don’t want to be there if unwanted. I am so stressed about the situation that I can’t even imagine how Hank feels being in the middle of it. Please help because I am very happy with my boyfriend and I would like this resolved as much as I can make that happen. — Feeling Unwanted By His Family
First of all, why are you putting pictures of weed on your Instagram? You’re in high school, you want to get into a good university, and you want to impress your boyfriend’s family — these are all good reasons for why you: a) shouldn’t be smoking weed in the first place; and b) SHOULD NOT BE PUTTING PHOTOS OF IT ON INSTAGRAM. That’s just really, really stupid. Honestly, I’m very open-minded, but if my son were dating a girl with pictures of weed on her Instagram, I’d have an issue with it, too. Not necessarily because I’d worry about her influence on my son, but because I’d really question her judgment, and I’d worry about what else she was being stupid about. (Also, if your Instagram is “private,” how did Sheila come to see it in the first place? If you let her follow you, you really can’t call it “snooping.”)
Second of all, if you want Hank’s family to accept you, a good place to start is with not breaking their house rules when you’re over at their home. You know it’s against their rules for you to be alone with Hank in their home, so don’t do that. It’s hard to see you totally as the victim here when your own actions are working against you.
That said, I’ll believe you that Hank’s family members are racists even though you give no examples of their racism or their isolation of you other than not approving of your drug use. Here’s the thing: You are unlikely to change their opinion any time soon. You are definitely unlikely to change it by continuing to disrespect their house rules. You know — or at least, believe — they don’t like you. You feel tension every time you’re at their home. So stop going over there. Stop hanging out with them. Limit your interaction with your boyfriend to outside his family home. Go on dates. Invite him over to your place. And let him have time alone with his family. I know you think he needs your “support,” like at his brother’s wedding, but he doesn’t. I’m sure he enjoys your company and likes having you around, but he doesn’t “need your support.” That is a fallacy. He’s survived without you for 17 1/2 years before you started dating. He’s fine.
You’re in high school, and I want to tell you that the likelihood of your actually marrying your boyfriend one day is low, but when your boyfriend’s parents and his brother and fiancée are all former high school sweethearts, that kind of blows my argument out of the water. Obviously, you are part of a culture where people marry earlier, so it’s not far-fetched that you’d consider marrying Hank in the not-too-distant future. When you marry someone though, you marry their family, so really think about whether this is a family you want in your life forever. You may really, really love Hank, but is that enough? Is that enough to spend a lot of time for the rest of your life with a racist, homophobic, judgmental family?
You can’t change who these people are. You can change your reaction to them, and you may be able to eventually change their perception of you, but it is very, very unlikely that these people are suddenly going to stop being racist, homophobic assholes. I mean, it’s great that you’ve been successful in getting Hank to be more accepting and less judgmental of people, but as someone who’s dating a minority member, he probably isn’t as racist as the rest of his family to begin with, right? I wouldn’t count on having the same level of success with everyone else. And I would be very leery about legally binding myself to this group and potentially having children with Hank who may be ostracized by their extended relatives for their mixed race.
So my advice: Hang low, avoid the family, quit putting pictures of weed on your Instagram, go out with your boyfriend more instead of hanging out at his house and with his folks, and continue focusing on keeping your grades up and getting into a good college. When you do get to college, a whole world of new people will open to you. Go ahead and have fun with Hank now, but don’t tie yourself to this one boy from a bigoted family whose members don’t like you. Doing so really limits your possibilities.
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.