And why we do this to ourselves
I nearly didn’t go home for Thanksgiving. I very likely won’t go home for Christmas.
The reason is simple: my mother is toxic. And the house I grew up in is the most anxiety-inducing place that I know.
In the event that you think I’m exaggerating — or perhaps just want me to really lay it out: my parent’s house is worse than the DMV. It’s worse than the dentist. It’s worse than the mall during peak holiday season. Worse than sleeping with someone that snores, or having to make small talk, or getting up early without snoozing an alarm. I’d rather sit in traffic every single day to and from work for an entire year than be stuck in that house for a single long weekend.
And let me be absolutely clear, in case you’re doubting: all of that is the absolute truth.
My mother — and that house — are really that hard to sit through.
And I know what you’re probably thinking: a lot of people have strained relationships with their moms and “moms will be moms”— there are nosy moms, overbearing moms, emotional moms, mean moms, immature moms, cold moms, helicopter moms, clingy moms, whatever — and I know that, on some level, “enduring” our own mother is perhaps a sign of maturity. But my mom isn’t simply the “that’s just how moms are!” variety. My mom is the mom on whom other moms — and most every other person who meets her — can agree: that lady be straight-up cray. Because my mom does all of that at once — and then more. She is a one-man volcanic activity, and thar she always be ready to blow.
Hence, my decision not to go back this year.
Almost. Until I did.
The reason I did end up going home for Thanksgiving — a last minute decision; my flight booked barely two weeks in advance — is equally clear: the boy and I are from the same state, and he — like a normally-functioning person (with only a “normally” dysfunctional family)— was going home for the holiday. I hadn’t yet met his people, and he hadn’t yet met all of mine, so going home in order to do this made sense.
A check box that just had to happen in order to move forward.
So I met his friends and family, and he was introduced to mine. Mostly show-ponying in the same way people get married — so often a gesture that’s largely, at least in part, a way of saying:
“Look, everyone! Look at how serious we are! This person is important to me!”
And yet it begs the question: how does real love still fit into all of this?
Passive vs. Active — and how do we love?
Over the trip, one of the boy’s friends suggested I was too passive. I don’t actually remember what this pertained to — though I’m pretty sure it was because the boy and I both waiting a little too long (for this buddy’s taste) to make a move — and tbh this assertion was too silly to refute, so I didn’t.
(I recognize the irony in this.)
And yet it left me wondering, as healthy, introspective people are apt to do: am I too passive? I’ve certainly heard the opposite far more than I’ve heard this accusation. But where do we draw the line between “loving” and “passive;” what’s giving enough; too little; too much?
Very few of us like going home for the holidays, for any number of (all very common) reasons. And yet most of us still do. Because we “have” to? Because deep down we “love” them? Because we’re too big of cowards to do anything else?
Which is real love?:
- Enduring unhealthy, negative, draining relationships for the sake of social niceties and “norms;” putting ourselves in situations that have been emotionally and psychologically harmful our entire lives because “they’re family!” and “we should!” —
- Or creating space in (or from) relationships that no longer serve us in healthy ways?
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we “family” when it makes us unhappy?
On being “active” defined as “sharing feelings”
Perhaps you might suggest there’s some third option — “you should just talk to her” some suggest; “why don’t you let her know how you feel?”
And to this I must answer:
- First: I knew that was coming.
- But secondly, a sarcastic shyea okay! (Like, Why didn’t I think of that?!)
Because the short answer is: trust me, I’ve tried. I’ve known the woman my entire life, and spent the decade from ages 13 to 23 trying to explain my side to her. The only semblance of peace we ever found between us is when I stopped caring enough to combat her anymore, and she’s permitted to believe she’s getting her way.
If you read this and are still rooting for an adorable run-in or some kind of mother-daughter heart to heart talk, you really do not appreciate the severity of the situation. There is no reasoning with an unreasonable person; there is no open or honest conversation with another person who is buttoned up the brim with defensiveness, immaturity, imbalance, selfishness, and lack of rationale.
You do not continue to “explain your side” to a rabid mongoose. You only do your best not to get bitten. Or you run.
So. Which is real love?:
- Enduring a continually-toxic relationship, if the other person cannot — or will not — join you in a constructive conversation —
- Or telling them that you are not coming home without specifying the reason why, allowing them work out a reason that absolves them of responsibility inside their own head —
- Or pouring your heart out, getting honest and vulnerable, only to have them launch into the defensive and make it worse?
The answer here, of course, really depends on the person — and again, you have to understand: my mother be straight-up cray.
I tried the third route for ten years. It was ugly. All mother-daughter relationships are strained during the teen years, but this shit, I’m fairly certain, was far worse.
I tried the first route for nearly a decade after that. And it, too, was equally ugly. The only saving grace here was that the strain was now all mine, and she was oblivious to my continual heartache.
I might argue here: maybe that’s love. At least in part. Maybe part of love is enduring bullshit from people who can’t reason beyond bullshit. I have no idea.
But maybe love is about defending ourselves against toxic bullshit.
Being “active” defined as “stepping away”
And maybe love is about letting go of love in order to do so. Maybe love for ourselves — and really, at the end of the day, for others — is about having the balls to step in and say, however quietly:
“No more of this, please… no more.”
And maybe the boy’s friend is right — maybe I am too passive. And if that’s the case, maybe I have every right to take a step back and declare the holidays as “Days of Reason (over obligation)”, in which I will be granted the wherewithal to celebrate love that does not gnaw away at my wellbeing, and prioritize silence and solitude over self-sacrifice, in the name of self-respect.
And maybe that’s love.
Love, anyway, that’s bigger than “having” to go home or do anything else that doesn’t serve (and rather, hurts) our hearts in meaningful ways.
And maybe that’s the only love that should actually matter.
On the upside: the boy’s friends and family are just wonderful. But if nothing else, I hear Mexico is nice this time of year.