Carolyn Hax: ‘Forced togetherness’ of boyfriend’s family is exhausting

Dear Carolyn: We did Thanksgiving with my boyfriend’s extended family, who are intensely close. They were very nice to me, but I found all the forced togetherness exhausting. My own family doesn’t gather for Thanksgiving (my parents aren’t American, siblings live too far away), so I didn’t mind doing it, but I think I would like to opt out in future years.

When is the right time to broach this with my boyfriend, who seemed to really enjoy the visit? Do I wait until next year and then suggest that he go without me? I wouldn’t mind if maybe we alternated and spent every other year separately; I just don’t want it to be expected that I burn a whole week’s vacation on it in perpetuity.

Do I Have To?: Don’t hold on to this until next November, because it isn’t really about Thanksgiving. Which is a good thing for me, because I flagged your question weeks ago to answer in a column, then forgot about it and am now publishing it in January.

It’s important to talk about feelings like this as they come up because they’re about compatibility. Someone with an “intensely close” family who clears an entire week for a one-day holiday and “seemed to really enjoy the visit” deserves to know if his partner is not as thrilled about these things as he is.

He especially needs to know that the scene he loved through his eyes looked like “forced togetherness” through yours. You can respect his family affections while also busting any illusions he has about you. If he wants to be with someone who values the same things he does, then you’re not the right person for him.

You likewise deserve to know whether he’s ungrudging and liberal with his blessings for you to opt out of his cherished family rituals. If he’s constantly hoping you’ll join him or wishing you’d change — or, tougher, if he foresees caring more about this over time — then he’s not right for you, either.

Forget just “blessings”; you want him to want you to do your own thing, to see it as the best possible partnership luck. It’s not a crazy idea. He will never have to sacrifice his Thanksgivings (and maybe other holidays?) for your family’s to appease you. You’re a perfect mismatch, in a way.

But I digress. The point is, you both deserve to be loved fully for who you are, and to be with someone who feels so lucky to have you. If you hold back how you really feel, then neither of you will get to see the truth about the person you’re dating — at least, not until you’re so invested that it will feel easier to keep being disappointed in each other than to do the awful work of a breakup.

Don’t do that to yourself or to him. Say how you feel. Hold out for the person who likes you more after you tell the truth than he did before. That’s how you find the right person for you.

Dear Carolyn: My partner and I have been together 12 years and resided together for 10. She likes to sleep on the edge of the bed and have half of it for her territory, which I have no trouble respecting.

However, she is not demonstrative physically, not even to hold hands other than very occasionally, hug (except with her two grown kids), or initiate cuddling, like when we’re on the sofa watching TV.

I’d like to have some sincerely felt physical closeness, even just hugs, regularly. However, it doesn’t seem right to ask her or even to initiate hugging regularly, because I’d like it to be sincere and don’t want to have her act in ways she doesn’t find comfortable. I’m also not real assertive physically. So how do I approach this with her?

Anonymous: A partner who does not make sincere shows of affection will not give you sincere shows of affection. Wanting that combination of traits in your current partner will only disappoint you.

You can have affection, perhaps — or sincerity.

So it’s up to you to pick your priority. If you want hugs, then talk to your partner. Find out whether she’s undemonstrative because she doesn’t want to be touched, period, or doesn’t want to initiate touch. They’re very different things.

If her answer is “no touch,” then your options are to agree to that or break up. If it’s “no initiating,” then say you’d like to initiate, ask whether that’s okay, then try it on those terms. See how you both feel.

If assertiveness feels too wrong, then please ask yourself why you picked the exact partner to guarantee your privation.

If your priority instead is the sincerity — she has to want affection or you’re not interested — then you keep living as you are or you break up.

It’s a hard emotional situation but very simple math. Your 1 + 1 with her will never get you to 3. The question to ask yourself now is, how do you feel about 2?

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