My parents met my boyfriend. It was difficult.
They were equal parts awkward and standoffish with him. My mother was shy; my boyfriend was quiet. Left alone, they would have blinked at each other in silence, waiting indefinitely for a sudden commonality that might aid in conversation. They’d have had more luck with Godot. My father, on the other hand, loved talking to my boyfriend. He used his most uncomfortable you-can’t-tell-if-I’m-fucking-with-you tone and we all began to lose track of whether he was, in fact, fucking with anyone.
Look, they get along. My boyfriend likes my parents. He thinks he’ll grow on them, and often suggests a weekend trip to visit or to spend quality time on the holidays. He’s a good boyfriend, the type who appreciates people who haven’t quite appreciated him yet.
But I realized, too late, that I never should have introduced him to my parents first.
I should have introduced him to my grandparents.
Of course! Adorable relics of Jewish New York, my Grandma and Papa are favorites among my friends. They love afternoon cocktails, gossip, and their grandchildren. They gamble with loose change in weekly canasta games. They sit by the pool with their senior friends who skipped Florida this summer. And, like most grandparents, they adore bragging about their family to anyone who will listen.
And they adore my non-Jewish, non-lawyer-or-doctor, non-rich boyfriend.
First of all, my grandparents have much lower expectations for me than my Mom and Dad. At 26, I’m the youngest grandchild and the only single girl in the family. Hell, my grandmother was married at 18, the second my Papa got home from the war. They didn’t have the chance to blow through hundreds of thousands of my parents’ dollars on a liberal arts degree. They went to work and tried to set up a life for themselves so they could enjoy being in love and having a family. To them, 26 is old enough to settle down and have their grandkids already. With that guy? Good enough! Just as long as he’s nice, virile, and wants a family.
Yes, they drive with a foot on each pedal, but that doesn’t mean they’re a menace on the road. No, the problem with their driving has less to do with their two-foot approach than the fact that they’re losing their eyesight. I’m lucky enough to be dating a handsome fellow, but what if he wasn’t? Pockmarks, acne and a constant five o’clock shadow? They wouldn’t see it. Braces at 30? Barely noticed! Their eyesight is bad enough to cast a lovely rose-colored glow over any potential husband. Plus, when you spend your time surrounded by other 80-somethings, anyone too young to join AARP looks fantastic.
It takes a lot to impress my parents, who only half-expect me to date doctors and lawyers. But grandparents are impressed with almost anything! He works with the internet? You call up, you know, and you send people these big pictures that shrink and then the download happens to the computer thing with the letters and screen. You don’t say! To my grandparents, ignorance isn’t bliss—it’s awesome, and when they get a dizzying glance at it, they’re absolutely impressed. When you’re in your 80s and living off of social security, lawyers and doctors might as well be crooks.
When my boyfriend visits my grandparents, he arrives with an empty stomach. If there’s a way into a grandmother’s heart, it’s through her oven. He wolfs down countless cups of coffee, a fruit platter and an entire hunk of brie before dinner and still has room for dessert. He sits down and eats mashed potatoes, bowls of fake crabmeat salad, plates of salmon and six thousand calories’ worth of cheesecake. My grandmother gets practically teary-eyed with happiness when he asks for thirds of her famous apple cake. My grandfather beams. Grandma wraps the leftovers up for us and sends us back home with a package of Tupperware that will feed us all week.
When you’re in your 80s, the little things matter less and less. My grandmother delights in seeing me happy. To her, that’s enough. My grandfather wants me to be cared for. It doesn’t matter what the guy looks like, what he does or what he eats. What’s important, I know, is how he makes me feel.
I know my parents will come around eventually. Right now, they’re happy to grin and bear the relationship while my boyfriend tries to chip away at their tough outer shell.
And to my grandparents — so what if he’s not Jewish? So what if he’s not a doctor? So what if he’s not perfect? — he’s still a mensch. And a mensch who likes their food.