Being married is great. Tons of fun. But it does mean that you suddenly have a whole new set of relatives who may or may not like/understand/be interested in/ever want to stop talking to you. (I told you there’s always a “but” in these posts; also, I use “new” in the geological sense, as I’ve been married for over 6 years and together with B for over 10). There are a few simple rules that make it comparatively easy (or we just have delightful relatives–I’ll let you decide). The biggest one for navigating extended families is that if one partner is pissed/upset about something relating to their dearly beloved’s side of the fam., it is the unavoidable duty of said dearly beloved to go to bat/run interference/gently mention that perhaps X,Y and Z need to tone it down a little. B and I are pretty good at this, and we both know that it is our job to manage our own teams (this serves the double purpose of not exacerbating any irritation between in-laws while also showing the spouse that their partner’s first loyalty lies with them.) In return, the out-law in question has to be pleasant, helpful, and pretend to be interested in whatever family stories are being aired out.
So that takes care of the annoyances, irritations, slightly kooky behaviors exhibited by even the best families. What I always enjoy the most though is the unexpected difference in cultures. This weekend we were visited by PathBuilder and TreeLady and the story of my first visit to B’s paternal relatives came up (his parents weren’t there for this visit, so PathBuilder got to hear how I fared with his family 8 years after the fact). Here, for your reading pleasure is the conversation I had with a family friend (who I think was trying to impress B’s grandfather with her cooking skills):
LadyWhoLikedLikedB’sGrandfather (LWLLBG): Oh, hello dear! You must be hungry, have some salad!
Me: Oh, thank you, where is it?
LWLLBG: Over here, we have five different kinds!
(she points to five different jell-o salads, not one of which has ever even seen a vegetable)
Me: Oh…. Errr…. What sort is that one?
(pointing to a mustard-y yellow specimen which appeared to have butterscotch chips sprinkled on top)
LWLLBG (beaming): That’s butterscotch pudding with Cool Whip, pineapple chunks, golden raisins, and toffee bits!
Me (throwing up a little in my mouth, but beaming back): Gosh! They all look so good, but I just ate 5 hot dogs, so I think I’m too full just now. But thank you so much… maybe later.
Yeah, that’s right. I am so dedicated to not offending my husband’s relatives that I actually ate 5 hot dogs so that I could legitimately claim to be too full for “salad”. Therefore, I did not have to lie, but I also did not have to eat butterscotch-raisin-pineapple-cool whip-toffee “salad”. This is a very handy survival tip for the newly married. When in doubt as to the cultural food preferences of your intended’s family, find the one thing you like (enough to eat), then fill up on that and then spend the rest of the visit loudly proclaiming how full you are and how delicious X was. (I should mention the only major pitfall to being so polite: everyone is very disappointed that you didn’t know about the salad options and filled up on hot dogs, so they very kindly make a big tupperware of Jell-O salad to take home. But what you do with that tupperware is between you, your spouse, and the garbage disposal).