Why is my family being so cold to my SO?
October 24, 2012 5:00 PM   Subscribe

Deeply in love with someone who I'm pretty sure is a keeper. His family is warm & welcoming to me. My family hasn't lifted a finger to make him feel welcome. I'm humiliated. Help.

We're together for 7 months and waist deep in the big funky with one another, starting to talk about a future. I'm a year into an amicable breakup of a 5 year relationship with a guy who is sweet but clearly not the one for me. SO is divorced from a deeply troubled woman; his family is thrilled that he is with someone normal who loves him and treats him well. They have all been nothing short of lovely with me - all sibs & his parents reached out to me on Facebook ahead of meeting; his parents rave about me to the other kids; sister (the only one I have yet to meet) chats with me online and invited me to her home across the country for Thanksgiving. They like me, they like me with him, and they are thrilled for both of us.

On the other hand, my family has not been any of these things to him. He came home with me over the summer for a family wedding and stayed with me at my parent's house (in separate rooms - nevermind that I am 43!) They barely talked with him. My mom told my brother that she thought my SO was weird because she misunderstood something he said and she thought he was rebuffing her hospitality. My sister made no effort to speak with SO at all (nor me.) My brother and brother in law, as well as a bunch of my cousins, had a blast with SO and made a point to tell me how fun he is. On a separate visit to a cousin that lives in the same state as we, her husband made fun of SO's religion, made both of us feel like complete inconveniences, and went out of his way to be a rude dick to both of us.

Now it's time to make plans for Dec holidays, and I want SO to come home with me. He used to live in the city where my family is and is really looking forward to spending time there with me visiting friends and having a good time. I talked to my mother today to ask if we could both stay at my parents' house and she first said yes in a totally reluctant voice, and then told me she needed to think about it and would get back to me in a few days.

I am so upset and embarrassed over this attitude from my family towards SO that I don't even want to go home this year, but my dad is 80, and my little niece and nephew are the light of my life, and I can't not see them at Christmastime. I can't even think of how to approach this with SO - I have no explanation for my family's cold rudeness towards him, and I am unwilling to suggest that he and I spend a ton of money to get plane tickets, a car, AND a hotel so we can stay NEAR my family. What do I do about this?
posted by deliciae to Human Relations (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Ask your mother what's up, but expect to be stonewalled and told everything is fine. Don't cast is as 'He feels that you were cold and unwelcoming', because that lets them blame him. Cast it as 'I felt you were cold and unwelcoming to him' so it's your feelings they're dealing with not his.

Book a hotel or visit his family for the holidays instead. Don't force the issue of staying at the house, because he should not have to put up with people who treat him poorly, and your family can deal with the consequences of treating the people who are important to you poorly.

Go yourself at another time that isn't as loaded as Christmastime to see your niece and nephew.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:09 PM on October 24, 2012 [18 favorites]

Have you asked them why they are behaving this way? Get to the root of this now, and if you are planning a future with this person, tell your family this. They need to resolve whatever issues because this kind of thing can really cause a lot of resentment, anger, and sadness later for your partner. Trust me.
posted by two lights above the sea at 5:13 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

1.) stay in a hotel. i know you want to save the money, but trust me. anything else will make you crazy. and damn, will you appreciate the lack of facetime with your family.
2.) mostly hang out with the members of your family who give you the least amount of grief.
3.) use the willy wonka approach with the rest of them. someone talks the smack about SO? "i'm sorry, you'll have to speak up, i'm a little deaf in this ear." walk away. if they continue to give you grief? "OH! MY GOODNESS LOOK AT THE TIME WEMUSTBEGOINGNOWTHANKYOU." go back to the sweet, sweet silence of your hotel.
4.) tell the parents of your niece and nephew that you'd love to give them some time alone and take the kids for a while. then go do your own thing.
5.) deal with your mother's bs about your SO with her, and not in front of your SO. you can vent to him afterward about it, but having a giant fight with her, about him, in front of him, disrespects everyone and makes for way too much tension. if she can't get over it, you talk about the weather for a few years and if she brings up SO, deflect, deflect, deflect. if she can't be civil, make other arrangements with the people you like. she'll come aboard or she won't.
posted by koroshiya at 5:14 PM on October 24, 2012 [13 favorites]

Just a few clarification questions for the OP:

Is there something else at play here? Did they adore your previous bf? And have they just met your new SO the one time? How did they behave around your previous bf? Were they warm and welcoming to him from the first meeting?
posted by lulu68 at 5:16 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

You'll have to talk to your mother about this. You mention religion as well as sleeping in separate rooms - could it possibly have to do with religion?

I would also stay at a hotel. You need your space.
posted by heyjude at 5:22 PM on October 24, 2012

I was confused when I read your question- it goes 'my family is horrible to him, etc' then ...so I want to invite him home for the holidays. Why would you want to do this when it will undoubtedly be unpleasant? I mean, definitely follow the above people's advice and ask your mother, but really, if they aren't going to be nice, either separate for the main part of the holidays or go to his.
posted by bquarters at 5:26 PM on October 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this seems like indifference, not rudeness. I don't feel the need to gush over family member's boyfriends that they've been dating for a few months. Actually, I find families that embrace SOs like long lost children upon first meeting rather off putting. Go for Xmas, stay in hotel, and give your fam a few more chances to get to know him.
posted by murfed13 at 5:27 PM on October 24, 2012 [12 favorites]

The people who treat him rudely should be embarrassed, not you. Don't carry that bag because it ain't yours to carry, and I bet a lot of money that your SO knows this.

Nthing staying in a hotel if you decide to visit, and, if you want to have That Talk with your mom, to frame it as how *you* feel about how she/they acted around him, and leave him out of it.

Keep visits with the unpleasant bits of the family as short as is reasonably polite, and go hang out with your old friends, your cool sibs/in-laws etc.
posted by rtha at 5:27 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would significantly ramp up the stories.

Your mom probably wants you to be happy, to be with someone who will take care of you if things go south, who will always be there for you and be around, who will be thoughtful and funny and kind and... you get the idea. I'm positive you have stories about how your boyfriend showed you he was just that exact kind of person. Start sharing them.

You were having a long workday and he cooked you dinner. You were always wanting to go to that thing down the road and he took you. You had the best weekend where the two of you just watched movies and talked and laughed. You two are talking about the future and how important it is to make sure this is right. And so on. Get them enthused about him, and eliminate their worries by sharing more of him. It's like a super-extended introduction.

This is assuming they are cold because they are worried. I'm not sure what's going on with a cousin's joke about his religion, but if your family celebrates Winter Holiday for Religion X while he is an adherent of Religion Y, is it possible that they are not sure how to create a bridge between the two religions or between the family traditions and his religious requirements? For example, if your family always has a pork roast and he's Jewish, or your family always goes to a service at a mosque while he attends mass at a Catholic church, or something like that?
posted by Houstonian at 5:28 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Spring for a hotel! If you family gets miffed, well, they brought it on themselves. They'll have to get used to your relationship eventually. Agreed that you should make it about your discomfort and not your SO's.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:33 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is this unusually chilly behavior, or does it only strike you as chilly when placed in contrast with his family's behavior? None of it really sounds out of the ordinary to me, but it would be if your family is normally very warm and friendly. If you've been dating for less than a year, his family strikes me as being a lot more unusual than yours in how quick they were to embrace you.

If it comes up, you can just tell your SO that your family takes a while to warm up to people and not to take their lack of enthusiasm personally. And then tell him how lovely his family is and how lucky you are that they are so welcoming and gracious.

Also, if it's not prohibitively expensive, staying in a hotel is infinity times better than putting him in the position of being an unwanted guest in your parents' home.
posted by rhythm and booze at 5:34 PM on October 24, 2012 [11 favorites]

Can you stay with your SO's friends?
I guarantee you, your family will get the message. This may improve how they treat your SO.
posted by kettleoffish at 5:42 PM on October 24, 2012

stayed with me at my parent's house (in separate rooms - nevermind that I am 43!) ... My sister made no effort to speak with SO at all (nor me.) ... her husband made fun of SO's religion, made both of us feel like complete inconveniences, and went out of his way to be a rude dick to both of us.

It sounds like these people are awful to you, and then to him simply because he's with you. It doesn't read as though this is about your SO at all.

she first said yes in a totally reluctant voice, and then told me she needed to think about it and would get back to me in a few days.

This again sounds like something between your mother and you, maybe having little to do with your SO.

I am unwilling to suggest that he and I spend a ton of money to get plane tickets, a car, AND a hotel so we can stay NEAR my family.

You are 43. You can totally do that. It would remove a ton of the stress free up half your time so your SO could visit old friends or take you to his old haunts separate from your family.
posted by headnsouth at 5:43 PM on October 24, 2012 [16 favorites]

I am unwilling to suggest that he and I spend a ton of money to get plane tickets, a car, AND a hotel so we can stay NEAR my family.

You're unwilling to do something that's really normal. Neither of my grandmothers lived in places big enough to accommodate more than one or two extra people, and when my family would get together, we'd stay at a hotel nearby. Less stress for grandma, less stress for the kids, and the grandkids didn't really care.

And you don't want to rent a car - do you usually just stay at home all the time? Ask for rides/to borrow the car? Your mother sounds like a very difficult person, but she might also be reacting to the stress of house guests (albeit, badly).

And there is no commandment that says that you have to go home for the holidays. If you want to, go ahead, but if this is some sort of obligatory ritual for you - just don't go home. Make a holiday tradition with your SO - maybe some family can visit you!
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:00 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Your sister wouldn't speak to you, either? Is it possible that your S.O. amplifies some aspect of yourself that your family doesn't like?
posted by acidic at 6:09 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

first of all - i adore my family and we hang out a lot. we're more like friends than family. however, if i could find a way socially acceptable way to do it and not hurt anyone's feelings, i'd stay in a hotel when we go visit. i love them. they are super nice and give us everything we could want when we stay there - but we're solitary people and having your own space is nice, especially when surrounded by family who no matter how much you love them, are a little crazy. get a hotel, see your niece and nephew, visit with your friends (also, drunk hotel hanging out with friends! like you're 20 again! good times!).

secondly - when you pair up with someone you pair up with their family for good or for bad. my family is emotionally close, my husband's isn't. his family is like 5 people and he doesn't talk to 1 of them. my family is like 20 times the size of his, it's also very dysfunctional at parts and he has to deal with that. the important part is that we are always a team. they are our families of origin, but we're each others chosen family and that means we're the first priority. now, we've been together a long time and that's a little intense for 7 months. but, if you're planning a future together, learning how to support each other even in the face of family guilt trips is important.

make sure he's comfortable going, ask your mom what's up, stay in a hotel, and don't stay silent when your family attacks him.
posted by nadawi at 6:15 PM on October 24, 2012

I have good personal reason to think that they miss your old beau, so they're taking it out on the new one. There's no way to get them past it other than doing what Houstonian said...tell stories about how happy you are, how well he treats you, etc. In time, they may warm up to him.

In the meantime, spring for the hotel and don't subject him to your family's chill 24/7, because what will happen is that he'll start getting irritated back at them. And then you become a full-time PR person, spinning both parties super-positively to each other and smoothing over presumed slights until that breakthrough is made.
posted by kimberussell at 6:23 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The first thing I thought of is similar to kimberussell, it's more about your ex. If I understand correctly, you were with him for 5 years, then 5 months later turn up all loved up with someone new and can't understand why they're not ecstatic too. Give them time and don't try and force a relationship on them faster than they're comfortable with. Could they be more welcoming? Sure, but after 5 years, they probably considered him family and are still reconciling with the fact he's no longer around.
posted by Jubey at 7:23 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just to add, I know you're all in luurve and all, and he's perfect mr snuggle bunny but people in new relationships aren't known for having the most clear thought about that relationship. If I brought someone to meet my family and pretty much everyone had an issue with him, I'd be asking myself what they were seeing that I was missing. They're not blinded by love so tend to see things you might not. The fact your mother doesn't seem to want him in the house... Definitely something up. Whether its that he's not your ex or she has an actual problem with him, well the only way to know is to ask.
posted by Jubey at 7:52 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have a female friend that was in a similar situation. She sounds a little more confrontational than you and she has a reputation of saying whatever is on her mind. In a similar situation, she called her mom and asked/said outright, "What is your problem mom. I am 43 years old and can make decisions on my own. I am fucking this guy and plan on fucking him for another 40 years so either get used to us as a couple or only see me when you come to my house down here."

Her mom hung up on her, but called back the next day to apologize about how she had been acting and would welcome "your fucker" (Sooo sooo out of character for her to say that!) any time. It has never been an issue since.

Maybe not in the same way, but I would call your mom on her behavior.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:14 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Go to your home city for the holidays if you both want to see friends and enjoy the local offerings. Part of that can be meeting your family for dinner, spending a holiday evening at their house, and maybe a few festive walks. There is no reason in the world that you, a 43 year old with a partner, should engage with that kind of drama. That's true whether they're provoking it, or you're helping to fuel it.

Maybe they're being rude, maybe they're just slow to warm up, maybe you want their approval too much, but it's certainly not necessary for you both to stay with your mother.

I am unwilling to suggest that he and I spend a ton of money to get plane tickets, a car, AND a hotel so we can stay NEAR my family
No, you're going to the city to enjoy the holiday, meet some of his old friends, see some of your friends, visit with your niece and nephew, and yes, have some time with your family.

If that doesn't sound reasonable, then you need to make other holiday plans. Maybe you'll return home in January to see your niece and nephew for a few days.

I suspect that backing off a bit, and giving everyone room to adapt, will sort this out. But please, don't stay in your childhood home with that kind of dynamic.
posted by barnone at 10:20 PM on October 24, 2012

For real - thank you one and all for the perspective, you have given me a great deal to think about. I wrote this question in frustration this afternoon and realize now that it's not set up here particularly well, but to address some of the holes:

- SO and I haven't even talked about this, so this is all about my feelings about my family's reaction to him and not his. I would never bring this up with any of the family members in front of him.
- I am fairly certain it is not about the ex - they were always pleasant with him but not overly warm, and his personality was way less in tune with the general family vibe than the current SO.
- Ex's family was from the same general area as mine so he would visit and stay with his folks when we traveled there for holidays, meaning this whole issue was never even something I considered before.
- SO wants to go visit; he wants to get to know them and I want them to get to know him. I didn't realize this would be any kind of problem until today when I was talking to my mother.
- The one cousin who behaved badly with both of us is not going to be there, but I mentioned him to contextualize how SO has been treated by my family members thus far.
- We live in the Midwest and my family is on the east coast, so there isn't a lot of opportunity for us to all casually hang out. My parents are older and don't travel a lot; outside of us going to see them there, I'm not really sure how else to bring everyone together so that we can all get acclimated.
posted by deliciae at 10:45 PM on October 24, 2012

Sorry I'm a little late to the game. Couple of things ...
lulu68 makes a good point. How did they treat your previous bfs? Were they offputting? Rude? Indifferent? Sometimes families are protective when their loved ones have been hurt before. They might be thinking, "We were here before you got here and we'll be here after you're gone" kind of thing. So, maybe they're not being rude but reserved b/c they love you.
And Houstonian makes a good point. How much of this has to do with religion and them not knowing how to fit a different tradition into the family? You didn't identify the religion, but how different might make a difference. Some religious make people a lot more uncomfortable than others and naturally clash with others.
For you, the question is have you always known your family could be offputting to outsiders? I mean, most people see their family atmosphere and water temperature as normal until they experience it through the eyes of someone else. Even then, it's still family and they're stuck with trying to strike compromises btw the people they want and the people they've always known. Finally, are the religion and/or the separateness part of any deliberate choice by you to unnerve them? I know I said earlier that you are them and they are you (more or less). But if they have always been this way and it has always annoyed like it does now, do they see this as a contiuation of a tendency to make choices that throw the family in turmoil purposely?
The bottom line is if you love this person and they love you as much as you say, in the end, everybody else will come around because you're not giving your SO up. As long as they see the love and the caring and the consideration between you, it'll all be OK in the end. At 43, many people are at the point where they're losing their need for permission to love who and how they want. Good luck and great lovin' to you.
posted by CollectiveMind at 10:50 PM on October 24, 2012

The one cousin who behaved badly with both of us is not going to be there, but I mentioned him to contextualize how SO has been treated by my family members thus far.

Your family isn't a single organism. Some of your family seems great and some of it seems crappy. That's most people's families.

Also, your mother is what, 80? Houseguests are hard. It may be too much to ask at Christmas or with your dad needing more attention. Plus, if you've never had a SO to stay, the two-bedrooms thing is A Thing.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:32 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

My folks like Husbunny just fine, but I got static when I asked to stay with them for a holiday, so we switched to a hotel. Luckily, we got a Courtyard for $35 per night.

Actually, we much prefer a hotel. Mom doesn't believe in TV in a place where one might actually enjoy watching it (not in the living room or in the guest room, only in their room.)

Mom also wants to know your motivation for everything. "Where are you going?" (To the bathroom.) "What are you looking for?" (An Immodium). You get the gist. Mom also has a habit of tapping at the door and then barging in, rather than waiting for an acknowledgement.

You feel at home at your parents house, your SO probably doesn't. Suggest the hotel and see what he says. He might actually be relieved.

I firmly believe that everything is better in small doses.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:16 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Adding to the good advice that's already been given: since you said that your brother and brother-in-law DID like your SO and went out of their way to tell you that, could they possibly also go out of their way to tell more recalcitrant members of your family what a cool guy he is?

I think your brother might be the best bet because your mom has already spoken to him about thinking SO is "weird" (this is the same brother, correct?) so you know that they do talk about things like that. Can you just tell your brother that you're a little worried about what your mom thinks about SO and ask him to talk him up a bit before the holidays?

(I'm also on the bandwagon for staying in a hotel. Up until this month my husband and I had always stayed with my sister-in-law and her family when we visited (1-2x per year) but this time it just started to feel too crowded with her three kids and our three kids, so DH and I got our own hotel room. GOD, was it worth it. It was pathetic how comfortable we were, and it made for a much happier visit. My SIL was sick during the visit, too, and I think it helped not to have so many folks in the house--your mom may feel the same way.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:23 AM on October 25, 2012

Hotel. Fuck them.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:48 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

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