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The Vine: December 15, 2010

Submitted by on December 15, 2010 – 2:31 PM33 Comments

Dear Sars:

My partner and I have been together three years now.We have a wonderful relationship and both feel very fortunate that both sets of parents are accepting of our relationship.Now, here comes the "but."

My partner's sister and her husband are not accepting of our relationship. They are very religious and we often feel our mere existence offends them.This makes family get-togethers uncomfortable because they usually end in hurt feelings.

We've tried to just ignore their disdain and be civil.However, last Christmas we got everyone in their family a gift. My partner got a gift from them, but I did not.Further, my partner's sister always sends a Christmas card addressed only to my partner, despite the fact we've been together three years.

While I find this rude and childish, I'm willing to overlook it because I can't force them to accept us. What I can't overlook is the fact that she and her husband often refuse to acknowledge we're even in the room at family events. We always speak and are at least civil but the courtesy isn't returned.It not only hurts our feelings but more importantly it hurts my partner's mom and dad.

I think confronting them in front of the family is the wrong answer. But aside from skipping family get-togethers, what can we do to make this situation more comfortable?

Miffed in MO

Dear Mo,

You can't really do anything else; you've done everything you can do. You've behaved politely, and you've remained civil and mature, but you can't "fix" these people, and you can't really act on Partner's parents' discomfort, either — it's they who should do something, if it's genuinely hurtful and upsetting to them.

Not that you can't remove yourself from the situation. You can always tell Partner's parents, "Look, we love you guys and we wish we could make it for the holidays this year, but Sister and Husband give us the silent treatment and pointedly exclude Mo, and we don't need to be made uncomfortable that way. Have a great Christmas, and we'll see you some other time."

That may prompt Partner's parents finally to tell Sister and her spouse that they expect a certain minimum of good manners (not to mention Christian grace, for fuck's sake), and that, if the un-Christian soldiers insist on continuing to treat you and Partner the way they have, they are not welcome at family gatherings anymore. Let them give the shitty behavior some consequences for a change.

It's not your fault, or your responsibility. If you do choose to spend time with Partner's family this year, keep doing as you have done, but it's not up to you to spare Partner's parents the pain of someone else's wrongheaded horseshit if they're not going to put a stop to it themselves. Keep smiling, buy Sister a copy of Miss Manners and a sparkly Hanukkah card, and let yourself off the hook for this one.

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  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    The worst part of putting up with people's bigoted bullshit is the realization that they really, really aren't going to lighten up, or mellow out, or do some soul searching, or care about hurting their parents. Not even for the minimum amount of effort it would take to, you know, not be complete frozen twats AT A FAMILY GATHERING, to which you were both invited with love and care by the HOSTS.

    I agree that none of this is on you, so don't even bother with the "guilt that grows from powerlessness" plant. Just yank it right out of your brain garden. The thing to decide is how to let go of the rage that comes from this deliberate rude behavior, because that's what these people want–your upset feelings fuel their self-righteousness. Spend your time talking to Partner's parents, enjoying their hospitality and grog. Don't let these two cut into any conversations and try to leave you out. Write a short, gracious thank you note for any gifts with both your signatures. Try to reduce the ice cloud until it hovers only over their heads.

    And if you don't want to, just gracefully bow out of get-togethers. It's not letting them "win", it's giving them consequences. You deserve a merry little Christmas as much as anyone else.

  • Jackie D says:

    Miffed, just don't EXPECT your partner's parents to say anything if you do tell them you're passing on the holiday gathering this year. You'll just start to resent them in addition to the offending couple.

  • Natalie says:

    Unfortunately, family isn't something we have a lot of control over, but you should not take responsibility for someone else hurting your parents-in-law. It's not your fault sister-in-law is a bigot, and you're not even asking her to change her behavior, just tolerating it, so you're exceeding your duties here. Don't take on too much.

  • Valerie says:

    Thank you for the reminder of why I left the church.

    Mo, where is your partner in all of this? When I read similar letters from hetero couples where, say, the wife is being rejected/mistreated by inlaws, the advice always is that it's on the husband to deal with his own family. Your partner needs to stick up for you – is she? (or he, I guess). Partner can return gifts and cards addressed only to her; Partner needs to be the one to say to the parents that Sister's behavior is unacceptable because it disrespects you. What sucks is that, if the parents don't step up, you'll be the ones missing out on family gatherings, if that's the line you choose to draw. Your other option is to take the high road, keep smiling and being civil, and demonstrate true "Christlike" behavior. God, what douchnozzles.

  • JK says:

    Yes, I wish Mo's partner was writing in. Does she (I am going to assume you are both women) only have one sibling? Does your partner have a relationship with her sister outside of family events? Could she talk to her over lunch or something? Is the religious stuff from the husband, or has she always sucked? Are your family gatherings just the six of you, or are there other allies that could step in and whack s-i-l in the back of the head?

  • afurrica says:

    You could always throw a big family get together at your house. Invite everybody.

    You know Sister and Mr. Sister aren't going to show up, but you can still have a lovely time with the family without having to stress about their bullshit. As a bonus, their absence will only reinforce what petty a-holes they are to everybody else.

  • afurrica says:

    Forgot to mention:
    Make sure you invite them with great sincerity, even if you have to fake it. Send a nice invitation. Prepare their favorite dish, if you know it. Make sure you have enough chairs/room for them, even if you're pretty sure they won't show up.

    If there is the slightest whiff of "I'm only doing this because I know those twatwaffles won't show up,", you'll lose in the court of public opinion and then you're just putting your inlaws in an uncomfortable Choose Between Us! spot, which will make you look like a jackass.

    If it feels like total bullshit to fake that degree of sincerity…hey, that's pretty much what you'd like them to do, right? They don't actually respect you, but you'd like them to act as if they do, right? So…turnabout is totally appropriate.

  • Jen M. says:

    @Jen S 1.0 "Just yank it right out of your brain garden" is my new catch phrase.

  • Jennifer says:

    I think that MO and co. should just have partner's parents over alone at some point and no longer go to any gatherings that the sister is invited to. Really, what can you do with people who literally refuse to acknowledge that you exist in public? Nothing except avoid them.

    I know everyone bitches that it's your responsibility to deal with your own bigoted/asshole/pushy/whatever parents, but I'd like to point out, as someone with a nutty parent, that this is easier said than done for those who didn't grow up with the crazy situation their entire lives, especially if the crazy relative doesn't listen to you anyway. At any rate, the only one whose behavior you can ever change is your own.

  • Mrs Miffed says:

    My sister and I have very little contact since she found Jesus. I honestly think the only reason she comes to family gatherings is for appearance. Miffed and I have a good relationship with my parents. We seem to have settled on the killing with kindness strategy for this holiday season. I can't guarantee that twatwaffle won't come up in conversation, though.

    Thanks everyone for your support.

  • JenV says:

    Gee, and those types claim they are all about "Love the sinner, hate the sin." Not so much, I guess.

    I'm sorry you have to deal with those assholes, and I'm sorry that the other people in your partner's family don't stick up for you the way they should. Close family or not, anyone that couldn't at least be polite to all the other guests wouldn't be invited back to a holiday gathering at my house.

  • Alie says:

    "I know everyone bitches that it's your responsibility to deal with your own bigoted/asshole/pushy/whatever parents, but I'd like to point out, as someone with a nutty parent, that this is easier said than done for those who didn't grow up with the crazy situation their entire lives, especially if the crazy relative doesn't listen to you anyway. At any rate, the only one whose behavior you can ever change is your own."

    Oh man, that so hard. I always read Sars's advice about crazy family, and I'm all, "Yes, yes that's entirely appropriate!" And then I promptly cannot do it with my parents, because they are emotionally manipulative fuckers. And if you grew up with emotional manipulation as the only emotion you know, and you don't want to fall into their trap, it's very, very difficult to make yourself do this like this. I always feel like if I set these boundaries (which I totally believe should be there, in theory) then I'm being a huge bitch, or mean, or am being like they are, and if I start acting like them in [situation], then what's to keep it from bleeding into the rest of my life?

    And this is why I have no boundaries.

    At any rate, I'm sure that soon the bullshit will hit the tipping point. For me, right now, my family's bigotry and bullshit isn't as hard for me to deal with as the difficulty of dealing with not dealing with it. I imagine this, or next, Christmas will be my last with them. Which is unfortunate, because my grandmother is awesome. But my father is too too the opposite of awesome. But soon it will be too hard to deal with their shit that offending them/going against all the emotionally fucked up bones in my body to set healthy boundaries will actually be easier.

  • The Other Katherine says:

    Set kindness phasers to KILL. Definitely the way to go. You look like a saint, they look like the hypocritical bigots they are.

  • ferretrick says:

    Oh, Mrs. and Mrs. Miffed, been there done that. This year is the first year we've seen Partner's dad on The Big Two Holidays in three years because it was made clear I was not welcome at his reindeer games. We bought a house together this year and that finally woke up Daddy Dearest that I wasn't going to go away and he'd better start dealing with it.

    I don't agree with the don't go if sister is invited strategy-then you are forcing parents to choose and feeding the drama. The best strategy is to take the high road and do as you've been doing. Go and be cheerily, happily polite. You show good manners and come out smelling like a rose, while Partner, Partner's Mom and Dad all see who's wearing their Gludious Maximus as a scalp fashion accessory. Refuse to sink to their level of bad manners. You can also have fun torturing the twatwaffle-get her pegged down in a corner somewhere where she can't get away, and no matter how much she tries to freeze you out, affect not to notice and chatter away.

    Hosting your own gathering is another strategy and you invite twatwaffle and dickwaffle. Sincerely invite them and make it clear they are welcome. Then when they don't show, that's their loss-the rest of the family can have fun without them. We used this strategy to great effect. However you proceed, the key idea is that you take the high road and remain gracious and make them look like the dicks. And in private you call them twatwaffle and dickcake as much as you please.

    And, finally, yes, Partner's parents should be doing something about sister's behavior if for no other reason then YOU ARE A GUEST IN HER HOME and a gracious host does not tolerate guests mistreating other guests. However, its not good manners for you to point that out.

  • Alan Swann says:

    Two things. First, though I assumed it along with everyone else, MO says the douchenozzles are "religious," not necessarily Christian. Intolerance and assholery come in many denominations.

    Secondly, though I've grown gratefully accustomed to the off-the-charts awesomeness of the writing here, both by Sars and the commenters, the parenthetical turn of phrase "Christian grace, for fuck's sake" was a particular gem. Kudos.

  • Profreader says:

    Echoing all who advise taking the high road and killing with kindness. For me, it's easier to do this kind of thing if it's a fairly large gathering — say more than 12 — so you aren't constantly staring TW & DW in the face.

    A smaller gathering makes it harder to carry this off I think — if it's only one conversational circle around a table, versus a larger crowd with smaller sub-groups. I'm reminded of my father's second wife, who liked to pull bizarre freeze-out drama during holidays. It was about eight of us there, making her Angstgiving routine inescapable for anyone in the room.

    Maybe I'm not overly sentimental about holidays or having to spend them with family, but my feeling as an adult is: I don't have to go anywhere I'm not wanted. Why would I choose to do that? I have no guilt whatsoever. If I want to see particular family members separately, why then, I'll do that. Anyone who chooses to act like an asshole has no power over me, because I have no reason to stick around for that. This led to about a five year estrangement from my father, who can pull some pretty strange emotionally manipulative antics — but finally he got the picture. And if he hadn't wised up, I had made my peace with it.

    I know that not everyone is able to completely pull away from family ties, for many reasons. But it's always good, I think, to remind yourself that you ultimately have the power of voting with your presence. If people want me around, they need to address their behavior if they are acting like jerks. Family ties aren't a free pass to abuse.

  • MO says:

    Thanks for your support everyone. To be clear, Mrs. Miffed is supportive. Her relationship with Twatwaffle (FYI my new favorite word)as she says above has been strained since Twat found Jesus. Up to that point, Twatwaffle from what I understand was cool and loved her sister very much. I've often wondered what Jesus would think of Twatwaffle blaming her bigotry towards her sister on him.

    Mrs. Miffed and I did have a wedding without Twatwaffle and Dickwaffle … it's amazing how relaxed and fun that event was.

    Thank you for all the great suggestions as well. Twatwaffle has an affinity for vintage books, so we're in the process of searching for a vintage Ms. Manners for her. Since the family celebration is this Saturday, we may not get it this year. However, it will most definitely be lurking in her stocking next year.

  • Laura says:

    Having people over to your place is a good way to get a grip on the situation if you can swing it. My sister and her Mrs. have taken the lead in hosting family gatherings since they got together I-forget-how-many years ago. The Waffle contingent in our fam (does every family have one?) is always invited and warmly welcomed on the occasions that they do show up, but they usually don't. I think it's just harder to be an ass to someone in their own home.

    Also, I have to point out "frozen twat" in Jen S 1.0's comment. Put that with "twatwaffle" and you get "frozen twatwaffle"–the Eggo of twats?

    Also also, I used to own a vintage Miss Manners (circa late 50s-early 60s) and it is just fantastic reading. Get two copies, because you will find yourself drawn in by the intricacies of visiting cards, afternoon tea dances, etc.

  • Stephanie says:

    One approach to take – and this should definitely be on the parents, not you OR your partner – would be to meet the sister/BIL on their own terms. I don't know what version of Christianity they have chosen to get involved with but it is NOT, I repeat NOT, standard Christian practice to act this way. So in trying to change their behavior don't put down their religion, use it. Because, with very few exceptions, it isn't that their church teaches them they should act boorishly. It is that they are using it as an excuse to do so. I'm sitting here mentally composing theological essays on why their behavior is un-Biblical. Which might be more persuasive to them than just "it's rude."

  • Erin in SLC says:

    It's funny, because I was wondering the other day if it's appropriate to give an etiquette manual as a gift. I have most of the Miss Manners books, and I cherish them, but naturally I wonder if the message would be perceived as passive-aggressive.

    @Stephanie: Thank you for pointing out that not all Christians are gay-shunning douchecanoes. (Some of the folks in my church are gays dedicated to douchecanoe rehabilitation, matter of fact!)

    IIRC, Mr. Rogers was sometimes pressured to put anti-gay messages into his monologues. His response, legend has it, was to smile at the hatemongers and assure them that "God loves you just as you are."

  • Linda says:

    If you can find it in your hearts, Mo and Mrs Miffed, to kill with kindness in a way that will make you feel closer to each other and the rest of the family, it's not a terribly bad idea. Not because you owe it to them, but because it might be the path of least resistance.

    My mother is not a big quoter of the Bible, but I remember her quoting for me a line about how being kind to jerks is like heaping hot coals on their heads. I have always remembered it. Perhaps the holidays will be easier if you think of yourselves heaping lots of coals of kindness upon T-waff's head.

    Best of luck to you both; you seem like troupers and too good to be dealing with such nonsense.

  • Lisa M. says:

    I think that "twatwaffle" and "dickwaffle" will stick with me forever – thanks all!

    It might be worth Parner having a private word with Parents, to the effect that when the waffles behave this way, it makes Miffed and I very very uncomfortable, and hurt (or however you want to put it). Then make the point that comments from you to waffles go unheeded, but Parents could have a stronger effect, it being their house. Parents might not choose to act on what you say, but I can't see much downside of asking for support from them. Also, it gives Parents a hint of what future consequences might arise if the waffles go unchecked. so in future, if you choose not to come, they can't say they weren't warned. good luck.

  • Wehaf says:

    Erin in SLC – just another wonderful thing about Mr. Rogers. Wasn't he amazing?

  • Profreader says:

    That is great re Mr. Rogers — I didn't know that before.

    If anyone is a Mr. Rogers fan, you should see his Emmy lifetime achievement award speech.

    It's so short and succinct — I (completely unexpectedly) cried while I was watching it when it first aired.

  • exilednzer says:

    I have nothing but sympathy for Mrs and Mrs Miffed, but I think that a Miss Manners-type present will be passive-aggressive. I agree with those who have said that you've done all you can and should just gracefully let this go. And yeah, a word should be had with the parents, if only to explain why the Mrs and Mrs won't be coming over this year. These parents need to sort out the horrible sister and her idiot husband.

  • Mrs Miffed says:

    @Stephanie: Oddly enough I think their church may be to blame. My sister showed up once wearing a t-shirt that said "Jesus Loves You, But I'm His Favorite" with the church logo on the back.

  • Hannah says:

    Oh my god, I totally want to name my band Douchecanoe and the Waffle Contingent.

  • robin says:

    RE: "a t-shirt that said "Jesus Loves You, But I'm His Favorite" with the church logo on the back"-that's just a church's attempt at humor, with a little boost for that congregation thrown in, IMO. If I were you or your partner, I would tell Sis that homophobia makes Jesus sad. Otherwise, why was he hanging out constantly with 12 other guys? Yeah, there were women among the followers too, but the Church Fathers only counted the men as the original 12 Apostles …and since then, many churches have used that as an excuse not to ordain women, and some still won't let their priests marry.
    Bigotry is one of the things that gives Christianity a bad name. Keep up a brave front, stay on the good side of the parents, and maybe someday the T-Waffles will truly see the light. Or at least, that you're in it for the long haul and not going to be frozen away by their bad behavior. Outlive'em!

  • Bev says:

    to Alie:
    if we had any more in common re crazy family, we would be the same person.

  • StillAnotherKate says:

    Douchecanoe. Freakin' awesome. That is all.

  • MizShrew says:

    I agree with others that you go and kill with the kindness, but I have an additional suggestion — especially since you mentioned in the comments that your wedding was a wonderful, relaxed and fun event without them. (And congratulations, BTW!) Host a New Year's dinner, and of course invite everyone. There is almost no chance that Twat/Dickwaffles will show up, since they've already completed their holiday obligation.

    The advantage of this is that everyone will see how much more fun and relaxed and *genuine* the conversation and company is without the Waffles around. (People might not have made the connection with the wedding, since those are such a different species of event from the holidays.) Might make the parents see more clearly that they should say something to the Waffles'.

    This way you still meet the fam obligations RE: the holidays, but get to enjoy some family company on your own terms too.

  • Sarah says:

    RE: " I would tell Sis that homophobia makes Jesus sad. Otherwise, why was he hanging out constantly with 12 other guys? Yeah, there were women among the followers too, but the Church Fathers only counted the men as the original 12 Apostles …and since then, many churches have used that as an excuse not to ordain women, and some still won't let their priests marry. "

    I hope you don't mind Robin, but I am going to quote you on this. My best friend, who I love dearly, but she and I have had to agree to disagree and no longer have discussions on religion desperately needs to read this! I am a Christian who believes in loving one another and it is not my place to judge anyone… unfortunately, she doesn't believe the same, and has even gone so far as to judge me for not judging others… particularly my gay friends and friends who have had extramarital affairs. Needless to say, it has strained our relationship, but I pray for her and we move move on.

    To the Miffeds… hang in there! And I second MizShrew's suggestion of hosting a New Year's Party! What a wonderful idea!!

  • MO says:

    We survived the weekend Family Christmas. It was a bit frosty at first, but then everyone was at least civil to one another. I really do like the idea of a family get together without the 'waffles. We're actually having both sets of parents over for Christmas Eve supper Friday night. It should be nice. Again, thank you for all the kind words of support.

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