Adapted from an online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My family is really dysfunctional. I’ve made peace with it, except for when I date someone from a big, happy, close family, which just highlights the weirdness, such as when they ask what they think are harmless questions, and I’m left either dodging them or answering: “No, I don’t have a favorite food my mom makes, because she stopped cooking after my dad threw a hot casserole at her when I was 9, so it was cold sandwiches until I learned to cook.” Or: “Nope, I don’t see my dad on Father’s Day. My visit would interfere with his drinking.” Or: “No, we don’t really have holiday traditions, because my mom joined so many weird cults.”
At first I tried telling the truth, because a therapist once said to “own” my past, but that was so awkward. Lately, I’ve been dodging, and it’s exhausting.
So I’ve decided not to date anyone unless they come from a similar background. My friend says that’s an “incredibly limiting and self-destructive choice,” but I don’t see another option. Do you?
Exhausted: I do, and I agree with your friend.
There is vast acreage between dodging completely and telling entire truths every time. For Father’s Day queries: “Not a big thing in my family.” It’s a truth, complete unto itself, and covers a functional family that skips Hallmark holidays, or a “really dysfunctional” one. Only you know the difference until you choose to share.
Same with favorite foods from Mom: “Sandwiches? Mom didn’t cook.” True, and true enough. People aren’t as attentive to your history as you are.
Or tell truths without the sledgehammer: “Mom joining cults was our tradition. My childhood was … ‘interesting.’” [Air quotes.]
I’m thinking you know this, though — and maybe your erf-it-I’m-done-with-happy-families is less about what to say …….