Thursday, July 24, 2014

My Parents Don't Accept My Poly Relationships, Part 2: An Answer from Viny

Dear Viny,

It's been three months since you wrote me with a question about how to become more comfortable being your authentic self around your parents, preferably without causing them too much discomfort in the process.

You: a past self, writing in a moment of distress. Me: a present self, writing in a moment of relative calm, finally ready to formulate an answer.

Here's my best advice: Just keep working on it. And be patient with yourself. These things take time.

You knew that was going to be the answer back when you asked the question, but you asked anyway, because you wanted the travelogue: how did we get from you-then to me-now? (Sidenote: one of the things I've learned by moonlighting as an advice columnist is that someone who can formulate a clear question probably already knows the answer to it. My job is just to build a bridge, a satisfying arc between Q and A.)

So, this post is going to be a record of a few of the things that happened while I was becoming three months wiser than I used to be.

But first, I want to thank everyone who responded to my request for help, either publicly or privately. Apparently, I am not the only person in the world who gets stressed out whenever the parentals descend for a visit. As one particularly witty person put it, “I pretty much want to dunk my head in a toilet bowl of gin when it's over.” Amen to that, sister! And special thanks goes to the dear friend who decided to see if she could “channel Viny” after reading my blog post. She wrote me a long email, identifying three separate-but-connected issues and tackling each one in turn – namely: 1) how to make peace with my parents given the fact that they don't accept my life; 2) how to deal with a parent who has dementia; and 3) how to get support from my tribe when my parents are in town without offending my parents. I appreciated her advice about trying to model the tolerance I wish my parents would show for me, and I loved her suggestion that I consider moving my relationship with my parents “to a more neutral location, like the mailbox.” I couldn't help but picture miniature versions of me and my folks sitting in lotus poses atop a cushy stack of outgoing letters, waiting for the postal carrier to let in some light.

And now, back to the travelogue. I'll begin with the three big trips I took in May. I kicked off the month with a personal retreat to Breitenbush hot springs, courtesy of my extremely thoughtful husband, whose birthday present to me was the gift of some much-needed alone time. Next, there was the strangely illuminating journey to Planet Shroom. And finally, there was my last-minute flight to Salt Lake City at the end of the month to attend a funeral. My father's younger sister, age 60, died from choking on a gum ball. It was an unexpected but merciful reprieve: she had been dealing with severe depression for decades.

I learned a lot during my (literal and figurative) travels. Too much to recount here. But I do want to share one glittery bit that I brought back from Planet Shroom. Truthfully, I'm not much of a psychonaut: I vastly prefer hanging out at home, chillaxing in my boring, beige, business-as-usual brain. I have to admit, though, that each of the five or six times in my life I've traveled to the far-out, fungus-enhanced reaches of my own consciousness, I've come back with a small treasure. This time, it was an epiphany about the importance of cultivating clearer emotional boundaries between myself and others. After spending several hours mixing myself up with my husband – seriously, when I looked at him, what I saw was not him, but us: a mishmash of facial features, mine and his, like some bizarre photoshop experiment – I realized that this is what I tend to do with people I love. Connect. Combine. Confuse. In other words, being a natural empath has been both a blessing and a curse. It's often been a curse when it comes to interacting with my needy, mercurial father, who has always seen me as an extension of himself. I am supposed to read his moods and respond appropriately, since he is completely incapable of reading my moods and responding appropriately. It's like he's missing a limb, and that limb is empathy, and somehow it becomes my job to be his prosthesis. But the next time I get sucked into this crippling dynamic, I intend to remind myself: "We're mixing us up again...."

Enough of that. On to June and July, which have been a blur of activity. Summer is always the busiest season for my husband's business, which means that it necessarily becomes more of a family business: I pitch in, and our 17-year-old son babysits his 6-year-old sister. And this time of year, there's also the garden – or rather, the GARDENS – to tend to: we live in an ecovillage, and I am currently serving a stint as the harvest coordinator for all the berry bushes and fruit trees. (Apples, pears, and figs – oh, my!) Oh, and of course there was my performance with the Mystery Box Show, which was hugely rewarding, but took up a lot of time and mental energy. Add to all of that the task of keeping up with family, friends, and lovers, and you'll understand why Dear Viny has been uncharacteristically quiet of late. However, in the interstices between this'n'that, I have managed to do some “big picture” plotting, and I'm happy to unveil the newest sub-scheme in my grand scheme to be more myself around my parents.

Next week is our annual family reunion, which I was in charge of planning this year. I found a large cabin in the mountains above Salt Lake City that will accommodate my parents, my two siblings and their respective families, and me and my family. Part of my family, that is. But after the official reunion is over, my husband and kids and I will move to my mother-in-law's house, where a certain Extraneous Person will be joining us. After a couple of days, my husband and son will be returning home, while I and my daughter and the Extraneous Person stay on for the entire first week of August. My husband's mom is cool with that. My husband's sister, who lives just up the street with her husband and three kids, is also cool with that. My brother and his wife, who live across town, have graciously invited me and my daughter and the Extraneous Person over to their house for dinner on August 2, so apparently they're cool with that, too. In other words: some of the members of my extended family seem to think that a man I have been dating for two years deserves to be treated like a legitimate part of the family. Pretty amazing, huh? (No, really: it is amazing. It's taken fifteen years to get here, and I'm feeling celebratory.)

My parents don't know about any of these arrangements yet. But they are going to find out. And I bet it's going to get interesting. Wish me luck.

Well, it's time to wrap this up and get to work on the latest round of manuscripts I need to edit before I can go on vacation. (I swear, every time I free up a couple of days to focus on my writing, a bunch of my editing clients suddenly swoop down, like vultures to the call of carrion.) One last thing before I go, though: Remember how, on the morning when you wrote your question, you had just come back from a run? Back then, five laps around the track was pretty much the limit of what you could do. This morning, I ran eight laps, and I probably could have kept on going if I'd wanted to. You see? We're making progress, one step at a time. Just keep putting your best foot forward, sweetie. I'll be cheering you on.

Patience & Impatiens,

[UPDATE, post-vacay: It went exceedingly, shockingly well! I actually have a photograph of my father sitting right next to my darling E.P., who has now officially met both of my parents and both of my siblings. Yes, the unconventional nature of our relationship was a big pink elephant on the picnic table, but everyone was polite, and no shots were fired. I call that an unqualified success!]

1 comment:

  1. Yay, I've been waiting for your reply to yourself! I love that you are celebrating your successes. Good luck! :)