It’s no secret that my in-laws do not like me. Why? I have no idea. I mean, I know I’m weird, but they hated me way before they had a chance to get to know me. Given the way that they pronounce my nationality, like a disease, saying it to others as though they’re apologizing to God, tells me that maybe it has something to do with where I’m from. Now, I’d also like to say that I know most people dislike their in-laws. I know that I’m not the only person in all the world with this problem, which is my purpose for writing this, I feel like other people can relate to it. Also, my point of doing this blog wasn’t to document how “beautiful” Italy is. Everyone knows it’s beautiful. I wanted to write an honest blog about what it’s really like living here as a foreign person. If I just post photos of pretty buildings and great food I’d only be telling half of the story. If that’s your thing, there are loads of tourism blogs about Italy that don’t document things like neo-nazis or evil mother-in-laws.
So, anyways, I’ve been with Francesco for over three years and since the beginning we have had a lot of problems with his parents. They objected to our marriage, our relationship, and me. I assumed at some point they’d be won-over by my charm, and by charm I mean, “she’s cute in a baby-in-a-head-shaping-helmet” kind of way. That did not happen and in many ways things have only gotten worse.
Two weeks ago, my husband and I were in his hometown visiting his parents when his mother took it upon herself to introduce me as her sons “girlfriend,” followed by an explaination to my husband that she doesn’t recognize our marriage. This. Pissed. Me. Off. In three years this is the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to say something to her. So I emailed her because I am super, incredibly, stupid. I’m not going to paste the exact email here but it was something like this:
“Look, clearly if you still have a problem with me after three years you’re always going to have a problem with me. I have no idea what you want. You’ve never liked me and have made sure that I’m aware of that. The tension in the family isn’t good for anyone. It’s not good for you guys, or Francesco, and I don’t want to cause problems in his life. He’s in a really difficult position. I’m aware that you would have prefered he married an Italian woman, or one of his ex’s (whom his family is still close with), however he chose me. Why? No idea. But he did. Seriously, what do you want from me? Do you want me to pack up my stuff and return to the United States and leave Francesco? Is that the goal here?”
Of course, my purpose was to address their problems with me and the “less than ideal” situation, and ask what the family hoped to accomplish by reminding me every other weekend that I am not their first, second, or third choice of daughter-in-law. This is not what the mother took from it. Of the five paragraphs I wrote the only part she paid attention to was, “return to the United States” where she decided that I’m going to leave Francesco and divorce him as an “American does.” Her response back to me was something like this:
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’ve imagined everything because you are mentally unstable. Maybe you should look at how you’re acting, and stop hiding inside of yourself like a hedgehog.”
Where I responded internally: Oh b&$&, just wait until I publish a book! Just kidding, that would make me crazy (because there is no way anyone is going to publish me). But seriously, just wait.
Suprisingly, her response also pissed off my husband because she called me a dellusional liar, which she can’t do in this particular case because he was there everytime she threw a tantrum forbidding him to marry me, screaming “why would you be with an AMERICAN,” and telling his friends that whatever they do to “find a nice Italian girl, not an American,” like her son did. Not to mention, she expressed her disapproval to the entire village, which of course came back to us. So, as nuts as I really am, I didn’t hallucinate the fact that she hates me and the idea of our cross-cultural union (because it’s 1825), nor did I hallucinate the few times she’s poked my breasts and told me how incredibly unattractive I am because I don’t have huge knockers. True story. So, my point is that I did not make this shit up. My husband called her to say, “My wife did not make this shit up.” Where she responded (seriously), “She left the table during lunch.” What does that even mean? Let me explain.
Leaving The Table Is Like Announcing That You’ve Eaten A Neighborhood Child: Important Cultural Lesson
Let’s say you’re sitting around a lunch table with guests and your baby starts screaming to the high-heavens, or, in my case, your dog feels the urge to make leg sex with everyone, followed by incessant barking, and then food thievery.
The polite thing to do is:
A) Keep eating. Smile. Drink more wine, and tune out everyone yelling at your dog to “stop” and “BASTA!” Embrace the fact that your screaming baby/obnoxious dog is the center of attention. Feel the love. Own it.
B) Take the disruptive child/dog into another room and let everyone eat in peace.
We all know that in the United States, Britain, France, etc, choice “A” would make you the rudest fucking person in the history of manners, EVER. However, I’ve recently learned that choice “B” is worse than committing murder in Francesco’s family.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, you’re wondering, “How does telling you that you’re not welcome in their family have anything to do with getting up from a table?” It doesn’t. Which is what makes this woman a genius because she is using a classic red herring move. Touchè devil woman. Now, I have to make the next move but what I really want to do is disappear.Or, I can use her own method against her and reply back, “Goats drink goats milk in the spring . You ate an orange once. Eminem. Caffe Latté!”
I’m trying to figure out what to do next so I asked everyone for advice because clearly I can’t trust myself. An Italian friend of mine said that her behavior is standard for a small southern village, and that she will continue to use a “paranoid, and insane,” strategy to try to take the higher ground politically.” I am well-versed in this behavior, since I attended an American Junior High School, but ain’t no body got time for that! I talked with a few American friends who said that I should simply stop going to their home for a while because the constant negativity is causing harm and strain. I have great friends and I value their advice but honestly I don’t want to do that either. I don’t want to play her “strategy” game, and I don’t want to avoid the problems for another decade. My goal was to address the fact that there are issues and try to resolve it so that maybe one day my kids won’t have to grow up with the same tension (yes, I’m stupid, stupid, stupid!). Though, I do realize that if I couldn’t win them over in three years, it’s not going to happen, ever.
I’ve tried compliments, helping the mom clean and cook more, doing whatever they tell me, I’ve tried everything that Francesco has told me to do to improve the relationship but it hasn’t worked. I’m not the kind of person who normally places blame on other people (but my husband has assured me that this really isn’t me), nor am I the kind of person who cares if people like me or not (because duh, everyone does), but this is my husband’s family. I really want them to like me and it hurts a lot that they don’t (whine, whine, whine). However, I’m aware that you cannot force open a closed mind. If a person isn’t used to cultural differences, there is nothing that anyone can do. I know that because my own father is racist, homophobic, and all kinds of closed-minded. Can’t change them.
So the question is: Do I keep going there, pretending that everything is fine, tune out their criticism and smile, knowing they all want me to overdose on gasoline, or do I politely step aside and avoid the tension for a while, or do I respond to the the mother-in-law’s hedgehog email and hope that if we go back and fourth enough times we’ll come to some resolve?
Being a grown up is hard.