Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I left my small Alaska town for college in the Lower 48 and then got a job in a large West Coast market. I love this new, more progressive and inclusive culture and the open-mindedness of the big city aligns with my personal values and ways of thinking. My family in Alaska is definitely conservative, traditional, religious and sheltered. They aren’t well-traveled and tend to sole-source their news and read things that confirm what they already believe.
I’ve always struggled with this, not just because I know our general beliefs are different, but because it’s slightly embarrassing for me that they’re so cut off from the world. I made it a point to come home this holiday season and put in a real effort to reconnect. In some ways, it was fun to share beers and laughs and walk memory lane. I also realized nothing has changed. They are still on the totally opposite side of the political spectrum as me. I found myself troubled and distracted by their weird political rants and recitations of baseless conspiracy theories.
I’m not sure how to go forward from here. To make it worse, I am seeing someone who wants to meet my family. I haven’t warned her that they’re truly my opposite and I know she’d be super uncomfortable in their environment. She’s also pretty outspoken and I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t grin and bear it like I have, and I can just imagine awkward debates and conversations. How do I navigate this? I want to remain connected to my family but our vastly different political views are so polarizing that I don’t see a way forward.
Let’s focus on your family first — because they are, all things said and done, your family. You may vote differently, pray — or not — to differing powers that be, and have wildly dissimilar ideas on social and societal matters, but it’s still your family. It’s tough, so tough, to be the odd person out and feel like the whole group is in agreement and you’re the one outlier who doesn’t fit in. But this goes both ways.
While you’re flabbergasted at their beliefs and methods for researching and backing their stances, they’re surely also perplexed why you have such differing thoughts and positions. One good, healthy mantra to intone when it comes to politics and family/partners/friends is to remember and reinforce that the construct of living in a world of good versus evil is just that: storytelling. On the contrary, people in politics are just people, and while their means to an end may radically differ, they’re usually there for the same reason: to make a positive difference.
So when your family rants and raves about something that makes your head spin or stomach turn, remember this: they aren’t spouting doctrine or digging in because they’re mean, or bad, or careless or uneducated. Based on their own experiences, they’ve found a set of beliefs that feels right. The best thing you can do is openly acknowledge that despite the differences of opinion, you love them. Unconditionally. Because that’s what we do with family.
Well, your backwoods AK clan hasn’t exactly disowned you since you ran off to that fancy college with your modern learnings and progressive ideals, and then skedaddled to the big city with your important job and all of those cosmopolitan trappings. You’re still welcome at the good old homestead, and with open arms, to boot. So if anything, I’m guessing they’re pretty darn proud of all you’ve achieved and that you’ve become your own independent person, whoever and wherever that may be. And they love it when you come home.
Now, that isn’t going to change who they are. And these wild dynamics in any relationship can be exhausting, annoying or worse. But you’ve managed, and it’s all pretty tame as far as family drama and disfunction goes. Just ask some of your friends.
And I certainly see a way forward. Bask in that 2,000-mile buffer zone and get back into the groove of your life for a while. Then, once your head clears, dig into what’s really important — family — what you can and will engage with, and what you will rise above moving forward. I think you’ll understand that your family bonds are stronger than all of the quirks and quacking.
As far as your girlfriend goes, bring her on up! She’ll likely love Alaska and definitely get a better sense of who you are. And as far as spending time with the family goes, stop stressing. Even if they aren’t on their best behavior, it sounds like she can debate and navigate with the best of them.