Monday, November 19, 2018

Opting out of the In-Laws

It's been a while since we've heard much about the in-laws.

That's probably because I have not seen much of them, lately.  Putting aside the fact that Andrew's family lives in Pittsburgh, when his mother visits every few months, I politely recuse myself from the situation.  That's because: 1) I don't see any point in subjecting myself to negativity, 2) I don't see any point in subjecting Gail, my mother-in-law, to my company, which she clearly dislikes.

It's been mostly win-win.  I had not seen her for well over a year (at least, not until last week), and that seemed to be working for us.  It allowed us to pretend that we were respectfully disinclined to force ourselves to undergo any awkward interactions with the other... but that we were at least capable.

Well, that all changed.

When the Fire Nation attacked.

I mentioned, briefly, in my last post, that Gail was in town the same weekend as LA Pup.  I was not thrilled that Andrew's attention was split between my competition and entertaining his mother, but I understood.  And Andrew, poor candid fool that he is, was more than happy to explain to his mother that he couldn't stay with her all night, as he had to go to the Bullet, a gay bar, to support his husband's gay leather dog contest.


Funnily, Gail is not exactly a prude.  She was the owner of a lingerie shop for decades and she enjoys the Savage Love podcast.  The husband of Dan Savage, Terry Miller, is a leatherman whose Instagram Gail follows.  So she's not exactly squeamish or naive.  No, the issue, ultimately, is me.  Not gays, not leather, not even human dog contests.  It's just... me.

Andrew asked me to come to a pseudo-Thanksgiving dinner the day after the contest.  I agreed after asking him if it really mattered to him.  (He said it did and he actively wanted me there.)

Red flags emerged immediately; the dinner was going to be held at Si's house.  Si is a friend of ours and I was at a loss for why we were having a family dinner at a friend's instead of Jack's residence, or Andrew's.  (Reminder for those just joining us: my mother-in-law, Gail, is the mother of Andrew, my husband, and his twin brother, Jack, who lives blocks away from Andrew and I.)  Even more confusingly, I discovered that Si has been invited to every Thanksgiving dinner for the last couple of years.  (Ones that I had not attended for reasons that will soon become obvious.)

Because dogs aren't allowed at the table?

We went to Si's house and I was immediately greeted by Gail's husband, Harry, who congratulated me on winning my contest.  Harry's a stand-up guy like that.  Gail ignored me, but that was okay.  We settled down to eat.

Over the course of the meal it became apparent that Gail was on a crusade to make me feel unwelcome.  She hyper-focused on Si, asking her all sorts of pleasant, normal questions to get to know her.  As if to say, "This is how I would treat my son or daughter in-law.  ...if I had one, which I don't."  Remember, Si is my friend, and I felt irritated that Si was being used as a sort of buffer or aide to ignore me.  It wasn't Si's fault and Si had not been asked to be part of the drama.

Worse, Andrew spent the whole meal trying, desperately, to get his mother to acknowledge me.  "Mom, did you notice Tony lost weight?" he asked at one point.  (Gail and I had pulled out our phones to log our calories... and were using the same app.)

"No, I didn't," she said curtly.  This was as close as she got to acknowledging me at all.

(To my credit, I had a brilliant save.  "Well, I'm wearing a baggy sweatshirt," I said.  Although, you know, if someone tells you they lost weight, at the very least you're supposed to say "Really?!" or "Oh, congratulations!")

He tried multiple times to engage the whole table in ice-breakers and little party games, but whenever it was my turn to talk, she turned to Si and began talking over me.  I took a hint and shut up, quietly focusing on eating my pie.  Andrew tried to force any sort of acknowledgement over and over, finding every opportunity to mention me and get a conversation going.  It was like watching someone try to lead a mule somewhere.

I made this handy graphic of what the meal was like.

As the night came to a close, Andrew came to stand by me, jaw clenched.  In a low voice, he informed me that he was going to insist that she say good-bye to me when she came to hug him.  That he needed her to say at least a few words to me, instead of cold shouldering me all night.

The opportunity never presented itself.  She hugged Si and then informed Andrew she was leaving.

"Mom.  Mom.  What the hell?  You're not going to hug me?" asked Andrew, aghast.

"...I already called the Uber," she said as she blustered out of the door.

Andrew's resolve crumpled into disappointment.  For the next twenty-four hours, he turned over the events of the meal, always arriving at the same shocked conclusion that his mother should have just missed the goddann Uber to hug him good-bye, as she was returning to Pittsburgh the next morning.  She had opted not to say good-bye to him rather than be forced into a confrontation with me.

Andrew called her, full of righteous fury, and told her she needed to get her shit together, because her behavior was unacceptable, and he knew she knew that, as she'd raised him with better manners than that, and that he hoped she could love him more than she hated me.


She tried her usual tactics: apologizing (but as usual, to Andrew, not me), then defending (she said I was "rude" and hadn't been talking to her), then simply saying how very uncomfortable I make her.  Andrew was having none of it; he told her, in no uncertain terms, that it was time to get over her discomfort, because we've been married over two years, and this sort of highschool mean-girl behavior is unbecoming in a woman of her age, upbringing, and social class.


He canceled his trip to Pittsburgh for Hannukah and, later in the week, canceled a trip to Tuscon to visit Charlotte (his father's wife) with Lily (his sister), after she said I wasn't welcome.   (In case you, the reader, are not convinced of Lily's general shitty attitude, you should also be aware that, when Andrew said he wanted to cultivate a positive relationship between her and I because, someday, he and I planned to have children, she said some... less than nice things about our future children.) (She had a two-year-old herself, who I have never met.)

The hardest part of this whole thing has really been watching Andrew struggle to navigate these waters.  My own family has had their rocky times (and that's putting it lightly) but they have always treated Andrew with respect (and that's putting it lightly; they actually fucking love Andrew).  Andrew has been shocked and hurt by his family's unwillingness to at least tolerate me, and on my end, I don't know how to help.  I can't make people like me.  I've only ever met Lily thrice; I have had no negative interactions with Gail in years and I feel like we ought to, out of a mutual love for Andrew, agree to bury the hatchet and treat each other nicely.  But apparently that's too tall an order.  And I'm left feeling powerless and a little guilty, because I don't want to be the source of any trouble, especially not for Andrew, who is my favorite person in the whole world.

 Favorite real person, I mean.

I don't know how or when these in-law issues will resolve.  They're somewhat disgusting in their stereotypical, clich√© way: the mean sister, the disapproving mother-in-law, the unwelcoming upper-class snobby Jewish family.  Ultimately, I think all I can do is remain impartial and let them work through whatever issues they have.  I can't be bothered with people who want to marinate in their own personal conflicts.


That being said, I hope this all comes to a close sooner than later.  Everything in my life is really coming together, and Andrew and I are happy.  Ours is a relationship that is fulfilling, sustainable, and mutually supportive... which should really be the ideal for any relationship, and the hope any in-law has for the partner of their child.  I thought that enough time had passed for us to be able to act cordial to each other and I was disappointed (but not surprised) by her behavior at dinner.  (Also, just as an aside, I think I was really cool with Andrew spending half of my title contest weekend entertaining her.) Maybe this was the catalyst we needed, though, to finally bring our problems to a head and resolve them.  These petty family feuds aren't sustainable and we (by which I mean Gail, mostly) need to get over them.  Eventually.

Right?

...right? 

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