My sister and I need some help with a potential situation this Christmas. My mother’s extended family has Christmas at her house every year on Christmas day and my sister and I usually stay with my parents in the days leading up to Christmas.
However, at Thanksgiving we ran into a situation. My cousin Amy’s husband Dan is demonstrating inappropriate behavior. In the past, he has come up and hugged us without asking or anything like that which we have dealt with by staying away from him. However, at Thanksgiving he thought it was funny to flick his lighter on and hold it under my sister’s arm. When she told him to stop, he did it again. She told him to stop a second time and he did but then he tried to hug her like he hadn’t just attempted bizarre act against her. I am apparently the only one who saw this and I got us out of there quickly. I mentioned it to my parents but as far as I know, no one has done anything about it.
In the past, anytime we have said something against any type of behavior, everyone shrugs it off as harmless and “he was just playing.”
We know we are going to be sharing the same space with him for a couple of hours on Christmas day, do you have any advice on what we can do?
Dear Worried Sister,
Here’s what would happen in a just world:
Your parents would un-invite Dan from Christmas right now. “Your prank with the lighter at Thanksgiving wasn’t funny and it won’t be tolerated. Why don’t you sit this Christmas out and we’ll try again next year.”
Your cousin Amy would also have a talk with Dan right now. “Stop your boneheaded behavior when we visit my family. It isn’t funny.”
Do we live in that world? Not yet. Soon, maybe. In the meantime:
Tell your parents exactly what happened at Thanksgiving. Then tell them that you dread holiday celebrations at their house sometimes because it means dealing with Dan. Tell them that this Christmas if Dan does even one inappropriate thing, y’all are out of there and you will not go quietly. There will be a scene, the word “FUCK” may be yelled in front of family and Santa and the elves and the baby Jesus and everyone, the cops might be called to report assault, and you will be done with holidays at their house for a good while. If they want to speak to Dan about his behavior ahead of time, great. If they want to uninvite Dan, great. They are the hosts, they are your parents, and you need them to handle the situation and be able to give you assurances that “Dan’s just gonna Dan” will not be the the rules of the holiday this year.
If your parents tell you to calm down and that “he’s just playing” and “he doesn’t mean it” or ask you to be the “bigger person” and let it go, ask them some questions. Such as:
- Ask your parents why an asshole who holds an open flame against their kid’s arm in their house “for fun” is a more important and desirable holiday guest than their own kids.
- Ask them why he doesn’t “joke” or “play” with men like this – I don’t see the story where he did the lighter thing with your dad’s arm, for example.
- Ask them why they don’t treat you like they believe you or take these stories seriously. If it’s “not a big deal” why can’t he just fucking stop it then?
- If they tell you not to “ruin Christmas” by bringing up this issue, ask them why it’s okay for your Christmas to be ruined over and over again by Dan and his weird hugs and his threats of fire.
- Parents: “But we need to all celebrate together as a faaaaaamily…” Your sister: “Yeah, I like that, too, but not when a member of the family assaults me with a cigarette lighter.” Keep naming the thing that he did.
Be a united front and talk to your folks together. It is okay to make a giant stink about this. If you do decide to brave it out and go, follow through on what you told your parents you would do if Dan bothers you. Leave. Make a scene on your way out. Yell: “WHAT THE FUCK, DAN?” Do not hug him or get within touching distance. Shrink back if he tries to touch you. Sometimes it’s good to practice saying stuff ahead of time since in the moment the pressure to be quiet and go along can be overwhelming.
You have not done anything wrong and you should not be worried about losing access to your family’s holiday celebration because of some asshole.