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Shades of Gray

For most of our lives, we go home for the holidays alone or with an established significant other (plus or minus offspring). Less frequent are the audition trips, where you introduce a significant other. These cannot be taken lightly. Your partner will see your primary source for defining “family,” observe how you interact with long-term loved ones, and probably watch you regress a decade or more.

This year, I will sponsor my first holiday audition trip. I’m bringing David home. Upping the ante, his brother recently confided in me, “As long as your mother doesn’t scare him, I think he’ll stick around.” I really want to do this right – read: not scare him away.

First, I want to balance duration and intensity. Some people use the dine-and-dash trade-off. Drop in for a major event and take off soon after. This is how I met his family, and it went well. But Kansas City / Boston is a tough turnaround, so we’re planning a four-day exposure without any major event.

Next, I started priming my family. I need to communicate how important it is that they (a) like him and (b) don’t scare him. This has boiled down to repeating over and over, reminiscent of an adolescent crush, “I love him, Mom. I really love him.” To really drive the point home, I’ve also been tossing out phrases like, “Our babies would be so cute/smart/talented.” Caution: if you apply this technique, limit how much your partner overhears or it could backfire. David looked a bit pale after he read this. “Want something from me, do you?” he said.

Finally, I’ve begun to work on David. In polling my friends, I came up with three potential approaches to partner prep. One is to let him walk in as a blank slate. Trusted insiders (siblings) discouraged this approach as naive and possibly cruel. A section-mate suggested pulling a prank to ease the tension, such as driving up to a deserted, eerie farmhouse before really taking him home. A little too twisted. My preference is the “no surprises” approach. In this one, you anticipate oddities or inconveniences to outsiders, tell your partner about it, and try to mitigate the downside.

So I’ve been wracking my brains lately for surprises to mitigate. For example, no coffee unless you count a twenty-year-old can of Folger’s Instant. Nasty surprise for a coffee gourmand. But there’s plenty of Coke, and David is now prepared to drink one every morning without batting an eye. Then there’s the luminescent lawn art, including a snowman in a noose and a manger scene with baby Jesus hand-painted black. No, my family isn’t certifiable, there’s just a long story behind each of these. I’m sure you have similar items in your family. And there’s a goldfish tank in the bathroom. Five dogs, six cats, and a turtle.

Shag carpet. Now that I’m writing all this down, I wonder if I’ve violated my goal already? I’ll let you know if he sticks around next semester.

December 9, 2002
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