Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with my parents and siblings and with the holiday season underway, I’m stressing about it all over again. I’ve been with my partner for over a year now. Last year I avoided bringing him home for the holidays. Now another year later, my parents and siblings are really pressuring me to bring my boyfriend over for Christmas dinner.
I’ve run out of excuses and yet I’m dreading how this could play out. On one hand, he’s met my family in casual social settings — at my nephew’s softball game last summer, and at a barbecue at my sister’s for Labor Day. And in fairness, it was fine. Everyone was very polite and he said he found my family “kind and charming.”
But I know how quickly things can turn during the holidays. For one, politically I have very different views than the rest of the family and even though I do all I can to not vocalize that, it’s like politics always comes up and I feel ganged up on. Also, my parents are very religious and we are not, and it’s pretty normal that their Christmas celebration includes lots of prayers and invasive questions about why I don’t go to church anymore (never mind that I stopped going in middle school). I imagine this would make him very uncomfortable. Meanwhile, my siblings radiate judgment because I work in the service industry and they went to college and have “real” jobs (their words, not mine).
I know my parents are getting older and a part of me feels the part of the dutiful son who should spend time with them while he can. But the thought of it brings waves of anxiety, especially when I think about bringing my partner. Can I avoid another holiday at home, or should I suck it up and go?
Many people reading this will feel your pain. Introducing a romantic interest to the family in any scenario can be overwhelming. Layer that on top of the tension and pressure of the holiday season and already-complicated family dynamics, and it’s no wonder you’re hesitating. But if you’re serious about this person, let’s be real, you can only delay these meaningful introductions and more prolonged family interactions for so long.
Even if you don’t always get along, even if you don’t quite understand each other, no doubt your family loves you. I’m sure they’re genuinely curious about wanting to get to know your boyfriend. No matter how much you disagree on politics and religion, you’re their son, and for parents, having all their “kids” at home on special days means a lot. Allowing them to connect with you by bringing your partner along means even more.
Let’s also consider your boyfriend’s feelings. While I’m sure he appreciates your sincere intentions to protect him from family drama, certainly he also wants to get to know your parents and siblings, if for no other reason than it will allow him to better connect with and understand you.
Before Mariah Carey starts flooding the airwaves again, you need to begin a hard mental restart of Christmases past, my friend. You’re not a little kid or an unsure young adult anymore. You’re a grown man, living life on your terms. You have a great partner and, believe it or not, a family that genuinely cares about you. I’m assuming you’re also healthy and generally happy, too. So you’ve got a lot to be thankful for and confident about. It’s time to forget and forgive the family button-pushing, rise above the political posturing and religious pressuring, and let your true self shine. You’re big enough now to have a voice and poised enough to deal with all of it ... if it even comes at you anymore.
Just don’t you dare use your boyfriend as an excuse not to face your family or your past. Sure, you’ve felt annoyed, exhausted, and picked on, but this family setting is far from toxic. In fact, this is a holiday fairy tale compared to some truly heartbreaking family relationships and dynamics out there. Beyond your differences, your family is accepting, happy for you, and want to get to know your boyfriend better. (Oh, he enjoys their company and wants to get to know them better, too!) And ultimately, they clearly love you — what matters more than that?
So try something new this holiday season: instead of spending the next month working up your anxiety and dreading these upcoming holiday gatherings, come in with a fresh perspective and an assured attitude. And remember, this is just one night of partying with family. Have a glass of wine and hold your boyfriend’s hand tight to take the edge off, if you must. And if anyone even tries belittling you, tell them that you’re perfectly happy with what’s working for you, thank you very much. They’ll respect you more and push on you less if you just stood up for yourself and became a peer instead of a pushover.