Sleeping with the in-laws

His parents are small-town farm people and I don't like them!

Published March 20, 2009 10:33AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

Forgive me if this is a clichéd, dreaded-in-law question, but I need your wisdom. I have been in a serious relationship with a great guy for almost four years. We're about to graduate from college, get married and move to a new city. It's exciting. The question is -- what do we do when we visit home?

Our families live about 45 minutes away from one another, and he mentioned the other day that he expected us to split our time evenly between our two families when we get married. This means that if we intend to visit our families for four nights, he wants us to spend two nights at his parents', and two nights at my parents'.

In theory, I think this is fair. But in real life, I have a serious problem with it. You see, I can't stand his parents. I can't say that there is a good reason for my distaste -- they have always been really kind to me. But you know how some people grate on your nerves? His parents just irk me. I find them too small-minded and too quiet. They live in a small farm town that's pretty dull to visit. His mother can be a bit of a religious zealot. His father has to control everything (the television, where we eat, what route we take when we go out to eat, what coats we wear ...).

In small doses, they aren't that bad. But in the past, we've always gravitated toward spending more time with my family. My parents live in the city, they are more lively, less restrained. We don't have to hide the fact that we're sleeping together. We can consume beer openly. Generally, if we have a week off of school, I'll have dinner with his family one night, and then I'll return to sleep at my parents' home. My guy might spend 1-2 nights at my parents' house the same week. He's never questioned our routine, but I can understand why he thinks it has to change when we get married. Married people don't spend nights apart when they visit their families ... right?

One more thing -- my parents are two of my closest friends. I'm already saddened by the thought that I will not get to see them that often once I move away. The idea of having to split my time with them to crochet with my in-laws makes me cringe.

I love my man, and I want to love his family -- but I don't. So what do I do?

Where Do You Sleep?

Dear Where Do You Sleep,

I like the part about his dad's controlling the coats you wear. Now that's controlling! It's like he thinks you're still 6.

This is going to be a simple reply. I'm kinda fried mentally. I'm out of ammunition.  (OK, I had insomnia last night; I watched a documentary about the Ramones.)

Being fried mentally may explain the business that follows, about buckets; frankly, I'm not  sure what the bucket business means, either, but I'm going with it:

His parents have to put you in their bucket. That's what's going on here. Farm people have buckets they put stuff in. They might not have a bucket for who you really are. But they have buckets for "headstrong" and "unconventional." They keep those buckets outdoors usually, which is why they're wondering where you'll sleep. You may hear them comment about your "stubborn streak," or your "unconventionality." But give them time. They're just trying to get you in their bucket. Once they get you in their bucket, they'll simmer down.

But maybe you aren't ready to get in their bucket! That's OK. You can stay boyfriend and girlfriend.

If you try to divide your time evenly between the houses, I doubt it will work. Family visits require operational flexibility. Symmetry is impossible. The fact that your fiancé wants to divide the time equally indicates that he senses conflict; he knows the sensitivities of the people involved and is looking for some solution. But splitting your time 50/50 will not fix things. Deal with the phenomena head on. Just be prepared for some uncomfortable moments. I mean, getting married means spending time with people who are different from you. It means joining somebody else's family. This can give you the feeling that your head is going to explode. But it's part of the deal that you make.

So please, make sure that getting married is what you want. More and more couples don't even bother with that. They just do what they want. It might simplify everything.

(If you refuse to marry, your in-laws might insist on separate rooms, which would be strange, but kind of cute.) But refusing to get married would provide you with some space in which to maneuver. And it might make it easier for his parents to understand what's going on. They would then know that something like modernity has come to their door.

They probably have a big bucket for that.


What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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