Dear Dante, Season 6
In which Dante advises on meeting the parents.
My family always presses me about being in a relationship when I get home and constantly pokes fun at any romantic interests about which I tell them.
Now that I’m actually in a new and exciting relationship, and about to go home for the holidays, I don’t know what to do. I want to invite him to meet my family, but I also might not want to tell anyone about him at all, because my parents will find flaws and point them out before I can even really explain who he is. But I know if I do keep it a secret, then they’ll make fun of me even more. What should I do?
It seems like your decision has been mostly made, that you should tell your family about this guy, but that you’re struggling to confront the fact that your family’s brand of affection might not be exactly what you’re looking for. That dynamic, clearly, is obscuring your view of what you’ve already decided. I can see how that may be difficult, but please, spare us the toner cost. When I put my life and reputation on the line to launch this advice column, I was hoping to receive topical and scandalous queries about making the most of our hopeless generation’s time on earth. Instead, you came equipped with a toaster-full of waffling and whining about what to do when your big brothers are cooler than you. I’ll admit, you’ve got one part right—you are hopeless—but you’ve otherwise missed the mark on this submission. Nonetheless, I’ll give you the time of day, if only for the charitable contribution deductions on my taxes.
So your boyfriend’s a himbo. Or a burnout. Or a sellout. Or a scarf-wearing NFT-guy. I haven’t met him personally, but he’s obviously no charmer; a true master of the game, a boyfriend who really cares about you would have already been in contact with your family to coordinate an elaborate and deeply embarrassing prank at your expense. That would have been awesome. As it is, he’s a nobody, and your family will probably bully him, too. He will, of course, deserve it. Seeing as you are personally worried about finding yourself on the wrong side of some good old-fashioned displays of affection, this could easily present a problem or an opportunity. Either you try to make this thing run smoothly—by talking with your family about making him feel welcome and doing your best to hide his many many flaws—or, if you think your family’s jeering is inevitable, you can establish clearly and early that you’re on the right side of the bullying, and join your family in making your boyfriend feel like the crude misfit we all know him to be. You can probably guess which route I support. Let’s talk about strategy.
Your older brothers are fucking hilarious. That’s a given. I’ve been IM’ing them recently, and it sounds like they are just on another level when it comes to the pranks. Fireworks in the school cafeteria, shards of glass on the roadways, a deer carcass in your bed—they gave me the rundown on their resume, and it’s impressive, to say the least. It would be a mistake to think that you will play more than a minor role in the embarrassment of your beaux, but that shouldn’t make you think less of the assignment. The fourth Stooge, Tucker, was just as important as Larry, Curly, or Moe; he just knew his place. So when your big bros start working some magic on—for example, your boyfriend’s weak chin—you shouldn’t necessarily try to hop right in. That would be awkward, and also probably a bit rude (to your brothers). Instead, you want to keep your insults vague and try not to step on your family’s toes by stealing their material—I say stealing because I think we all know you struggle with originality (for example, this Hallmark movie has already been made, a couple times over). Try keeping a list of some real heavy-hitters if you want to rise to the occasion. Things like Punk!, Nobody!, or Little brother!, that you could shout at your boyfriend as he gets thrown the gauntlet by the rest of the family, just so everyone knows that it’s him that the fun should be focused on, not you. A lot of those vague-but-cutting jabs work especially well when accompanied by a vigorous point, or a sticking-out of the tongue, so really feel free to make these suggestions your own when it comes time to rumble—this is your boyfriend, after all.
That brings me to my next point, which is that you should try your best to look out for his feelings throughout all of this; as you said, this is your first positive and sustainable relationship (no surprise there), and it would be a shame to throw that away just to avoid a bit of joking from your folks. I guess I don’t really have many strategies to offer in that regard, and I totally stick by what I said above about joining on your family’s side in poking fun at and identifying serious flaws in your boyfriend. But take it easy on the poor kid, or do your best to do so—he doesn’t have many friends, you know.
Most importantly, tell your older brothers I said what’s up. Those guys are icons, and I’d love to come kick it in the muscle-den downstairs, if they’d have me.
Best of luck,