I've been in a committed, monogamous relationship for a year and a half. My boyfriend's family lives out of state, although I met his mom when she visited over the summer. Each of us is currently separated although still technically married to our exes.
About a week ago my boyfriend informed me that he'd be going away for Christmas to spend the week with his mom and siblings. While I understand the desire to visit with family during the holiday season, I feel forlorn and bereft that his leaving means I'm on my own. I'm also a little ticked off that it didn't occur to him to wonder about what I'd be doing for Christmas, and when I brought it up he said truthfully that it never occurred to him to include me.
Look, I get it. He doesn't want to bring me home with him, he's still technically married, as am I, and it's scary to bring a new girl home. But a year and a half, dude -- I'm not that new anymore!
Cary, am I just dating the world's most self-centered guy? I love him a lot, and he's usually pretty considerate -- very giving in bed, etc. -- but it seems that the holidays are a big blind spot for him and he has no idea why this is upsetting me. I've tried talking to him about it, but, hey, if he really doesn't care about my feelings (as evidenced by his lack of forethought when making his plans), I don't think my whining about it is going to make him care any more, or treat me with any better consideration.
What should I do? I can suck it up and make other holiday plans with friends, but it's going to be a blue Christmas without him. Also, I worry that if we don't resolve this, my resentment could fester indefinitely, ruining the pretty sweet thing we have now.
Lonesome Stocking Stuffer
Dear Stocking Stuffer,
I answered a Christmas question Thursday, and I'm answering another one today, as this one provides a nice contrast and will run through the holiday, until the column returns on Wednesday, Jan. 2.
One thing sticks out for me in your letter. You say that you and your boyfriend are both technically married. It seems to me that if you are married, you are married. It's not a technicality.
Maybe that is not a big deal to you. But in considering your boyfriend's decision not to bring you home for Christmas, it may be quite significant. You ask whether his action indicates that he is self-centered. I think it probably indicates that he has taken other people into consideration. It's just that those other people are not you. Those other people are his family.
Think of it from his perspective. He's married. His family knows he's married. They may not be so thrilled with the fact that he's separated from his wife and dating someone new. Families have a vested interest in the stability of their offspring's marriages.
His mother met you, but you aren't her daughter-in-law. In fact, in meeting you she must have realized that she is in fact in the process of losing a daughter-in-law. Think of it from her perspective. She may have had great hopes for her son's marriage. She may have loved her daughter-in-law. So then the news comes that her son's marriage is in trouble. He has moved out and he's dating. Well, these things happen. But unless his family uniformly reviled his wife, they cannot be all that happy about it. And since he is not yet divorced, his mother may still believe a reconciliation is possible.
Families take marriage seriously is what I'm saying. To them it's not just a technicality. It's a matter of the heart, and also of the family's collective economic security. They get their hopes up. They go to a wedding, they see their son stand up there and take solemn vows, their hearts fill with ideas about what the future might be, about what their grandkids might look like, about how they might spend the next 30 or 40 years together, how they might grow to love their daughter-in-law. They get all caught up in the whole marriage idea.
Then comes word that the marriage isn't working out. OK, so they feel some disappointment. Comes word that he has moved out, that they'll probably get divorced. OK, but they're not divorced yet.
So if the son shows up at Christmas time with his new girlfriend, who is also still married, maybe it puts a little tension on the family. Ya think? Here's this new person they don't know, and they're supposed to behave ... how? Like they think it's perfectly OK for their still-married son to show up at the house with his new girlfriend, who is also still married? Don't you think they'd feel a tad awkward?
So if I were you I would be glad that your boyfriend is a thoughtful person who is capable of thinking of his family and their feelings.
So, very quickly, because yesterday I was all about the tyranny of Christmas and how we ought to bust out of social constraints, and today I'm all for taking tradition into account, let's ask what's the deal? Do I contradict myself? Am I inconsistent? Am I even thinking about these things at all?
Well, I've thought it through, and I could spell it out, how I arrived at these superficially divergent views, but if you think it through, you will see how these situations differ in important ways.
I'll say this. I care about you. You took the time to write and share your feelings. That takes courage. You may read through the readers' letters in response to this and some of the people who write in may be very harsh, as though they were venting some private emotion of their own, unconnected to the matter at hand. It can be very upsetting for some people who write in for advice. So I'm saying, if the readers go overboard, ignore them. You don't need to be called names, or taught a lesson, or any of that.
All you need is a little perspective.
I'm not saying you don't get to feel upset about this, either. You do. You'll miss your boyfriend over Christmas. It's unfortunate. But there are other people to consider.
So make some plans with your friends. Have a good time.
And frankly, if I were you, I'd be glad that your boyfriend made the decision he did. He certainly could have handled it more gently. He didn't have to tell you that it never crossed his mind to bring you. That was unthinking and a little cold. But he's doing the right thing. Maybe if you can see it this way, you can spend your Christmas free of the notion that he doesn't care about you. Of course he cares about you. But he also cares about his family -- enough to put their feelings first.
"Since You Asked," on sale now at Cary Tennis Books: There's still time to receive an autographed first edition!
What? You want more advice?