Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Spending Christmas with the Family of Boyfriend's Late Wife

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: My boyfriend, "Eddie," is a 61 year old widower. Since his wife's death ten years ago, he's always spent Christmas Day with her parents and her brothers and sisters. (His own parents are deceased and he has no kids). He asked me to come with him this year (it's our first Christmas together), and although I wasn't wild about the idea I agreed to go. I wish I hadn't. I found the whole situation unsettling. Everyone was nice enough, but it was impossible not to be reminded every minute that I just don't fit in. Even worse, it made me feel like Eddie's past is more important to him than his future. On the drive home, I told Eddie that I wouldn't be doing this again, and that if he really cares for me the way he says he does, he should want to spend holidays with me only, or come with me to visit my daughter and her family in Oregon. He got really hurt, and barely spoke to me the rest of the way. We had dinner last night, but he still seemed offended. Was I wrong to say what I said? ("Confused" in Indiana)

DEAR CONFUSED: I sympathize with you, and I think that Eddie could have done a better job of anticipating how stressful the day was likely to be for you. But I do think you were wrong to say what you said.

I think a big part of the problem is that it was Christmas. For better or worse, Christmas and other holidays are loaded with anticipations, expectations, and---inevitably---disappointments. If Eddie went to see these people on a non-holiday, it probably wouldn't have been such a big deal to you. Yes, you might still have felt uncomfortable if you accompanied him, but it probably wouldn't have led to your issuing a "them or me" kind of ultimatum.

I doubt that it's true that Eddie's past means more to him than his future. Rather, I think that he values the important people in his life, and one of them is you. He wouldn't have asked you to accompany him to the Christmas get-together if he wasn't proud of you. He wanted them to meet this wonderful new woman in his life, and he wanted you to meet some nice people who meant---and still mean---a lot to him. As I said, he probably was a little insensitive with respect to your insecurities, but I think his heart was in the right place. And I think the reason he's hurt is that he had such high hopes of pleasing you.

You should tell Eddie that you're sorry for overreacting to a stressful situation. Let him know that you're not trying to undermine the relationship he has with his former in-laws. Stress to him that you love the fact that preserving relationships is so important to him, and that you hope that the relationship the two of you have is worth preserving, too.

And be willing to compromise and be creative. Christmas Day is obviously meaningful for you, but it's still only one day a year. Maybe next year, the two of you could start your own Christmas Eve tradition, even if he still wants to see the ex-in laws the next day. Or the two of you could leave on December 26 to visit your daughter. And, since you don't actually dislike these people, maybe you'll be more comfortable in their presence next year. You never know, you may actually, in time, reach the point where you look forward to seeing them.

Good luck, "Confused," and please let me know what happens.