Historians have found earlier drafts of Anna Karenina, where the line is different. It reads, “Everyone thinks their family is weird; every family is weird in its own way. Watch out for the guy who doesn’t think his family is weird.” It’s certainly less poetic, but I think it’s truer. (Also, in the earlier drafts, the ending of the novel is different — Anna and The Sundance Kid, a character who was sadly omitted from the final draft of the novel, are killed in a church by the Bolivian army.) wrote, in , “ are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
I have always thought my family was weird. There is nothing special in that belief. Every teenager knows that their family is weird. So, naturally, I was a little anxious about bringing my girlfriends around them. But bring them around I did.
When I told my parents I was engaged, my Dad was upset. He said that he didn’t really know her. I wasn’t sure what he wanted, I had brought her to a family picnic, my uncle’s birthday, and my brother’s wedding reception. And yet, my Dad swore he’d never spoken to her. So, I brought her to another family get-together. My Dad went up to my fiancee and he said, “Why do you love my son?” which I took to mean, “Don’t you think you could do better than that?” (That may or may not have been what he meant…) The sad thing was, my Dad was asking the question honestly, he was not trying to razz me, he was honestly waiting for an answer. My poor, dear fiancee hemmed and hawed for a bit and I tried to change the subject (mostly because I didn’t want her asking herself that question too much.) Luckily, by the time we were married, she had inadvertently answered the question so we were okay.
Meeting the in-laws can be nerve racking – even if you’ve been married for a while, you’re never sure if they’re going to revoke your marriage license. But, for me, it’s more stressful to bring her around my family because, as Herr Tolstoy said (I know, I know, “Herr” is German but I don’t know how to say Mr. in Russian), “Everyone thinks their family is weird…”
You think your family is weird because you know them. The problem is you know them and their quirks so well that it’s sometimes hard to put it all into words. So you say something like, “Watch out for my Dad…He’s weird…Y’know, just kinda funny, and not funny-ha-ha, well, I mean, sometimes funny-ha-ha but sometimes he’s more funny…y’know, funny…” And your fiancee gives you a look like you’re telling her that you’re trying to start an all-dog baseball league (which is a great idea, by the way). Then your Dad comes up and says something like, “Why do you love my son?” And all you can do is say, “I told you he was funny…”
The sad truth is that your family’s unique weirdness must be experienced to be understood. And the worst part about that is that the first few times you bring someone around to meet your family, they’re not weird, they’re nice, which is nice, except when you warned your fiancee that they’re weird and now she doesn’t believe you. It also makes it that much harder on her when the facade cracks and all of a sudden your brothers are running around in their underwear, stabbing each other with sticks, and quoting .
So, what to do, especially with the big holidays coming up? Meeting the in-laws is easy, you only have to be charming, polite, compliment everyone for everything, and pretend that you don’t notice that they resent you for stealing away their precious little girl.
What to do about your family? As we know, you can’t just throw the frog into a pot of boiling water, you have to slowly turn up the heat so the frog won’t jump out (Why do they tell you stories about boiling frogs in Sunday school? Were the teachers’ manuals written in France? Why are the frogs being boiled alive? I guess that explaining that chickens should be killed quickly and humanely, then plucked, and thrown into a pot of boiling water, is good for Home Ec. but bad as an object lesson about sin.) You need to help your fiancee/girlfriend/wife slowly build up a tolerance for your family. This is best done with short activities and fun getting-to-know-you events like picnics, , Sunday dinners, anything where, after a couple of hours, she can get away and tell you how crazy your family is. You probably shouldn’t jump right to trapping her up in the mountains with your family for a week. Some people swear by this kind of immersion but I think it yields mixed results. I think it’s best if you help her slowly build up a family-immunity like you have.
Your family is weird. But with a little time and a little help, she’ll be able love them just as much as you do. She’ll understand that your family is weird. After all, her family is weird too, in their own way.
written by Aaron Rowley