An article in The Atlantic this week explores what it calls “a uniquely modern phenomenon”:
how the boundary between being treated like part of your significant other’s family and being treated like an outsider has been made unclear in recent generations since sex, cohabitation, and parenting outside of marriage has become much more widely accepted. “Add in the fact that older relatives, whose ideas of what’s acceptable might date back to an earlier era, often play gatekeeper at family functions, and the end product is a holiday-season headache for a lot of dating and engaged couples.” If you’ve ever been in a serious relationship outside of marriage — maybe you lived together, are parents together, or were even engaged or simply in a very long-term relationship — you’ve likely faced some kind of gatekeeping by someone in your respective families, especially when it comes to holiday inclusion.
Maybe the most significant of this kind of gatekeeping is whether or not you and your partner get to share a room while visiting family out of town. For a lot of families, this is a nonissue, but still for many the idea of unmarried adult children sharing a bed is controversial, either because of their own morals or because of not wanting to upset the 90-year-old grandparents. I know this is even more fraught for people who fear their partners may not be accepted by older generations in their family for things like sexual identity, race, and religion, and when special privileges like bedroom-sharing and holiday- or vacation-inclusion is granted, it can be seen as a big step for the relationship, like a stamp of approval granted by the family:
“It’s kind of like when partners have a ‘define the relationship’—or ‘DTR’—conversation,” Janning added, “but this time it’s the entire family deciding whether to officially recognize it. This is the DTR in the family, and a couple probably doesn’t want anybody else involved, but by virtue of [the couple] having to go to their house, they have to be involved,” she said. “That is not an easy situation for couples to be in—or for their parents, or other family members.”
The family-inclusion (or exclusion) can add another layer of drama to a relationship when couples aren’t on the same page for how and with whom they spend holidays and special occasions (like, “Hey I spent thanksgiving with your family, why are you not willing to spend Christmas with mine?!”), or when one person’s family is much more accepting of the relationship than the other person’s family. One may discover, for example, that being with someone whose family accepts your relationship early and includes you frequently is of great value and that not having that might be a dealbreaker.
What are your thoughts on all of this? Would it be a dealbreaker for you if you were dating someone whose family didn’t include you in family events or made you and your partner sleep in separate bedrooms? Have you experienced very different levels of acceptance from various families/family members? Is there a point — engagement, living together, parenthood — when a couple’s marital status is irrelevant when it comes to being considered part of the family?