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.
316 thoughts on “#724: “We may be one big happy (step)family someday, but today is not that day, Dad.””
Wow this was a timely letter for me. I had something similar happen to me last Friday where dinner with dad+partner the day before the wedding became dinner with dad+partner+partner’s daughter and wife + my estranged-from-me bio-sister.
LW, I don’t have anything helpful to say except that I totally grokk where you are coming from and hope you and your dad can muddle through.
Your comment was more helpful than you can possibly know. 🙂
It’s a bit of a relief to find out I’m not the only one this is happening to – and that I’m not weird/difficult for not enjoying it.
It hasn’t happened to me yet but I feel it building on the horizon. Mom’s boyfriend’s kids are similar age to me with similar age kids to mine, and Mom has been heavily hinting that the time will soon come that we will all have to be Best Friends Forever and raise our kids in some kind of family commune and everyone will fart rainbows (slight exaggeration).
Doesn’t help that my mom is the type who makes friends at a sneeze and I’m much more reserved and prefer a small social group.
I really appreciate this letter coming along now before the thing really starts rolling.
My in-laws informed me, about 2 years after our marriage, that Spouse and I would be buying a portion of the grandparents’ land and building a house on it, and so would Spouse’s Siblings, and we would call the new mini-neighborhood FamilyName Acres. And all the not-yet-existent grandkids would play together every day, and adult visitations would occur most evenings, and we can start planning group vacations together once the still-not-even-planned grandkids are old enough for car trips!
They were very matter of fact about it.
They were very confused when I started with “Second of all, there is no company in Nearby City that does what Spouse does for a career, and we are not commuting two and a half hours each way to jobs.” They were downright flummoxed by the time I got to “first of all”, which was that even if a job was available in NearbyCity, that arrangement sounded like a recipe for gigantic power struggles to me.
Twenty years later, Mother-in-Law had passed away and Father-in-Law married a woman with many children, some of whom had been fosters but all were “hers”, plus she had grandkids and a few great-grandkids. F-i-L starts suggesting that perhaps possibly we could move into one of the homes of recently deceased ancestors up in his area. New M-i-L looked at him like he was from *space*. “What? No. They’re happy where they are, and anyway that would be weird, dear.” That was the moment I knew I was going to like her as much as I liked Original Mother-in-Law.
Long way around of saying that the family-amoeba expectation might last forever but also it might get wind up getting managed on their end. It’s not doom!
Cheers to new M-i-L! So reasonable! So calm!
My in-laws informed me, about 2 years after our marriage, that Spouse and I would be buying a portion of the grandparents’ land and building a house on it, and so would Spouse’s Siblings, and we would call the new mini-neighborhood FamilyName Acres. And all the not-yet-existent grandkids would play together every day, and adult visitations would occur most evenings, and we can start planning group vacations together once the still-not-even-planned grandkids are old enough for car trips!
Sweet zombie Jesus. WOW.
“My in-laws informed me, about 2 years after our marriage, that Spouse and I would be buying a portion of the grandparents’ land and building a house on it, and so would Spouse’s Siblings, and we would call the new mini-neighborhood FamilyName Acres. And all the not-yet-existent grandkids would play together every day, and adult visitations would occur most evenings, and we can start planning group vacations together once the still-not-even-planned grandkids are old enough for car trips!”
Damn near broke out in hives just reading this. I know that a lot of cultures do very well with multigenerational living. But in my region (Southern US), I’ve only seen a handful of these situations and almost of all of them result in a hellscape of violated boundaries, resentment, broken family relationships and divorce. And if you’re someone like me, who is very close to her immediate family, but doesn’t particular enjoy their extended family, being asked to live in a situation like this would be a potential destroyer of marriage.
You know, I really like the idea of Big Family Co-op, since I was in fact raised jointly by my parents and all my grandparents, but… uh… I have some grown-up interests that my mom doesn’t need to know about? And I like my parents but not all the time? I like having a certain amount of privacy, which is to say a lot of privacy, and I deeply dislike people just showing up at my door without calling? Now, how I was raised is pretty ideal: all grandparents were within a 15-minute drive but we weren’t all up in each other’s business. It was lovely.
I had a real hard-talk conversation with my mom about the fact that hey, I want to raise my theoretical future kids around you, but if I have to move across the country for work, that’s that.
Oh you are not even a little bit alone. My mother married her current husband and gained a HUGE extended family that all live in the same town as her. So when I do visit, she always makes it a big deal that we should hang out with his family because it’s so niiiiiiiiiiice that his family is so niiiiiiiiiiiiiiice.
The kicker is that I went to high school with his nieces and nephews, and they might be niiiiiiiiiice now but they weren’t when I knew them, plus the added awkwardness of now being “related” to people I moved 1000 miles away from when I was 18. Goodie.
It’s timely for me too, in a slightly different fashion–I’m spending some time with my dad and stepmom, whom I love and think is a great fit for him…and, as of yesterday, her parents, who are, uh, not. Luckily, I think my dad would understand if I bailed early on the holiday, though I think my stepmom seems to appreciate having me around. :S
Madb, I happen to know from a wedding last year under similar circumstances that they can be a clusterfuck of epic proportions, so good on you for getting through it!
I understand this may be a side topic, however…
They made you be the one to change the reservation? I understand calling to let you know about extra people and all, but, YOU got to also call the restaurant and change the reservation?
I am probably reacting as a low on spoons and phone phobic person, but, I would have been annoyed at that too. In my circles, the person calling the shots, picking the restaurant, and adding people is the one who also makes the reservations and changes them when needed.
In other news, I agree that the happy step family in Dad’s head is merely a hope and not reality yet. People need time.
Yes, I clocked that, too. No, no, do *not* call me when I am in *in transit* to an event that you planned and ask me to change everything. Not happening.
Doing that is a nice way to give dad control of the situation – You don’t change the booking? You’re terrible/unreliable. You do change the booking? Well, you were happy to change the booking so why are you suddenly upset about these two extra people that YOU changed the booking for? You’re unreasonable.
My brother’s done that with me, though I’m told that he just has a very different reading on the move than I do – he sees giving me the responsibility of changing the plans/being the driver/buying the tickets etc as a way for me to have some control over the event and make me comfortable. It actually does the exact opposite because I’m having to compromise to everyone else’s whims and it stresses me the fuck out.
Also, it sounds like the dinner was socially stacked against you? You, your dad, + three people who are happily lumped together. Maybe when you’re talking to your dad about meeting his partner’s family, you could bring up that thrusting JUST YOU into that situation is really stressful. Maybe organising more of a social balance will help? Like, if it was you + a team you person, partner + a team partner person, and your dad as the bridge, then you’ll have someone to help you navigate the situation. And wrangling a dinner-buddy on short notice and low spoons is hard!
So, so maybe phrase it like… some social equilibrium of numbers, plus no sudden changes to plans are examples of him showing good behaviour when spending time with you. If he doesn’t want a stressed LW bailing on an event suddenly and awkwardly, then maybe he can follow some guidelines to make sure you’re not stressed and checking for exits in the first place.
But it DOESN’T give you more control–you’re just enacting the changes someone else decided on. Your brother is just not right about this.
If she was the one who made the original reservation someone else calling and changing it might not be an option, or might take longer or be more complicated. That’s how restaurants sometimes work.
Also many people just don’t consider it a big deal at all to make a five minute phone call. If that’s how the dad feels, it would probably never even occur to him for a second that he should somehow offer to take over this task.
I am an extrovert with plenty of spoons (I wish I could share them round) but that part would bug the crap out of me, too.
Oh, Unreasonable, I feel you. My bio parents are still together, but and are both introverts, but my partner’s dad is the kind of extrovert that doesn’t understand anything else. It can be hella frustrating, but worth it. Draw your boundaries, because they will serve you well. Stand your ground. “No, I’m not comfortable with that,” is an answer in and of itself. Use it. Own it.
.my partner’s dad is the kind of extrovert that doesn’t understand anything else
Ugh. My mother is like this. Along with that, and her apparent inability to empathise, she is also one of those people who believes that berating someone enough will automagically change whatever characteristic she disapproves of. So, my wariness of social situations would be met with “What’s wrong with you?, and a torrent of various “reasons”” I was apparently so Fucked up, repeated shouting of “WHY DO YOI DO THIS?”, and some lovely ableism concerning my anxiety/depression/jerkbrain.
Hands up who thinks that would help? Yeah. It just added to my sadness and fear of certain situations, which I was typically forced to attend anyway, usually with a blotchy red cry-face and blooshot eyes. So it was a self fulfilling prophecy (that I wouldn’t have a good time) and cumulatively added more stress with each event.
LW – Your situation would have really upset me too. Parent-stress + eating-in-public-stress = Mental exhaustion. So adding new people, especially teenagers, would mentally paralyse me. I haven’t left this room for a couple of years due to physical disabilities, and I think I’d choose staying like this forever, rather than that kind of psychological pain. I fret for days prior to a parental visit, and have to be talked down afterward. So I really feel that pain. Huge Jedi hugs if you want them.
I don’t know if “automagically” was a typo or intentional, but it is a perfect, perfect word for soooo many things.
Deliberate! Autocorrect wasn’t happy, but I prevailed.
Seconded! I love ‘automagically’!
“Automagically” is a very common word in High Tech. It almost always translates to “Something that took someone else a whole lot of unobserved time and effort to make happen.”
Oh man I feel this.
MIL is an extrovert. An extrovert who will spend 90% of her time with us complaining that she makes *so much effort* for her friends and doesn’t feel like she gets as much in return, but an extrovert nonetheless. Her belief is that my combination of introversion+anxiety disorder can be fixed magically if she just finds the *right way* to *force me out of my shell*.
Which manifests in her inviting us to a low-key, relaxing, enjoyable family-time thing and then sneakily turning it into something much bigger and more stressful without telling us, and then acting surprised and hurt when the result is I retreat further *into* my shell and have to excuse myself earlier than originally planned.
My favourite is still the time she invited us to stay one night over a weekend – the house was empty when we arrived, but keys in the usual place so we could get in. 10 minutes after we turned up the phone rang – she’d called to let us know she was at a fun, interesting bootfair 10 minutes walk away, and would we like to join her. When we arrived, it turned out she was actually *running the bootfair* – a fundraising thing for her political party of choice – and wanted us to help set up the completely empty stalls with the endless crates of donations and then *run a stall* while conversing with the 20-30 other stall-runners who were all there on purpose and interested in discussing politics and campaigning and getting to know us and our relationship to this bubbly, awesome woman who had organised it all.
We managed to at least get things to the point where the stalls had most of the shit on them. Then when she started bringing out the political-party-slogan t-shirts she’d made I magically developed one of my migraines (one of the few blessings of being a frequent sufferer!) and we excused ourselves.
Dear lord. Introverts and extroverts can learn to meet each other in the middle, but the first time someone lied to me about what she was inviting me to would be the last time I said yes to an invitation from her, and I’d tell her why, too.
Yeah, the lying thing isn’t cool. The time it happened to me wasn’t really about being around more people. It was about the type of activity. Lo these many years ago, a friend of mine invited me to a local hockey game for the “new” expansion team in our town. I’m not a sports fan, but I can enjoy the energy of a live game. The stated plan was to meet up at a local bar that was arranging to bus a bunch of people to the game. I get there, and there is a liability waiver. Sure–we’re on their transportation, so we sign a waiver. But this waiver is super detailed and really iron-clad. WAY more than a transportation waiver and it keeps talking about injuries from “activities.” I set it down, gave my friend a LOOK, and asked, “What are we REALLY doing tonight?” Turns out we were going to a hockey game…but the group on the bus was also signed up to play broom ball between the first and second periods.
I signed the waiver and said I would decide if I was playing when it came time to play. I played and had a good time (every one is just as clutzy as I am when you are on the ice in shoes instead of skates, so I didn’t feel like an ass.) I also made it clear to my friend that he was NEVER to do that to me again.
His reason? He didn’t think I would come to the event if I knew what it really was. Yeah, dude. I get to make that call.
@Courtney: *jaw. drops.*
Put it this way. I would love it if more of my friends enjoyed rowdy punk shows. I could probably get one or two of them to come to such an event if I told them it was, say, MyCity Slam Poetry Finals Night. I, you know, wouldn’t do that, mostly because I don’t particularly get off on knowing my friends are miserable – but a little bit because I’m pretty sure none of them would go anywhere with me again for a really long time, if they even still wanted to be friends with me after that.
People do it in business too, so you have to be careful.
There are a ton of multi-level marketing companies (also known as pyramid schemes, in my opinion) that target young business owners. Not my thing, but live and let live. To avoid them, I have learned to recognize red flags like when they are very vague about details but promise that you’ll “make so much money so quickly!” (Just like, “oh yeah, come to this place with people… it’ll be super fun!!”)
The one time I was truly pissed was when one of them lied to me. They lied by omission and misled me into going to a seminar on a Saturday (my one and only day off) and I had already said no to a different rep from that same company before. I was livid. I texted my sister and asked her to fake emergency call me (because the liar made me sit toward the front so I couldn’t escape), I mouthed, “sorry, emergency!” and left. The rep never contacted me again, hopefully realizing that was a shitty tactic (if she had contacted me, I would have told her so).
Tl;dr: If you have to lie to trick people into doing things… you’re doing it wrong.
@Laughing Giraffe –
It would have been a *very* different story if I hadn’t clued into the event being something more than promised. The reason this actually worked out for me were 1) I was already in a headspace to attend a sports game, so I was OK with the size of the crowd, 2) I had some time to determine if I was actually OK with playing, and 3) the broom ball game wasn’t actually competitive with “OMG WIN!!!” pressure–it was a bunch of people being silly on the ice and having a good time, so nobody cared that I wasn’t very good at it.
A lesser form of this: If the form that is headed “Sign Up Here for Softball Tryouts” really commits whoever signs up to playing in every game all summer long, please say so. Don’t send my daughter increasingly reproachful and snotty e-mails because she signed up for tryouts and then changed her mind and didn’t show.
It’s not just MLM/pyramid schemes. I once went on a job interview that the recruiter pitched to me as Marketing Coordinator w/some Graphic Design duties. The things the interviewer was saying were so off from what the recruiter described that I actually stopped the interview and asked to see a written job description. It was basically a Director of Marketing position, complete with hard sales metrics built into the performance review (which I was in no way qualified for even if I stretched my resume like I was making saltwater taffy.) The company and job were legit, but OMFG the recruiter wasn’t.
This. So much this.
I always wish I could remember when I’m actually talking to these kinds of people to tell them that if anxiety(/other jerkbrain behavior) was a system to be gamed, those of us who have it would already have figured out how to do it.
Yeah… I don’t even have BAD anxiety or jerkbrain, but I guarantee you that particular stunt would give it to me. In fact, I bet it would give it to anyone, if it were sprung on you like that??? Sometimes people forget that other people don’t have the same knowledge they do. I’m not just talking about the introvert/extrovert “I enjoy this so you should too” part. I mean are legitimately taken aback that the other person is surprised that a thing is happening because all they’ve done is think about that thing and plan for it and get excited about it, except that Other Person isn’t actually privy to their heads and therefore doesn’t know it’s happening? Like in that example, Mom has been thinking about this great festival and clearly it’s for political cause and how could anyone not know it’s for political cause and also of course you’re going to help because how could you not know you were going to help only it’s really strange to make that assumption and also you’ve never actually said to other person (who is not a telepath) that this is how it will go down. Am i the only person who has witnessed this behavior?
That was an outrageous move on partner’s mother’s part.
I think her awfulness is unrelated to extroversion. It’s just – I don’t even have an adjective – horrible!
Apparently our extroverted, non-empathetic, pushy, bullying moms emerged from the same pod at the same time. Who knew? 🙂
I, too, can relate to the LW. I have to save up spoons to do anything that isn’t routine these days, and last-minute changes in plans and making phone calls (I really dislike the phone) are stressful. Meeting strangers, especially those I cannot politely escape after a brief exchange of small talk and whom I feel compelled to be on my best behavior around? That, too, would be exhausting.
My Mom too is an extrovert who when I was growing up did not get introverts, at all, which is funny because my Dad leans introvert and all 4 of us kids do as well to varying degrees, so we all learned how to act like extroverts, but I’m finally reclaiming and coming to terms with my introvert self. She also does the thing that I think the LWs Dad may have been doing which is having this idealized idea about how everything should be or is and not accepting reality without some major effort by folks around her. Anyway, she’s getting a little better now, not sure that she really gets it still, but she’s starting to clue in after a lot of boundary setting by us kids.
She’s a wonderful person, but oy sometimes. Like when we invited her and my Dad and my one brother and his wife to our house for Thansgiving one year as my other brother and his wife and my sister and her husband were going to be busy doing stuff with other people. Well, my sister and her husband suddenly became available, so my Mom invited them to our house saying it would be no big deal. Well actually, it was a big deal that she invited people to our house as we were already going to be crowded and we weren’t anticipating more folks etc. etc. If it had been presented as “Hey, sis and her husband are free, would it be cool if they joined the party? If it’s cool, they will stay at a hotel so the house isn’t more cramped.” I think we would have been ok with it, but the assumption that they would just come and it’s not bid deal really rubbed us both the wrong way and we were basically forced into setting a boundary, which also sucked. We said, sorry, we aren’t prepared to accomodate extra people last minute, original people are still invited, though we understand if you can’t make it anymore since the expectation had been set with my sister that my parents would hang with them for Thanksgiving. My brother and his wife did come, my parents went to hang with my sis and her husband and it was awkward for a while after and I made an effort to explain to my sister and to my BIL separately why we felt we had to set the boundary as I didn’t want them thinking we were mad at them. Anyway, it was awkward and hard, but I don’t regret it for a second as it was one of the few awkward boundary settings we’ve done since we got married that ended up making life so much easier going forward.
Anyway, LW my Mom would totally do something like this without even having an inkling why it might be an issue, so I feel you! Extroverts idea of making a great night out even better is an introverts reasonable if somewhat draining evening turned into a nightmare. Not cool and he probably has no clue why 😦 I hope you are able to explain it to him, I really haven’t had much luck explain introversion to my Mom. She is very intelligent, but not very empathetic so if it isn’t in her experience, it is really hard for her to really internalize it even if her brain comprehends. I’ve had similar issues with her and other things that she doesn’t experience like my terrible night vision, my migraines, my need for more sleep than her and my motion sickness. She knows I have these things, but she doesn’t get it and will keep making plans that include me that make no sense when she knows these things about me.
You are what my counselor calls an introvert with learned extroversion tendencies (as am I). 🙂 Extroversion skills are useful, but it sucks when people try to force you to change your personality.
Perfect description! My mom had no tolerance for “sulking,” which meant I had to be chipper and able to make small talk / answer questions about school / whatever with anybody at any time (including before morning caffeine, gah). I’m still an introvert and still hate the phone, but as you say, they’re useful skills to have.
I don’t think that’s even extroversion. I just think that’s being inconsiderate.
My secret weapon for maintaining the veneer of familial relations without having to actually spend spoons is to send greeting cards. Birthdays, holidays, get-well, etc. People get a kick out of getting “real” mail, and it lets them know you are thinking about them, even if in reality, those thoughts are “how can I keep you at arm’s length without upsetting you?” My dad’s third wife gets so excited about the cards I send she posts her thank-yous on Facebook (which is also a great way to get to know people but only on YOUR terms).
This is a FANTASTIC idea–stealing immediately.
My grandmorher married when I was young. Her four kids and his three and spouses and grandchildren. It was a huge clan. But we didn’t all live in the same state. When we visited for major holidays or what not, it was always clear when was which family side and which days would overlap. A little overlap and a little time on our own and it worked really well for 17 years. Even after my step grandfather past, my step aunts lived closer to my grandmother, still checked in on her, and were extremely helpful, especially in end of life issues. They all came to her funeral (many years after their grandfather). We aren’t close, in fact a few of them I needed name coaching on before grandma’s funeral, but I am incredibly glad they’re at least a tangential part of my family. Learn to draw boundaries around time and it can work.
But boundaries. So many boundaries.
At one time I had a boyfriend who would often do this. Sometimes I didn’t know that he had added someone to our dinner date until they showed up at our table.
I think I’ve told this story before in this blog. When I objected about the last minute (or surprise) inclusion of others, my boyfriend would say that he thought it efficient to attend to all his social obligations at one time, since he had already planned a dinner out with me. By inviting others, he could kill the proverbial 2 (or 3 or 4) birds with one stone. It never occurred to him that anyone would object, as he was a “more the merrier” type of guy.
This self-focused mentality was a major reason why he would become an ex-boyfriend.
I remember that story. But it’s so cost-effective! You should love me for my efficiency!
It’s nice having an anecdote where you see the person’s entire world-view laid out in one tiny episode. Sometimes it’s the smallest vignette, but just so perfectly illustrative.
How romantic to be a social obligation
The thing is that phrased differently, it could be seen as a little more sympathetic, though not forgivable – “I’m very busy, and I love seeing you *and* my other friends, so why not see you all together?” It’s the whole “seeing you is an obligation” phrasing that turns it into a straight up insult.
Ugh, that sounds awful. Also, I feel like he wasn’t even getting his social obligations out of the way anyway, because to me at least, a date is just you and your partner. If you invite a bunch of other people it is no longer a date. So he would still owe you a date, as it were.
This is pretty much the comment I was going to make.
“Dates”, unless explicitly negotiated beforehand, are two person activities. If something that was supposed to be a date suddenly has a third (or fourth, or fifth) wheel attached, it is no longer a date.
I feel bad for the teenage daughter, she probably didn’t want to be there either, and then her step-family member leaves in a hurry after stilted conversation? I hope she doesn’t take it personally.
This feels a bit like it’s just meant to guilt the LW. It’s possible that the other family members feel slighted, but there’s probably not a huge amount of point in the LW trying to take responsibility for the feelings of young teenagers who are her dad’s partner’s kids and whom she barely knows. If they did feel awkward, all the more reason for LW’s dad and his partner to be a bit more careful about how and when they bring all the family together.
I think LW should probably mention it next time they see each other and make an excuse (I was sick/had an emergency/etc) so the girl understands she personally didn’t do anything wrong.
Honestly, I doubt the teenager is still thinking about this as much as the LW is and I think it is very much in question whether the girl cares i in the least about what LW thinks of her. Many teenagers already know that sometimes awkward interactions happen and it’s not their fault; and if this particular teenager found the situation upsetting, then her grandma and new grandpa would probably be better people to find out and reassure her. For all that we and the LW know, she may have been thrilled to have this random step-relative go away so that she could stop making stilted conversation and have a nice dinner with her grandma, new grandpa, and her friend. You acknowledge yourself that she may not have wanted to be there either, so I’m not sure why you seem to think that the LW prolonging the ordeal would have improved things for the kid.
If LW personally wants to make excuses or explain, I doubt it will do any harm, but it will also add another awkward interaction to the first and I don’t think it would do any harm to let sleeping dogs lie, either.
That’s what I thought – she probably got railroaded into this and is another victim of Dad’s ‘we’ll change everything at the last minute and we’re all a happy family, AREN’T WE?’ What I would do is reach out to her directly, saying ‘I’m sorry I was so short that day, I’d been looking forward to an evening with my Dad and hadn’t been prepared to meet new people’ (only with a better script) because that beats her wondering what *she* did wrong or whether the LW just hates her for no reason.
I’m betting that’s why she had a friend along. That’s a pretty typical thing for teenagers when they are being dragged to an event they aren’t interested in. “Can I bring so-and-so? (so this will suck less)?”
Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if she herself felt awkward at this thing (and may have had her own “But Mom…” conversation beforehand) and wished that she could have left early as well. Teenagers are better at picking up who’s responsible for awkwardness (and who’s been an unfortunate victim of it) than I think a lot of people realize. So, LW, reach out if you feel like it (and have the spoons), but I wouldn’t place too much (if any) blame on yourself for whatever reactions she may have had to the situation.
Totally agree. If the teenager feels that miffed by the LW at all, she should bring it up with her mom or the LW’s dad who can assure her she didn’t do anything.
From the LW’s side, the relationship with the teenagers is of the least concern here I think.
It’s the apparent “Hey, let’s all perform a Very Special Episode called ‘How They All Met and Became an Instant Happy Family 4evah :D’ ” thing that gets me. No, life does not generally work that way. A series of overtures probably would have worked, but Dad busted in playing the main theme on a vuvuzela instead.
Ok, I just burst out laughing from the image of the vuvuzela playing dad. Though, if that happened in real life, I’d be tempted to stick that glorified kazoo somewhere he would find painful. 😀
Agreed. I’ve been the kid in this situation, and it’s pretty rough. You have the same pressure to get along with the new person as the adults do, but you don’t have the option to leave.
LW, I am sorry that pleasant time with your dad turned into “MEET MY NEW FAMILY!!” The Captain’s scripts are excellent; the only thing I might suggest differently would be something like, “Dad, I am sorry that I ran out like that. I was just so disappointed because I was looking forward to some time with just you and your new partner, and I got really flustered when two people I’ve never met got added at the last minute. I know that *you* know them, and I’m sure you wanted us to get acquainted, but please give me more than an hour’s notice when you want to change plans on me. Let’s you and I [and New!Partner, if you want] get together soon to catch up, and maybe after lunch we can meet the kids for ice cream or something.” If and ONLY if you want, of course.
I suspect that your dad is coming from a position of FAAAAAAAAMILY — but what he needs to understand is that while this granddaughter is family to him, she is not (yet) family to *you*, and shoving you together, especially with another unrelated teenager who really is NOT family, is not going to make walls magically fall and turn strangers into besties overnight. It’s…not exactly a Geek Social Fallacy, but a Family Social Fallacy: “Anyone I consider family should also be family to each other.”
It sounds like your dad loves you and is concerned for you. I don’t think you’ve irreparably damaged anything. It may take a little time to get over the awkwardness of this meeting, and that’s understandable, but I’m willing to bet your dad will at least listen when you explain what happened and you can reach an accommodation for meetings in the future. (Assuming you WANT to. Not desiring to spend time with a new teenage stepniece who may or may not want to spend time with you is also a completely valid choice.)
LW, in addition to the Captain’s excellent scripts, it occurs to me that you may want to ask your dad why he added his partner’s granddaughter and friend. Was it because he wants you all to be a big happy family? Or was it because Partner wouldn’t get another chance to meet her granddaughter’s friend, or because they are young enough teenagers that they still need looking after and her parents were suddenly busy that night and grandma had to take over, or something else? You might even get the response, “yeah, sorry, I know that was really awkward, I won’t do it again”. Maybe it doesn’t matter to you at all, but it might be that your dad already sees this as a one-off and a slightly awkward situation, rather than starting from the point that you’re the only one who thought it was weird.
Also, it might be a good idea for you to be more assertive in general, if you can’t? It sounds like this whole dinner date was a pain in the bottom for you even before the reservation was changed. Would it be worth practising saying something like. “Brother hasn’t really got the restaurant sorted yet, and it’s a long way for me to travel on a school night. Do you fancy going to [other place that’s more convenient or more fun for me] instead?” They might say no! But they might not!
You count too: you don’t have do whatever your dad suggests just because you don’t see him very often.
(Of course, there may be history established that means that you’ve tried this in the past and it doesn’t work well. But if you haven’t, and you acquiesced to stuff that didn’t sound very fun or pleasurable to you immediately without trying to renegotiate, that is maybe something to think about?)
Yes, thank you. I think it’s relevant that the people brought along were teenagers. I do think under most circumstances older and independent people do have a responsibility to make adjustments for youth, to take their emotions and their (potential) need to be included, and also (potential) discomfort and desire to have a supportive friend along. Teens get even less choice in who they hang with when family’s involved, so it’s up to more independent people to try to make room for them and consider their feelings when we decide how to act.
And also, it’s important to make space for people who might be taking care of young people. Whether or not the teens may technically be old enough to have been left home alone, that might not have been the right call based on the caring person’s assessment– these things change on the regular and we don’t know why the teens were with grandma. Not saying the question, the LW’s reaction, or the answer are wrong, but I do want to nudge forward that the age of the tagalongs does matter and should be factored in when deciding how to react.
LW’s obviously dealing with a lot given the close counting of spoons, but teens forced along or expectantly asking to meet new family + caregivers who are trying to be responsible to many people’s competing needs are also managing a lot and may (also) have very little power in the situation to change it– certainly less independent ability to leave it or leave someone else behind.
I am not sure what in my post you’re agreeing with, because I don’t think this reflects my feelings or thoughts at all!
One thing that might help you have a better relationship with your dad might be to explain that meeting new people is stressful for you, if that’s something that he doesn’t seem to fully understand. If that’s not how he operates himself, he might just not be aware that it’s something which is a bigger deal for you. I think it’s totally reasonable to ask for what you need, whether that’s more notice about who will be at a gathering, more time getting to know his new partner before you meet her family, more time alone with him, or to have a limit of one New Person at each gathering you’ll be at (so you don’t have to focus on several New People at once).
You’ve mentioned that you like your dad’s new partner, and you seem open to getting to know her family (albeit at a slower pace); one thing I would definitely do in your place would be to assure him of this and explain that you didn’t react in the way that you did because you dislike them. They could be the nicest folks in the world, and meeting them *all at once* would still be a scary and awkward ordeal.
This sounds like a fixable situation. Best of luck with it.
Yes to this. I had to explain to my bf that when he asked if I wanted to do something, “who we would be going with” is an important factor in my decision making, as in, “small group of people I am close to” versus “a bunch of people I’ve never met” because even if the activity is theoretically the same, one takes a TON of spoons. He’s way more extroverted than I am, and has had to learn this stuff.
Even if spoons aren’t an issue the company can make a huge difference in ability to enjoy an event. I have social issues so large group of strangers = me unable to feel like part of the group I simply don’t function well in large groups of people.
Ugh, I really feel you on this, having been in a similar sort of situation. My dad remarried when I was in my early thirties, and I suddenly acquired a new step-mum and two new step-sisters in their late twenties.
The worst part was my dad really wanting us to all be a big happy family. For awhile I went along to get-togethers and gatherings and had a really, really awful Christmas with a huge extended family I don’t know at all (all of whom are the type of person I can’t get along with at all) and a long visit to a grandmother in a nursing home who has alzheimers and didn’t even remember the people she did know, let alone me. I’m social anxiety and low spoons to begin with, and it took me weeks to recover.
After that, I realised I had to set boundaries because I can’t cope with that stuff. Especially as this is exacerbated by the fact that I don’t drive and we all live in semi-rural areas, so once I’m with them I’m stuck. I can’t get away and they will do whatever they can to keep me there (including suggesting I stay over rather than driving me to the station to catch a late train home).
So from then on when I got invited to family functions, I turned them down, and suggested alternate ways to see just him (or just him and stepmum) where we met on neutral ground, had a meal together, and then went our separate ways. For Christmas I made it clear that I wasn’t interested in joining the family celebrations but they were welcome to visit ME for a quiet lunch/dinner in the week following Christmas. And so far this is working REALLY well for me and is so much better than what I put up with in the first year.
My dad has very happily integrated into their family, and I’m really glad for him. But I’m not interested in being a part of his new family. So while I’m a bit sad that his new step-daughters are now a bigger part of his life than I am, I’m happy that he’s found what he wants, and I’m happy living my own life and seeing him on my terms. It is possible to make this sort of thing work!!
The only other big problem amidst all of this is that dad and stepmum were so determined for us to be “one big happy family” that they decided to rewrite their wills in such a way that we, the unrelated-to-each-other children, are all bequeathed everything and make the final decisions on who gets what after they die. Not to be mercenary but this is TOTALLY AWFUL. I have a specific inheritance from my side of the family, and they apparently also have a specific inheritance from their side of the family. None of us wants what the others are meant to get… but with such an open-ended will, it’s very possible that their partners or some other family members will try and screw with the whole thing once both parents are gone. Money makes some people really stupid, and I’m an only child with almost no family aside from dad, so I’ve got very few people to back me up. And the shitty thing is all three of us said “no, we don’t like this, this isn’t going to work” when they discussed the will with us, but they just steamrollered over us with assertions that it WOULD work because “we’re all family now”.
I’m very glad that you’re reaching some form of peace with your extended folks.
In the spirit of unsolicited advice, re: will, it is very possible to talk with a lawyer–your own, not your dad’s–about your options going forward and see what their advice is about avoiding a protracted legal battle, especially if your stepsisters are actually on board. And, trust me, engaging a lawyer now will be less expensive than any kind of legal fighting in the future.
Having gone through the deaths of both sets of grandparents, I’m truly sorry about the shitty will.
Wow! That is so, so cruel on their parts. A solid, detailed will is a gift to the people you leave behind.
My family is still arguing over jewelry that was apparently (and it’s probably true) promised to three different people. It was finally split up in a way that satisfied no one.
They were beautiful, solid, well-made pieces, but not super valuable, and they fight like these were the crown jewels. Vauge wills tear families apart at the time when they most need comfort from each other.
I agree 100% with espritdecorps – ” solid, detailed will is a gift to the people you leave behind.” People sometimes somehow feel it is better to let the heirs decide but NOOOOOO please do not do this, anyone who is in this position. They will all be dealing with their grief. Don’t force them to also make the decisions on what will happen with the physical things you have left behind. That is how families get torn apart after you are gone, not what draws them together.
Oh man, that sucks about the will. The last thing anyone wants to be doing after their parents/grandparents die is fight over/decide who gets what. My grandparents have started reaching the stage of “I want you to have this, so I’m giving it to you now,” which is weird and sad, but also reassuring in that I think we’ll avoid a lot of the bickering that might otherwise ensue about who gets which specific things that everyone treasures. Also seems to be giving them peace of mind to know that certain things are definitely going to the people they want them to go to.
I know my mom has a solid will (which is very reassuring since she remarried a few years ago and we got two new stepsisters); the only thing I anticipate my brother and I fighting over is the hand-painted ceramic nativity set my mom made before my brother was born. Part of me is really hoping she specifies who gets it, otherwise we’re going to have to like, trade it off each year or something. We’ve already agreed that it won’t be split up.
Talk to a lawyer, jointly and severally, with your step-siblings, about what the three of you can do to head this off, because this WILL turn into a charlie-foxtrot of massive proportions, because it always, always, ALWAYS does. This is literally the worst thing I’ve ever heard–it’s worse than dying intestate, which is actually really horrible for your survivors. (Just ask me, I’ve been through it as a survivor. It was bad.)
It’s possible that you can, the three of you, make some kind of contract about who gets what and how the remainder gets divided that will satisfy everyone and be legally binding, and this will be SIGNIFICANTLY better than your parents’ terrible, terrible plan.
“it’s worse than dying intestate, which is actually really horrible for your survivors”
It sucks even if there is only one surviving heir. I’m my mom’s only kid and she was divorced when she passed. But with no will and no estate planning, I had to guess at what she would have wanted, figure out what all she had in terms of accounts & property & debts, find an estate attorney, make all the funeral arrangements (again, guessing at what she wanted based on assorted, conflicting conversations over the years) all while dealing with the most profound loss I had ever experienced. It was a nightmare. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like if there had been siblings and siblings-in-law being nasty on top of it.
In my case, my longstanding partner, to whom I usually refer as my husband, died. We lived in a state with common-law marriage, so I was able to arrange for his cremation etc on the strength of that, but he died intestate, and his sister attempted to argue his life insurance company into releasing his policy to her (she was not a beneficiary) (they did not get along) (at all) (like, he hadn’t spoken to her in many years didn’t get along), and then told me she would come with a trailer and take everything of value from our house, demanded to know if his name was on the title of my car, etc etc, demanded that I surrender my computers and electronics to her “since he probably bought them for me”. While we were cleaning out the house I found one of those online holograph wills, printed out, with only his name filled in, and no specific bequests or signature. I sat down with it in my hand and began laughing. It took some time for me to calm down, and friends told me later they were afraid I had flipped out and wasn’t going to flip back in.
People get *savage* when it comes to money. A friend of mine, when his husband died, basically had to pay his husband’s family off with a chunk of insurance money so they wouldn’t tie everything up in the courts, despite them having mutual wills and both of their names on everything etc.
My father had a will, which included an odd provision that modified the inheritance if his (second) wife died less than 30 days after he did. Sure enough, he died on the 1st and she died on the 30th of the same month. Uh-oh.
Then we found out that his will was invalid, because it hadn’t been witnessed properly, and we didn’t have to untangle that provision after all.
Fortunately the two families quickly agreed that, since it was a late second marriage, each side would take what their parent had brought into it, and there wasn’t enough common property to argue about. (The house had almost no equity, for instance.)
Thank you so much to everyone who came in and gave me advice about this, I really appreciate it. I’m sorry I didn’t get back to reply sooner, and I don’t have time to comment individually right now but I just wanted to tell you all that I am super grateful for your feedback, and sorry for each and every one of you that has been through something awful as a result of badly written wills and shitty relatives. I am definitely taking all this great feedback on board and I’m going to see about getting a copy of the will, figuring out exactly how bad it really is, and then talking to a lawyer and the step-sisters about what can be done to mitigate the bad. Thanks again!
Eh. I’m going to be the voice of dissent in the ranks…
Perhaps I’m coming to this with my own biases, happy family, married parents, extended fam/significant others I generally get on with… etc, etc.
BUT. I thought you behaved like a bit of a baby.
You don’t especially say in your letter that you were looking at this as “special dad/daughter time”, more just as a casual get-together with him and his partner that you like.
So what if 2 random teenagers turned up? Who cares? This reads like you are incapable of making small talk with 2 kids, even when there are 3 other people there who you know and like to bounce off and defuse any potential small-talk fails with the teens.
I can’t help but feel you could have sucked it up and been a bit more adult. It was all a bit “boo hoo there are people here I don’t know! Waaahhh!”
You could have addressed it with dad later on, but leaving halfway through was immature.
Thank you, I thought the same and wondered if anyone else did. Yes, the father shouldn’t have changed things at the last minute. But the LW’s response was WAY out of proportion and it’s no wonder he’s disappointed in him/her, he couldn’t not be. That’s why s/he wrote in, though, to learn how to handle it better.
I 100% agree with you, but I think there’s something missing from the response. How does LW learn to handle it better, going forward? The Captain offers some proactive scripts (making invitations; don’t go resentfully), but at some point, Dad is going to mess up again. How does she respond then?
The easy solution is to suck it up, have as pleasant a meal as possible, and address it with Dad later – but it’s clear that’s not currently in the LW’s toolkit or she would have done it this time around. (I wish I had answer, but I don’t).
Wow. The level of ablism in these three comments could stun a team of oxen in its tracks.
When someone talks about running out of spoons, that’s not the same as being tired or cranky or generally out-of-sorts. Hitting zero on the spoon-o-meter means something more along the lines of becoming completely nonfunctional/incapable of doing ANYTHING that requires even a trivial amount of effort. The last time I completely ran out of spoons, I shut down entirely — I was on a family vacation, and I had to be taken back to the hotel. I had been saying that I was almost out of energy and needed to be done for the night, but there kept being “one more thing” that we absolutely HAD to see first. I finally just stopped — stopped walking, stopped talking. Probably started crying, but I don’t really remember. I think my sister and I took a cab back to the hotel and she helped me change into pajamas and get into bed. I do know that, after that day, if I said that I was just about out of resources (I hadn’t heard of spoons then), they listened to me.
If you haven’t read the original essay on the spoon theory of invisible disability, I encourage you to do so. I also encourage you to be a bit more compassionate to others even if you don’t understand why a given thing is hard for them, and just accept that it is. “Have you considered being more normal?” is not ever helpful.
But, the LW didn’t say anything to indicate she had a disability. She said she was an introvert. I don’t think it’s “ableist” to suggest that having dinner with a couple of unexpected teenagers is within the realm of normal polite adult behavior. If the LW had crippling social anxiety, it seems likely that it would have been mentioned. I’m an introvert too, and I would have disliked this situation but not have left without at least muttering some polite excuse.
Julie, you’re rules-lawyering here a bit and I don’t like it.
I just got diagnosed with ADHD at 41. I had the issues with it my whole life, I just didn’t have a name for it. I wouldn’t have, in the middle of a rough moment, known that’s what was going on or been able to describe it as such. But the experiences I was having were just as real before the diagnosis as afterward. I had other words for what I was. Disorganized. Easily exhausted by certain situations. Introverted.
I agree with you that “introvert” is not a medical condition unto itself. It’s one that’s co-valent with lots of stuff, lots of stuff that may or may not reach the level of ‘disability.’ I’m not saying that the LW has social anxiety, or somesuch (I can’t possibly know that, nor can you, or anyone). However, s/he describes in the comment thread working in retail, and coming off 7 days of it and being totally drained, which hopefully you don’t need a definite diagnosis of some disability to empathize with or believe in.
I know the spoons theory originally began as a metaphor for living with a disability, but it’s caught on and I now hear it used at least as often in other contexts as in the context of disability. Maybe that’s unfortunate since it takes away from it as a convenient short-hand to refer obliquely to something one doesn’t want to fully explain, but it does mean that I really don’t and can’t automatically assume disability when I hear it. Because in certain internet circles almost everyone uses it as a metaphor for feeling even a little hassled or overwhelmed.
It’s possible the LW does have some disability or condition that makes it particularly hard for them to tolerate smalltalk with people they don’t know very well, but they make no reference it it so to me it isn’t really clear one way or another if that’s the case or not. It could have been something like that (e.g. social anxiety around phone calls and dinner table conversation, leading them to literally shut down and not be able to continue), but it could equally well have been simple irritation at having to go out of their way (a long drive) for an event they weren’t even particularly excited about in the first place (not liking the restaurant), and then having some strong emotions about feeling ‘weird and creepy’ around the dad’s partner’s family. I don’t think the ‘weird and creepy’ comment was exactly irrelevent!
In either case I don’t think escaping is the end of the world given that they apparently managed to do it in such a way that everyone just assumed they felt sick. But I do think the LW will have to come to some kind of peace about the ‘weird and creepy’ idea of their father and his partner having other family as well as them and wanting them to know each other. Part of that might involve setting boundaries and getting the dad to understand that it needs to be slow and that they may never be more than distant family to the LW and that’s OK, but I do also feel bad for the dad and partner — hopefully the LW can manage to navigate things in such a way that ‘I find being around your family weird and creepy’ doesn’t come across to anyone!
“I also encourage you to be a bit more compassionate to others even if you don’t understand why a given thing is hard for them, and just accept that it is. “Have you considered being more normal?” is not ever helpful.”
Beautifully said, Other Becky.
“I had the issues with it my whole life, I just didn’t have a name for it. I wouldn’t have, in the middle of a rough moment, known that’s what was going on or been able to describe it as such. But the experiences I was having were just as real before the diagnosis as afterward.”
Thank you, Captain.
Words like these are powerful, and it’s a gift to be able to come here and read them.
After decades of shame, this year I finally confessed to my therapist the disturbing thoughts that get stuck in my head. I would never act on them, but they are so detailed and vivid that negotiating social situations with a continuous loop of terror running through my head is more draining than I can handle sometimes. Being very social in general, I call this “having an introverted day.”
Turns out it’s a form of OCD, rather than a character flaw. Medication has helped tremendously, but it’s still not something I’m comfortable sharing, and only a few people know.
Not knowing before, or explaining now that I do know didn’t make taking care of myself selfish or immature. My health care is not decided by a quorum of the people in my life. It’s decided by my doctors and I.
It’s perfectly reasonable to share the effects of those decisions (Thanks, but I don’t drink wine anymore.), without sharing the process that went into it (blood test results mean current meds may be damaging liver, new meds are should fix that, but when combined with another med and alcohol could cause complete liver failure).
I agree that the spoons metaphor gets used more widely than just for disability stuff, and that LW probably needs to find a more proactive way to deal with her limitations and address her father’s expectations. But it’s not very cool to suggest that zir reaction was OK IF xie’s got the “valid” “excuse” of a disability, but not otherwise.
Physically and mentally able people should probably avoid using the spoons theory if they just mean, “feeling a bit knackered”, if someone says they “don’t have the spoons”, that should be respected, full stop. Don’t put the burden on people with disabilities to disclose their disability to have their limitations recognised.
“Have you considered being more normal?” is not ever helpful.
*hugs this sentence*
“Considered? No. Daydreamed about, prayed for, wept for? Yes. Didn’t happen.”
“He couldn’t not be” is untrue. Many people are perfectly capable of not being disappointed in their family members for practicing self-care
It’s very hard for me to have social plans changed at the last minute, so I have a lot of sympathy for the LW even if I probably would have sucked this up too. (I did hae a relative who kept inviting her relatives to our shared home at the last minute, refused to so much as call me at work to let me know they would be there when I got back, and I did eventually start refusing to do more than say “hi” and disappear. Relative thought I was very rude, but still wouldn’t warn me in any way despite repeated requests, so I figured that was her problem. We no longer share housing.)
But if it was a relative of mine that had pulled the sudden exit, I wouldn’t go all “I’m disappointed in you.” Maybe “I was disappointed not to see more of you, how can we try to have that not happen next time?” But LW is a grown-ass individual and it is not dad’s job to be “disappointed” about LW’s behavior.
Uh, way out of proportion for whom? It seems to me that the only person equipped to evaluate the proportionality/appropriateness of a a response is LW.
This! So much this! Not only is it tremendously rude to assume that the LW is lying about what they were able to handle (social anxiety, it’s a thing! being out of cope, it’s a thing! not being able to do what’s expected of you no matter how much you want to, it’s a thing!), but it makes the entire exercise of answering letters kind of pointless. I mean, if we’re going to doubt the core of what the LW tells us about the situation (aside from pointing out when someone’s jerkbrain may be acting up), then we might as well answer their question with a nice recipe for pie and call it a day.
LW prepared themselves for one situation, Dad performed a bait-and-switch so the situation was more awkward and stressful than expected, and LW did what was necessary for self-care. That’s doesn’t strike me as at all “immature” but even if it did, it’s not our place to judge.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to deal with awkward meals with unexpected strangers then bully for you. But some people (myself included) are no more able to “suck it up” than they are able to grow an extra arm. There are times when I absolutely have to leave meals, even with people I know well. I know from years of experience that forcing myself to soldier on has pretty nasty, long-lasting consequences. If this means that a few ignorant, self-satisfied twits think I’m being a “baby”, that’s a small price to pay for looking after myself.
“ignorant, self-satisfied twits”. Friendly. Un-did your whole point right there. And actually, “sucking it up” occasionally is part of being a sensible, well-adjusted adult.
Disagreeing with a LW is allowed. Commenting JUST to insult people is not allowed.
I’d like to add that unless you’re a Charmer McCharmerson and can “turn it on” at will, people can tell when you don’t want to be there and are only talking to them out of obligation. That’s not fun for anybody involved. Leaving early was not only the best thing for the LW, but for the others, too.
LW can go back and try this relationship again when LW is a more ready and willing participant.
That’s pretty harsh. LW is using the language of someone who is incredibly introverted and/or living with social anxiety. If that is the case, it wasn’t a matter of just not liking the situation–it was a dinner with dad and partner morphed into major stressor with no warning or opportunity or time to prep. “Just sucking it up” can mean spending the next day in bed and being off for days or weeks.
I agree that running out mid-meal was not a great response and it’s clear that the LW think so too.
But I also think your response is way harsh. Calling the LW a baby is neither kind nor helpful.
It’s pretty evident from the letter that the LW has some social awkwardness/anxiety in general that were at play here. Whether or not you think that should matter overall in the situation, it certainly means that the LW wasn’t just being some spoiled toddler. Not everyone is as smooth in all social situations as others apparently are. Let’s cut the LW some slack on a situation they already know was bad and clearly want to improve in the future.
And yeah, it’s hard for those of us with intact families to understand the complex emotions that step-families entail, even the ones that involve nice people all around. It wasn’t until my brother’s divorce and watching my niece and nephew negotiate this that I realized just how little I knew about it. I can empathize and have Thoughts about the Right Way to do things, but it’s not my place to tell them how they should feel or behave within their step-families. I can be supportive and gently help them unpack their behavior or consider the other person’s POV, but I don’t have the background knowledge needed to criticize their choices. And if Aunt Intact McHappyFamily ever tells them to suck it up, crybaby, and stop having ill-timed awkward FEELS, they’re well within their rights to tell me to take a hike. Especially since “Here, feel like an asshole for your behavior, I’m sure that will make the next time better” never actually works.
Not to mention that LW’s father seems clueless to the LW’s personality and needs, and how to respond to it with love. If anyone is an asshole in this situation, it’s not the LW.
Speaking as an introvert who has anxiety AND who had messily-divorced parents that both got remarried… I gotta say wotsitweb has a point
I COMPLETELY empathize with the weirdness of meeting your dad’s new family, and I wouldn’t have used the word “baby”, but I think LW is being unreasonable in this situation. I understand being bothered by the last-minute additions of the dad’s partner’s granddaughter and friend, but I think LW’s reaction was out of proportion and escalated the hurt feelings to a much higher level.
I’m not seeing in the original letter that LW wanted to spend time with her dad alone necessarily, just that she wasn’t ready to meet an additional family member and had a hard time adjusting to the sudden change of plans. LW feels like she’s already giving a lot, due to the hassle involved in getting to the dinner, but I don’t see that she ever communicated that to her dad — he probably thought this was a low-key setting, just going out to dinner, not that big of a deal.
My advice to the LW, as someone who has been in this situation several times, would be to call dad and say “Hey dad, sorry I was so weird at dinner the other night. I was looking forward to seeing you and [partner], I just got a bit overwhelmed meeting so many people at once. I’d love to schedule another night to go out to dinner just with you and [partner], what day would work for you?”
And yeah… I would recommend LW think hard about why her dad’s partner’s family is “weird and creepy.” Is it because they, themselves, are weird and creepy people and you feel unsafe? In that case, by all means do not meet them. But is it simply the existence of another family in your dad’s life that creeps you out? I’m not saying you need to become close with them, I’m not saying you have to be One Big Happy Family. But refusing to even meet these people that are important to your dad and his partner is unkind and setting you up for a lot of hurt feelings, on both sides, going forward.
“I’m not seeing in the original letter that LW wanted to spend time with her dad alone necessarily, just that she wasn’t ready to meet an additional family member and had a hard time adjusting to the sudden change of plans.”
That was how I read it too, that LW’s problem wasn’t disappointment in not spending time alone with his/her father but with the stepmother’s family joining them. The letter clearly states that s/he doesn’t want to spend time with them ever, not just that night. But sometimes that can’t be avoided, so how will the LW handle it? That’s the issue going forward. Setting rules that it will be with advance notice, won’t be a change to existing plans, and that LW’s polite refusals to invitations will be accepted without reproach, as the Captain recommends (admittedly I’m reading between the lines) is a very good foundation.
Yes. But none of that was in wotsitweb’s comment.
I don’t agree with telling someone “this is the only acceptable way for you to behave” in a situation we know very little about. and I strongly object to commenters calling the LW names and hammering how over-the-top awful the LW’s behavior was. It’s mean and it’s not helpful.
I’m not going to keep belaborting the point, especially since it seems wotsitweb got the banhammer. But dissenters: maybe consider that social anxiety is both a thing that exists and a totally valid response to the world.
It seems you wanted the LW to show more respect and kindness to dad and the stepfamily. Ironic, considering the voice of dissension offered none of that to the LW. I know that wasn’t you directly, but your comment did agree with it. Saying wotsitweb has a point or thanking them for the comment aligns you with name calling and belittling someone’s feelings. Are you really OK with that?
Leaving halfway through was her self-care; would you really choose for yourself to be miserable and exhausted after being dragged into a situation you didn’t want or plan on, rather than be judged as “immature”? Yes, you say that it wouldn’t have bothered you: consider being expected to sit through a social thing, and be bright and entertaining, with your least favorite ex while you have a fever.
Also, I can be having a good conversation with someone I know, or I can be doing the work of making small talk with a stranger I may have no common interests with: but I can’t do both at once. That small-talk-with-younger-strangers rules out any discussion of family news (it’s not including me in small talk if you expect me to listen to you discuss your friends I’ve never heard of); small talk with *anyone* means I’m not having a more-than-small-talk conversation about my plans or any health or other problems, because “Dad, I’m thinking of moving to Montana” isn’t small talk, nor is “I saw the doctor the other day, and she’s worried about my ankle.” If I’ve been hoping to have a real conversation with someone I care about, and am suddenly told that instead I’m going to have to do the work of making small talk with strangers, that’s about as welcome as “yes, I know we invited you to a dinner party–but that doesn’t mean you get to sit at the table, eat the nice meal, and talk with us, you have to stay in the kitchen, scrub potatoes, and wash the dishes.” Except that well-meaning strangers wouldn’t be telling me I was being immature if, when sent into the kitchen to scrub vegetables, I had turned around and left.
Yes. I’ve done the same thing as LW (in different kinds of situations but I definitely recognise the urge to just leave), and staying in this kind of situation is awful. If you stay, many things can happen. You probably won’t be able to talk to anyone, therefore you seem unfriendly. You might appear like you’re sulking, therefore you’re immature. You might tear up a bit, therefore you’re the person who started crying for no reason over a relaxed dinner. Do you want to appear like a mature adult in front of your younger step-siblings? Well no chance of that! Anxiety will help make sure you spend all your time afterwards convinced you made a terrible first impression, paranoid about what if everyone thinks you are surly and terrible company, which will affect any future ability to get to know these people, and your reward for staying will be a talk about being more welcoming, probably. (LW’s dad doesn’t seem to have picked up on the LW’s anxiety so I wouldn’t be surprised if the LW had stayed, they’d have still have got the ‘I’m disappointed!’ conversation.)
I agree, leaving halfway through was self-care, and I can absolutely imagine a situation where it was actively the more mature option.
I am healthier now, but when I was battling with very bad mental health, the situation LW describes would have been a nightmare, even when I was not at my worst! I could handle it today, but back then it might have been a choice between, “Sitting here, deer-in-headlights, making small noises”, “Becoming uncontrollably upset, quiet, non-responsive”, or “Leaving half-way through gracefully, at least somewhat maintaining an adult facade”. I guarantee you that the options that involved staying for the whole dinner would not have ended better than leaving. Even if one of the options had been, “Becoming more reserved, saying very little”, I could see that leading to a lecture down the line of how rude it had been to stop talking, or something. And the conversation was ALREADY stilted and tense!
If it was a small tantrum on LW’s behalf – a true, “I just don’t want to spend time with them” with no other baggage, sure, that could be a bit immature and could have been handled better. But from the letter, the situation sounds like it was enough to weird anyone out. Dad’s relationship seems pretty new, and while it is perfectly fine for Dad to have feelings about ‘everyone’s a happy family now’, it’s not cool of him to try and force those family members into those feelings. That may be the reason it feels weird and creepy for LW to be around Partner’s family – her reality doesn’t match up with the one her Dad is trying to craft, and that always feels odd at best and creepy and horrible at worst.
I don’t know. Leaving makes perfect sense to me, in that situation – if I were able to handle it, I would have and given myself a treat after, but had I not been able to deal with it and been blessed with the foresight to exit gracefully, that would be the option I’d have taken, too. (The only difference is I would have lied about not feeling well rather than saying I didn’t want to spend time with them, but that is a leftover from my own family dynamic and probably not solid advice.)
How does LW recover from this? I don’t know. Her reaction was probably not the best reaction of all possible reactions in the universe, but let’s be real here: The original dinner invitation wasn’t great to start with, it was changed to something even more unfavourable, and then the reality was EVEN WORSE with stilted and tense conversations and a stranger pair of teenagers who probably didn’t even want to be there and maybe Dad beaming at his new ‘happy’ family. Who among us would handle such a thing perfectly? LW mentioned having to count spoons – I know that some people use the term inappropriately, but LW’s account of “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” – that sounds like someone with a legitimate claim to the metaphor, and EVEN IF NOT I choose to take LW at her word.
Going forward, a frank conversation about forward expectations is best. LW, try talking to your dad. Explain as best you can where you’re coming from – you like his new partner, you’re so happy for him, but you don’t necessarily want to build a close relationship with these new people and you certainly don’t want to be surprised by awkward dinners with them. If true, perhaps it’s worth explaining that it was nothing against the teenagers or Partner’s family themselves, that you don’t actively dislike them, but that the situation was already difficult for you and having strangers around pushed you to your limit.
Would you be open to pre-planned meetings with a determined length? Does there need to be more explanations around WHY extra members are coming along (it might have felt better if it was because of guardianship issues, and you knew that)? Does there just need to be more TIME before the great meshing of families is attempted? Does Dad need to take charge of conversation if things are flagging, to take the pressure off you? I can’t guarantee he will be open to discussing these boundaries, but it’s not unreasonable of you to want them, LW. I hope you all can find a good compromise.
I sense a pile-on coming, but seriously. Wow. When someone has no spoons left, it’s not “boo hoo there are people I don’t know Waaaaahhh” it’s “I would rather claw my way out of my own skin right here in this restaurant then go through the complex gymnastics of meeting new people and then endlessly dissecting the interaction for days after and bullying myself for botching introductions.” And as someone whose works part-time in child and youth education, if you think that making small talk with two kids, let alone two teenagers, is the easiest thing in the world, you’d be completely wrong. They either open up immediately and then they never. stop. TALKING till sometimes you want to cry for a tiny moment of silence OR getting a single word out of them is like pulling fingernails. I love them, but conversations with them are far more taxing then with adults.
Self preservation in the face of triggers isn’t immature. LW, you did what was needed to stay safe and please don’t let people victim blame and make you feel bad about that.
Absolutely. My mother has done this ‘including someone you barely know at the last minute when you thought it was going to be just us’ thing. It sucked. I have more-than-mild social anxiety thanks to years of bullying and sudden changes in plans cause me to experience severe stress.
It took a year and a half of therapy a couple of years ago for me to be able explain to her the absolute skin-crawling horror I experience when I am trapped in a social situation with strangers with (key part) no SUFFICIENT warning. I need a day or so to mentally adjust, then I can more-or-less cope. Without that day-or-so I turn into a monosyllabic statue, which used to cause my mother to berate me for my lack of manners and how much I embarrassed her. In turn, this made the depression I was suffering from worse, because it confirmed what my jerk-brain was telling me.
Thankfully, I finally got the message across and she doesn’t try to dump me into social situations with no escape any more. (She thought this would help me conquer my fear of social situations. HahahahahahahaNO)
Listen, I swear this is not directed at you because I’m sure you’re a fine and tactful person, but in the hopes it might be helpful to someone I feel the need to mention how I feel about the “pulling fingernails” metaphor. Triggered, I suppose, which I don’t remember ever using to describe my emotional state before but hey. Twenty minutes after reading your comment I had this memory of this awful conversation with my dad and I just realized why.
My dad didn’t used to say “pulling fingernails,” he used to say “pulling teeth.” He’d say it right to us: “It’s like pulling teeth!” What it really meant was that we did not talk freely to him like we did to my mom–gee I wonder why? In this conversation I remembered, he was driving me home from a musical I’d seen with some youth group. He asked me about it and I was describing it. Then I got to this one scene and clammed up. This was because as I spoke I was starting to bring into full consciousness my awareness that the fairly innocuous actions that happened on stage were a metaphor for one character getting raped. And I sure as heck didn’t want to say that to my father, around whom I was totally inhibited about even mentioning sex. He kept at me and at me to spit it out, I didn’t have the confidence and mental flexibility to realize I just needed to say “So anyway, after that…” but instead got tenser and tenser about not wanting to talk about rape with my dad, and the rest of the drive was miserable.
I’m sure that sometimes it really is in a teen’s best interest to be drawn out and induced to talk, in the right manner, which I’m sure you use. But the metaphor gets me. Because this: Yep. *It was absolutely like getting your teeth pulled.* WHY DID THAT NEVER OCCUR TO HIM????
Sorry to have dumped this on you, but like I said it’s really not about you, it’s a common metaphor because of some social assumptions and I think those are really what I’m directing this at. I hope it might be useful to someone, maybe someone who has or deals with teenagers, to help them think about how it feels on the other end, and how there might be an actual reason which they don’t want to express to you and can’t cover over with social snow like adults do b/c they don’t have the skills yet, and how it might sometimes be OK for a person, even a younger person, not to talk.
crooked bird, I ABSOLUTELY get your point and 99.9% of the time if a child or teen doesn’t want to talk to me about something, I try a topic change or I let them just be quiet and exist. (I was that kid who just wanted to be left alone. I am still, most days, that kid who wants to be left alone and not have to make small talk.) There are rare occasions when I am mandated to ask certain questions (yay incident reports) but yeah, forcing someone to talk sucks and isn’t recommended. Apologies for the triggering, I will be more careful with my metaphors!
I’m really shocked to see comments here using phrases such as “you behaved like a bit of a baby” and “no wonder [LW’s dad]’s disappointed in [the LW], he couldn’t not be”. Those sound less like constructive comments and more like shaming tactics straight out of the emotional abuser’s handbook. Since when is this a blog where we call people babies and intimate that they’ve earned the disappointment of their parental figures? This is so outside the usual spirit of comments here, I’m completely taken aback.
Thank you! I’m relieved to see I’m not the only one flabbergasted at the tone of those comments. Our comments are supposed to be helpful, not to be nasty.
Yeah, that was gross.
Yeah, no. Here’s the thing: Anybody who’s an introvert is probably already “sucking it up” just to go about their daily lives. We go to schools with tons of other students, we go to work and are expected to regularly, well, work with people we probably don’t care for, we have to deal with strangers while going shopping, making appointments, getting something to eat, doing just about anything. After all the human interaction we’re expected to deal with as part of ‘normal’ life, it becomes a balancing act between making time for the people you really care about and making time to recharge your batteries. LW had ‘rationed’ their energy for a nice evening with two people they know and like. Last minute, they’re told that two strangers are coming along and to change the booking accordingly, not even asking if that was okay or apologizing for the inconvenience and explaining whatever sudden situation came up that made it necessary. And it’s not like this person bolted right away, either, they tried to “suck it up” for thirty minutes before they reached their limit.
And honestly, presuming that LW grew up with this father or was at least fairly regularly involved in their life, shouldn’t he have had some idea that his kid was introverted and might not react well to two strangers showing up? Why should LW be expected to accommodate their father’s sudden whims when he’s not giving a thought to their difficulties?
Exactly. I think not enough emphasis is being put on the fact that introverts and extroverts are very different flavors of people. While extroverts can be annoyed and ‘suck it up’, introverts can be absolutely overwhelmed and stressed to the point of becoming ill. Please consider that!
Personally, I’m one of those ‘between’ people. I can function like an extrovert in that I can find any topic to talk to an absolute stranger about at a social function. I can absolutely play the game and pull off the appearance that I roll for you. However, I’m a lazy so-and-so. It’s effing WORK and so often I just don’t want to make the effort. It’s so much easier to simply pull away from everyone so they’ll leave me alone and I won’t have to listen to boring tales of whatever. BUT, I don’t become paralyzed or ill at having to interact. Introverts do and I offer them my deepest sympathies and a quiet corner which a beverage of their choice, complete with comfy chair and soothing music (if they so desire).
I’m one of the introvertest introverts ever to introvert, and I can tell you that many introverts do not panic like that when it comes to interacting with people. I work a very extroverted job (that I love), which leaves me exhausted at the end of the day, but the only thing that happens because of that is that I’m more likely to decline social invitations after work. It doesn’t mean I flee situations or become paralyzed or ill when I have to talk to people I don’t know. It’s not an introvert issue; it’s something else entirely.
Well, yes. What the LW describes is social anxiety. Not all introverts are socially anxious. It’s like, you may find going for a run exhausting (introvert) or energising (extrovert), but you’re not necessarily *frightened* of running just because it drains you.
A few months ago my father’s girlfriend took it upon herself to mount a similar stunt and invite a friend of hers and the friend’s new boyfriend (whom no-one else had met) to my birthday meal. No notice. No ‘is it OK if these people come?’ Because she knows damn well I have social phobia and it would not be OK. Instead, she decided just to have them show up and depend upon me doing the polite thing and sucking it up. This backfired fairly badly, in that five minutes after their arrival I called a taxi and haven’t spoken to her since. I actually think this was more considerate towards her guests than having a meltdown at the dinner table, but at the time I wasn’t thinking about that. My priority was getting myself out of there.
Another thing worth mentioning is that socially anxious people are so used to being told to push themselves out of their comfort zones that they often aren’t very good at assessing their own ability to handle situations, and end up pushing themselves beyond their ability to cope because they think it will be good for them, or because people will think they’re rude if they don’t, or because everyone around them thinks social anxiety is bogus and/or a form of self-indulgence. And then they end up bailing halfway through and feeling worse.
(And yeah, my dad pulled the passive-aggressive ‘disappointed’ line as well, because oh how much does he want us all to be one big happy family, but sorry, people who want me to feel uncomfortable and unimportant don’t get to be considered part of my life, let alone my family.)
@ambergris, I’m with you on that and 100% support your decision to leave. The LW was NOT out of line for leaving when they knew they’d reached their limit.
I don’t have social phobia but I do have a bunch of ex-family who would spring PTSD triggers on me and then get very upset/”disappointed” when I wasn’t “polite” or when my hyperventilation ruined an evening for them, as though it wasn’t something I had already warned them would happen, and as if I were enjoying panicking very much. If I had been able to leave those situations early, I would have, and neither panicking in private afterwards or at the table would be immature, inappropriate or disproportionate responses. Limits are limits. Being pushed out of your comfort zone and taking yourself out of that stressful situation is completely rational and proportionate.
Social anxiety and introversion are too different things and honestly, this comes off as really condescending to me. I don’t need your pity for being introverted anymore than an extrovert needs my pity because they sometimes engage in solitary activities.
Ah, my apologies then. I did not intend to insult anyone. I am glad folks are explaining the difference between introversion and social anxiety to me. I appreciate it.
Okay, where I used ‘introvert’ in this post, just change it to ‘socially anxious.’ I happen to be both, and it’s easy to forget where one starts and the other begins.
I think the LW’s actions–quietly excuse herself and remove herself from the situation–was probably the most mature response to it. Better than a complete meltdown, or worse, having to deal with a ton of introvert-related fallout the next day. Hell, I”m feeling sluggish, run down, and icky today and yesterday was a thing that I was looking forward to.
teel deer: I feel you, LW.
Yes to your first sentence, specially as LW’s father called because he presumed she’d left because she hadn’t felt well, so that’s probably what the other attendants thought as well.
It isn’t too hard to tell that people who scold like that don’t realize what actually happens when a socially anxious person runs out of spoons. It isn’t a choice between “quietly leave” and “stay and act normal”; it’s a choice between “quietly leave” and “have a panic attack at the table” or “burst into tears when the waiter tells you they don’t have the ingredients for the food item you chose” or “need to go sit in a coffee shop for an hour afterwards because you can’t handle flagging a taxi to go home” or “have to cancel the rest of your appointments for the week and stay inside”.
I have bad social anxiety/sensory issues/fatigue, and I have to do sometimes rude or immature-seeming things because my body literally does not give me the option of toughing it out.
I have had the panic attack on the walk back to the car in a situation similar enough not to really need to be described. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t pretty. Not recommended.
So much recognition in your comment. It struck me like lightning. My family is DIFFICULT. I budget how much cope I have to spend on them, and one little thing that takes the amount required over the amount I have to spend feels like the literal end of the world. I am an extrovert, have people skills, love to socialize, have a little social anxiety I’m in very good control of–and still, getting to a restaurant, sitting down with my family, and finding out they have nothing I can eat (food allergies, happens more often than you’d think at strange restaurants) will basically just crash my cope budget for the rest of the week in minutes.
This for sure. Even expected plans that you look forward to can end up at “panic attack at the table” when you’ve miscalculated your spoons. Leaving is always an acceptable alternative.
You have an opinion – that’s fine. You insult and demean someone who is seeking advice on how to do better in the future – that’s NOT FINE. The only purpose your comment serves is to engender feelings of shame and embarrassment in someone who is already feeling them. I hope this was not your purpose and that in the future you keep in mind that delivery is just as important as content in communication.
LW – please ignore this person. They obviously aren’t understanding the concepts of “spoons” or “tact.” Their opinions in this matter are therefore suspect and not to be relied upon as fact.
It also very neatly positions the commentor as “better” than the LW, which is…wow, not a very reasonable, good, or kind way to be interacting here.
I think what you are missing is that the intensity of the LW’s reaction took them by surprise. They went with the intention of making the best of it, then, OH CRAP, FEELINGS-STORM, so they left before making it worse and are now trying to figure out how to patch things up in private when things are calmer. Sometimes that IS the best, adult reaction. Nobody left their house thinking “I think I’ll make a super-weird scene at dinner and embarrass myself and my dad” the other night and the LW isn’t here crowing about the triumph of sending a message, but rather, cringing in embarrassment.
When a person’s only post on a site is condescending and shitty, as yours is here, followed up by more patronizing & argumentative stuff, I see no reason to extend continued posting privileges. Enjoy the rest of the internet!
“Perhaps I’m coming to this with my own biases, happy family, married parents, extended fam/significant other I general get on with…”
I think this is the most accurate sentence in your response.
Yeah, that’s a lesson I learned in my early 20s–that the worldview is HUGELY different to someone who doesn’t have those blessings. So I can’t rely on my instincts.
I think other people mostly have you covered with good advice for talking to your dad about this particular incident.
My partner’s parents are both remarried and have adult stepkids and they are not at all *my* family in my mind. Something that helped when we went to a big family thing for his dad and step mum’s anniversary was talking to my partner about them. Hearing stories and learning what they did for a living helped me learn their names and meant that even if the day took a lot more energy than a get together with friends would have done it was still less energy than complete strangers would have been (my partner also made sure that no one would mind if I excused myself to a quiet room, which helped immensely).
The next time you talk to your dad you could ask about his new family. It might take some of the sting out of you having to cut your meal short for him, and learning a bit more about his stepkids and stepgrandkids might make meeting them in the future feel less daunting.
I don’t think you have to be friends with them, my partner is friendly but isn’t friends with his stepsiblings, but presumably they are a part of your dad’s life and you can treat asking after them as not that different from asking him how work/hobby/etc is going.
When I typed this most of the comments above mine were more supportive, but right now I think I’d find a lot of them upsetting if I were you, LW (hell, I find some of them upsetting and I’m not the LW). So for what it’s worth, it sounds like you handled the situation the best you could. It’s not necessarily ideal to leave partway through dinner but sometimes there aren’t any other options. The captain’s advice is good and I hope it helps you.
“But another part of me worries that, if I do that, I might end up with no relationship with my father at all.”
LW, unless there’s something big that wasn’t included in the letter, I think this may be your jerk brain talking. I can’t picture a father choosing to end a relationship with his daughter just because she doesn’t want to meet his new wife’s relatives, unless there is some other red flag you didn’t mention. I think you’ll be safe to talk this out with him.
I didn’t even know it was expected of people to meet step-relations. My father was married to his second wife for a decade and I only met her kids and her brother, and him only because he was visiting from another country and was on a compressed timeline. But, I may not be the best example to go by because I don’t even think of her kids as my step-brothers, and only resorted to calling her my step-mother because it was easier than Dad’s widow…
I thought of this, too. Personally, my relationship with my father is chaotic and mostly awful, but it doesn’t sound like hers really is.
LW, unless there’s a bunch of other stuff going on here, this one thing probably isn’t going to even interfere with you forming a relationship with your step-parent. Much less sabotage your relationship with your father.
Changing the number at the last minute too, I feel for you LW. Recentely I had something similar, where I was due to go on holiday with my parents and sister, then found out my sister’s boyfriend was coming along. Taken by surprise, I made a face and got a lecture from my mother, saying that he is a parfectely nice person etc. I would hope so, but I had only met him a couple of times before then. While I came to terms with it and had fun, what annoyed me wasn’t his inclusion in the family holiday, but the fact that 1) I wasn’t even allowed to express a moment of discomfort at going on a family holiday with a stranger and 2) No-one told me that the family holiday now included an extra member. At least I had time to mentally prepare, though, it sounds as though you didn’t.
A thousand upvotes to Captain’s advice. I don’t have step-parents and haven’t had this experience, but I have had friends do this with significant others (I like my boyfriend! Ergo all my friends will! Ergo I will invite him to every single event, even ones where no other SOs are present, or show up with him randomly to places he wasn’t invited! And if I’m in town for my annual visit, I will bring him to every single event so no one can actually catch up with me!) and it is hugely frustrating.
I think when you are embarking on a new relationship is exactly the time to prioritize your time with other people. The LW’s father probably didn’t mean it this way, but doing something like this is inconsiderate and hurtful – and also kind of sends the message that hanging out with a random stranger is more important to him than seeing his daughter during the limited time they have together.
Would you be amenable to meeting new relationship’s family at another time of your choosing? If that’s the case, I would suggest doing that, to forestall the “how will you get to know them” problem.
Something about your dad saying he’s ‘disappointed in your behaviour’ sits badly with me – it’s infantilising. I think it’s because when we talk about children we often talk about behaviour, but when we talk about adults people tend to focus more on actions(? Is that a thing?)
Like, the idea of telling an adult that they are well-behaved is super weird, and so is the reverse.
It might be reasonable to randomly invite a bunch of additional people along to a dinner with your child who is still in your care. It is not reasonable to change up dinner arrangements with an adult, even if that adult is your child.
Your dad is not treating you with full agency here, and that is not on.
I think with adults we focus on a specific behaviours, or action/phrase etc, and not just the manipulative, non-specific, all-encompassing definition of behaving that leaves the child scratching their head wondering what exactly they did wrong when you tell them you’re disappointed.
If you feel you have a perfectly reasonable need for a change of plans that no one should be sad about, treating someone with full agency means explaining why, or being okay with them not being okay with the change if you have chosen to withhold the reason.
This is the thing that stood out to me, too, but I thought it was because “I’m so disappointed in you” was a catchphrase of my wildly abusive mother. I can’t hear it without wanting to turn it right back around (and I was sitting firmly on the doubtless-bad advice for LW to tell Dad “I’m disappointed in *you* for not having the elementary good manners not to invite extra people without asking first.” It might be true, but it’s neither kind nor will it help actual communication! Therefore, not actually recommended).
If he is even halfway decent, there will be a way — and the Captain and others have already made good suggestions — for explaining why this behavior was Not On.
The “disappointed” business, though, that really bothered me. My only advice for dealing with it though, is to move to the Island of No Fucks Given (I live here; the weather is fabulous!), and that’s difficult, as there are no direct flights.
I don’t know. “Disappointed” seems like a very reasonable thing for LW’s father to feel. With no apparent indication that there was a problem, LW just up and left half an hour into dinner. I get that LW didn’t have the emotional spoons to deal with it, and did the best they could, but I still feel they handled it very poorly, and not in a particularly mature way. That’s not to say LW should have had to sit through a dinner with two surprise-guest strangers, but there are more adult ways to handle that than just leaving without warning after 30 minutes of “tense, stilted conversation.”
LW’s family’s emotions aren’t theirs to handle, but from the father’s PoV, with the lack of communication, it’s very understandable that he would think that LW’s behavior was a bit childish.
The cool thing is that in respectful adult relationships, disappointment can go both ways. “I’m disappointed you left early.” “I’m disappointed that a dinner I was looking forward to turned into small talk hour.” A conversation can bridge it, but everyone is disappointed here.
I’m sure the teenagers weren’t super-into being dragged to dinner with Grandma’s new dude and some random relative, either. It also sounds like the food sucks. No one liked that dinner! Disappointment all around!
There is, however, a special kind of “I’m disappointed in you” that comes from a parent to a child as a power play. There are plenty of times that “I’m pretty fucking disappointed in you, too, (parent)” is the right response but we’re socialized never, ever, ever to say it. The dad’s feelings of disappointment are justified, but I understand why people are having a “that’s a dad power-play moment” reaction at him expressing it the way he did: it’s both.
I think the trouble comes from the phrasing and the child-parent relationship. He didn’t say “I’m disapointed,” or “I’m disappointed that this didn’t work” or whatever. He was disappointed in LW’s behavior specifically. Which is a phrase that’s really heavily coded as parent-to-child.
So owning his feelings and sharing them with an adult <<– good. Using childhood phrasing that is often manipulative towards an adult <<– not so good.
This! I can express disappointment to my friends, other peers (both for things they did that I find “blameworthy” and situations that no one is to blame but I just needed to express, depending on the circumstances) but any time a parent says that to me, it’s automatically alarm bells, and any parent with an adult child knows/should know that disappointment is That Word
They’re really two different things. ParentDisappointment is another word for “furious with you” and anyone else disappointment can be anything from “I expected that to be different” to “I think you acted out of character”
One thing that I’d like to pull out and point at: There are important differences between “I’m disappointed in what happened” and “I’m disappointed in your behavior” and “I’m disappointed in you.” Being disappointed in what happened is an observation of a clear fact (what happened) and a feeling about that fact. It doesn’t contain a value judgement about people.
Being disappointed in someone’s behavior is choosing to specifically blame the disappointment on the difference between how one expected that person to behave — and, unless there’s some additional communication that says otherwise, the implication is that the expectation was reasonable and the actual behavior was unreasonable.
Being disappointed in someone is the same sort of thing, except that rather than merely blaming the behavior, it’s blaming the person as a whole for being not as expected. “You are not the person I thought you were, and this is a fundamental fault of your being.” Let us not illustrate the unhappy paths of encouraging self-loathing that this can lead down….
So, bring this back to ThatHat’s point: Yes, “disappointed” is a reasonable thing for LW’s father to feel. However, in my opinion, to get to the additional “and it’s appropriate for him to blame his disappointment on LW’s behavior not meeting his reasonable standards” that is needed for “I’m disappointed in your behavior” to be an appropriate thing for him to say, we have to tell ourselves a story about LW’s behavior that’s at least not clearly there in the letter.
I feel like “I’m disappointed in you” is a statement you make when you feel ownership over someone’s behavior; you say this when you feel like their behavior reflects on you because you are responsible for *making* them behave in an appropriate fashion. This is a thing you say to a kid or a dog or I suppose a spouse if you buy into that particular model of spousedom (various sitcoms where the wife is in charge of civilizing the husband come to mind.)
Like, I can feel disappointed or hurt in my friends or my sister-in-law or my dad or any number of other adults. But at the end of the day I don’t own their behavior — because we are fellow, separate adults with equal autonomy — and I don’t have the right to make them behave how I would like them to behave. “I am disappointed in you” sets up the person saying it as some sort of authority on the person it is said to, like, I am the ultimate arbiter of whether your behavior is acceptable to the world at large. (It does this mostly through connotations rather than denotations, I believe, but they are still there.) And once you are both adults, that’s just not true. The dad can feel sad and hurt, but he’s no longer the person who decides if the LW’s behavior is okay in the grander scheme of things — he’s down to “Is how this situation went down okay with ME, as an individual and equal human being, or no,” not “As a person with Special Authority over the LW, have I deemed this behavior fitting?”
A thousand times THIS. Thanks for putting your finger on the vague ick feeling I was trying to express.
The dad has my sympathy in this one. Yes, he should not have tried to include more people in the dinner last minute, and should have handled the reservation change himself, but, LW didn’t make much (any that I see) attempt to state her boundaries and ended up being rude to everyone by leaving the dinner early. I like the captain’s script for an apology and an explanation. Perhaps the dad and the LW aren’t close? If they were, something like, “sorry, dad, you know I have difficulty with meeting new people, and I was up for a visit with you and partner, but i won’t be able to meet you plus two strangers tonight.” Sounds like she did consider it but ultimately proceeded with the changed plans. There is nothing that indicates that she explained at the time. “Sorry I’m not feeling well, I have to go,” or if not able to express herself verbally, some signal that her father would recognize to mean “I’m overwhelmed in this situation and must excuse myself.” Some scripts to handle this kind of sudden departure might be good to add to the introvert’s repertoire. It’s not that I don’t have sympathy for the LW too; she found herself in an awkward situation. But in my world, well-mannered adults should be able to sit through an awkward dinner. If the LW could not, she should have refused the invitation or at least made some kind of mannerly excuse to leave.
Sometimes sitting through an awkward dinner really is too much. I’ve definitely been in situations where I thought I could just power through but it quickly became clear that that wasn’t going to be possible. At that point I start desperately trying to think of a way to politely leave, some excuse that people would understand… which morphs into any excuse that might be believable… and eventually ends up as fuck it, I have to get out of here even if they think I’m rude. In an ideal world I could say that I didn’t have the energy for whatever it was right then and that would be enough, but if I’m that uncomfortable, chances are I’m not with people I trust to take that as an excuse.
I still haven’t found a great way of managing that panicky cycle, but on the bright side, I’ve long since given up on caring wether people I might never see again think I’m rude or not.
Yes, absolutely, sometimes you cannot predict your reaction until it happens. This advice is so bizarre — LW should be able to sit through a dinner and “tough it out,” but is short-sighted and rude for attempting to?
Yes, I agree with this! I can completely understand not being able to think on your feet, but she had the option to either tell him not to bring the teens or to make a last-minute cancellation herself. She didn’t. She could have faked an upset stomach or asked a friend to give her an excuse to leave via texting. It sounds like she gave no excuse at all, just left.
And I know I’ll get slapped down for this, but I think people here are placing the self-care needs of the LW over the equally valid needs of her dad and the step-partner, who she claims to like and knew would be there (so this is not an interrupted daddy-daughter date, it is closer to a “big happy family” get-together). I am an extreme introvert myself, but I don’t think being an introvert gives one special license to trample others’ feelings. Because honestly, had I been one of those teens, my feelings would have been hurt by someone else obviously being so upset by my presence, especially when I consider them family. I would wonder why I had been brought along to an event where I was only a burden. Chances are very good that the teens found the conversation as tense and stilted as the LW did.
TLDR: You don’t get to orchestrate social events down to the finest detail just because you’re an introvert, and I do think it crosses the line to just leave when it doesn’t suit you to be there, especially if you don’t take an “out.” Sorry.
The thing with not being able to think on your feet is that it doesn’t matter what your options are if they don’t occur to you. I don’t handle unexpected change well, so id be likely to initially go along with the change in plans regardless of what Mt preference would actually be. By the time I did think “oh I should have…” I Wouldn’t be willing to voice that because I alrea agreed to it.
Yes, and this has happened to me countless times. However, once I’ve agreed, whether it’s a genuine agreement or something I felt rushed into doing, that’s it. I’ve committed and it’s part of the social contract to go through with it, excepting events beyond the pale like someone picking a fight, insulting me or others, and so on. From the letter it doesn’t sound like she was on the verge of a meltdown, merely that it was very awkward and small-talky. Small talk SUCKS, but it’s something introverts have to get used to (unfortunately).
I’m not saying what Dad/Partner did was right (although I agree with the below comment that it *could* have been Partner’s idea to have her granddaughter there to make herself more comfortable, there’s just no way to know), but running out of “spoons” is something that just HAPPENS. When I meet up with people I have to expect that anything might happen and adjust my energy levels accordingly. Most families wouldn’t even give someone a heads-up they were bringing extra family members, they would just do it.
Okay, look, the LW’s question wasn’t “How do I gird myself for this happening again and make myself more resilient to small talk.”
The LW’s question was, “Can I set boundaries around this behavior without destroying my relationship with my dad? How do?”
The answer is yes. Yes, it is possible to set boundaries against this kind of behavior. It’s possible to learn to say no, it’s possible to learn to politely leave a space once something has been sprung on you, and it’s possible to do all this and still have a good relationship with your parent. It may not be the relationship that they want, but as long as they’re not actually abusive/narcissistic/etc, it’s possible to communicate and work this stuff out.
And as an added bonus, it’s a lot easier to relax in unexpected social situations when you know that people will respect your boundaries, and you have an escape route! This kind of planning is actually a first step to that completely unasked question, “How do I gird myself for this happening again.”
But dumping on the LW because they’re not already resilient about this kind of crap, and shaming them for it, is not what we do here at Captain Awkward Enterprises, LLC, and I am disappointed and disgusted in the amount of it on display here.
The other thing I don’t think people are picking up on: Having a really strong NOPE emotional reaction to something isn’t always something you can predict, especially if you’re already stressed out or stretched thin. The LW didn’t go to the thing planning to nope out of there or send a message or behave badly, s/he went planning to “suck it up” (as people have illustratively put it) and make the best of it. The intensity of the feelings was a surprise, that s/he is trying to deal with in the aftermath. A little sympathy for how embarrassing that can feel – to know you pissed someone off or made things harder, but you can’t go back in time – would be in order in this comments section. I think the dad is owed an apology of some sort, but that’s not where it ends. The LW gets to set some boundaries and expectations, too.
“Most families wouldn’t even give someone a heads-up they were bringing extra family members, they would just do it.”
I hope most families would, in fact, give a heads-up to the person who made a dinner reservation that two additional people have been added to the dinner party, rather than just appearing at the restaurant with them in tow. That’s just good old-fashioned rudeness, which though the dad was a bit bumbling here, he thankfully did not engage in.
“Most families wouldn’t even give someone a heads-up they were bringing extra family members, they would just do it.”
No. This is absolutely NOT the case. It might be the case in your family, it may be the case in many families, but it is ABSOLUTELY not the case that “most families” would just bring along whoever without even telling you. Mine certainly wouldn’t, and my family is terrible about boundaries!
And I know I’ll get slapped down for this, but I think people here are placing the self-care needs of the LW over the equally valid needs of her dad and the step-partner, who she claims to like and knew would be there (so this is not an interrupted daddy-daughter date, it is closer to a “big happy family” get-together).
Um… yes? Because the “need” of the father and step-partner to see the LW is… not greater than the need of the LW to not have a meltdown? Yes?
Like, it’s disappointing when you don’t get to see someone, but once the dad and step-parent brought in strangers, the choice wasn’t “Have a great catch-up dinner with LW” or “Have LW leave,” it was “Have an increasingly-miserable awkward dinner with LW, which LW will have to suffer for long after” or “Have LW leave.” I don’t understand all the people saying that “Have a great catch-up dinner with LW” should have been what LW chose, because that was not on the table.
Also, we have a situation here where we are trying to provide advice and sympathy to the LW because. . . that is the person who wrote in. The father did not. If he does, we can provide advice and sympathy to him as well.
Maybe I’m misreading, but I think LW did give an excuse? She says “I made my apologies and fled”, not that she suddenly jumped up in complete silence and ran away without so much as a goodbye. And later her father called to ask whether she didn’t feel well so she either indicated something along those lines or at least it seemed like it to an onlooker.
I missed this and as a result, I think I misread the situation. LW merely extracted herself from an awkward situation. My apologies, LW, for suggesting that you were rude. I hope further discussion with your father will make future encounters with his wife’s family go more smoothly.
Having recently been in the LW’s shoes to the extent of bursting into highly embarrassing “hangry” tears when someone proposed polishing my mom’s nails when I was hoping she was going to start cooking dinner . . .
And assuming that the LW wrote in talking about a specific incident which is also part of a pattern of behavior . . .
I’m not convinced that refusing the invitation or making a mannerly excuse to leave would have been a better choice. More polite? Sure, probably.
Better? Not so much. Because sometimes the only way to get people to take you and your boundaries seriously is to make it awkward for them as well.
I think Dad underestimated how much of a burden he was putting on the LW, and some of that may be because the LW has sucked it up and behaved politely in situations in the past. And so Dad doesn’t realize how much effort the LW was putting into showing up for the original planned dinner at a restaurant with bad food in a inconvenient location. And then Dad added a couple of extra guests, and asked the LW to make an awkward phone call (And the LW is going from “awkward but I’ll manage” to “pain in the neck but I’ll manage” to “oops, I’m way overextended and can’t manage dinner” )
The father has the opposite of my sympathy. I’m an extrovert. I don’t have any social anxiety issues.
And even so, I’d be furious and discombobulated if my father had shown up with a partner’s grand daughter in tow. Or anyone else!
I know this because my father had the disconcerting habit of inviting me out and Whoopsy! Look who’s joining us?!
No. It’s not ok
what i find interesting about this whole scenario is that the father doesn’t seem to know his child well enough to understand that they would react this way to unexpected guests, or why they would react that way.
if i were the parent in this situation, i would be thinking to myself “holy shit, do i even know my own kid?” and be devastated that i caused them discomfort or anxiety or stress.
Very insightful response.
Yeah, me too. It’s weird to me that all these commenters smugly saying “I have an unfraught relationship with my family and no social anxiety, and I would have just dealt with this” don’t…well, LISTEN to themselves. And the person above whose parents invited randos to her birthday…! Like, wtf.
Thanks, weird exactly describes it
I had friends (HAD) who would randomly invite randos to all manner of things back in college and my early 20s, up to and including intimate birthday get-togethers, and I’m as extroverted and gregarious as they come, and I HATED HATED HATED IT. )That episode of HIMYM where Lily and Marshall freak out on Ted for bringing a rando to Lily’s birthday really rang true to me.) For everyone calling the LW “immature” for leaving mid-way through, I would counter that “inviting extra strangers to an intimate family dinner” is pretty immature, or at least displays a lack of thinking of others.
Also, I have a relatively (no pun intended) close-knit, un-fraught family, and I think we are that way because *we deliberately avoid* putting each other in situations that require “just dealing with it.” The members of my family have various different “disabilities” for lack of a better word, and because we want to make each others’ lives better, we work with those, not against them, and we try to be gracious when we inadvertently trigger each others’ issues.
For example. One of us has narcolepsy. For her, falling asleep at the table isn’t rude, it’s biology. And so when it happens, it’s on us to realize that either we put her in a situation that she pushed her too far, or that she was enjoying our company enough that it was worth it for her to push herself too far to be with us. If this is a problem for us (which it can be, because waking her up to get her in the car or whatever can be really unpleasant), then it’s time for us to have a conversation about ways to hang out that avoid these issues, like doing active things, or hanging out at houses with convenient nap spots, or whatever.
I chose the narcolepsy example here because it’s similar to social anxiety in that people without narcolepsy can experience the symptoms as well (many people have the experience of falling asleep at a bad time, such as in class, or being cranky due to tiredness). You would think that this would make it easier for people to empathize, but I think it often does the exact opposite: Because the symptoms are like something they’ve experienced, they think their coping mechanisms will work (suck it up, drink some coffee, sleep more the night before). But they do not. My family member can get 10 hours of sleep and drink an urn of coffee and still zonk out 5 minutes later. The non-narcoleptic person does not get to tell her they are disappointed that she fell asleep after drinking an urn of coffee because that totally would have woken them up, obviously she processes coffee wrong!
That went off the rails a bit, but these responses about “sucking up” assume that the LW was capable of sucking it up and chose not to. I don’t get that sense at all from this letter.
Also, I want to clarify, I think that Dad saying he was disappointed was kinda crappy, but these things are hard, and unless this is a pattern, I don’t think saying a crappy thing makes him a crappy person. I know I have been a jerk to my narcoleptic family member, especially early on when her symptoms first really started showing. That was crappy, but I am was less of a jerk now, and my jerk moments are vastly less frequent. Not just because we finally got a name to slap on the symptoms, but because I internalized that this is a difference in our abilities, and even if that didn’t have an official diagnostic label, it would still be a thing that needs to be respected. I think that’s not an especially easy thing to really grok, but it can be done. and Dad saying a jerk thing doesn’t mean he can’t get there or that your relationship is doomed.
The dad called the LW the next day to ask how they were, assuming sickness – that to me implies that they DID make some polite excuse and that everyone thought it was a matter of feeling ill.
I wonder if the additional dining companions might have been the idea of Dad’s Partner, not Dad. She might have been feeling intimidated by the prospect of Dad-and-LW time and wanted, what, reinforcements? I’ve seen that happen a time or two in my day. And Dad may not have wanted to enforce the boundary (and might have hoped the reservation couldn’t be amended to do so for him) and acquiesced, hoping LW would do the social smoothing that Daughters/Children are Meant To Do.
Not that this changes CA’s scripts, but it might be something to prepare yourself for in Dad’s response.
Having been the dork who’s made very similar mistakes to your dad’s, I’ll start off by saying that he definitely blew it. As the good Captain said, he’s guilty of a geek social fallacy, and further, last second additions to a dinner party are a faux pas in mundane social circles as well.
Shifting gears a little bit, I’ll allow your father a single defense. Like I did at one point in time, he may have little or no understanding of social anxiety, Spoon Theory, and the like. If I were you, I wouldn’t soft shoe around those issues, trying to explain them and your feelings to him gently.
“Dad, you remember that time when [thing happened]? Did you ever wonder why that happened? Let me explain something to you.”
I wish someone had sat me down a couple decades ago and given me a straight talk about how my geekly lack of social grace was running roughshod over their feelings. I get why it didn’t happen, certainly. That talk would have been really hard for the people I needed to hear it from.
If you can summon the fortitude, I suggest trying that straight talking heart to heart with your dad. Best of luck.
This is a good insight.
Projecting myself into a situation like the one you described, I imagined that I’d absolutely be annoyed at the extra people (particularly the friend of the grandkid), and I’d feel uncomfortable about the stilted conversation. I was surprised when I got to the part about you having to leave. You’d mentioned introvert spoons and social interaction spoons, but nothing specific about social anxiety or the kind of physical condition that stress exacerbates. If you have social anxiety/invisible illness and your dad doesn’t know about it, he committed an annoying but minor faux pas, and he needs to understand why switching social scenarios on you like that is a really bad idea.
Granted, the likelihood that you haven’t discussed this with him before seems low. And some people are jerks about this kind of thing. But it’s worth a shot on the off chance that you haven’t tried this already.
I’m a super introvert and understand LW’s panic in this situation (I don’t even attend family reunions anymore, and fortunately my parents accept that). But I also understand Dad’s disappointment (and I don’t agree this infantilizes LW – Dad has a right to his feelings too, and it sounds like he expressed them honestly and fairly). LW did what was needed for self-care, and that is never a wrong thing to do, but the actions caused an awkward/confusing situation for others and explanations are needed all around (because LW want to continue to be close to Dad and know his new partner, not because LW is obligated to explain her self-care).
My guess is that in this situation the new partner was the one who suggested the teens come along, and Dad either thought this was a great idea (family!), did not think it was a big deal, or has trouble setting boundaries and being assertive himself. Regardless, Captain’s advice is good.
I’d also add that this is a good opportunity to make a game plan for similar situations, as even if Dad learns how to be better, this kind of thing inevitably arises in life. I have found that always having my own transportation, regardless of cost, is key, and I am comfortable faking sudden illness in really difficult situations to make my exit feel less awkward and hopefully spare some feelings.
Oh man, I would have been *pissed*. My Dad knows full well that I’m autistic, and that I can’t stand changes to plans, especially when it involves new people, and especially especially when I’m already stressed. And yet I can totally see him doing this to me. However, he would have understood when I explained, not pulled out some bullshit about being “disappointed in my behaviour,” the hell kinda thing is that to say to a grown woman? A grown woman who is explaining that your behaviour upset her? Talk about rude.
I would make sure your script includes something along the lines of how it’s not OK for him to spring things/people on you like that, that you need all the relevant information going in so you can a) decide if you want to go in the first place and b) prepare yourself mentally. And also how he needs to treat you like a damn adult.
Yep, I didn’t like that part of the dad’s answer either. I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt (as in, people say hurtful things when they’re angry), but it sounded very patronising and icky and patronising to me.
The idea that one must stay in a social situation (family dinner, Christmas event, party, date) really needs to go away. People might be rude for leaving, but concepts like “rude” were invented to keep people with social power comfortable, while others are miserable or in fact, at risk (see staying during a date). Rude away introverts! Rude along people who feel unsafe or unbalanced in a situation! Sometimes you have to just get out and we should not feel guilty for doing so.
but concepts like “rude” were invented to keep people with social power comfortable, while others are miserable or in fact, at risk (see staying during a date
Yes a thousand times.
I agree, but I also disagree. People with social power do use ideas like manners and etiquette and rudeness to maintain social order.
But, as Miss Manners observes, etiquette is supposed to be a social script everyone knows. That way, when a difficult or crisis-like situation comes up, everyone knows what to do and what to expect without having to think about it.
Rudeness is when a person who *knows the social rule* doesn’t (or does) follow it in such a way that other people are left in discomfort. Evaluating other people’s politeness doesn’t really contribute. IOW, it works best to apply rules about rudeness to one’s self, and leave other people to their own business. And many people do exactly that. When the idea of rudeness is misused by people trying to hold on to social power, it’s really not okay. But it’s also not a reason to remove the useful tool of rude v polite from the repertoire.
It seems like part of the issue here is that LW *and* dad weren’t in possession of A++ blended family introduction management. But, it’s sort of the nature of the beast- we’re usually at our least socially skillful about the things that are the scariest/hardest to deal with. Forgiving yourself, as the Captain says, is really important. Also, was LW being polite when they bailed at dinner? No, I guess not really. But also kind of really because they did their best at the time. But either way, solving the issue here is more crucial than determining if LW was or wasn’t polite that one time at dinner.
I say hats off to LW for realizing they are probably going to live an easier life if they get the etiquette of being anxious or introverted down. If nothing else, it will make the inevitable times when they aren’t on their A-Game farther apart, and less stressful to recover from.
LW I agree with the person above who says unless there is a lot of missing information from your letter, this incident is just a thing that happened and shouldn’t jeapordize your relationship with your dad. Your jerkbrain does not have a diploma in awkward dinner etiquette, and it isn’t a trustworthy adviser. You tried, you are trying, and that counts for a whole lot.
Manners are the way we can put a few thousand people together in one city and not have them all fight each other all the time. It’s important to protect yourself, but considering other people’s feelings is not the same as bowing to the oppressor.
“Manners are the way we can put a few thousand people together in one city and not have them all fight each other all the time”
I guessing this is hyperbole, because it’s not in the least true. Having manners is not a one-to-one conversion of being considerate. Manners are developed social customs that have been moralized in order to be effectively enforced. That’s it. Plenty of cultures do manners completely differently and still manage not to kill each other, because to be quite frank, manners themselves are in fact developed to canonize a certain social order. That doesn’t mean they are all negative, but it does mean that they have all the negatives that “tradition” has in a social structure.
Kind of…different cultures have different manners, but they all have their own set of manners. So yes, manners are arbitrary – but that’s the point. Manners and etiquette help us to navigate a social world where we interact with strangers on a regular basis, by providing us with shared sets of expectations and scripts. Certainly, some of those expectations and scripts may be oppressive, and it’s worth working to change them. But there’s a pretty big baby in that bathwater, as well. Greasing the wheels of everyday social interaction is no small thing.
The thing is, pretty much every social institution and custom and practice is used by individuals to support or challenge the social order. Religion, economics, family, gender, creative expression, language. All of them. It’s not an avoidable oversight we don’t anticipate. It’s a part of the human condition.
It’s on individuals and groups to be aware of this and to counteract that reenforcement of an unfair social order. Admitting it’s an ongoing thing is important, if we want to do anything real about it.
Big +1 here. I think people sometimes forget that ‘manners’ not only vary from location to location, culture to culture, but have also varied wildly from time period to time period.
And there is often a huge power imbalance implied or carried out. For example in Western culture we frequently have the narrative that the lower social status person has a much higher standard of ‘manners’ towards higher social status people. Your boss is allowed to be rude to you, you’re not allowed to be rude to your boss. (I mean just look at all the recent attention being brought to manspreading, and how quick men are to defend their right to steal space from women and that the ‘manners’ should be men taking up two spaces and woman only taking up a half space.)
Heck, just from the fact that the father did something horribly horribly rude in asking “would you make reservations for me, my wife, and you?” and then springing on her that he was bringing two more people, but the LW still feels like she did something wrong in reacting to that and like it was her fault, and that she was expected to smooth things over and make things less awkward at her own expense. And yes, because it is the LW and her point of view we do somewhat have to focus on what she can do in the future, but the fact of the matter was she did what Captain Awkward has been advising people to do in tons of letters. Her father made it awkward, and she let it be awkward, and now her father would rather blame her than owe up to his bad behavior because ‘manners’ says as the man and the parent he has a higher social status.
The thing is, if LW wants to re-set their relationship with Dad to be expressly more equitable, they should consider in this sort of setting taking responsibility for their etiquette failures. Letting things be awkward when someone makes them awkward and being polite are not mutually exclusive. Similarly, just because Dad can be rude with relatively little social sanction because he is The Dad, doesn’t mean he *should.* Manners aren’t optional, even if people in power think they are.
“Laws keep us from killing each other. Manners keep us from wanting to.”
I am a certain sort of “fortunate,” in that when someone kicks one of my brain weasels hard enough, be it intentionally or not, I start to feel physically ill– like, bad headache or nausea ill. That’s my cue that I have already stayed too long. And honestly, if I’m sick at the table, it’s going to be a downer for everyone, not just me.
At that point, the most socially graceful thing I can come up with to do is to leave.
Yeah, I’m similar, and my family only had to see me stress-puking so many times before they accepted that my spoons have a firm limit with harsh consequences if it’s pushed.
So much yes. The social obligation to not make waves, play nice, suck it up, not disappoint others, keep smiling, and so on and so forth… You don’t owe someone your presence / company / time. You can remove yourself from anywhere at anytime for any reason (and you don’t owe anyone your reasons, either!). Sure it’s nice if no feelings are hurt and no bridges are burned, but there is no reason whatsoever to be, as Bleh put it, miserable or at risk or unsafe or unbalanced just to protect the feelings or save the face of others.
I think there’s a lot of power in the idea of acknowledging that “expecting good manners” and “expecting subordinated well-being masquerading as good manners” are not the same thing. One really empowering thing I have done for myself is work on making that distinction clear to myself, and making clear to others I am not interesting in backing up that expectation.
It makes me less easy to talk into doing things I don’t want to and shouldn’t have to do. AND it lets me still have all the benefits and advantages the toolkit of manners affords.
Thanks for the articulation of that distinction. Very important for setting boundaries and taking care of one’s self while still trying to maintain friendly social relations!
Yeah. It’s like that other old canard, “You can’t hate this person! They’re faaaaaamily!” Bleh.
The relationship between my mom and grandmother improved exponentially when my mother responded to my grandmother’s declaration of “I’m your mother, you have to love me!!!” with “No, I don’t.” Granny learned to be much nicer after that.
*offers jedi hugs*
I don’t think you’re being unreasonable, LW, it’s just that your needs are different from what your dad expects them to be. That’s not a bad thing! It’s just that people are not mind-readers, so we get to have awkward conversations about our different needs and how we can accommodate them.
So, some time that you’re calm and have spoons to invest on that, call or e-mail your dad and state your needs in words. I think the Captain’s script is really good. Your dad’s feathers may get a bit ruffled at first, but given some time to adjust you two should be fine.
You are not damaging your relationship with your dad by having needs. You haven’t damaged your relationship with your dad by having needs. Maybe he got upset by your sudden leaving, but that’s totally fixable and also the reason you guys should talk about your needs: that way you’ll both know what you can give and expect from each other and you don’t need to run when an unsustainable situation arises at the last moment (because he’ll understand that that’s a boundary he shouldn’t cross).
Of course, if your dad proves unreceptive and somehow manages to get you thinking this whole situation is your fault, always, then you might have a case of gaslighting-asshole dad in your hands, and then it would be time to surf the Captain’s archives for advice on that. But I hope it doesn’t come to that and that he can learn respect your boundaries 🙂 Lots of luck!
Lots of sympathy. Most things I thought of have been covered by the Captain.
The only other thing I’d suggest would be taking action (now) to set up a get together for the future.
Another thing commenters thinking LW should’ve just stayed the whole meal should keep in mind: Sometimes, when a person leaves in the middle of something, they’re doing it as much for the sake of the others as they are for themselves. The longer I’m anxious or stressed (especially if I haven’t been on my meds), the more likely it is that I’ll have a verbal outburst over something ‘trivial,’ and as much as someone might be ‘disappointed’ that they didn’t get to hang out longer, I’m pretty sure they’d rather deal with their disappointment than me causing a scene like that.
Also, in my mind, anyone who refuses to let me leave when I need to has agreed to the terms and conditions of me potentially being an emotional wreck and/or asshole for the duration of the time I spend with them.
Definitely this. I don’t have emotional outbursts per se, but I regret social interactions during anxiety or depression episodes all the time. Trying to be social in these circumstances is difficult and I end up trying too hard and being awkward. I will say morbid things, joke unfunnily at my own expense, almost make myself cry by accident, and generally be weird and uncomfortable company. And even if I don’t actually say anything too bad – people can usually tell on some level when the person in front of them is severely distressed, and nobody enjoys that. When you’re on the verge of an anxious meltdown the right thing to do is leave, period. The people telling LW to suck it up probably have no experience with the fallout from social anxiety. Not that that’s an excuse to be rude and condescending of course.
Yes to this. If i’m in a social situation and my anxiety flares up, there are times when I literally cannot hold a normal conversation. I’m (unintentionally) rude by being there and I’m rude for leaving.
Yes to this. If i’m in a social situation and my anxiety flares up, there are times when I literally cannot hold a normal conversation. I’m (unintentionally) rude by being there and I’m rude for leaving to collect myself.
“Also, in my mind, anyone who refuses to let me leave when I need to has agreed to the terms and conditions of me potentially being an emotional wreck and/or asshole for the duration of the time I spend with them.”
This a hundred times. I am an introvert and always have been, whereas my mother is an extrovert and one of those people who will talk incessantly at you for hours and say nothing of any interest to anyone besides herself. When I was younger, she’d drag me along to lunch ‘dates’ with her similarly extrovert friends, and would always get angry at me when I would sit there silently because I no longer had the energy to deal with small talk, and if I got up and went out to sit in the car (which I sometimes did because I couldn’t cope with being talked at anymore), she’d spend the next day telling me how rude I had been. I didn’t want to be there, and my mother’s friend didn’t want to be there, so in my view, my mother was the one who was rude by forcing me to attend in the first place.
As an adult, I still have very little energy for social interactions, even ones with people I like (I am much better at dealing with small groups of people I know well than with large groups where I might only know one or two people there). Most of my close friends understand that if I say I need to be left alone, it means I need to be left alone, but every now and then I get one who will keep bombarding me with calls and messages and then get angry when I don’t respond.
Sorry to have possibly gone a bit off-topic. The tl;dr is that I definitely understand where the LW is coming from. Sometimes getting out of a stressful situation to look after yourself is the best thing for all involved. Your health and well-being are more important than someone else’s potential hurt feelings.
Sorry, that should have been “my mother’s friend didn’t want ME to be there”.
LW, you mention spoons. Is your Dad aware of the spoon theory? If not, and assumimg he’s a well-intentioned guy, teaching him about it could really be helpful. It would allow you to explain in terms of “I had just barely enough spoons for our original plans. Changes in plan require more spoons. Adding people I don’t know requires more spoons. Making phone calls uses spoons. By adding people at the last minute and askIng me to make the phone call, you turned an event I had just enough spoons for (and was looking forward to) into an event I didn’t have the resources to handle.”
It also lets you more easily communicate when in the middle of situations. I found it worked really well with my mom to say, “You just asked me to do X and Y. I have spoons for one but not both, so please choose.” Of course, my mom was an entirely reasonable person, and she used the spoons metaphor herself when she was dying from ALS. I was never so glad I had taken the time to teach it to her as I was the day she said, “I love you, and this may be the last time I see you, but the more noise there is, the faster I use spoons. Sit there and hold my hand and love me quietly.” It was, actually, the last time I saw her, and the spoon theory let us spend a lovely two silent hours together, where if I had tried to talk to her, I probably would have had to go after 15 minutes.
If spoons run your life, teaching the people who love you about them can make a huge difference.
That’s a beautiful story. I’m very sorry about the loss of your mother, but very glad you have such a special memory of the last time you were able to spend with her. Jedi hugs if you would like them.
It’s a really wonderful metaphor, and one that I’ve found is effective and easily understood. I am also having Very Not Dry Eyes after reading that beautiful anecdote about your mother. Seconding the offer of Jedi Hugs.
Personally, I think that dealing gracefully with minor changes in plans and being able to mingle with new people are essential skills that HAVE to make it into everyone’s repertoire of behavior in order for them to function well in our society. I totally get that that’s difficult: I’m a major introvert with a bunch of anxiety myself. It sounds like LW already had some anxiety about the dinner going into it. I know it’s really hard to combat irrational anxieties in the moment, so while I think that in general, one should be able to make it through an awkward dinner or a dinner that’s just not going as planned, I know that might not have been an option this time. I think it would be worth it for the LW to see a therapist to figure out how to deal with stuff like this.
” I think that dealing gracefully with minor changes in plans and being able to mingle with new people are essential skills that HAVE to make it into everyone’s repertoire of behavior in order for them to function well in our society.” This is exactly what I think too.
Not to shame the letter writer, I have been in this situation when an unexpected person was at dinner (an ex) and I left before they took the order. Ho boy did I get a lot of pushback from my friend group. Expect that I had TOLD them beforehand that I wouldn’t got to dinner if he was there, but everyone seemed to think that my feeling of intense discomfort were less important than everyone else’s momentary awkwardness. So yes, in some situations, including the one the letter writer wrote in about, I do think leaving is the best self care plan. But I have worked to make it the exception by employing a lot of the captains advice.
I agree that they are essential skills. Things in life just don’t go as planned all the time, and how you choose to handle things makes a huge difference (for yourself, if no one else).
And like all skills, you have to practice them to get better. I’m not saying that the LW should have practiced them right then and there, but maybe next time she could plan on meeting with the whole group in a more controlled setting (somewhere closer to her that she actually wants to go to for a set period of time), understanding that it could be awkward but that she is mentally prepared and can do it. She will certainly not improve without practice. Of course another question is, does she even want to develop these skills? If not, that is her choice too.
I worked with a life coach who helped me with this kind of stuff. Her motto was, “it’s not what happens to me, it’s how I handle it.” It helped me reclaim my power in these situations, and I react far better now to just about anything that comes my way because I choose to handle it with patience and grace (you can choose your own virtues).
Your whole comment is just… it’s gross, like you’re talking about a toddler who got stroppy because she didn’t want to share her toys.
This is the cherry on the fail sundae though:
. I worked with a life coach who helped me with this kind of stuff. Her motto was, “it’s not what happens to me, it’s how I handle it.” It helped me reclaim my power in these situations, and I react far better now to just about anything that comes my way because I choose to handle it with patience and grace (you can choose your own virtues).
Well bless your heart.
The thing is, and I’m really trying to be restrained here because I’m at boiling point, but you reek of condescension and superiority with your patter about ~developing skills~ and ~mental preparation~, but guess what? Psycho!ogical issues are not choices, they’re not something than can be life-coached away, and it’s not selfish, or rude, or inconsiderate to suffer from jerkbrain, and it really is suffering.
UlAn example – I’m severely physically disabled, as in, completely dependent on others for my care. I can’t walk, can’t sit up unassisted, and the medication I need to manage my pain is more typically associated with terminal illnesses. This all developed in the last few years. I’ve also suffered from depression and social anxiety for thirty years (about seven years old), and PTSD for about 15 years. I can no longer choose the “virtue” (omglol) of properly functioning neurotransmitters, than I can choose to dance the WTFoxtrot, or become heterosexual (not that I’d want to)
You know what? If an Awkward Angel appeared in this room and said “Hiya Box! I’ve got a once in a lifetime deal for you. I can magic away either your physical illness and disabilities <Inor make all of the jerkbrain bullshit vanish forever girl! Whaddya want?”. The words “JERKBRAIN JERKBRAIN JERKBRAIN!” would be automatic. I’m not kidding.
I would stay in this fucking room for the rest of my life, happily, if I could be rid of the mental torture forever. Seriously. To never ever have to spend another minute enduring the constant second guessing, the internal commentary and chorus of my mind ripping itself to shreds as it overanalyses every millisecond of my interactions and decisions. I can get hung up on “events” that give me horrific guilt, and makes me fear I’ve terribly hurt someone I love. I say “events” because theyre typically one irrelevant word or gesture that the other party did not even notice. That you appear to think that anyone chooses this crap? That you’re so mentally overloaded and overwhelmed that a sudden change of plans can cause a meltdown or a shutdown, who would bloody well choose that?
The LW doesn’t need to be castigated and belittled, because I guarantee that the anxiety has been playing that on a loop since it happened. She knows life isn’t predictable, she knows that unexpected Shit happens because, again, she’s not a toddler. She, like every other human, deals with the real world and it’s curve balls every day,she’s not huddled in a corner because her bus was late, or having a screaming fit because the supermarket is out of Valencia oranges.
She wrote because an event that should have been relaxing and mutually enjoyable was tweaked, and altered until it morphed into something that felt forced and unnatural. Right then, at that moment, it was too much, so she excused herself. From some of the comments in here you’d think she has flipped a table. She wanted advice on how to explain all of this in the future, and to assert her wishes for relaxing time with her Dad so they can build a closer bond, she’s not demanding a solid gold pony and the right to control every social interaction ever.
It’s great that you can handle things with greater patience and grace now. Just please understand that this option isn’t available to everyone at all times. Life coaches can’t teach people to will away their own mental illnesses.
For the most part, I agree with what you’re saying. I do think those are important skills. But another skill that I think gets really undersold in our society is being able to understand and work with people with different abilities and needs. So yeah, it would probably be good for the LW to be able to handle this “better” in the future. It would *also* be good for our society in general if people could hear someone say “the thing you did ate up my resources and made me stressed and unhappy” and respond with “good to know, I’ll try not to put you in that situation in the future (and if I do, I’d appreciate it if you could handle it like so…)” rather than “I am disappointed” which has an implied “…that you don’t have the same abilities as me.”
I’m not trying to contradict you, I think you make good points. I just want to emphasize that while the LW could get better, society could also get better, and clarify that these are skills that the LW may want to cultivate, but mostly to make their own life easier, not just because they owe it to everyone else to be the most fluttery social butterfly.
LW, I would’ve reacted pretty much exactly the same as you. I totally agree with the captain’s suggestion to let your dad know that since you don’t see him often, you’d like at least some alone time together when he visits. You could also add if you want that you need time to mentally prepare yourself to meet new people, especially new relatives from his partners family where you need to be in polite family mode and can’t leave easily. Let him know that the change of plans was very hard on you and next time you’d like more notice of dinner guests. None of that is rude or unreasonable.
I so feel you on this, LW. I recently attended a party (graduation for a friend) where my least favorite ex, the one I have successfully avoided in this not very large city for several years now, showed up. It was pretty unexpected, but not really weird as they’re kind of friends, more so than most of my other close friends are with him. I found after about half an hour that I couldn’t tolerate staying in the same room as him, even if he didn’t attempt to make conversation after saying hello and offering me a hug (which thankfully he did not give me a hard time for declining). I was having bad physical anxiety symptoms and was barely keeping it together. This was actually a big surprise to me since I thought that if I saw him but didn’t have to talk to him, things would probably be fine. It’s easy to overestimate one’s coping ability, for introverts in awkward situations.
I had stayed long enough at that point not to raise a lot of questions if I left – my friend hasn’t mentioned it – but had it happened sooner I might well have bailed at a really early point and had to answer questions about why. I am lucky that my friend would understand if it came up, it sounds like your dad wasn’t as understanding, but I suspect with CA’s help you’ll be able to communicate and establish a new understanding with him. I hope so!
Wow, you guys are all so honest! I would 100% have blamed a migrane/period pains/sudden diarrhoea (BONUS: no one will think you’re making that one up.)
I sit on a throne of lies, don’t I?
I would have, also- but something super useful a therapist reminded me once comes to mind. Anxiety is in fact a physical condition. When you’re having it, you’re not feeling well. If it helps to couch it in those terms, LW, you should do so!
(Hello, fellow Cate.)
I think (correct me if I am wrong) that it was on this very blog that CA noted that telling the unvarnished truth when offering a reason you did something or cannot do something is reserved for the people who will respect you for telling the truth and not punish you for your honesty by using your truthful excuse or reason as the opening salvo in a negotiation they intend to use to get their way regardless of your excuse or reason.
All others get a polite social lie.
This is a particularly handy tip for dealing with bullies, narcissists, and just plain mean people. I no longer beat myself up for not being scrupulously honest when I tell a polite social lie or make my excuses not to be alone one-on-one with specific toxic people in my life, who should have been denied the courtesy of blunt truth decades ago, but who I let stomp all over me and punish me for being honest and straightforward by throwing tantrums and being punitive and cruel and vindictive when they didn’t get their way.
I have been avoiding spending time alone with my narcissist mother, because she has ramped up her narcissistic behavior and sabotage to new heights lately and I lack the spoons and free time to deal with this crap. My brother and his family were in town and wanted to do lunch. I arrived at my mother’s only to find a traffic jam had delayed my brother by about an hour and a half. My mother was already making the traffic jam all about how inconvenienced she was and how hurt her feelings were that they didn’t want to come to her house and eat PB&Js out by the tiny cement condo pool in 100 degrees Fahrenheit plus weather after being on the beach and then stuck in a car in traffic for over an hour and a half with two little kids. I saw that the next hour (or longer, if the traffic jam got worse) was going to be miserable and all about my mother complaining and making everything about herself, so I invented a concern about leaving the back door unlocked and went home, where I luxuriated with a cold drink and solitude until my brother called me from the restaurant. Then I met them there at the restaurant, had a nice meal while seated fart away from my mother (who picked at everyone else, complained, expressed how hurt her feelings were, tried guilt-tripping and offering unsolicited inappropriate advice, and talked about herself at length), and I left from there. At no time was I alone with my abusive narcissist mother. IT WAS GREAT and my day was not ruined.
Gold star to Captain Awkward and crew.
Both Cates above are correct, IMVHO, in that it is OK to judge whether or not someone will honor your honesty and tailor your response to them accordingly, and it is also actually truthful to say you are unwell and need to be excused if your anxiety / depression / autism or whatever the heck is going on is giving you a bad time for whatever reason. (It is also OK is you just feel like saying NOPE and don’t want to dig into WHY you are feeling NOPE at the time.) You don’t get any Brownie Points for being a martyr for even the best possible reasons, or hurting yourself by enduring a situation that is triggering or excessively uncomfortable, or using up your spoons faster than you can collect more spoons. (Or, if we ARE supposed to be getting Brownie Points for these kinds of self-defeating things, I note that I have never received any and therefore I would like to register a complaint with management, please.)
I think this is frankly an excellent immediate escape route (or “an unexpected cat allergen and now I can’t breathe!! GAAAH!” — actually a thing that does happen, alas.) Afterward I’d still probably want to bring up the whole issue with the dad again, like, HEY, please give me many days warning before inviting new people I don’t know to our family time, THANKS.
Social lies are sometimes necessary, particularly if you are spending time with folks who won’t respect your boundaries without them.
It was inconsiderate of your dad to spring new people on you at the last minute, after you’d already agreed to go. It’s hard to know his reasons for doing that. It might have been a legit childcare/scheduling issue that came up so they had to bring the kids along, or he might have been trying to get you to meet them in a sneaky way.
That said, the kids are your dad’s family now. You don’t have to love them, but if you want a relationship with someone, that means at least respecting the people they love. Sometimes that means enduring awkwardness or being in uncomfortable situations.
I’m a socially anxious introvert too, so I get that it’s not easy or pleasant. Your dad should respect that it’s hard for you, and it’s good to have boundaries around how and when you’ll see his new family, but just not getting to know them better is probably not an option.
Thing is, not getting to know them better might be an option, and it’s an option worth exploring. I’m confused by all the folks here who think that “but faaaaamily” applies somehow to this situation, whereas usually this site is pretty big into relationships not being transitive. The LW can respect the people he loves from a distance, by not trash-talking them or trying to prevent him from seeing them or whatever, but that doesn’t mean LW has to hang out.
If we were talking about the partner’s minor kid, I think I’d feel somewhat differently about this, and I’ve seen several comments refer to the partner as the kid’s mom. I think it’s important to remember that the partner is the kid’s grandma. So unless she has custody of her granddaughter or some such, it is probably not very hard to schedule visits with the families separately.
Before I was born, my biological grandfather died and my grandma remarried to the guy who was my actual grandpa, who was himself a widower with this whole other grown family. He became part of our family for sure, and I also got a great-grandma out of the deal, but his kid wasn’t interested in a relationship with my grandma’s kids. (I actually have no idea to what extent his adult kid made a relationship with my grandma). I never really asked why. I did meet his daughter and her family a couple times, at occasions like his 80th birthday party, but we didn’t hang out or get to know each other. I made awkward, stilted conversation, and they made awkward stilted conversation, and then we all fled back to the parts of the party that we actually knew, and so far as I know nobody made a big deal about this.
So – never, ever, ever see these step-relatives might not be a likely option (assuming LW decides that’s a valid price of admission to relationship with dad and partner), but that doesn’t necessarily involve moving past the stage of relationship they’re at now. The dad doesn’t to pick who LW hangs out with. LW does.
Yeah, I was quite surprised by the several “the teenager is partner’s daughter and thus will be totally intertwined with LW’s father’s life from now on” comments. As the granddaughter of partner, she’s probably (although that doesn’t have to be the case!) much more removed from her grandmother’s relationships than if she were her daughter and while LW could certainly try to invest in a relationship with her if she wants to, she absolutely doesn’t have to. Heck, she doesn’t even have to pretend she cares at all about that granddaughter. I don’t even particularly care about my father and I’ve met the girlfriend he’s been with for four years now exactly once (his 50th birthday party) and I do not feel at all like changing that. I mean, I’m actually estranged from my father and don’t even see him very often but even without that situation, I just don’t feel like getting to know his girlfriend, even if what I hear about her makes her seem like a very lovely person.
I don’t know. If someone I was close to told me they never wanted to be around my family, I’d be hurt, and I’d want to know why. I’d probably end up spending less time with them, because that constraint would make it logistically harder to see them, and because they’re the one forcing me to choose between them and someone else. It’s not ‘but faaaaamily.’ I don’t think LW needs to love the granddaughter. She just needs to be polite and not act like it’s a huge imposition to be around her.
But in this case it was an imposition. LW’s father invited more people after LW agreed to come.
This is you. It is not universally true.
As someone with a step grand parent, I second this completely. My bio grand father is sort of an ass who divorced my grandmother long before I was born. Step-grand dad was the best granddad one could ever hope for. He was older than my grandmother, and so his grand kids kids were by and large older than me + my cousins. I knew 2 of his grand kids (whom I called step-cousins, despite calling step-granddad my family’s affectionate name for grandfather) reasonably well, and had basically zero relationship with the other 6 of them. Prior to his funeral, I had only met one of his kids once (incidentally, she was not the mom of the 2 of my step cousins I knew reasonably well. But they were adults and got to make their own choices!) and had never met the other three. The two grand kids I knew well had similar interests to me and lived in the same city as young adult me for a while, so all of that socializing got to be adults deciding to hang out together, rather than adults thrown together because they are “family.”
Having been the random teenaged step cousin, I was never offended by the fact that sometimes, his kids or grandkids were visiting and didn’t want a gaggle of teenagers hanging around. It was 100% understandable. We (my branch of the family) never took offense. Just because my grandmother was considered part of their family didn’t mean they had to extend that to me. They barely knew me! Likewise, just because step-grand dad was my granddad did not make them my family, not even over the 30+ year marriage of my grandparents.
Interestingly, the one time that ALL grandkids (his bio-grandkids and my cousins) really felt like 1 family was at his funeral. We had all lost our grandfather–my grief was no less than his bio-grandkids just because I didn’t share his DNA. He was my grandpa. He was also their grandpa. And while there was awkwardness between the generation up (the step-sibling generation–they were all adults when the grandparents married), my generation had a great time swapping stories and realizing how much we had in common. It was really lovely, actually.
On the other extreme, my bio-grand father is married to a totally nice woman. They married when I was a teen. I have had pleasant conversations with her–generally more pleasant than I have with my bio-grandfather. I actually do not know IF SHE EVEN HAS FAMILY. I’m like 90% sure she has no kids, but not 100% sure. I have no knowledge of siblings or other family–not just no relationship, a lack of knowledge of the possibility of one…
All this is to say that you’re not necessarily stuck having your dad’s partner’s family be your family. You may decide that you like some of them, and may decide to get to know them better. You may decide that 10 years down the road when grandkids are adults. But it’s also not at all weird to never have a relationship with them. Blended families are highly idiosyncratic–there are many, many ways to have it work.
The kids are father’s partner’s granddaughter, and father’s partner’s granddaughter’s friend.
Why assume that they’re now an intimate part of father’s life?
LW, I think the Captain’s scripts are very good, and I sympathize with your feelings of discomfort. It’s not completely clear from your letter however whether you are open to a relationship with your father’s SO’s family. If you are not open at all, of course you are not obligated to do so, but from personal experience I will say that closing that off and being unwilling to get to know them could very well create a situation where you will end up seeing significantly less of your father and none of your father’s SO.
My father is lovely, but his second wife is uncomfortable with my family, and his daughter is not interested in a relationship with us. That is fine. But it also does mean that when she is in town, I do not see my father at all, period. He does not come to visit with my children, etc. There is no resentment here, it is just the way that things are. If his other daughter lived here all the time, my family would rarely see him. That would be sad all around, but when someone is simply not interested in even trying to get to know the other members of the family, it puts my father in the position of having to choose, and he will choose the younger/the more present/the ones that are most likely to be harmed. In your case, that would be SO and SO’s children (SO being closer, SO’s children being younger and more vulnerable to rejection). Plus if his other adult children are comfortable with his SO’s children, there is even less impetus to create family events that exclude SO’s children.
Likewise, if my SO’s adult children were not interested in tolerating my children’s presence, I would not, of course, prevent my SO from seeing his adult children or in any way guilt him into not seeing his children, but I would have no interest then in getting to know his children either, or hanging out with them even one-on-one. This is not a case of needing my children to go everywhere with me or be with me or be loved by everyone, but I could not help but think that my SO’s adult children are someone I can easily do without in my life. I would keep my opinions to myself, but I would be done with them. Again, there is no need for those children to be my children’s friends or mentors or family, but not be willing to be in their presence, have no interest at all in getting to know them, actively rejecting being in their presence – these are all things that I could not help but take personally.
This does not mean that what your dad did was all right (although in fairness, it is absolutely something that I would have done). It is absolutely proper for you to have a conversation with your dad about expectations. I’m just saying that if the expectation is going to be “Dad, I love you, I really like your SO, but I don’t ever want to be around SO’s family or have anything to do with them” then, no matter how gently that is expressed, I do not think that will go over well.
The child in question was the SO’s granddaughter, not her daughter. I think that does make a difference here since (unless SO has custody of the granddaughter), even if the SO is super involved in the granddaughter’s life, there’s a whole added level of separation from grandchildren compared to with children.
LW, I am feeling very optimistic that things will work out. You are being very thoughtful by reaching out here, and Captain and others have shared great ideas for moving forward. I hope in writing this to share my optimism with you to make the execution of the next steps in the script less nerve-wracking!
As for the above threads about introversion… Introversion as I understood it used to mean something like “paying attention to the inner life more than the outer life” or “deriving pleasure from solitude and/or intimate conversations rather than crowds, parties, and small talk.” In the past several years I hear of introversion as a personality type that is determined by “energy levels.” Namely, that introverts lose energy around people and gain energy when alone, while extroverts gain energy around people and lose it when alone. This frustrates me because I used to feel that introversion was an apt identifier for my personality type, but now it’s supposed to be based on whether or not I’m proverbially fainting with exhaustion after hanging out with people?? I simply do not conceive of my life in this way. I certainly PREFER to spend time alone on weekends and the like, but I’m great at making momentary friends with strangers in part because they are just fleeting relationships at bus stops/in the checkout line. Since I neither gain nor lose energy around people or alone I am supposed to call myself an “ambivert.” Yeck.
Wanna know what gives me energy? Food. I really do not get how humans give or take away energy from a person unless it’s a particularly emotional interaction (or a particularly emotional lack of interaction), and it’s frustrating to me to have this notion of personality center this evasive notion of energy.
This switch in definition of introversion is extremely disappointing to me, as someone who simply does not conceive of my solitary or social lives in terms of energy levels but rather in terms of preferences. I used to feel that introvert was a good thing to describe my experiences and preferences. Now it’s all about “energy.” And my and fellow introverts supposed weakness and exhaustion at minimal human contact. It’s consternating and the definition at times seems to me even to be condescending. Blegh.
Why the change in meaning? Spoon theory is so important–but I feel in this instance it applies more to LW’s social anxiety than to her personality type.
I dunno. This binary of introversion/extroversion makes me inexplicably sad and indignant.
I totally agree with this. I am an introvert in that 99% of the time I will choose to do things alone or with my partner only, but I don’t melt down if plans change and I have to be social for a night. I also don’t feel that spoon theory is applicable to introversion because it’s a preference, not a disability. I don’t think that makes me not-an-introvert, but I guess under the new definition it is? Which is honestly pretty frustrating because introversion used to be such a useful term, a way to describe the kind of activities I prefer without necessarily attaching it to social anxiety. Not that I don’t have sympathy for people who DO have social anxiety, far from it! But they really aren’t the same thing and I’m tired of seeing something that’s a benign personality trait treated like it’s a disorder. That doesn’t help anyone.
As for why the change in meaning, perhaps it has to do with people not wanting to admit they have a psychiatric disorder. Which I can completely understand, I don’t like talking about my “thing” (ADHD) to ANYONE. But sometimes you have to face up to reality.
While I agree that perhaps people appropriate spoon theory to apply to introversion when (at least as I understand it) it originally had to do with disability and not personal preferences of human interaction or lack thereof, I disagree with your musing that the change in meaning “perhaps has to do with people not wanting to admit they have a psychiatric disorder.” I don’t think that’s a fair comment–it’s a form of armchair diagnosis, for one, and it seems to deny people the agency of their opinions and experience. Your final sentence is condescending, too, and I don’t abide by that.
As for the rest of your comment: “introversion used to be such a useful term, a way to describe the kind of activities I prefer”–Yes. I am sad that these types are now so hegemonically about energy levels. It baffles me since despite firmly believing that I fit most definitions of an introvert, I do NOT experience my life in terms of deficits of energy that constantly need to be refilled. That emphasis really grates on me, since it seems to center weakness or helplessness in ways that are disconcerting and disempowering and stigmatizing. I mean, I am very sensitive and all, but I simply don’t think of my personality in terms of energy deficits, nor do I ever want to. I certainly can think of my health in terms of energy deficits–but yeah, introversion is supposed to be a personality type, not a health disorder.
Sorry, didn’t mean to be condescending. 😦
I agree, because I’m BOTH a bit introverted AND disabled with ADHD in a way that actually does mean I run out of energy by talking to people. My attention disorder means that I have to focus a lot to hear properly what people are saying, and the impulse control part of it means that I also have to consciously focus on not being impulsive. So when I talk to people I have to be concentrating to remember what they just said, separate different sounds from each other, catch up to my brain’s lagging, stop myself from answering impulsively, check my hands and body for fidgeting and so on – this genuinely is exhausting, like taking a difficult test or playing a difficult level of Tetris or Fruit Ninja.
Being mentally exhausted by this effort is NOT AT ALL like my introvert desire to read a nice book or not make small talk right now. If I’m not exhausted but just feel like doing something more introverted, I just have to shift gears into doing something that isn’t as fun as what I want to be doing, and that’s completely okay. I would be annoyed and tired if I had to be outgoing all the time, though, because I would never get to do my favourite activities, and pushing yourself can be exhausting if you do it for a long time.
But being low on spoons isn’t the same feeling as really not wanting to. It means “I literally can’t”. It feels like trying to take a very hard, very important math test while having the flu. I ACTUALLY CAN’T make my brain go fast enough to keep up, and I’ll be totally, completely wiped out after a while, mentally and physically. This is a disability. There is no “cope” left in my body.
I think some people possibly don’t realise that that level of exhaustion isn’t normal introversion. Having an anxiety disorder, like social anxiety, isn’t a personality trait. Anxiety disorders absolutely can make people extremely tired. I have bad executive functions all the time because I have ADHD, but anxiety disorders use up people’s executive functions by spending their concentration power on the anxiety disorder. You get mental fatigue from that as well, because it’s objectively exhausting for EVERYBODY to concentrate hard for a long time – your energy WILL be sapped. So if you have a social anxiety disorder that means you spend a lot of executive power on worrying, trying to micromanage your behaviour, managing your face to not show that you’re very stressed out, handling your extreme stress level while making small talk and so on – this is exhausting too. And I think some people attribute this to their personality. But your personality, your “normal” state, should feel okay and comfortable. If you’re this uncomfortable, you have a legit disorder. It’s not “you”, it’s a severe stress reaction.
I wish I’d known about social anxiety earlier, because I used to experience this as well, and I really thought it was “me”. I must be very introverted, possibly autistic. But I wasn’t. I was out of practice because I’d avoided the social situations that made me so tired and confused (because I couldn’t pay attention, not because I had a disability of social understanding), I had an attention disorder, and I’d handled the attention disorder by developing an anxiety disorder and a phobia of social situations (because I never knew what was going on or why I couldn’t just do what I was supposed to, and that’s very anxiety-inducing). When my anxiety disorder was treated, I started to practice being social a bit more because it didn’t give me such a huge and uncomfortable stress reaction (and what do you know, practice makes perfect), and when I got a reasonably good medication for the attention problem, I didn’t have to concentrate so hard all the time, so I get tired a little less quickly! It’s actually fun to be outgoing when it doesn’t feel like torture! And my personality is still there, I still often choose my books or being alone in the woods with no one but mother nature, but it’s my PREFERENCE, not my disability.
But when I thought it was only my personality, there was nothing I could do about it. It was more like “it’s my fate to be extremely uncomfortable forever”, and I didn’t look forward to that future at all.
+1000 to your first paragraph. Before I knew what was actually going on with me, I felt extremely broken, couldn’t even explain why I felt so wiped out after parties or movies or whatnot. I remember doing the whole CBT thing with a therapist and just feeling like “this is not applicable to my situation at all, I don’t feel like people are judging me, I’m not scared of people” and trying in a clumsy way to explain my shitty executive function (a term I had never heard before). The thing is, my ADHD did *present* as social anxiety, because I purposefully avoided people so I didn’t have to deal with following conversations or policing my behavior. Which then spiraled into actual anxiety, because like you said, I was really out of practice and even if I wasn’t scared of people, I was scared of the crash that would happen after a day of intense focusing. It’s funny, one of the symptoms of social anxiety is the fear that you’re not making any sense in conversations with people or saying stupid things, but part of my problem is that I WAS saying stupid things and not realizing it until way later when I could think over the situation at my own pace.
Anyway, I wish I could have figured this shit out on my own, but it took Ritalin to tease out my true personality from that imposed by the executive function problems. I’m still an introvert, but it’s because I want to be. Even though I’ve been off the pills for a while, the anxiety hasn’t really come back, because now I can identify exactly WHY I have a lot of trouble in social situations instead of thinking “this is just the way it is, everything sucks, life is pain.” (Although I kind of want to go back on, because even with total knowledge, shit’s still harder than it has to be and I’m starting to get the “crashes” again.)
TLDR: If just going through the motions of life makes you have to count spoons, then investigate that maybe, your life shouldn’t have to be that way.
I’m really glad to see this comment because I remember reading about the first definition of introversion you offer about ten years ago and thought that really fit me and subsequently thought of myself as an introvert – without ever really thinking about it at all as it’s something that doesn’t really come up in my real life.
But then I saw your second definition here and on other sites just a few years ago and have been confused ever since.
I don’t feel like going out most of the time and enjoy my solitude, but I absolutely don’t get exhausted or drained by social interactions (I don’t derive energy from them either, I guess I’m just neutral?). I understand that that’s what apparently happens to many people so I think it’s cool there’s a way for them to describe that, but if that way is “introverted”, then I guess I can’t use that expression for myself anymore as I’m not someone who functions much in the ways of energies at all (beyond “energies” in the way of food or physical exercise like you’re describing).
I don’t really know where I’m going with this comment but I want to thank you for bringing this up and explaining it so clearly since I never understood how I’d been calling myself an introvert for so long when the apparently newer definition wasn’t what I meant at all and this comment is making me see all this much more clearly!
I’m going to try to explain the ‘energy’ thing. Have you ever been in a situation you find demanding? Is it harder to be at work than it is to be at home? If you spend too long working without time to recharge, will you lose your temper and start to make mistakes? Conversely, do you have activities that restore your ability to deal with things, like if you spend an hour reading quietly, are you more ready to take on a challenge than if you’d spent an hour arguing with someone?
That’s what it’s like. I like people, I like talking to people, and I even like groups or parties, but it’s not something I can do indefinitely. If I plan a weekend that’s nothing but interactions with strangers, I’m going to be exhausted and no fun to be around. I have to plan for it. So if I need to go out to dinner Saturday night to see family, I need to make sure to have some quiet time before and after that. I can’t go from study group to dance class to dinner to party.
My extrovert bros can. Being in large groups makes them feel calm and happy. It’s not a challenge for them like it is for me. It doesn’t feel like work. So it gives them something instead of taking something away.
I can reach my limits on alone time and need interaction, and extroverts can reach their limits on people time and need solitude, but I need more solitude than most people in order to be happy and function.
In my comment I was talking about my frustration with such a notion that you summarize above, a frustration that a more positive experience of my personality had to be redefined in a way which is negative, in which energy deficits are centered rather than positive personality preferences.
I actually do *know* the definition, as it stands, for introversion. See my comment in which I use the phrase “energy levels.” Your changing the terms to “exhaustion” or calmness or functioning does not change my frustration with such a definition. I am not misunderstanding that definition, nor in need of an explanation. EVERY TIME I bring up my frustrations with the definition as it stands, people explain it to me (as you did well-meaningly but predictably above) as though I am unaware of the definition. I am perfectly aware of what people mean when they define introversion in terms of energy/exhaustion/recharging/self care. My frustration is valid and does not arise from ignorance. The more people define the new introversion AT me will not change my dislike of the definition, which I understood well before people tried to tell it to me over and over again.
I am frustrated that my life experiences and preferences have been co-opted and redefined in terms of the negative experiences of feeling a loss of energy and needing to “recharge.” Such a definition centers my frustration and moments of weakness (if something is “demanding” it usually weakens you), not my values of solitude, reflection, or exquisite contemplation.
That is really frustrating to me. And the preciousness so many of my fellow introverts demonstrate about this and their need to recharge is frustrating, too, because I feel that in order to live my life identifying as an introvert I am compelled to defend myself by documenting my “exhaustion” publicly. Eff that.
That is actually the reason I now refrain from referring to myself as anything regarding introversion/extroversion (in English; my own language means the “old” definition when the terms are used). Which, as I said in another comment, is a shame, as the old definition resonated very much with me, but all these different understandings and definitions and meanings started to confuse me so I just forego using them entirely. 😦
moseyonby, you specifically said “I really do not get how humans give or take away energy from a person unless it’s a particularly emotional interaction (or a particularly emotional lack of interaction)”, so Twitchy tried to explain it. You don’t have to jive with the “energy levels” definition of introversion: a lot of people do very strongly.
I personally think the extrovert/introvert thing has become a bit weird on the internet (for what it’s worth I think I’m probably extroverted but with social anxiety, something that’s not commonly acknowledged in these definitions) but that doesn’t mean that definitions that other people like are innately bad.
I understood moseyonby’s “I really do not get” as “I don’t personally experience it so I don’t understand it like I understand something that I do personally experience”, not as “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about”. I feel the same re: this topic but also many others. I don’t understand what it feels like/how it happens that by virtue of being around someone you lose or gain energy as I’ve never experienced something like this myself but I can on a theoretical level understand what people mean when they say this; and I think moseyonby is the same.
(To use a very simple analogy, I don’t like the taste of cucumbers, so I can’t understand how on earth someone would say “Oh man, I love cucumbers!”. That doesn’t mean that I don’t understand what they mean when they say they love cucumbers, I just don’t live this particular thing myself.)
You said you didn’t understand the energy thing. I took that to mean you didn’t know what it meant. If I’d known you just meant that you didn’t like it, I would have ignored your comment.
For what is worth, I found your explanation very helpful. I didn’t understand why I grow so restless/sad whenever I spend too much time by myself, but if a social situation is more demanding for an introverted person, then it makes sense than an excess of alone-time is more demanding for an extroverted person, right? So thank you for putting it in words 🙂
I’m sorry! I just looked at my phrasing again. I understand why you would think that.
I think fewer people who are introverted would feel the need to “publically document their exhaustion” if the world was better about respecting boundaries and preferences. Most of the time I only experience exhaustion or energy depletion when I am in a situation where it’s difficult for me to set boundaries around the amount or type of social interaction I have (like work). I know a lot of introverts who spend a lot of time running at about 1/4 of a tank because they feel obligated to be as social as they possibly can (for a variety of reasons.)
How have your life experiences and preferences been co-opted just because a word’s meaning has shifted? Nobody’s taking your memories away, copying your culture or aesthetics, or forcing you to redefine your life.
English is a very fluid language, words morph, meanings cyouswitch to their former opposites, new concepts can be expressed in old words, but nobody says “Well sorry Mosey, that book you loved as a nineteen year old? Sorry, but you have to hate it now. That really terrible holiday in Greece, where a mix of too much retsina and dodgy gyros gave you the galloping liiquishits? That’s now the defining moment of your existence and, from now on, pine-scent will always make you smile”
Defining yourself in one word, rather than in your own terms, is like packing yourself into a shoebox. It’s cramped, it’s impractical, and how will anyone find you if the label falls off? My current incarnation is labeled with some words that are reclaimed from my oppressors. They are shocking to some, they’re banned in certain situations, but reclamationand ownership brings out a power that is personal as well as political. However, I am not those words. When those words are remoulded into something new, none of my experiences or beliefs will be altered by that. I’ll still be Box, who marched there, lived here, and loved hard. I’ll laugh with my friends, “Remember when $word meant $thing? OMG I feel old!”
You found a label that resonated with you, and you apparently invested a lot in it. Seeing the term used differently can grate, but people aren’t redefining you, or defining themselves at you, it’s not personal. Often word usage is defined by location. There are English words that have wildly disparate meanings depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on, or which housing estate you grew up on, or which dialect you speak at home. I’ll give an example – bullets. Ammunition, sweets (confectionery, not puddings, by which I mean desserts!), or tampons. ‘Kite’ is a flying thing, or your stomach, or to forge a cheque.
English just isn’t a static, prescriptive entity. That’s why it’s so interesting, but ‘gay’ doesn’t mean ‘happy’ now, ’embarrassed’ doesn’t mean ‘pregnant’, and “Getting up with the cock” is probably not something you should admit to in polite company!
“How have your life experiences and preferences been co-opted just because a word’s meaning has shifted?” It’s mainly because I see more and more people–especially a few people at work, especially a particular person–getting to claim this word as it becomes a fad. I feel that it’s been diluted and appropriated unfairly. I mention below that a coworker who is abrasively outgoing and loud and demonstrates the behaviors that used to be extroversion now can claim introversion based not on her behavior, which frankly is supported by a culture that values incessant outgoingness, but rather on her report of internal feelings.
It bothers me that in order to advocate for my personal style of interacting with other humans, I now have to claim a lack of energy rather than a set of values and preferences, when this colleague dominates conversations and meetings and loudly proclaims her introversion based on a notion that doesn’t resonate with me.
I totally get what you’re saying about language and its changes…. I guess what I’m trying to say is my experience, not just with this colleague at work but also with several friends and acquaintances, is that once it became cool to be an introvert a lot of people started claiming this notion while still constantly behaving in formerly-defined-as-extroverted ways (talkative, loud, partiers, interrupting out of exuberance in conversations, thinking out loud). So I guess what mainly annoys me is the… well, the appropriation of the term by people who I feel are painfully overpowering in social situations.
There is a gentler way than “don’t use that word. that’s my word.” to say this to someone close to you who is suffering, which is “<You're describing a lot of stuff as 'being an introvert' that seems too extreme for that label, which to me indicates a preference rather than a barrier. Since this is troubling you/preventing you from doing things you want to do/leaving you drained/interfering with your relationships/what have you, have you ever thought about getting screened for social anxiety?"
I don’t know if this is the kind of thing moseyonby meant, but something that has happened to me with the recent shift in introversion definitions has been friends of mine telling me I’m “just introverted” when I’m trying to explain symptoms of depression or anxiety to them (e.g., “I’m concerned about my mental health because lately I don’t want to leave the couch or shower” gets in return “you just need to recharge those introvert batteries!”). It’s a little frustrating to me because I know they mean well, and want to be accepting and supportive, but it’s a little disorienting and not a little isolating to hear.
I apologize if my last message sounds personal–it’s not meant to be; this is just a real sticking point for me. This whole deal really frustrates me… not the least in part because it is a frequent point of contention at my workplace, where a person I know who based on “old” definitions would CLEARLY be an extrovert (gregarious, overpoweringly so, inattentive, terrible listener, charming public speaker, loud, frequent interrupter), but who now, in the midst of a bit of a fad favoring introverts, can claim the introvert label because she “feels tired” after work. And claims this identity loudly in a group conversation in which I am the only one not talking despite multiple attempts to share my perspective. Grrrrrrr
This definition of introvert comes courtesy of Jung and the Myers/Briggs personality types. M/B use the “energy” gaining or losing as a way for people to distinguish themselves as extrovert or introvert and since this personality test was/is very popular this definition has taken over. Actually, I think Jung originally developed the extrovert/introvert concept but I’m not sure how he defined it. It is all fairly fringe psycology anyway as the personality types distinguished by most other psychologists don’t translate to Myers/Briggs.
I did the full Myers/Briggs test through work and found it somewhat useful. The energy thing resonates with me but is not the only aspect of being introverted that matters. Also, as I am now in the 3rd stage of life, the Shadow stage, my needs are supposed to change anyway.
Bur words change their meanings and that is something that cannot be stopped.
_Please Understand Me: Character & Temperament Types_, by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates has a good explanation of their definitions of introversion and extroversion. They are clear that they are using the words in specific ways, a clinical definition, and not the way the words are informally used in the language. They are also clear that there’s an I/E SCALE, that people can fall at one extreme or the other or anywhere in between, and that these personality traits can change over time for an individual.
_Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking_, by Susan Cain may be behind the “current fad favoring introverts” (if there is one-I haven’t noticed it), and she does use the word a bit differently.
Something to add on the difference/overlap between shyness, introversion, social anxiety– Sometimes it is possible for someone who feels uncomfortable or anxious in an unscripted situation to become more at ease in a scripted one. For myself, I generally don’t like being in large groups, and I often used to feel uncomfortable in small groups with strangers until I learned a handful of topics/questions to bring up. At first it seemed outrageous to have to memorize what to say, but it works for me. So when I’m put in a social setting with teenagers, I summon up: music, school, free time. I ask: What sort of music do you enjoy listening to. It doesn’t matter whether I get an enthusiastic response or if I’ve never heard of the group or groups brought up or if the subject doesn’t go anywhere. I can listen with (feigned) interest, say that I’ll keep an ear out for whatever is mentioned. Once it’s rehearsed for me, a lot of my discomfort goes away. It’s the same with cocktail chatter. I hate it! I never would have thought I could get through an evening of it, but I can (if I have to) with some memorized small talk topics: the last movie I enjoyed, the book I’m reading, how I know the host, my job.
I might be hopping on the derail train, but i’m with you on this. Coworker feels tired after work? Lot’s of people feel tired after work, if its an introvert sitting quietly doing paperwork or an extrovert running meetings. If I get tired after doing something I enjoy, like goimg to the beach, that doesn’t mean I’m more suited to hiking in the woods instead and that I’m a woods person instead of a beach person.
This. I always thought I was extroverted, because I had been taught that introvert=shy/uncomfortable talking to people. I am neither of those things. But I have always preferred small groups to large ones, and I have always needed alone time after too much human interaction. A friend finally pointed it out to me, saying, “You know how you need to take a walk by yourself or with one person after spending about 2 hours at a large party if you aren’t ready to go home? That’s an introvert thing.”
Yup – I’m an introvert who is not shy, is really good at carrying conversations even among strangers, and is usually very funny. People tend to conflate introversion with shyness, but the way I look at it is that being shy or not shy is a behavior whereas introversion/extroversion is a trait.
I know a lot of formerly shy people who “trained” their way out of being shy by practicing talking to people, taking communication classes, reading books about how to carry on conversations in different settings, etc.
So, I come across as pretty much at ease in social settings, BUT I have a very hard time being in large groups of strangers (concerts, large parties) unless I’m there in a professional capacity when I’m “on,” I hit my limit of being around people rather abruptly and have learned graceful ways to extricate myself from social settings and vanish, and while I love spending time with my small group of close friends, I feel tired and sick-ish when I don’t have enough alone time to recharge. If I spend too much time around people without solitude I will get physically sick.
Anyway, this is a way of thinking about it that has worked for me and helps me explain myself to people, so I’m sticking with it.
Me too. I like parties. I was recently was thrust into a cocktail part/political fundraiser all by myself,with my fancy dress, high heels, and a glass of champagne in my hand, and I knew literally nobody in the building. At all. I wound up chatting happily with a small group of people who I’d be glad to see again. My date and I (he was one of the organizers, and had to be elsewhere for the first 45 minutes; that’s why he wasn’t by my side) stayed later than almost everybody else and had a great time to the end.
But after that, oh boy do I need some down time. I am done after that. It takes spoons, though it’s enjoyable also–if that makes sense? If I never get down time (alone time) I can get perilously near the absolute end of my spoons. I did that chronically once, and it was nearly catastrophic. Clinical depression, suicidal ideation, really terrible self-destructive coping mechanisms, resurgence of eating disordered thought/behaviors, blah blah.
Anyway, though I don’t think I’m that similar to the LW in general, I can deeply sympathize with her being Out Of Spoons. It’s not a choice; you’re just out, and there’s nothing left with which to deal with things. LW, my sympathy on your difficult situation, and I hope you’ve found some of the excellent advice here to be useful.
Interesting! I look at shyness as also being a personality trait, but fully agree that it’s orthogonal to introversion. I’m a shy introvert who wants to have interesting experiences talking to new people sometimes, while my husband is a _really_ shy extrovert. We have a dynamic where I’m the one who wants to go to the party, and I’m also the one who can’t stand to be there one more second just when he’s really getting into it. His extroversion seems to overcome his shyness just about exactly the time that my introversion and shyness gang up on my energy level! (Fortunately we both understand where the other one’s coming from, so we don’t tend to hurt each other’s feelings over it.)
The rest of this isn’t related to above comment, nor necessarily to the LW’s situation, just some more thoughts I’d like to share because I’m enjoying different perspectives on this.
Some measure of shyness / anxiety around new people is _really really common_. People feel it, but we can’t see it. These things are on a spectrum. That means both that it’s easy for us introverts to underestimate how much extroverts really do feel these things, and it’s easy for extroverts to go, “No, I understand, I’m the same way,” even if they’re not. (Kinda like how people tell my husband with MS that they get really tired too.) Once I learned how common these feelings are even in extroverts, it helped me be more outgoing. I think I used to secretly resent the idea that I ever had to be the one to make the first move – I would think, why don’t all those people who find it so easy take the initiative? Now I give more credit to the thought that maybe it’s hard for them too. Ironically, sometimes as an introvert I have to be the one to get the social ball rolling, even if I’m surrounded by extroverts! Knowing this also helped because it lets me think about putting other people at ease, which distracts me from my own anxieties and makes me feel like I have something positive to offer.
Years back I read an internet thread on shyness on a forum devoted to something else entirely (quilting), and it really opened my eyes. I was genuinely astonished to find out that many people cope with shyness and social anxiety by becoming louder, more visibly extroverted, more jokey, etc, as overcompensation for what they really felt. Sometimes people who look like the happiest extroverts in the world really do have social anxiety or are introverts too! You have to know people pretty well to get a look at the full spectrum of what they feel. (I react to shyness by clamming up, and I always thought that was universal.)
Yes, this. I have social anxiety, and I’m an introvert. The introversion means that I have a great time at parties with small groups of people I trust and no surprises, but afterward I really need to be quiet and by myself or everything from my temper to my immune system will suffer. I just had a locals-only SCA event on Saturday followed by a church picnic on Sunday and then on Monday I had to get up very early to go talk to a bunch of strangers and busy people as part of my job. None of them is a problem–with a day of downtime afterward. I now have a cold. This does not surprise me.
The social anxiety means that if the SCA event had been bigger than just our shire or the church picnic had involved multiple congregations, I would’ve been a no-show.
I have been wanting for months to make a similar comment every time I have seen a discussion of introversion and energy levels. I have always considered myself an introvert, but by the current definition I’m some kind of weird not-a-vert.
@Lucy_k_p: Yeah. Me too. Lol “not-a-vert.” I like that.
I don’t think there has to be one sort of giant blanket definition; I figure that if you find a way to explain it to others that works for you then that is a good definition for you. I personally like the new-ish way that people are using it because being an introvert doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t like being around people or want to spend all your time holed up in your Cave of Solitude (although I wish I had one), it just means that you can’t do ALL the things with ALL the people ALL the time. The way I say it helps me get across the idea that while I’m not shy I’m not necessarily social.
Even people I love being around can make me exhausted.
Although yes x 100 to not-a-vert!
I think this is the thing that confuses me too–I don’t think too many people *can* do all the things with all the people all the time! I know two or three people who do have boundless energy for this type of thing, but it seems pretty rare. I think another part of my own personal confusion is that if introverts are less common than extroverts, the definition people are now using seems to encompass most people I know!
(also vertless, haha! My preference is for small groups, not crowds or being alone ;))
I’ve run across three major definitions of introvert/extrovert. The first was in terms of preference, the second in terms of energy. It’s actually been the third that I’ve found most useful — I first heard it from the priest who did the premarital counseling sessions for me and Mr. OtherBecky. (We’re Episcopalians, which meant that our priest at the time was actually married and was able to give some very practical advice.) His definition had to do with how people process thoughts and information: introverts do it most comfortably inside our own heads, and extroverts do best it by interacting with people.
This was a huge revelation for both of us. To him, it was like I was being secretive — I’d suddenly come out with fully-formed opinions about things, and part of him would wonder who I’d talked it over with, and why it hadn’t been him. To me, it was always jarring that he might not know how he felt about something, because he’s not a shallow person. It also had occasioned some annoyance: we’re trying to decide between A and B, and neither of us has a strong preference either way. We talk over pros of A and cons of B, and I say, “Great! Let’s go with A.” Then suddenly he wants to talk cons of A and pros of B, and I’m thinking “Well if you wanted B, why did you ask me to decide?” while he’s thinking “But we’ve only considered half the information, so how can we decide yet?”
I do think it’s a bit unfortunate that people seem stuck on the energy definition. Being introverted means different things to different introverts.
Edited to add: the “him” referenced in the second paragraph is Mr. OtherBecky, not our priest. Damned antecedents.
“His definition had to do with how people process thoughts and information: introverts do it most comfortably inside our own heads, and extroverts do best it by interacting with people”–fascinating! Actually pretty apt, too.
“I do think it’s a bit unfortunate that people seem stuck on the energy definition. Being introverted means different things to different introverts.” Yes, really I suppose this is what I’m going for. I was a bit strident above, but yeah–the ubiquity of one definition, and the imposition (rather than the mere addition) of the new one, to the detriment of others (in such a way that people can freely appropriate the notion as they see fit in a fair-weather way) is the bother.
I feel relieved writing this out and seeing people’s responses. Phew.
I found the energy definition most helpful in explaining to people why I sometimes have to decline invitations to do stuff so I can prioritize recharging on my own, but it sounds like there are so many more ways that it can be applied in other areas in your life, too. I’d be really interested to hear how other commenters explain introversion to others.
This makes so much sense to me. I process thoughts out loud, which means I talk to myself, including at work. I try to suppress it, but it’s hard. My old office mate said at one point that he had decide to ignore everything I said unless I was specifically saying his name first (he’s a great guy and knew me well enough to know I’d never take offense to this). I told him I couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t been doing that for months already. 😉
I like your divisions into external/internal processors. All three of the ways to define people’s introversion/extroversion can be useful, and I could see how people could justifiably want to use any of them. I think that introvert/extrovert definitions are not clearly delineated in general and that it might be helpful to define terms at the beginning of a discussion.
My father didn’t seem to believe that I had feelings or thoughts of my own and whatever he wanted was OK with me. After my parents divorced (which was something I did not want at that age), the first time he came to pick us up, he took us to meet his new lady friend (who was living with him) and her two kids. There was no warning. I still remember how just plain icky that was. From that point on, going anywhere with him meant bringing the Monster and at least her youngest child, who was still older than I was. When I was 11, after he had broken up with Monster, I was supposed to spend the day with him. This was both amazing (I get to spend time with my Dad, just the two of us!) and awful (I get to spend time with my Dad, just the two of us D:). Awful because he never wanted to spend alone time with his kids, ever (because we weren’t boys!). So when I got into the car, he said he had to stop somewhere and I just assumed for gas or money but when we pulled up in front of some strange building and a blonde woman I had never seen before got out, I said “I’ll get in the back seat” Because of course I was now on a date with my Dad and his new girlfriend and it was just… awful, but I tried to make the best of it mainly by ditching them whenever possible. That was the only time I ever met that woman. I wish I could say that was the last time I had one of my Dad’s girlfriends thrust upon me in some awkward scenario, but it wasn’t.
But the true Olympic medalling event happened when I was 30. My father had decided when I was 16 to tell me in August that he had gotten married in March, and that I was going to have a new sibling in September. Now, I can do math when it’s that simple. In that moment, he completely broke my heart. I won’t go into other stuff that happened in that exact moment that showed me how truly alone I was but let’s just say, I was done with him and didn’t want any more of this kind of shit from him. So I stopped speaking to him. This was really easy to do because there was no Internet and he had moved a few thousand miles away years previously, every year we were more estranged. But, when I got to my late 20’s, I thought that maybe I had been wrong or too harsh and I decided to get back in touch with him. I was missing the idea of family more than actual family. Anyway, I paid for a hotel and he wanted to take me to some restaurant he knew and what’s that thing people say about never getting into a car and being taken to a secondary location? Well, once he had me, he decided that I shouldn’t go back to my hotel like I said I wanted after dinner. I didn’t realise we were going in the wrong direction until it was too late. I really should have jumped out at a stop light. He took me to his house so I could see his wife (whom I had previously met when I was a teen) and my two half sisters who were both teenagers. Having the “great big happy family” together, he proceeded to get completely ‘faced. I did not know at this time that getting drunk every night was Standard Operating Procedure for him and was beginning to wonder how I was going to be able to afford a taxi back to my hotel (it was really far) when he got angry and said he’d take me. I knew he was completely plastered and did not want to get in the car, but he insisted so I got the extra special treat of a drive at night with a drunk, constantly wondering when/if I was going to die. Whee. I was such an idiot I didn’t rip him a new one and tell him that after all I’d seen, he could go straight to hell because I had obviously made a HUGE mistake. I could have saved myself some years of grief if I had.
So LW, I understand your pain. There’s nothing like having a family member manipulate you into things you do not want “for your own good” or because it’s just easier for them. If there is any justice in the world, you will find a way to serendipitously throw your dad into some situation where he is subjected to the bait-and-switch and gets to experience The Full Awkward. Would he learn from it? Probably not. But it would be kind of fun to watch him squirm.
Wow. What a horrid experience. Jedi hugs if you want them.
Like a few other commenters, I’m confused as to whether this was a “I don’t want to be surprised by the inclusion of his new family at the last minute” or “I don’t want to know his new family ever”
Because his new family is a part of his life now. Speaking from experience, it’s very difficult to share only the parts of my life that aren’t entwined with a partner that’s disapproved of. And it feels good to be appreciated as a whole person, my relationships are super important to me, and not acknowledging them feels like someone doesn’t want to acknowledge all of me.
(I’m also speaking from a queer perspective, which is different again)
Part of my confusion might be cultural as well. Dinner is usually a pretty casual affair (even for an introvert like me). Bringing along a plus one is often how a new partner is introduced to a family of friend group? (I’m not speaking to my family of origin in this case, but mostly my partner’s family)
People’s mileage may vary depending on culture and how they manage their spoons. But having a big “This is The Meeting The Family Event” sounds way more stressful than “Oh, new partner and I are hanging out tonight can we add an extra?”
Because his new family is a part of his life now.
See, I really don’t get this. The extra people NewPartner brought along were her granddaughter and a friend of granddaughter. Unless partner is very close to her granddaughter or has custody of her or something similar, there’s really no need to call her “family” in regards to LW’s father, much less the LW herself (and the granddaughter’s friend doesn’t count here, anyway). It’s perfectly possible the granddaughter isn’t actually part of her own grandmother’s life, so I really don’t get all these comments claiming the granddaughter must absolutely be a part of father’s “new family”. It might very well be but I have absolutely no problem imagining the absolute opposite.
(As far your first paragraph, I think neither is the crux of the story, actually. Like the Captain pointed out above, the problem seems to have been that LW was perfectly fine meeting up with dad and partner and wasn’t thrilled by the additon of two extra people she’d never met before but actually decided she could handle it and go through with it. Only when at the dinner, she realised that she indeed wouldn’t be able to do it after all, a change that seems to have taken her by surprise herself.)
She’s taking her granddaughter and friend out for dinner with her and her partner = the granddaughter is part of her life. No assumptions needed, we can just observe.
Really? I find that requires quite a bit of assumptions. The observation is that granddaughter has gone to dinner with her grandmother once that we know of and brought a friend, that it was last minute, and that this dinner included the grandmother’s partner’s daughter. Any conclusions from that observation requires assumptions.
We don’t know how BIG a part of each other’s life they are, true. But clearly they are part of each other’s lives.
Not necessarily. I was more or less estranged from my mother and maternal grandparents for many many years, especially when I was a teen, but would go out for dinner with them if they happened to be in town and it was arranged somehow. They may have heard about what I was up to and all, but they were absolutely not part of my life. (I say “arranged somehow” because I was a young’un and often did not have agency in these meetings.)
That’s what I was getting at with my first comment. I think it depends a bit on how exactly you define “being part of someone’s life” but for me, popping up in someone’s life for an evening two or three times a year isn’t what I mean by that. I’m using this example because that’s basically my relationship with my father – he’s not at all interested in my life, I’m not interested in his, and when we meet up it’s for Christmas, Easter, and maybe one extra day somewhere because it’s someone’s birthday or someone graduated or something; occasionally I call him but that’s really only when I need something official (like for my insurance). By no means would I consider him a part of my life although he is someone who does exist in my life somehow.
LW’s father’s partner and her granddaughter could be the same. They could also be the complete opposite. We don’t know. But I wanted to point out that the conclusion of some commenters that LW’s dad now has a new family – just by virtue of his new partner having a granddaughter – and that this new family now is an intrinsic part of his life is, in my opinion, a fallacy.
Sometimes family and strangers are the same thing. I have several aunts, uncles, and cousins that I see maybe 5 times a year. They live close to me, they knew my mother well, but they can’t even tell the difference between me and my sister and yet we have to act like a big happy family during obligatory dinners and holidays.
Whoops, sorry Myrin, that was meant to be a reply to TO_Ont above. Not sure how I missed nesting it properly/getting it in the right nest.
Cuz yeah, completely agreed. Being a part of someone’s life is something that has to be worked at, not assumed just because faaaaamily. I also have some similar thoughts on “new family” when you join up with a partner, but this really isn’t the place for me to unpack my childhood, aside from agreeing that “that shit ain’t right”.
Well, this comments section has been interesting. -_- I really fail to see what people are missing about “I made excuses and left, my father assumed I wasn’t well” – something I would find deeply unthreatening as the teenagers or anyone involved.
Also, just because LW didn’t want extra people sprung on them, nor are they leaping into being a close unit, doesn’t mean they are unwilling to spend time with them ever.
LW, I would personally advise, just based on my own personality (so it may not work for you!) to communicate something similar to what you said here to your father. That you can find socialising work, and you need time to mentally prepare to spend time with a bunch of people. That you love him and want to have a good relationship with him and his partner but you probably won’t want to be spending heaps of your spare time in a big group of extended family. None of those things sound like a bad thing to me, and it’s entirely possible he could understand.
I’m sorry you have had to deal with this response, I’m really surprised.
All of this.
Thanks for your advice everyone – it’s been very helpful, and very much appreciated. 🙂
People had questions, so I’ll try to answer some of them here:
– Bringing the grandkid (and friend) along wasn’t a planned thing. Dad and his partner ran into them while walking around the city, got to talking and ended up inviting them to dinner. It didn’t occur to him that I’d be hurt by that – he probably just thought it was an efficient way to spend time with his family.
– I understood why he wanted me to be the one to change the booking. I’d been the one to make the original booking, and I’ve got a decent data plan on my smartphone (for the looking up of restaurant phone numbers while in transit). He would have been able to do it himself, but it would have taken longer and been slightly more of a pain for him.
– I used the terms “introvert” and “spoons” as a shortcut to understanding in my letter as I had a limited number of words to get my point across. It’s definitely interesting the way the word “introvert” has evolved over the years. I don’t have any particular feelings about it, myself, but it’s possible that we need new terms to more accurately define what people are thinking and feeling.
For me, I prefer being by myself most of the time, and being around other people definitely tires me out. I usually just think of it as having an emotional-coping gas-tank. Once I’m out of gas, I’m going to have a bad time.
I’d only actually flipped out once before in my life (now twice, hooray…).
I’d been surrounded by people all week (working retail for seven days straight) and desperately needed to recharge (before starting it all over again the next day). Dad then informed me that I’d be going to dinner that night with him, my brother’s ex-girlfriend and her partner. My night to myself was gone in an instant. I burst into tears. Dad was a bit shocked, and I didn’t end up having to go as a result – but I never actually bothered to explain to him WHY I’d had such a problem with it (that was my bad).
Still, I’d thought that was a once-off. I don’t generally have trouble dealing with people (as long as I get some time to myself afterwards).
– I definitely didn’t see the FEELINGSBOMB coming. I knew I wasn’t thrilled about the evening-to-come as I left home, but I didn’t think I’d be THAT affected by it. I didn’t even know why I was so angry and hurt. I just knew I had to get away before I burst into tears again. It took me a couple of days before I could even begin to think about unpacking what had actually happened.
The thing is, that this wasn’t actually the first time I’d had to deal with a bait-and-switch involving them.
Up until last Christmas, I’d had a pretty good relationship with Dad and NewPartner. My brother and I would go to visit them, they’d come and see us. It was infrequent, but fun when it happened.
That Christmas, however, we were due to stay with them for a couple of nights. We didn’t find out until after we got there that the grandchildren were staying as well… Yeesh.
“Come spend Christmas with us” is a very different proposition to “come spend Christmas with us and some people you don’t know”. One is relaxing and fun for me. The other is… Not.
If I’d known ahead of time (and had the guts to stand up for myself), I could have made alternate arrangements. We could have stayed at a hotel, we could have delayed our trip until the new year etc.
My brother and I weren’t really up to protesting after a five hour car trip. We just got by the best we could, ignoring any awkwardness, chatting with our family and getting out of the house every now and again until we could go home.
The creepy factor had to do with the fact that Private Family Time had suddenly acquired spectators. It felt like “changing clothes in front of your dog” vs “changing clothes in front of a crowd of people”. You’re doing the same thing, but the atmosphere is very different.
The other part of the creep factor was down to the vibe coming from Dad which, while never verbalized, felt to me like “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you! I’m enjoying it, so you are as well. This is a totally normal thing and anyone who feels differently is just being rude.”
Kinda felt a little gaslight-y. Which never feels great.
I think the FEELINGSBOMB at dinner probably came about from a combination of the creepy/gaslight-y feeling I’d been getting since Christmas, and the SAD/ANGRY feels I had as a result of my father moving on with his new family (Family Drama – gotta love it).
From here, I think I’m going to focus on myself and my Team Me. I need to make sure that my own life is as awesome as possible, and that I set any boundaries that I need to.
If I have a great relationship with my Dad going forwards – great. If we don’t end up seeing much of each other, I’m sure I’ll be okay then as well.
Do I want to see NewPartner’s family in the future? Maybe. Dad’s plan to get us to bond backfired rather spectacularly. I now feel a fairly strong aversion to spending any time with them at all, which is a little weird given that I couldn’t actually pick any of them out of a line-up. They’re “eating crackers” at me at the moment. If I’m honest, that might take a few years to change.
I found reading the comments here really helpful – seeing that other people had been through the same thing was really heartening. Some of the commenters also had some really great insights about what was going on under the surface – thank you so much for that. There were a couple of trolls, but I’ve gotten used to that, thanks to Reddit. 🙂 On the whole, I’m really glad I wrote in. Thanks especially to Captain Awkward – your advice was just what I needed at a time when I was feeling pretty low.
TL;DR Thanks for the advice – I really appreciated it.
Thanks for the detailed update.
Your plan to cultirate Team You and your awesome self is great!
Oooh, thanks for the update! I love when LW’s check back in!!! It seems like you have a pretty clear set of ideas and perspectives moving forward, so I’m glad to hear that.
Such a great comment LW, and may I say that you sound like a very lovely and delightful person?
I’m glad you found most of the comments to be helpful and wish you all the best in future awkward family situations. You sound like you already have a great grip on the situation in general and I wish you all the best!
Thank you for taking the time to fill us in ^^
I’m sorry that your dad blew the possibility of your bonding with his new family so thoroughly, and I think it’s smart of you to take as much time for yourself as it’s needed until the annoyance and hurt feelings recede. Your plan seems very sound to me, I wish you the best of luck with it 🙂
Thanks for the update LW! I have to say reading your elaboration here is really validating too; I’ve been in situations before where other people’s family has been unexpectedly thrust upon me and I was similarly cast as unreasonable for not being thrilled about it + accepting them as my own family immediately. I haven’t exactly been able to articulate why, and this helped a lot.
I’m really glad the Captain + commenters could help. Best of luck 🙂
Looking at the letter again, it seems that LW’s father does not know LW that well. That could be History (he doesn’t really want to truely know LW), history (he hasn’t had as much opportunity to know LW because of events) or something new has happened in LW life (to give more problems in social events). How much of your life would you like to share with him and New Partner? Does he know you have issues with sudden changes of plan and forced socialising? Have you talked about his new relationships and how that affects your relationship with him? Do you want to talk with him, on the understanding that this will involve New Partner as she is now his main support.
I would be inclined to tell him that pushing you to accept his partner’s family as your own is not the best way to encourage interaction, but I would avoid using the words “weird and creepy”. But you are being pressured to accept them on his terms, not your own.
Here is my diagram of that dinner:
LW+d=ad+New Partner+grand-daughter+grand-daughter’s friend
It looks unbalanced to me and although I think I could manage dinner I would not be keen to do it again.
this was more or less my assessment of the situation – the father doesn’t really know his own child well enough to know they’d be uncomfortable.
but, as a parent myself, i think my response to seeing my child react that way to unexpected guests would be introspection, shame at not knowing/understanding my own CHILD better, and distress at having caused them distress.
I feel weird about all the comments here telling you that your dad was in the right, because I think it’s pretty irrelevant at this point. You seem perfectly aware that things did not go down in the most ideal fashion. I feel a large part of developing a toolkit of social skills which work for you, personally, sadly comes from dropping the ball/unintentionally creating a painfully awkward situation. I could tell you many, many stories of times when I did not take care of myself in social situations and behaved inappropriately as a result of my fear and overwhelmed-ness. It is a thing that happens. I am still learning, in fact, ways to recognize my emotional state, so that I can take measures to protect myself in advance, before I get to a point where taking care of myself trumps being civil to other people. It’s not an easy thing to learn.
“Here are my very valid overwhelming feelings that led to this unpleasant situation” + “How do I make sure this situation doesn’t happen again” =/= “Everyone else in this situation was wrong and I am right, forever, the end.”
Referring to your letter, you know what, maybe you were a little unreasonable. And that’s okay. Sometimes we do unreasonable shit, because: we HAVE to, in order to take care of ourselves. Forgive yourself this time, be gentle with yourself in the future, but most of all, OWN that you have needs and limits that need to be respected. It’s okay to say to your dad, “Dad, I CANNOT do a last-minute change to have two extra people at dinner. I am tired and overwhelmed and I either need the dinner to be you and Step-mom only, or I need to take a rain-check and reschedule for when you have time for it to be a more private thing.” That is honoring your own needs and that is OKAY, even if your Dad feels weird about it and tells you so.
To be honest, I feel like the awkwardness in this situation resulted from the all-too-common error of trying to get along, trying to suppress your own needs in a situation, and then realizing too late that you just CAN’T. It’s so goddamn tempting to try to make yourself be what other people want instead of what you need to be, and you end up hurting yourself and getting no respect for the effort you made because you couldn’t stick the landing, so to speak. Again, I have SO MANY STORIES about doing this — accepting invitations to places I KNEW I would be uncomfortable and unhappy because I wanted for people to like me, acting really weird because surprise, I WAS uncomfortable and unhappy, and then damaging the relationship because they had no idea that I was making a big effort just to be there and just saw my weird-ass behavior. This is a thing LOTS people struggle with — trying to make the people you love happy vs. honoring yourself. It’s okay that you haven’t quite gotten that balance figured out yet.
Anyhoo. I think the Captain’s advice is very good for going forward. I think you might consider way off in the future partaking of time-limited events with Stepmom’s family just so you are acquainted in a friendly fashion and you can have some ammunition to fire at your dad’s worries about ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY. But that is for later, possibly never.
This comment sounds kind of judgmental, reading back over. I think I was more talking about my own experience of behaving QUITE rudely in social situations because I didn’t take care of myself than this situation, which is yes, less than ideal, but not spectacularly rude by any means. I feel like I would be a bit sad if someone had to leave after 30 minutes of a dinner, but if my impression was that they had suddenly gotten sick or had a personal emergency, that distress wouldn’t rise much above, “Oh well, better re-schedule.”
LW, I dislike last minute change of plans as well.
You don’t want to go to the restaurant. So you have to know that if you don’t want to go, that is valid, and you’re not going to go. Your wants and needs are valid, so not going just because you don’t want to is an okay thing to do. And anyone you up-set or offend with an act of self-care can live with it. I however have always been stubborn. If other people are going to call me a bitch or think I’m rude or mutter remarks while I dig my heels in, I can go through that much less affected than I can go through doing what my gut is telling me NO.
You were anxious and up-set as soon as you got the phonecall. Who cares what happened at the restaurant. In the future if you don’t want to be at the restaurant you want to learn how to not have to be there in the first place. Okay. So as soon as you hear, new people! Change the booking! And you get that feeling in your gut- the gross nauseous feeling, of social anxiety, you should take action. If in the name of politeness you agreed and ended the phonecall, you can take a few minutes and call them back. “I’ve thought about it, can’t do it.”
I imagine it as an inevitability and I’m directing reality to that point. I want to stay home. I AM GOING TO stay home. And then you are just informing other people of that fact. There are socially acceptable ways to talk about your social anxiety as an excuse.
“I’m a little too fried to make new friends right now. I’m feeling really tired right now. I’m gonna go home instead. If you want to change the number of people, here is the number of the restaurant. Say hi to brother for me.” “I can’t make it for a family gathering. I could make it to a catch-up with you (dad) and partner, but anything else would be too difficult at short notice. What about you, me and Partner meet up closer to where I live on Wednesday for dinner?” “I’d want to meet Person’s grandkid and friend at a different setting. Mentally I was preparing for you and your partner. That’s what I was thinking was happening. I’m happy to meet Partner’s grandkid at a different time when that is what I know is happening.” “This is too short notice for me. I need to know who, what, where in advance. I don’t do new plans an hour beforehand, once plans have already been set for days. That is not how I operate. Let me know when you’re free next so we can catch-up.”
If they were going to bring teenager granddaughter and Friend(TM) because of responsibility, they could have set up the two at a table nearby and had the original get-together. Suprise!plans where new people get shoved in your face is not okay.
TL;DR : If they get to add new people last minute, you get to remove people (yourself) last minute.
I just wanted to say that the way you’re feeling is totally natural and normal, and you can *definitely* set some boundaries about this and not lose your dad, if he is at all a reasonable human being and a parent who loves you.
I also wanted to just say that you don’t *have* to have a relationship with your dad’s new partner or her family either. Frankly, family is transitive *only* when it is accepted by everyone involved–there are plenty of people who have no relationship to their parents’ new partners or family.
Might that hurt your dad’s or dad’s partners’ feelings? Maybe. Maybe he thinks that in order for his life choices to be valid, you have to be a Big Happy Family All The Time. But that’s not actually true, and it’s no reason to be rude to you (which, btw, springing extra people–strangers– to a dinner *is* rude. If someone did that to me, I would flat-out walk out at the beginning because I cannot handle it.)
I’m confused by the number of comments suggesting that LW should have cancelled when the call came to change the booking… I’m very similar to LW in terms of social anxiety and change-of-plan freakouts, and I’d rather gnaw off my own foot than even imply “I will not have dinner with you if you bring these other people I have never met.” In a world where social anxiety ranges from poorly understood to unacceptable and we are expected to engage willingly and in good faith with new people at the drop of a hat, it sounds absolutely ridiculous.
Hopefully there will be space for that kind of frank response from LW after a conversation in which Dad gets a clue, but I don’t blame them one whit for feeling they had to make a snap choice between “attempt to grin and bear it” and OH NO SUDDEN ONSET OF INDELICATE ILLNESS. I have a hard time admitting my anxiety-related needs even to my partner, who I know will be incredibly understanding… he asked me recently if I’d be willing to go to his friend’s house with him (person I’ve never met, plus her ENTIRE FAMILY, in a non-neutral space), and was honestly surprised when I gave the socially acceptable answer of “I have plans that day” (true) rather than “I’d rather eat broken glass” (also true, and he knew it). It’s shitty that we feel we have to perform this balancing act even with people we are close to, and I hope the LW finds a comfortable place with Dad and his new partner where everyone understands each other’s needs.
Yup yup. And also the poor LW was in a bind where she’d already agreed to go to the Event when the terms changed on her, so I can see it being that much harder to say no to something you’ve already said you would attend.
I think from the outside it’s very easy to choose, but I am pretty sure that were I in the situation I would suffer WRENCHING GUILT about lying to get out of the dinner. And most of my social anxiety has subsided!
Another awkward hurdle: Was LW in the taxi en route when she got dad’s call? Having to tell dad that she couldn’t do dinner AND ask the taxi driver to make a U-turn and take her back home could have felt insurmountable in the moment. I feel anxious just thinking about it!
The number of comments here slamming on the dad kinda bother me. Both parties didn’t exactly perform ideally here, for reasons that may or may not be in either side’s control. Plenty of people have brought up introversion, social anxiety, and other states where people have a hard time dealing with the sudden presence of strangers, small talk, and stuff like that when they weren’t prepared. The dad also seems to be trying his hardest to get the family to become acquainted. He cares about all of these people, and I think there is quite some truth to the idea that if nobody tries to get to know anyone else, well, it won’t happen. Bait-and-switching the situation — which I’d hazard a guess that the dad didn’t even realize he was doing, if he’s a social butterfly party type — was poor. Even so, I think the LW should try to lighten up on their view that they don’t even want to get to know the other side of this family.
“But I don’t want to spend time with her family. It feels weird and creepy when they’re around.” That’s the LW’s problem. The other family members are trying to reach out, and the LW seems to be smacking them away. It’s pretty difficult to say “I want them to feel okay and be happy and etc” and then reject them. Dad needs to back off a bit, I’d say, and the LW needs to do some introspection and try to open up a little and, on their own terms, figure out a less stressful way to at least *try* approaching the situation. Unless the other family members are throwing some red flags, it seems at least polite to be able to have minimal conversation with other family members. No touching, deep information, etc. need be involved. Just a “how’s work” or whatnot. But at the point at which you’re panicking and fleeing the room, you also have some work to do, not just the other side. This work doesn’t have to be “learn to suck it up” — it can also be, learn to communicate.
From the very beginning, the LW didn’t protest any of the situation but had serious reservations. They didn’t want to go out to a subpar restaurant just to see relatives — so why didn’t they suggest another idea? Why just cave to the first suggestion? The father didn’t seem to be browbeating the LW into anything, at least from what I saw in the letter, so I don’t want to make assumptions and demonize people. When the dad tried to change the reservation, why didn’t LW say “well, I’m in transit, sorry, I can’t”? Dad needs to learn to not spontaneously fuck up a situation at the last minute by changing things on the fly, but LW also needs to learn to state their desires early and often and set the sorts of boundaries that, had they existed, might’ve prevented the situation.
wall of text later, the tl;dr is I think both parties should try to meet in the middle.
Doing a bait-and-switch is really crappy. Add to that his history (from the LW’s comment above) of that being the primary way that the LW has ever spent time with dad’s partner’s family, and I’d feel weird about it too. The impression I’ve gotten is that it’s more “It feels weird and creepy when they’re around (when I wasn’t expecting them and thought it would be just me, dad, and dad’s partner doing family togetherness).”
I’ve got two stepparents. I generally like their families. And if I showed up for something that was supposed to be just me, my sister, and a set of parental units only to discover that extended stepfamily members were there too, I’d be uncomfortable.
I love CA’s advice and absolutely appreciate her insight—I’m relieved, too. And wow, there are certainly some insensitive comments here, exactly of the kind I expected you know when you’re shocked, but not actually surprised? That’s what I’m feeling.
LW sounds kind of mortified at their strong response and how they behaved, and they’re not asking for permission to behave in that way again; they’re asking if they can set a boundary so this painful-for-everyone situation hopefully doesn’t happen again while preserving what they can of a relationship with their much-loved father. But instead of recognising that, people are criticising their social skills as if they’ve expressed an entitlement to behave rudely and hurtfully shun innocent people at dinner while demanding their father to choose between them other family members. That is not what happened.
I think what’s getting a strong response is the rejection behind the action. LW explicitly, honestly says in the original letter, ‘I don’t want to spend time with her family,’ and I think that, coupled with less-than-ideal behaviour at dinner, is bringing out a lot of understandable, valid gut feelings about Family and rejection. But that’s getting in the way of really understanding the LW’s actual position and behaviour.
Like others have discussed above, the combination of introversion and social anxiety manifest in different ways, person to person. There are a bunch of people who are saying, ‘I’m introverted and/or social anxious but would never respond how LW did! LW must be able to survive minor changes to social situations!’ as if they’re ~*so concerned*~ about LW. As if their behaviour was somehow a moral failing.
LW made awkward conversation and left very early which had the effect of disappointing people, which is at worst rude and certainly not the best outcome in terms of social smoothness—but also? Withdrawing when you’re already feeling terrible and low-spoons (i.e. you’re actually ill!) is really frequently the smartest, most graceful, low-conflict thing to do. You didn’t cackle about it, you apologised and left, and that level of abruptness is ok.
I know you already checked in, LW, but in case it helps to read another person say this: it’s so, so, completely reasonable to not want to be surprised by changes which, to other people, may seem “minor,” and I really don’t think the solution should always be that you gracefully always rolls with changes; no-one is entitled to your time.
What the Captain suggests about you sometimes having a dinner where you actively try to be present is also important, but that really needs to happen more on your terms. Wishing you the best!
I think what’s getting a strong response is the rejection behind the action. LW explicitly, honestly says in the original letter, ‘I don’t want to spend time with her family,’ and I think that, coupled with less-than-ideal behaviour at dinner, is bringing out a lot of understandable, valid gut feelings about Family and rejection.
That is so insightful! I’ve been really confused by the replies where people seem really upset about the idea that family is not transitive and that you’re allowed not to want to completely intertwine your life with your parent’s partner’s grand daughter (and her random friend).
LW, I totally get where you’re coming from. Not so long ago my dad got married for the 4th time, and while his new wife was perfectly nice all two times we’ve visited, she is simply not a big part of my life and I have little to no interest in her relatives. Not only is she Dad’s 4th wife (no blame on her, but I’m not going to get attached until I’m sure Dad can’t scare her off), but she and Dad live on another continent about a 16 hour flight (not even a direct flight, D:) from my city and I see Dad maybe once every couple years. New wife is a nice lady, I’m glad she and Dad seem to be happy together, but we’re almost certainly never going to be close.
Withdrawing when you’re already feeling terrible and low-spoons (i.e. you’re actually ill!) is really frequently the smartest, most graceful, low-conflict thing to do
I can be a little awkward myself, and I would much, much rather someone make their excuses and leave than have a meltdown or even just sit through a meal when they desperately want to be anywhere else. My social skills are good enough that I can (usually) tell when someone would rather bathe a cat than stay here for another minute, but not so good that I would be able to fix it. That’s no fun for anyone and I think it’s kindest to spare others and yourself the experience of not being able to fix or ignore the awkward.
in case it helps to read another person say this: it’s so, so, completely reasonable to not want to be surprised by changes which, to other people, may seem “minor,” and I really don’t think the solution should always be that you gracefully always rolls with changes; no-one is entitled to your time.
Enthusiastically seconding this! If I’m going to make plans with someone, I *strongly* prefer to know exactly who is going to be there and what we’re going to be doing. I don’t even have social anxiety or anything (although I am pretty introverted and prefer to spend my few social hours with people I really like rather than people I only tolerate and I tire out faster in large groups), I just dislike people changing plans on me to the point that if they did it repeatedly I would probably just stop making plans with them. Which would be thoroughly awkward if said plan-changer was a family member that I wanted to stay close with, so LW, I really feel for you.
I feel for the letter writer in this situation, because I know that feeling of “Oh! Surprise! New People!” and it can be AWFUL.
However, I don’t feel like the Dad’s request was unreasonable either. “Hey honey, we’d like to include two more people- Wife’s granddaughter is around” is a perfectly reasonable request. That doesn’t make LW’s feelings wrong or unimportant in anyway, but the Dad isn’t an automatic jerk or insensitive for not know what a change in plans would do to her head space.
It would also be entirely reasonable for her to respond next time (Now that she’s had a chance to a. analyze her feelings on the matter and b. practice a bit of a script) with a “Hmm, Thanks for the heads up Dad, but I’m not fond of socializing with new people” or “I’d love to see just you this trip, is it okay if I meet you afterwards for a glass of wine/tea/dessert?” and then of course employ all of the helpful strategies the Captain recommended.
Big and blended families can be tough, and I hope LW’s dad realizes the difference between “Ugh, I’d rather not.” and “This causes me more anxiety then is reasonable to bear.” Because there is a big difference. And hopefully he’s okay with seeing her independently. There’s always the danger of saying “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.*” and the response being “I appreciate that, but unfortunately I don’t have enough of my own spoons to accommodate another independent meeting on this trip. We’re planning on seeing everyone at x-event or not at all.” Because I have been in that boat as well. Often when I travel to my hometown, I’m overwhelmed by different friends (and even family) who say “Oh, I would love to see just you!” but I have to find a delicate way to let them know that I’m not willing to abandon my partner multiple times in a city he’s not comfortable in, and also- spend my entire vacation shuttling from one coffee/catch up appointment to the next without being rude and saying “You aren’t a priority.” If people aren’t comfortable attending the pub night/dinner or whatever activity I’ve planned, then that’s okay but I’m not offering alternatives.
I really agree with Pear’s comment/take on the situation.
Good Luck LW! I hope if you find yourself in a similar situation in the future, that the Captain and comments have given you the tools to deal with it!
In the comment-storm, I feel like this bears repeating: Realizing you’re in a negative emotions spiral, and excusing yourself from the situation to retreat to a safe place where you can stabilize, is a totally mature and reasonable thing to do. It is a Good Idea.
And that’s true whether you’re with family or not, whether you’re socially anxious or not, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert of any definition. It would be true even there were no additions to dinner and it would be true even if the emotions were caused by something other than the dinner. It’s true regardless of who is disappointed or who was rude.
You know what’s a Bad Idea? Deciding to “suck it up” and being unable to hide your unhappiness and snapping at everyone constantly and ruining the day for everyone and feeling terrible about it for years afterward because your well-meaning attempt not to make waves caused a tsunami. Which is what I do.
…I am trying to learn to use my words better and live my life under a banner of Valiant Retreat.
I keep having a thought pop into my head when going over the comments about whether or not it was appropriate for LW to leave, and (while it’s gross) what I keep coming to is that no one would be questioning LW leaving if she felt like she was about to physically vomit at the table. The kind of stress/overwhelm/anxiety/feelingsbomb/whatever she is describing sounds like the emotional equivalent of vomiting. (It’s certainly what it feels like when it happens to me.) Emotional or physical, “I have to leave before I spew something nasty at the table” is a valid decision.
Re-marriage is hard. It’s awkward. It takes some getting used to. I think you are super lucky and off to a good start that you like your dad’s new partner. I think it’s also totally reasonable and natural to feel weird about meeting her family members. However when you talk about losing your relationship with your father over one incident, that sounds paranoid, like you’re threatened by her family and the possibility that they’re going to steal him away. Like you’re afraid of sharing your dad.
What is unreasonable is to say that you accept this woman as your father’s new partner yet reject her entire family. You don’t get to have it that way. She is a person with a family, just like you. They obviously matter to her, which means they matter to your dad, which means how you treat them matters. They exist, and their existence is not a crime. You will be seeing them around. You will be using your spoons on them. They will be using their spoons on you. That’s how it works and if you allow yourself, you could even enjoy some of these new relations. Yup, that is entirely possible, especially since they are related to someone you already like.
I think it’s also unreasonable to flee mid-meal under the circumstances that you described. Even if you suffer from a social anxiety issue, that doesn’t make it any less of a confusing or impolite thing to do. It’s dramatic to walk out on dinner. It’s what people do when they need to make the whole evening about themselves and their unmet needs instead of considering the feelings of others at the table. LW, if anyone acted like a teenager during that meal, it was you.
If you truly support your dad as a fellow adult who deserves his own romantic relationships and happiness, then it’ll come much easier. Then you’ll make room in your life for his partner’s family. You’ll treat them with the respect and kindness that they deserve.
Storming off or verbally berating dinner guests on your way out is indeed dramatic, self-centered, and immature. However, since LW did not appear to do any of these things, I think it’s a pretty low blow to describe the LW’s actions this way. They admit they didn’t handle it well and will apologize for hurt feelings caused; no need to pile on.
That said, I think your point that it’s possible to enjoy these new people “especially since they are related to someone you already like” is a really good point. Looking at Dad’s partner’s family through the lens of “Creepy, Annoying Interlopers” is a good way to ensure that your interactions with them will never be pleasant. I get it – my dad remarried and my stepmom has two daughters my age. They both got serious side-eye from me at first really for no good reason, other than there were others occupying my precious dad-daughter time. I had to get good at relaxing my guard a bit, and finding some elements in common with my stepsisters. I also practiced requesting Dad-only time. Happily, we really are a big happy family now, with good boundaries in place but the ability to truly enjoy each other’s company at barbecues and vacations and such.
And I agree that it’s not black and white: accept this family 100% or lose the relationship with Dad. Or even, accept this family 100% or 0%. There is tons of room for negotiating what those relationships will look like going forward, and no wrong way to do it, as long as it works for everyone. My take was that what LW fears is that if they try to negotiate these parameters, their dad will be upset and end the relationship. Which I do think is a polarizing, jumping-to-conclusions type of thought that could be gently challenged and opened up to doubt.
Wishing you luck, LW, in moving forward from the unpleasant dinner experience, and navigating the tricky and awkward (yet sometimes, very rewarding!) world of blended families.
“Which I do think is a polarizing, jumping-to-conclusions type of thought that could be gently challenged and opened up to doubt.”
I dunno, generally when I see someone expecting unreasonable responses from someone they know far far better than I do, I assume they know the person’s likely responses better than I do. LW has known their father all their life, and if they’re concerned that he might cut ties for a while as punishment for one bad encounter, I’d assume they have some history on which their basing this fear.
It’s also possible that LW expects unreasonable responses from everyone, but my prior expectation is that a random person I encounter is less likely to expect unreasonable behavior from everyone than they are likely to have had a parent manipulate them by threatening unreasonable responses to their behavior in the past.
It’s not a normal concern, so there’s something not normal underlying it. It could be on the part of the LW or their parent, but you should leave some room for the possibility that a dad who tells their adult child he’s disappointed in them is also a dad who has gotten good behavior in the past with threats that make this concern seem reasonable to the LW.
I didn’t read this as her being afraid the new partner will steal her away–I read this as someone who has a relationship with her father that doesn’t really include him understanding her as a person (which seems legit) and that she also has some jerkbrain happening (which also seems to be the case), and as a result, she’s afraid that she committed a massive and unforgivable gaffe which will result in her not-very-understanding father washing his hands of her.
Obviously LW can speak to this with a great deal more authority, but this doesn’t seem to me like her experiencing some frustrated jealousy about her dad’s new partner’s family stealing him, but instead her responding with reasonable fear to his infantilising statement “I’m very disappointed with your behaviour” as possibly being a veiled threat to cut her out of his affections if she can’t “be more normal”.
Oh, and by the way: it’s totally reasonable to say “I accept you as a person but I’m not interested in accepting your family as my family”. We do it all the time with friends–my friends’ siblings are not my siblings, and I am way closer with my friends than I would ever be with a parent’s late-life partner. It’s also totally reasonable to excuse yourself (not storm out, which the LW didn’t do) and leave a situation that has become increasingly uncomfortable and does not promise to be less so just for staying.
Wow. No. Not okay.
The LW didn’t storm off or make a scene. Zie made excuses and left, in such a way that the others apparently assumed zie wasn’t feeling well, which happens to be 100% true.
Managing to engage in self care in a difficult situation without ruffling too many feathers in the moment is about as far from childish, or teenager-ish, as it gets. (It sounds from the description that the ruffled feathers only came later, after the phone conversation with dad.) It’s also not remotely unreasonable. Bursting into tears at the dinner table in the company of strangers is dramatic, and that was the other option.
Like a lot of the commenters above, you seem to think that the alternative to “making hir excuses and leaving” was “putting on a cheerful face and going through the motions of a pleasant evening with family.” And it must be really nice for you to have that be an option when you’re feeling like your emotional gas tank is about to run dry (to borrow from the LW’s language above), but guess what? Not everybody can do that.
I have, at various points in my life, lived with physical disability accompanied by chronic pain. I have also, for most of my life, lived with mental illness. There have always been people whose response to “I need to head home early because I’m hurting” has been that it’s rude or overdramatic or “making everything about myself.” Those people are unbelievably lacking in empathy, and I avoid them. They seem to think that “my back sometimes hurts too, but I don’t act like that” means that I shouldn’t either, when what I’m facing is “I will be unable to get out of bed tomorrow if I don’t have a chance to lie down soon.” When my difficulties are emotional, it gets much worse.
It must be great to have so few limitations on what you’re capable of. It would be great for the rest of us if you could try to remember that not everyone is like you.
I don’t think you need to have a close relationship with the stepmom’s family, but I think unfortunately she would probably feel bad if she felt like you completely rejected her family.
It’s unfortunate that things got off to such a bad start at Christmas. I get that having a close family event be suddenly changed so completely would be painful, and having strangers suddenly included in an otherwise intimite situations could feel so awkward, and I think your dad made a mistake in not realizing that you and your brother needed to have at least part of your holidays as a special time without new extended family.
I wonder if you think it might help to talk about that directly with him? I think it might be more helpful to try to think about how you frame any discussions that come up. E.g., focusing on how you miss spending time with just him, or on how you’d like to have time to spend with him and his new partner to get to know her. I.e., try to avoid focusing on how you DON’T want to have her family around, and more on how you DO want a lot more intimate time with him or with him and new partner.
If you do need to say you’d rather not do something with her family, try to think about it ahead of time so you can find a few phrases that are relatively diplomatic – ‘They seem really nice, but I think I’d be overwhelmed or stressed by having new people I don’t know well’ ‘It takes me a lot of time and energy to get to know people, and I’d really rather focus that time and energy on your partner, who I want to keep getting to know better’, etc. ‘I haven’t seen you and partner in a while, so I’d really like this to be just us this time’, etc.
Just some phrases that are true but phrase the truth kind of gently, and that might come more easily if you’ve got them ready ahead of time.
The entire line about this situation being similar to a Geek Social Fallacy suddenly made me realize why I get so iffy and anxious about some of my acquaintances trying to pressure me into joining entirely new groups.
Essentially, I’ll meet someone, get along with them, but before we develop a friendship, they will try to pressure me to join another one of their social groups. They won’t tell me “Hey, I’m having fun with this group, here are the details of said group and if you’re interested in joining us here’s how you can join too.” They’ll tell me “Oh I’m having so much fun with this group! Next time you should come! Here are all the things you need to do for our next activity!”
If I try to stall, tell them I’m not interested in, or have time for the group’s activities they’ll try to “fix” every potential problem I may have with this group. Before I even joined. (“Oh here are coupons to buy into the group!” “You could open this new account online and then you can come with us next weekend!” “Oh you can always rent a car – I’ll share the expenses with you!” “Here’s where you can buy the accessories you need for the group!”)
I’m an introvert who has trouble reading group dynamics. It takes me a really long time to trust people individually and it’s only once I trust them that I call them friends. Polite socializing with acquaintances takes energy out of me. I’m very careful of my time, especially that I don’t make a lot of money. I don’t exactly have oodles of energy to socialize with complete strangers that are not of my choosing.
All this to say that I need to actually trust someone before I am willing to try out their other groups. Acquaintances do not fit the bill. Some people don’t seem to want to move beyond acquaintanceship, which is fine with me, but some seem to think they can “skip” the hard work of becoming friends with me before dumping me in with all their other friends.
And the people who do this, I notice, do this because they’re over-scheduled. Always. :p
I once went to a party where a friend that I knew through a MeetUp had invited all the friends he knew from other MeetUps and it was one long nightmare of being sold on everybody’s particular MeetUp. *fistbump of solidarity*
Are you friends with one of my exbfs? He is the literal personification of Friendship Is Transitive.
That sounds like hell.
I love the idea of MeetUp, but in practice, a new MeetUp is basically a platonic blind date with a group of new people. So stressful. And it takes much longer for me to get comfortable than if I were getting to know just one person.
I am an extravert who has no problem dealing with people, life or social situations. I am considered by the ‘general standards of the society ‘ a successful person.
UNTIL I get some kind of contact from my immediate, toxic family or I find myself in the same room as other toxic people who display my family’s type of dysfunctional, narcissistic, emotionally and psychologically abusive gas-lighting. Then I fall apart emotionally, my “spoons” disappear rapidly and I start falling into a downward spiral of emotional inadequacy. Which means I quickly lose the ability to function emotionally or socially. I have to exit the situation rapidly and only go back if I am sure I can control the boundaries to protect myself. In other words I am triggered by specific types of people, displaying specific types of abusive behavior and I fall apart. I am in my mid fifties and I have only just worked out with the help of therapy the what, why and when of my “spoons” suddenly disappearing. I do not have a mental health diagnosis, I am not introverted or selfish. I am being triggered by emotionally traumatic childhood and teenage memories which are deeply hidden, some only recently identified, but still very reliant to my life. I think this could be referred to as an “emotional bomb” or “emotional dump”. It can happen very suddenly, without warning.
To criticize anyone for leaving a social situation they are not comfortable with is terrible. It is judgmental. It is wrong. No one should have to stay in any social situation they cannot deal with. It is OK for them to leave. The world does not end because they leave. They do not have to ‘suck it up’. To suggest they should ‘suck it up’ is wrong. If someone says “I need to leave now” that is OK. They do not need to give an excuse. It is OK.
I use the “spoons” analogue because it perfectly illustrates that we all have limits. Physically and emotionally. It is an illustration which all reasonable people can “get”. Some peoples’ limits are huge. Mine are large, until I am triggered. Then my “spoons” just evaporate.
Those who judge others because they are unable to deal with a particular situation are not kind.
P.S. this website has been instrumental in my understanding of emotional abuse, red flags and self care. Thank you everyone. It stopped me from feeling alone in this.
Thanks for this, and thanks also to Big Pink Box for today’s comment about physical and mental disability.
Large parts of this comment thread have been making me beyond furious. “Suck it up.” “Deal with it.” “Don’t be so childish.” Fuck that sideways with a pogo stick.
I get that a lot of people apparently have no understanding of what it’s like to be genuinely unable to do something that seems trivial to others. I get that a lot of people are unwilling to take others at their word when they say, “That is beyond my capabilities.” I get that otherwise good, caring people can experience a massive failure of both empathy and imagination when they *think* they understand what’s “really” going on.
You know what I don’t get? I don’t get what it might be like to live a life where there’s always an alternative. Where it’s always possible to “suck it up” and “deal with it.” I don’t get what it’s like to not have to do disability calculus all the time. I don’t get how people are able to give an immediate response to an invitation without first having to consider how long the car trip will be, what the seating will be like, how many people will be there, who those people are, how long the event is likely to take, how easy or difficult it would be to leave early, and how I’m going to feel the next day as a result of going.
It sounds amazing. It’s also not a place I’ve ever lived.
So, folks who do live there, quit blaming those of us who don’t. From where I’m living, it’s like you guys are in some amazing castle with mile-high walls, no gates, and a crocodile-filled moat, and you’re pissed off at me because I can’t get in.
To Other Becky:
1000 times this – a 20 minute standing ovation – you nailed it
Warm Jedi Hugs if you want them
Comments are closed.