A Unique Opportunity for Social Agony

I love my boyfriend. I really, really do. More than I’ve ever loved anyone. So, this weekend, I am going to put myself in a social situation that, given the opportunity, I’d avoid like a plague-infested pack of rabid minks on methamphetamines. Let me explain.

I come from a small, subnuclear family. Mom, three kids, never on good terms with scattered extended family. No reunions, no family get-togethers graced my childhood, and I liked it fine that way. My boyfriend, on the other hand, has a large extended family. A clan, actually. Several clans, to be specific. He’s Navajo, and they’re a very family-oriented people.

This weekend is my boyfriend’s (henceforth known as B, because I don’t want to type the words my boyfriend throughout this post) sister’s junior high school graduation. You will note that B has a sister in junior high school. B is twelve years older than his sister. And I’m twelve years older than B.

Also, apparently graduations are a very big deal in this family. So there are going to be a lot of people there. Upwards of fifty, maybe a hundred. They’ve rented a church.

Add into this the fact that while B is out to his immediate family, he isn’t out to his extended family. There are some really good reasons for this, both cultural and personal, and I respect his decision. But it does make for an even more awkward situation. I’ve met his immediate family, but this is going to be my introduction to his clans.

So, to give you an overview…

I’m headed to a big family event, while being completely unused to big family events. I’m almost completely unfamiliar with the culture and customs of the people involved in this event. I’m going to the event as the gay white partner of a native american man twelve years my junior, and yet I’m going to be presenting myself as a “roommate”, a transparent ruse at best.

I love my boyfriend, and I want to understand where he comes from, and to be a part of his life from here on in. So this needs to happen. I just wish it read less like the setup for hilarious indie-film comedy of errors. I don’t think I’ve ever been handed quite as good a chance to screw up completely in my life.


Oh my lord, you’re a saintly boyfriend. All I can offer in the way of advice is: don’t get drunk, if in doubt don’t talk just listen and if there’s any cleaning/lifting/moving things to be done, offer to help.

Best of luck, and be sure to remind your boyfriend how lucky he is to have you :wink:

On the “transparent ruse” front: Those are the best kind. Anyone who really cares to know the “truth” will, and everyone else just sort of buys in to the story because it’s easier that way.

And what Puddin’ said. Pick up heavy stuff and don’t drink (too much).

Hmm, you know, the only Navaho person I know personally is also gay. He’s also the wildest, funnest, craziest person ever. I hope your boyfriend is half as wonderful.

At any rate, you can’t help that you don’t know the customs. Just watch and enjoy and accept you might seem like The Stupid White Guy sometimes. And if you’re unsure of how to act and are trying to play it cool around the extended family, try thinking about how you’d act if you were at a family event with a roommate. Or friend. Someone you’re not involved with.

And take notes because like you said, maybe there will be a great screenplay out of this.

Oh, and to expand on what Francesca said: be the problem solver. This is always my ticket to acceptance at other people’s family events. I am the person who charms the difficult older person, who keeps one side of the family busy while the divorced other side has center stage, who dances with the developmentally-delayed cousin, who runs to get more ice when it’s needed. It takes the spotlight off of me and makes me a valuable commodity in the family’s eyes. Find out what the potential problems are and make yourself useful.

Yes, I can be rented for parties.

Wow, that’s some good advice. Thanks!

I can do the chair-moving, helpful-guy thing, no problem. That’s a great approach. And neither I nor my boyfriend drink, so that’s not a big deal. But I’m not sure I’ve got the social perception necessary to be able to be the problem-solver type, especially in a group of people I’m this unfamiliar with. And… no dancing. Any time I dance it resembles an interpretive rendition of “The Wooly Mammoth Contemplates Its Own Impending Extinction While Undergoing Convulsive Spasms Of Uncertain Origin.” So no.

Rue, your perspective on the “transparent ruse” thing is great, and you are, of course, absolutely right. It’s going to help a lot to have that in the back of my head as I’m introduced.

I think I’m going to give the sister who’s graduating a card with money (pretty traditional graduation gift) and we’re bringing up a set of juggling pins for the youngest brother, who I taught how to juggle a few weeks ago. We still don’t know what we’re supposed to be bringing for food…

And I gotta get the car washed, and do laundry, and get packed, and get a duplicate key made for the helpful-dog-sitting-friend, bless his soul, and I’ve got to find graduation cards, and learn how to say “hello” and “thank you” and “please” in Navajo…


I’ll second CrankyAsAnOldMan about being the useful person. Among other things, it takes my mind off the awkwardness of the situation by giving me something practical to think about (hmmm, now what would be the best way to stack those chairs).

Also, try looking around for someone who looks as lost and awkward as you and talk to them. It worked wonders for me this past weekend.

Finally, one last lesson I learned – it may not be nearly as bad as you fear. Heck, it might even be fun.

Good luck, and even if it goes badly, remember we’re still here for you.


Chalk up another life-saving chunk of advice to the helpful SDMB community.

We got back yesterday, and after two days of vegging out and recovering, I think I’m ready to relate the events of the trip.

It began with a minor disaster; right before a four-hour trip (which includes the amazing Salt River Canyon drive), my car lost all power steering. A quick diagnosis by the local mechanic indicates that, without me knowing anything about it, my power steering pump has become deceased. No way to get it fixed in time.

Panic sets in. B’s car won’t make it, a rental car is expensive, and then Mom comes to the rescue. Sure, we can borrow her car.

So we load up and head out, a stack of CDs at the ready, and drive past the apocalyptic fire going on just north of Tucson at sunset. Gorgeous and terrible, huge columns of smoke, glowing red at the bases, eating the forest all over the mountain.

And then we drive, and talk, and sing along to Jonathan Richman, and laugh a lot. About midnight, just north of Show Low, we stop to watch the moon rise, huge and ember orange, in a vast vista between distant horizons, full of stars. Just after it’s risen, coyotes all around us begin to howl.

A night in a cheesy motel room later, and we head to B’s parent’s house. Where we immediately start running errands. Ice, beverages, coolers, roasting pans, they all ride to the church in my mom’s car, and we help set everything up. I get some interesting looks. I also get introduced to everyone, and by everyone I mean the big mass of names swarming about in my head, totally disassociated with the images I have of people that I met. Someday I’ll learn all the aunts and uncles and cousins, but it may take a while. There were over seventy people there, and I think I could name about five.

A few speeches, and we ate, mutton stew and salad and roast and blue corn mush, all excellent. I helped B’s nellie (grandmother) by getting silverware and salt, though she simply looked at me appraisingly, and silently, as she only speaks Navajo. And then, it was off to the graduation ceremony.

Two, actually. Junior high and high school. For the high school graduation, for a class of 200, this little town of 5000 citizens filled up a football stadium. There must have been 2500 people at the ceremony, cheering for the graduates, and flooding onto the field at the end, thronging about the students, laughing and crying and taking pictures and shooting silly string and hugging.

And then, it was back to the reception hall. From there, all I recall is fragments. Tearful, proud speeches by parents of graduates, switching between English and Navajo, reciting the kids’ achievements. Beautiful, graceful old women, dressed in rich purple, and flowing skirts, and lots and lots of turquoise and silver jewelry. Rousing games of Foosball with some rowdy kids, and B beating up to three of them at once. B’s sister’s reaction to our carefully chosen present. (“Oh. Art stuff.”) B’s aunt and his grandmother wanting to take pictures of the two of us together. B crying as his cousing graduated as a member of the National Honor Society.

Then, the cleanup. Lugging loads of cooking utensils and coolers and watermelons back up to the house, cleaning the floors, taking out the trash. And late-night goodbyes. Being hugged by B’s mom and his aunts, shaking hands with his nellie. And last, his nellie speaking to me in Navajo, making a motion as if she was rocking a baby in her arms, and smiling at me. As we drove off, B told me that she’d asked me to take care of him.

This is a woman in her 90s, who’s never learned English, who for years has been the heart of her clan. I can’t tell you how much awe she inspired in me; she was so quiet, so confident, so joyous when hugging and talking with family. And she’s charged me with taking care of her grandson. Nothing could make me happier.

And now we’re back in Tucson. Having spent the past two days goofing around, watching TV, loving each other, we’re getting ready to get back to work. B’s mom called earlier, to make sure we got back all right. Apparently, his nellie may be having some health problems; they’ve arranged with the medicine man to have a week-long ceremony for her. I hope she’s all right.

So, once again, I owe the SDMB my thanks. Thanks for reminding me of my manners, of the fact that courtesy and consideration are always welcome, and in giving me the confidence to go into a whole new situation with an open heart.

:slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

Well, it just made me smile a lot OK.

Fantabulous MrVisible. (hope the car is fixed though!)

That’s a very cool story; I’m glad it all worked out. :slight_smile:

Dang it, MrV, you made me tear up at work with this. Why isn’t there a :happy tears: smiley?

Nellie likes you. You are so in. (It’s nice when things go good, ain’t it?)

That is so incredibly beautiful.

Wow. I made Kambuckta smile, and ToubleAgain cry. It really was that kind of weekend…

And I meant to tell Rue that his “transparent ruse” theory was right on the money. Of course, now B is trying to figure out who in his family he’s actually out to, and who is still oblivious. Coming out to my family was a lot easier; there were three people to tell.

I’m glad you all liked the story. It’s good to have you all around to tell it to.

That’s so sweet, MrVisible.