Dear Oh Wise Genius,
I really don’t want to go home for Thanksgiving. My family is a bunch of MAGA-hat-wearing idiots. At best, they’re complicit with bigotry and oppression, and worse they post on Stormfront. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills every time I’m there. I just know I’m going to snap at some point and call them out and it’s going to make everything awkward, because if I don’t do this, I’ll lose my mind. How can I begin to get through this?
I Don't Even Like Turkey
Besides some relevant links here, and here, I want to expand this to a wider question: How do we deal with feeling like our family sucks and is full of shitty people? If you want, you can open it up even wider to the question of, “How do I reconcile having people in my life who treat me well and are important to me, but who I feel like might kind of suck inside?”
We all have family that sucks in some ways, but you can often see more generic, forgivable forms of sucktitude as being quirks that you deal with because you love them, and you’re stuck with them.
But that’s for things like, “Bradley is a real fucking pain in the ass when we’re trying to find a place to eat,” or “Aunt Ruth is really judgmental for someone I see once a year,” or “Man, Dad gets way too into sports. He does realize he’s an overweight insurance broker, and not actually Tom Brady, right?”
I think we can manage to deal with most of those to our varying degrees, so that’s not what we’re talking about. When I talk about family sucking, I’m talking about stuff like this:
“Oh Uncle Rick got fired for “inappropriate behavior” which is pretty fucking sketchy for a high school teacher.”
“My best friend Lucas sure does call his girlfriend “cunty” a lot. Like probably too much. And then he yells at us if we say something about it.”
“I love my mom, and I love playing Jenga with her, and singing Christmas Carols, and talking about home decor, but….man, she sure does talk about ‘the problems with the blacks’ a lot.”
Dealing with this stuff is complicated. On one hand, you have to think about always being there for family, because after all, you’d want them to always be there for you in these circumstances. On the other hand, you’re not planning on getting fired for ogling high school girls, so maybe Uncle Rick should piss off?
On one hand, you want to continue to support your brother, but if he’s a bordering-on-abusive shithead, maybe someone should do something about it.
On one hand, you want to be there for your parents as they get old, but on the other, maybe you’re constantly looking at them and thinking, “Oh my God, you’re the problem in the world.” And if that makes you question yourself, and your ability to constantly confront that you’re a product of these people, and that’s impacting your relationship, maybe you need to say some shit that’s going to hurt the fuck out of their feelings. Maybe. I don’t know. That depends on your priorities and we’ll get to that in a second.
The point is that this is murky, and it goes beyond your Thanksgiving. It even goes beyond family. It goes to the question of, “How do you deal with loving people who might kind of border on being awful in some ways?”
Confronting this is a brutal experience, because it attacks the very nature of our relationships. This is why people don’t want to talk about politics.
Inherent in the phrase, “Let’s not talk politics” is really the communication of the idea of, “Let’s not discuss what we really believe in, what our values are, or who we are.” It’s a demand to keep our true selves buried beneath a surface level facade. It’s to demand we prevent ourselves from the connection (or more relevantly, potential lack thereof), and the connected kindred spirits that come from shared values and worldviews.
It’s to confront this scary idea of observing those close to you, and going, “Wow, we’re actually really not the same.”
Usually in the past, this has been to small, forgivable extents in political discussion, but the nature of politics has become so polarized, and certain people in power have been such egregiously, patently horrible piles of Cheetoh-shit (not that I’m talking about anyone in particular), that it feels nearly impossible--even morally unforgivable to stick to the idea of ”respect both sides.”
It’s now easy to look at somebody who continues to support a certain side, and to think, “Oh shit, we can’t be fully connected when I find what they support to be so, so morally reprehensible.”
And when this is family or close friends you’re dealing with, it can be incredibly disillusioning, and isolating.
And frankly, this can be so rough, that the temptation is to say, “Can’t I just go back to not knowing this? Can’t we all just pretend that we’re on the same wavelength again, and like no problems exist here? Can’t I just ignore their vote to destroy the world and play Chinese checkers with them?”
And well, yes, actually. That is an option. In fact, allow me to stop rambling about how much this sucks for you, and give you some actual options for how to proceed.
But spoiler alert: they all kind of suck in their own ways.
Option 1) Pretend!
Every one of your options here is dependent on what your end goal is.
So you can pretend everything is fine, but be clear: that’s what you are doing. You are pretending to continue a normal relationship. And if you want a strong, real, grounded relationship with anyone, pretending literally never works. Actual relationships are based on real, open, kindred connection--not avoiding a majorly indicative topic while you talk about Young Sheldon and compare puppy pictures.
This is probably the option that you were leaning towards. It’s the lowest-conflict option, and as a rule of thumb, low-conflict is always our first choice in life.
And it still may be the best option, depending on your goal. If your goal is to not start a fight, to make your mom happy, and to simply survive the holidays (which is fine), then go for it.
But know what you’re giving up. You’re giving up a full, authentic relationship with everyone you’re not speaking up to. If you’re thinking, “That’s fine. I love my grandpa, but also fuck him a little bit,” good for you. Cool. I hope you have a strong support system of people elsewhere.
As for how to stay sane while doing this, while you’re there for the holidays, take plenty of “you” time, maybe meditate a little, try to steer things away from politics, eat more cheese than you normally would, play lots of video games, find random sources of joy, and accept that your family will always be these weird people you have to see a couple times a year. Take some extra steps to keep your sanity, and distract away so that you can hold onto it for dear life.
However, if you’re thinking, on some level, “But no, I need to still have a real, deep relationship with my family,” then read on.
Option 2) Salvage the Relationship
In order to do this, you have to walk into the fire. You have to *gulp* talk to people about this stuff. But keep in mind that if your goal is salvaging the relationship, you can’t talk to them in an effort to make yourself feel better. You can’t go in with the purpose of jerking off your ego and ejaculating your correctness all over your family. They won’t get anything from that.
So start off by keeping this in mind: your goal isn’t so much to convince anyone of anything at this point. That’s not the important part to the relationship. It’s to try to see where they’re coming from, still...even now...after alllll of this. It’s to dig the pile of shit that is their beliefs (from your perspective), and wipe enough shit away until you can see a decent person in there.
There is potential good to come from this, but only if it’s a discussion, and not argument. As soon as a voice is raised, or a condescending dismissal is expressed, you will find yourself just telling your dad to suck his own dick, and that’s not going to get you anywhere.
This is a risky path not only because it’s an awkward conversation, but because you may not get anywhere anyway. You may keep wiping shit away, and just find more shit. You may never see the decent person in there you were hoping for, and it can be really painful to be confronted with that over and over again.
But sometimes people have just been misinformed a whole lot. Sometimes they need to talk to somebody with a younger perspective. Sometimes they’re even a little right. And if you can find the connection to some of that, you can find some core to your relationship again.
If you want to try to find the good, it has to happen in quiet, calm rooms with no more than a couple people in them. Calmly dig into why these people are the way they are, try to persuade them, sure, but mostly try to see where in the fuck they’re coming from. Try to discover how Nana isn’t a monster who actually hates brown people, but instead just a run-of-the-mill cult member who got hooked in by the charlatan on the TV.
But again, that may not happen. You may not find that, and it’s worth being prepared for that.
So if you dig, and dig, and dig, and all you find from your family are, “If poor people die, that’s their problem,” and “Fuckin’ Muslims,” then it might be time for option 3.
3) Go Nuclear.
If you’ve fully realized that you just fucking hate these people, and can’t see a world where you can continue to be in the same family or the same room as them, then fuck it. Blow it all the fuck up.
If you can’t find any sane, non-bigoted people in your family, marry into another family. Go off on your own. Make your own way. And before you do, call everyone on their shit.
Let me be clear: This will accomplish nothing. But if your family truly sucks, you probably weren’t going to accomplish much with these assholes anyway. You might as well feel good as you’re walking out the door. Attack their character, attack who they are deep down. Rip them to shreds, and then steal their dog as you walk out the door, and bring it to a home that believes in a progressive tax code (or whatever it is you care about).
Okay, you don’t have to do all of that. But be frank. Just look them in the eye and say, “Listen, I think you’re gross because of x, y, and z.” Vent everything you want to vent. If nothing else, it will feel amazing.
It’s important to decide wisely here. You can select a little from columns A, B, and C, and that's probably the best option. You can ignore the awful shit your grandma says, have a real discussion with your parents, and tell your openly racist uncle to die in eight fires.
You decide what’s best for you on that. Choose wisely. Godspeed, my friend.