Sure, I’ve heard of them. Some people claim to have seen them in the wild. A few (rare) folks even claim to know them. But I still find it hard to believe they exist in real life
No, not unicorns. Or Bigfoot. Or UFOs. No, this is even more rare.
I’m talking about decent in-laws.
I just celebrated my 20th wedding anniversary. I lived with my husband for a few years before that, dated him for a few years before that, which means on my 20th wedding anniversary, I’m actually celebrating my more-than-25th-anniversary of TRYING to make my in-laws like me … and failing epically.
First? The context.
MYstory and HIStory
I grew up in a super-liberal suburb, right outside a major city. My town was known for being the place where the hippies went to die, and where the snowflakes were born. We had “Nuke-Free Zone” signs and community gardens. We loved ethnic foods, championed two-mom-families, and preached against global warming way before it was cool. We made love – not war, we planted more trees, and we practiced random acts of kindness. Every Subaru in every driveway was littered with lefty stickers.
I’m not saying we were hipsters of social justice, but we kinda were. Even in the “Reagan 80s,” we were thinking like people did in the “ragin’ 00s.”
Sure, I’d heard about the rare breed of people known as “conservatives.” “The religious right.” “The NRA.” But those were like the boogieman stories. Things that come in the dark. They were not MY people. They were not reality. That kind of belief system existed in make-believe lands like “Arkansas.”
SCREEECCHHHH! Fast-forward to meeting my future husband. Turns out this land of make believe also existed fifteen minutes away from my liberal cocoon.
I met my future husband (don’t laugh) in a mall (you promised you wouldn’t laugh).
We both worked at the same mall and at one point, I asked him for a ride home, which he agreed to, even though his dad was the one driving.
The car his dad drove SHOULD have been my first clue. Instead of “Save the whales” stickers, his dad’s car was decorated with “Save the babies”. But dumb, naïve me was like, “Okay, fine. I know people who don’t believe in abortions but believe in choice with education. I can deal with this.” Except? No. They were totally anti-choice and anti-everything I was raised to believe in. And no, I could NOT deal with it.
Tried and True
Guys? I tried. I really, REALLY tried.
When I found out my boyfriend’s parents were ultra-conservative, uber-right-wing, slightly-less-Catholic-than-the-Pope (and by “the Pope,” I mean the last Pope—the German guy, because this current Pope is wayyyyyy too liberal for them), I really tried to make a good impression.
However, I was raised in the afore-mentioned super liberal town, by uber-hippie parents, neighbors, and teachers. Sure, we had religion. But it was the kind of religion where the churches were led by women and “the gays.” Most of us identified as BARELY Unitarian. Many of us were SOME SORT OF Wiccan. Some of us were KIND OF Buddhist. And a good handful were (gasp!) Jewish. So, I knew NOTHING when it came to organized religion.
My future husband attended Catholic school until 9th grade. The deacon at his Catholic school was caught messing with one of my husband’s classmates. That deacon was transferred to another school. (I REALLY wish I could put that in quotes, as if they pretended to move him to another school to save face, but really they fired him. But no. They legitimately just moved him to another school. Sigh.) My husband was kicked out of Catholic school for asking too many questions about the incident as well as other things that he should have “just had faith in and believed in.”
Despite the fact this all happened a good ten-plus-years before I even met my future husband, my in-laws are still convinced his breaking with the Catholic church and the republican agenda was ALL my influence. SMH.
But really. I tried.
One year, I dragged my future husband to Midnight Mass. I thought, “Christmas! While it’s a secular, gift-giving holiday to my family, I can at least appreciate the pageantry of Midnight Mass, and at the same time I can score some brownie points with the future in-laws for making my future husband attend.”
Alas, no. Here is what happened.
Future husband, whispering frantically to me, while pulling me in various directions: “Sit down. Stand up. Sit down. Kneel. Sing. Kneel. Stand up. Pray. Sit down. Shake hands with people around you. Say ‘Peace be with you’ to that person. And to that person. And to that person. Sit down. Kneel. Stand up. Sing. Pray. Kneel.”
Future in-laws: eye rolling while hiding behind their bibles and looking around to make sure no one knows the heathen is with them.
Every single time I did something, someone was tugging my arm to do something else. I was very confused by this weird version of Simon Says and his parents were LESS than impressed. Clearly, my being a loose Unitarian meant I never learned the choreography needed to be properly religious and reverent.
Swing and a Miss
One year I went to his parents’ house for Easter. I made a list of “safe” topics to talk about. I included my teenage trip to Disney on the list. After all, Disney is a mecca of white-middle-class-America. How could they object?
Well, guess what, folks? They can object. Here’s why:
1) Disney does not STOP “gay day.” I mean, they didn’t make it official or endorse it, but they didn’t STOP “the gays” from coming in, so that must mean they support “the gays.”
2) They backed an indie movie about a priest who grappled with (gasp) desirable feelings towards others. Priests are UNTOUCHABLE. They are not human. They do not have carnal desires. So damn Disney for paying for a movie that suggested otherwise.
3) Also, Disney outsources its manufacturing to China and, in case you missed the memo (which I did), China kills Catholics.
They had soooooo many reasons to drink the Disney haterade. And every single one of these reasons was condescendingly explained to me in lengthy detail.
The ironic part? I actually HATED my teenage trip to Disney. And I swore until then I’d never go back. But after enduring that millennium-long lecture, as soon as I had a kid, we went to Disney three years in a row, and I spent ALL my money on the gay-endorsing, real-life-priest-dilemma-moviemaking, made-in-Catholic-killing-China supportive merchandise.
SPITE FOR THE WIN!
Terms of Endearment
While dating/engaged/and even married to my husband, my in-laws have said the following to me:
– “You know you’re a cow, right? Because why would anyone pay for the milk when the cow is free. Since you are living in sin with our son, you are a cow.”
– “Girlfriend? Oh no, my son lives with a roommate.”
– “You are welcome to come visit our house, but we cannot visit you as that would suggest we approve of your living situation.”
– “We would have picked someone different for our son to marry, but at least he’s not gay.”
– “Having not gotten married in a church, we cannot recognize your marriage as legitimate, despite what your legal contract, signed by a judge of your state, says.”
– “Unitarian? Does that mean you worship whatever you want? Like you’re okay with praying to dogs?”
– “We don’t have to agree. Just accept that I am right, and we’ll be fine.”
– “I don’t know why people are upset over racism. The only racism currently is against the white man. He can’t do anything these days without being persecuted. And why don’t all lives matter?!”
Ahh the memories.
Suffice it to say my in-laws are not my people and it makes family get togethers awkward and has weighed heavily on my very liberal (by no influence of my own) husband’s psyche. The toll his upbringing took on him is a whole other article … or fifteen.