Loving abuse

No one can be ruder than your family, and the holidays provide the perfect stage for the kindest cuts of all
December 10, 2007 4:50:30 PM

Oh, the holidays. Gravy, stuffing, and something in the eggnog that turns even your twittering Aunt Agnes into a cloven-hooved menace with two-pronged horns and a yen for Gestapo tactics. The action never stops at my house, and when there’s a lull in conversation, someone always asks: “Guess who died?”

Love life?
I come from a very large, fabulous family of blunt, vivacious people. Love ’em all, but my self-esteem deserved a medal from the Special Olympics by the time I was 21. Chances are, some of you are used to being prodded like a turkey as well. For most young women, the most common line of questioning encountered when reconnecting with far-flung relatives is this: “So, seeing anyone special?” This is Chinese water torture disguised as casual inquiry. (I’m married, so you’d think this would eliminate me from such hazards. Not so. Two years ago, I spent a family holiday gala hiding from an overzealous cousin determined to marry me off to a guy named Scooter.)

It’s tough to know how to play this question. If you’re not seeing anyone special, honesty runs you the risk of looking like a complete loser. “No, there’s no one in my life. I spend Saturday evenings in the fetal position wrapped around a glistening tub of Haagen Dazs watching MacGyver reruns. Sometimes I crochet. Yes, I have considered both liposuction and suicide. Pass the potatoes?”

If you are seeing someone special and deign to say so, congratulations! You’ve just boarded the express elevator to Socially Acceptable Behavior, with a pit-stop in hell. Let’s eavesdrop on this typical family.

“Who is he? That nice doctor from your building who held the elevator that one time? He’s hunky!” (Your mother, aggravated you’ve not told her until now, but hopeful nonetheless.)

“It is a he, right?” (Your florid great-uncle, har-dee-har-har, whose homophobia increases with his Wild Turkey intake. Pants are unfastened.)

“So, when’s the wedding? We’ll totally have to go dress shopping! David’s Bridal is having a sale right now.” (Your cousin from Methuen who reads In Touch because Us Weekly has too many words.)

“I’m so glad you finally found someone. Honey, let me tell you, it’s murder out there!” (Your leathery Aunt Cleo, whose longest relationship has been with a pack of Virginia Slims.)

The correct answer is to say you’re “not getting too serious with anyone in particular.” This will please the older people in your party, as it was once customary to keep at least 12 men on a string until the morning if your wedding. It will assure your parents that you’re neither asexual nor socially inept. And it will make your cousin, who has been dating the same guy since eighth grade, jealous.

Weight loss/gain
I have spent the past 10 years deprived of oxygen — it’s for this long that I’ve sucked in my stomach. To make life even more unfair, my mother is taller than I am and weighs approximately six pounds. However, I do have two sturdy grandmothers. Years ago, when I was first starting to blossom into the lovely young woman I’ve since become, Nana took me aside and pinched my tummy. “Both of your grandmothers are fatties,” she whispered. “You don’t want to become a fattie, too! Now how about something nice and healthy, like a frappe?” It’s these words that get me to the gym every day.

If you have lost a suspicious amount of weight, let me first declare that I hate you. Secondly, congratulations! However, don’t expect this to go unnoticed by the prying eyes of well-meaning relations. The same people who were urging you to get in shape will now try to force-feed you butter through a straw.

They will also try to rationalize why you’ve lost the weight. My favorite reason: you work too hard. This is a favorite of older folks who don’t understand simple economics. These are people who consider a hard day to be an unfulfilling sale at Kohl’s or a bad shot on the golf course. They think you should be a 25-year-old retiree. You should be spending time grooming, sunning yourself, eating well. If only you didn’t toil at this so-called “job,” you'd look so much better! The working world is no place for a delicate flower such as yourself. Well, Uncle Hal, maybe if you hadn’t retired so damn early, I wouldn’t have to work.

Conspicuous weight gain is more easily addressed. If you’re single, you’ll never find a date because you’re looking too “hefty.” If you’re engaged, you’ll never fit into your wedding finery. If you’re married, you must be pregnant. Helpful hint: if your mother suggests that you join Curves with her, don’t go. I’m still looking for my dignity in between rolls of stomach fat.

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