Guest columnists and contributors are generously sharing their talents and insights while I’m taking some time to care for my new baby. Today’s letter is answered by columnist and blogger, Billie Criswell.
I’m a 21-year-old female dating a much older dude (he’s 41). We met at work, and were friends for several months before we began dating. Since we’ve begun dating, he has met my parents (who both really like him) and I have become close friends with his sister. His parents live pretty far away, so I haven’t met them yet, but they know about our relationship.
The problem is Thanksgiving is coming up, which is a major holiday for my family. Dude has expressed interest in coming to our family gathering to meet my extended family. I’m glad he wants to get to know my family, but I’m concerned about how he will be received. My uncles are pretty big jokesters, and they LOVE to tease, but sometimes it crosses a line. They heard I was dating someone older, and now every time I see them, they make comments about how if I’m going to be with an old guy, he should be a doctor — they have even gone so far as to ask me how I put up with “wrinkly balls.” I tried to play it off, and my mother has also told them that she and my dad approve of the relationship and that he’s a great guy, and asked them to lay off, but it hasn’t helped any.
I am not ashamed of our relationship at all, and we knew when we started dating, not everyone would be as understanding of our age difference as our immediate families. That being said, I don’t think Dude is entirely prepared for what’s coming at my family Thanksgiving. Do you have any advice for how to handle this situation? I’d love to bring him with, and I know my family will really like him when they get to know him, I just don’t want him to have his (not-wrinkly) balls busted all throughout dinner. — Saying “Uncle!”
Oh, how I can relate to the teasing. My husband is only six years my senior, and people are less than sensitive, even after our eight years together. Of course, now it’s just perfect strangers more than anyone — like the flight attendant who recently asked me how long my “daddy” took me on vacation for. Nice, huh?
Over the years, my husband and I have fielded all kinds of jokes, one even (in the very beginning of our relationship) from his own father who made some comment about “child abuse” when I was hurt during a ‘bout of play with our dog. I would feel the sting of those comments so acutely that sometimes I would cry, but eventually I learned to get over it. Mostly, people were making jokes because they were uncomfortable, and I had to buck up and, as they say, take it on the chin. It’s what you sign up for, I suppose.
So your plan of attack, as you may already know, has to be two-fold. The first part involves simply being honest with your dude. Say that your uncles are rough when it comes to joking and can be a little ruthless. Prepare him, but also reassure him that it isn’t meant to be mean-spirited.
I also recommend that you ask your boyfriend to assert himself. He’s going to have to get used to it if he wants to date a hot, young thang, so he better get into the groove now! If your uncles say something, you two need to be united, but also casual and not easily angered. I am a big proponent of the simple, honest and non-confrontational statement. So you (and dude) can say things like, “We’re happy and comfortable with our relationship.” If they get offensive, say, “That comment really crosses some boundaries that I feel are inappropriate.” Changing the subject is a great shifter, too, so be ready to pull that out. Say it with me now, “How about them Bears?!”
I would also enlist the help of a family member…like maybe your mom or dad. I know you said you’ve tried before, but did you pull out the wrinkly ball card yet? Ask them to have a little “uncles talk” pre-holiday. Be honest with mom or dad and tell them that the “wrinkly ball” joke has you a little a gun-shy about the holiday. I am sure that your uncles will be willing to put a mellow lid on it for the holiday if your parents are serious. And even if they don’t, at least you and your parents will be on the same page. You could also put in a phone call to your uncles if you are feeling up to it as well.
Most of all, you should know that people will do this to you guys at one time or another. Don’t take it personally. Sure, it’s not fair, but hey, life’s not always fair. But you guys will be the happy ones, and so really, what’s a little teasing every now and then?
[photo via flickr]
* Billie Criswell is a columnist and blogger from the “Delaware Seashore.” She loves zumba, bloody marys, and cooking. You can follow her shenanigans at Bossyitalianwife.com.