Dear Captain Awkward:
My father and his lovely new partner – she’s really nice – recently visited my area. They planned to spend a day or two with her relatives first, but wanted to know if I wanted to meet up with the two of them after that, for a meal at my brother’s new restaurant.
I agreed. I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of spending cab-fare to the city for a sub-standard meal (my brother hasn’t changed things yet), but wanted to see them, so sucked it up, gathered up my introvert spoons and headed out into the wilds.
I got a text about an hour before the meal – my father asked me to change the booking from 3 to 5 people.
Apparently they wanted to bring along NewPartner’s granddaughter (teenager) and one of her teenage friends.
I didn’t handle that very well.
The next hour was a tangled blur of considering “calling in sick” to the meal, changing the booking at the restaurant, frantically checking the number of social-interaction spoons I had remaining (not enough for sudden dinner plans with strange teenagers), and resigning myself to my fate.
The reality was even more awkward than I’d feared. I sat there for a good 30 minutes of tense, stilted conversation.
I made my apologies and fled before the mains arrived (I hadn’t ordered anything).
Dad called after I got home, worried that I might not have been feeling well.
I ended up admitting that I just hadn’t wanted to stay. That I didn’t want to spend time with his partner’s family. He said he was disappointed in my behaviour.
I’m honestly not sure what to do.
I love my father, and want to be supportive of his relationship. I also really like his partner, I’d hate for her to feel bad in any way.
But I don’t want to spend time with her family. It feels weird and creepy when they’re around. I feel like my father is thinking of us as one big, happy family – when I barely know their names, and don’t actually want to get to know them better. I end up feeling stressed and resentful.
Part of me thinks that the best thing to do would be to talk to my father about it – to come to a new shared understanding of what our expectations are of each other going forwards.
But another part of me worries that, if I do that, I might end up with no relationship with my father at all. That I might have irreparably damaged it anyway. So I’m currently a little bit paralyzed with fear.
Am I being unreasonable? What do you think?
– Possibly unreasonable person.
Your dad made a Geek Social Fallacy-sort of mistake, along the lines of “All the people I like will like each other, I will throw them together, no big deal!” He was probably bragging on you nonstop to Partner’s family and saw the evening as a chance to show you off a bit, and it’s clear that he felt the rug was pulled out from under him by your hasty departure. However well-intentioned he may have been, I think he overstepped by trying to lump seeing you into a generic “family time” bundle, and I think that it’s important that he see that. Think of him like the over-scheduled and enthusiastic college boyfriend who, when you tell him you’re excited for your date tonight, thinks “hey, come watch my band practice!” is a fun and romantic invitation. You like the band okay, and you don’t hate the individual people in the band, but he’s an oblivious ass if he thinks that “being present the legendary moment that they learned their 4th chord” is the same as the quality time you wanted.
I think it’s reasonable for you to not want to have time with your dad always include people you don’t really know. And you feel unreasonable because you were at a command performance while your feelings were hurt and you had no good outlet to say so or show it. You need to find a way to communicate “SLOW YOUR ROLL, POPS” with words. Here is the script I think that you are looking for:
“Dad, I am sorry about my behavior the other night. I’m sure you and [various step-people] were confused and hurt when I left. I’m sorry for that, and I have been trying to figure out why it upset me so much when granddaughter and her friend joined us at the last minute. I think I have a better handle on it now, namely:
I don’t get to see you as much as I’d like to, so when I plan time with you, I want some time with *you.*
I like [Partner], and I want to get to know her a little bit better, but her family, etc. are strangers to me and, right now, hanging out with them isn’t particularly relaxing for me. Adding them to our evening at the last minute made it feel like my time with you was hijacked by having to make small talk instead of just getting to see my dad. You probably didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but you did. Going forward, when you’re in town or I’m up by you, I want to carve out some time to see just you, and also some time with you + Partner. I’m open to getting to know her family over time, but not at the expense of time with you.”
I don’t know your dad, so I can’t predict exactly what he’ll say. You might get a “Well, they’ll always stay strangers if you can’t be bothered to eat one meal with them…” I would try to end the conversation pretty soon after you say your piece and give him time to put together a more measured response. If he’s smart, he’ll tell you that he hears what you’ve said and he’ll give more thought to planning time with just you next visit. If your dad’s partner is smart, she will know that one of the best things a step-parent-type-figure can do is to eff off and give children some alone-time with their bio-parents.
Going forward, you can probably do something to repair things by making invitations that explicitly include his partner, i.e. “Dad, would you and Partner like to have lunch at my place this weekend?” You might also benefit from a personal policy of “I can always decide not to go to something, but if I DECIDE to go, I will TRY when I get there,” where trying = making your best attempt at pleasant conversation for at least one hour and eating of their bread and salt. *Resentfully going* is making you feel guilty and upset and not making the situation better for anyone.
I think this is all very fixable, or at least very endurable, with a little time and love and understanding. Parent-child-who-is-in-the-family stuff is very primal, so forgive yourself for having some feelings about it. I hope your Dad will hear you.