"Inlaws." Even the mere word causes fear and revulsion. Think Jane Fonda in that horrific Jennifer Lopez flick. Or FDR's mom, who friggin' tortured Eleanor Roosevelt, of all people. Who is so evil they would torture a saint? Eleanor Roosevelt's mother-in-law, that's who. In-laws are evil... or so I hear. All I know is you can make a scathing joke about in-laws and you'll pretty much always get a laugh. Or a chuckle. At the very least a solemn nod of recognition. Supposedly this is because it's true. But I wouldn't know -- I haven't been married yet, and my experience with the families of the people I've dated has been pretty great. Often, I was far more disappointed to see the families go than the boyfriends.
So, naive as this may sound, I've always loved the idea of marrying into a great big family. You have to also understand that I was an only child born from two only children so I was raised in the absence of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. A friend of mine tells me that he avoids marriage, in part, because he doesn't want to double his already extensive family obligations. But as an only child of only children, I could triple or quadruple my family obligations and still have, oh, 50 or so free weeks a year.
I'm sure I've avoided some unpleasantness -- I don't get 3:00 am phone calls from a sister sobbing uncontrollably about the latest victim of her unsolicited and unrequited affections, and I don't need to have bail money for a wayward brother always at the ready. So, there's a good chance I may have romanticized the whole "family" thing. Time will tell and you'll have to check back with me on that one. For now, I remain steadfast that family is important. And my new book, Family Affair, is an exploration of the yearning for family...for people to be connected to on a somewhat permanent basis. In the book, the main character is so attached to her husband's family that when he unexpectedly files for divorce, she files a countersuit for joint custody of her in-laws.
This may be why I am not yet married - because I'm looking for the whole package. And in my case, that package isn't your typical "tall dark and handsome" with a "great sense of humor," "great values," "great job," and every other supposedly great thing that all the girls want. My package comes with a family - a family complete with parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents -- maybe even throw in a dog for good measure.
You can imagine, this makes dating difficult. It's become sort of an auditioning process. And I'm not just auditioning "what's-his-name," for the role of "love of my life." I'm also auditioning everyone who comes with him, from the daffy great aunt Shirley who may or may not be wearing a wig and is convinced that her perfume, Eau de Mothball, is subtle and appealing, all the way down to the niece with the series of tragically short-lived goldfish named Oscar.
As such, I've found the best time of year to start dating people is the fall. November, if you want to be particular. This isn't because clothes are more forgiving this time of year (although that is a bonus), but the truth is this: I'm looking for an invite to your Thanksgiving dinner.
Thanksgiving is a prime opportunity to bring everyone together and a perfect laboratory of family dynamics. If I can score an invite to Thanksgiving dinner, I can scope out everything I need to see. Who are these people? Nothing brings out true character traits like a big ole family gathering. I even get to meet the black sheep sibling, the drunk uncle(s), the mildly disapproving grandmother, and the grandpa who can't stop leering and no longer even deems it worth the trouble to hide it.
I'm generally not able to focus on dating more than one person at a time. But I'm willing to do what I have to for the cause. And if I'm auditioning several families -- uh, I mean boyfriends -- and they have varying times for their scheduled dinners (many people start their Thanksgivings very early), I can conceivably knock off three or four different families on one holiday. Sure, I may gain a few pounds and yes, there's a chance that by dinner number three or four I'll be suffering from tryptophan-induced narcolepsy. But, in fairness to the Goldfarbs of Glendale, that incident could have been caused by football and not the turkey. You can only watch the Detroit Lions for so long before you face-plant into the sweet potato souffle -- which was delicious, by the way. Of course, even these awkward social moments present an opportunity to see if Boyfriend of the Moment's family will love me unconditionally. If they can look past something like that--maybe even embrace it as one of my quirks or part of my charm--even better.
Conversely, if I witness some messed up stuff at the dinner table, I can hightail it out of there and get to Bachelor #2's house before the good liquor is gone. It's kind of foolproof. I call it the "Thanksgiving Litmus." (It would sound better phonetically if it was the "Christmas Litmus," but who wants to wait that long to find a soulmate?) Besides, if we fall in love shortly after Thanksgiving then I get to spend the holidays with his family, huddled around a tree and opening presents together instead of sobbing through a karaoke version of "Winter Wonderland" at three a.m. on Christmas Eve.
Dialing exes under the influence of recently expired egg nog.
Screaming "Bah Humbug" into the phone, then hanging up.
But enough about me. I was only trying to draw a parallel to my new book. And the need for family. And the characters in Family Affair have a more unique and amusing perspective on the whole thing than I do. But don't take my word for it.
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