The Opposite Sex 

Meet the family—and resist the urge to run far away

Meet the family—and resist the urge to run far away

Dear B&D,

My boyfriend has invited me to share Thanksgiving dinner with his parents this year. This is our first meeting, and from what I’ve heard about his childhood, they’re both loonies. Short of smoking crack, how do I keep from putting rat poison in the cream-cheese celery sticks?

—B.L.T., Belmont

DANNY: Everyone’s parents are crazy—that’s the first thing to keep in mind. Meeting a boyfriend’s parents for the first time is always unnerving and can sometimes be a dealbreaker. What if they don’t like you? Will they tell him? Will that affect the way he feels about you? This is going to be a lot to swallow along with your stuffing and yams.

So let’s look on the bright side. Be glad they’re crazy. Crazy is good. At least they’ll be entertaining. They could be stiff, uptight, silently disapproving types—and nobody wants that. Embrace the lunacy. It’ll endear you to them and help pass the time. And on behalf of all the single, jaded, and more than slightly bitter women out there, I’d advise you to thank your lucky stars that your boyfriend thinks enough of you to introduce you to his family. We’ve all dated that guy who found every reason imaginable to make sure that you never crossed paths with his family—which only made you wonder if he was embarrassed of them or you. So take it as a good sign—a small symbol of commitment somehow.

Personally, I don’t even tell my parents I’m dating someone until at least two weeks into the process. I figure if a guy sticks around at least 10 working days, he might be worth bringing up in casual conversation. But at the same time, it’s very much a jinx. As soon as the words, “Mom, Dad, I’ve been seeing this guy named...” come out of my mouth, I just want to cross my fingers and throw salt over my shoulder. Because nine times out of 10, I know that a few weeks later Mom will call and say, “So what’s going on with...?” and I’ll have to relive the painful story about how he had short teeth, how he blew me off, or how he didn’t feel it necessary to mention his girlfriend until after I had fallen for him.

In fact, the last time I took a guy to meet my parents was longer ago than I’m willing to admit, but I will never forget it. He didn’t live in Nashville, and he came to spend the weekend at my apartment, so I bypassed mentioning the whole thing to avoid the “Now, where is he sleeping?” question.

But as the weekend progressed, I began to feel guilty and decided to drop in unannounced at casa de Solomon. He and I were talking to my sister in the kitchen, and Mom, who was changing clothes in the back, heard my voice and came out to tell me something before it slipped her mind.

So out comes Patty Solomon in nothing but a T-shirt and underwear. She walked right up and started talking to me without even noticing Mr. Ex. As I found myself in a rare moment of speechlessness, all of a sudden she whirled around, saw him, screamed, and ran to the back of the house. We broke up soon after, but he still tells that story to this day.

All of which is to say...crazy has its advantages. It actually makes people seem more human. Have fun, and the whole thing will be over before you know it. Chances are, you’re just going to look at naked childhood pictures of your boyfriend and hear some interesting stories he would never tell you on his own. Just roll with it. If the pilgrims and the Indians can do it, you can do it too.

BEN: There’s nothing quite like the holiday season. Christmas spirit and goodwill to man, buying gifts for the ones you love, and, if you’re in a relationship, the knowledge that you may have to spend it with somebody’s dreadfully freaky family. Thanksgiving and Christmas are very personal times for most people. Your reaction to your lover’s relatives can be easily influenced just by how they choose to celebrate. Everyone grows up with his or her own holiday experience, and over time that can come to seem like the way things are done.

But the fact is, there are no set rules for the holidays. Some people open presents Christmas Eve, not Christmas morning. Some families have huge get-togethers, some only see their closest relatives. Some have traditional turkey and stuffing, and some have turketti—a bizarre mixture of leftover turkey and spaghetti.

But if unfamiliar family traditions feel odd, family dynamics are that much tougher to deal with. I remember the first time my girlfriend came to a family Thanksgiving with me. I think after eight hours of no conversation, endless TV watching, and my grandmother feeding her an entire pig’s worth of barbecue sandwiches, she longed for her own family.

Of course, I didn’t realize what she was complaining about until I spent Christmas with her family and felt my brain overloading as I tried to maintain conversations with five people at once. It also doesn’t help when you have to sleep over at your boy/girlfriend’s parents’ house: If you choose to take your time working up to wedding bells, you can find yourself visiting sofa city or sleeping next door in a separate room.

All of these things can add up to one fat, rotting, stinky, Yuletide log of a holiday. The key is for your boyfriend to make preparations for your holiday visit. If he has any clue, he’ll let his parents know that if they ask any of the stupid questions they asked his previous girlfriends—“Are you sure you’ve never had an abortion?”—he’s taking you home, where the two of you will be just as happy eating microwave burritos for Thanksgiving dinner. And if at any point he sees weird Uncle Wally with the pedophilia record telling you about his doll collection, he should know to intervene as quickly as possible. In general, though, his family should recognize that you’re spending a couple of days with people you don’t know yet and who might do things differently. Ideally, they’ll accommodate you in whatever small way they can to make you comfortable.

Conversely, if his folks do turn out to be frighteningly weird, you should bite your tongue every time you want to complain about them. This is their way of doing things, and it’s none of your business to judge them. So maybe his mom puts half a gallon of rum in the eggnog, or maybe Aunt Jenny lets her kids rummage through your suitcase. You can deal. Or maybe Granddad pinches your ass repeatedly. OK, in that case you shouldn’t deal. For the most part, though, turn a blind eye toward their foibles and even their faults. In time, just like with your own group of nutcases you call “family,” it will seem like home.

Got a question for Danny and Ben? E-mail it to them at oppositesex@nashvillescene.com.

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