Do you have issues with your no-longer-best girlfriend? Is your coworker driving you crazy? Megan Carpentier is here to give you the life advice that you don’t want to hear, told in the way you absolutely need to hear it.
Every year when my boyfriend and I go to his family’s house for a holiday dinner, two glasses of wine in, his parents have a huge blow-up about something (usually politics) and his dad storms off. I always end up feeling super awkward: I guess I should be flattered that they treat me like I’m one of the family and don’t hide their flaws from me, but is there anything I can do to get them to save the fireworks for after dessert? Watching his mom cry tends to ruin the last course for me.
Like your boyfriend, I, too, come from a family of arguers: unlike your boyfriend’s family, we would never more than snipe at one another in front of company, which would include spouses or long-term partners. That’s just really inappropriate.
There are a couple ways to play this, including requesting that your boyfriend ask them to quit it. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s his family, they’re making you feel awkward and uncomfortable and he has the close relationship with them that would allow him to explicitly point it out before or during the argument and ask them to stop. But, given that this isn’t the first yearly fight you’ve witnessed, I’m going to take a wild leap that he doesn’t think it’s so bad, or tapped out a while back, and thus he’s not going to be a ton of help. So, I’m going to recommend that you guilt the fuck out of his dad like it’s your job.
Go to his dad with your best downturned eyes and tell him how awful the yearly arguments make you feel, because you feel like your presence is causing tension at an otherwise happy family occasion, and ask if there anything you can do about making your presence less awkward for everyone. When he denies it and tells you that it’s normal, I would probably mention, teary-eyed if you could manage it, that your parents only ever really argued like that when they were really angry, so it’s hard for you to see them get so mad at each other and that it makes you wonder if that’s how you and your boyfriend will end up one day. Throw him under the guilt train for being rude to a guest, for making his son’s girlfriend question their relationship and for triggering bad memories for you — and anything else you can think of. Guilt is a great equalizer and motivator.
Personally, when my parents get to arguing, I tend to pointedly look around all confused (yes, I was in Drama Club in high school) until they notice and ask me what’s wrong and then I say, “Gosh, this looked like home, but somehow I must have wandered into the Bickersons’ house instead of the Carpentiers’ by mistake.” Then they’re both more annoyed at me than one another, so they stop arguing. But, if you still feel like a guest even though they’re treating you like family that’s used to this spectacle, that might be more awkward for everyone than trying to guilt-trip his dad into keeping the politics off the dining room table.
My mother is an alcoholic and a smoker with COPD. Needless to say, she has not been in the best health for the last decade or so. Last year, after her husband died, and she was hospitalized with pneumonia, it was apparent she could no longer care for herself. So my brother found a place for her in a state-run nursing home. She hates it there. She complains about the food, complains about her roommate, complains about the staff, and does things to try to get herself kicked out, like smoking in her room. None of us are in a position financially to pay for a better place for her to live, her limited Social Security income only allows her to stay where she is, and none of us want to live with her because of her alcoholism and the abuse we took at her hands.
My mother also announces on a regular basis that she thinks we would all be happier if she would just die. I haven’t spoken to her in months because when she says stuff like that, I can’t honestly say that, for my part, it’s not true. So, my question is, what the fuck is wrong with me? I should love her, right?
There’s nothing wrong with you. Although I edited some of the examples of abusive, addicted and mentally ill behavior you described your mother engaging during your life (in part for space, and in part for your own privacy), your mother was clearly an abusive alcoholic with serious issues. She might have given birth to you and your siblings, but she subjected you to some terrible, fucked-up shit that more than negated any goodwill she earned from that. She clearly has no interest, and has never had any interest, in getting better. She likes herself, if not her present circumstances, just fine and is not interested in changing despite the damage she’s done to her relationships with her own children.
That your emotions toward her are driven more by her selfishness, the abuse to which she subjected you and her ongoing alcoholism than the fact that she pushed you out of her uterus doesn’t make you a bad person. It means that, you’ve looked at what she’s done, decided your life is healthier when your contact with her is limited and acted accordingly. If you’ve had therapy to get there, congratulations! If you haven’t, then you’re already halfway to where therapy would likely get you: now you just need to make emotional peace with your decision (with or without the help of a professional or a group like Al-Anon for support).
When your mother announces that she believes you’d be happier if she was dead, she’s not doing that because she actually knows how you feel. She’s saying that because she’s actually utterly convinced you love her she believes as other kids love their mothers no matter what, and she’s trying to guilt you into doing something that she knows is wrong for you, and that she knows you know is wrong for you. Guilt is only effective when you allow it to be, and you’re allowing it to be because you think she “knows” and you think you might be a bad person if she’s right. But she doesn’t, and you’re not. So, if you wish to have contact with her, then have it on your terms and in amounts that are healthy for you and, when she says you’d prefer if she was dead, feel free to lie and tell her it’s not true because that’s all she wants to hear anyway, or just change the subject. And when you’re done, go do something nice for yourself, to remind yourself that your life can be what you make of it.
If you have a problem with a friend, relative, coworker, or other person in your life, email Megan at email@example.com. If you have a problem with your boyfriend, you should probably just try talking to him.