My mother-in-law has asked my wife if she and her new partner can come on holiday with us. Her thinking is that she wants us to bond with her new man (she split up from my wife’s father five years ago). We think it will be too intense – plus we don’t really like him. Is it possible to say no without offending?
We don’t know you, your wife, your mother-in-law or her “new man” but we do know that it is in the interest of everyone to make this work. That’s the bald truth. You are going to have to try to spend time with this person. It may be intense… and then it may be less intense. Maybe it will settle into a comfortable situation. Maybe it will even get cosy. Or it might not. But you owe it to your mother-in-law at least to take a really good look at this new man. There was a time when she had to take a really good look at you and it wasn’t necessarily love at first sight.
New relationships for your parental figures are never not going to have an uncomfortable settling-in stage. We don’t know the circumstances of your parents-in-law’s divorce but there will be a Spaghetti Junction of feelings for your wife, and your mother-in-law, to untangle. That’s no easier just because everyone involved is a grown-up.
Not only that but they are talking about going on holiday. Is there anything more triggering than a holiday or the idea of sharing one? Emilie had dinner with one of her oldest friends the other day and in a mad fit of nostalgia-driven enthusiasm brought on by talking about Greece (they used to holiday together as children) suggested that they go back there together. The friend looked her straight in the eye – no umming or prevaricating or vague mutterings – and said that it was an absolute rule that they only went on holiday with their immediate family unit. Conversation closed. Because holidays are precious: precious time and precious money.
We totally agree that it would be risky to spend two weeks on a windy Greek island with someone you are unsure of. It’s a lucky few who adore going on holiday with their parents-in-law – mostly it’s just something we all have to do. Not only that, but is there anything on which we put more pressure than a holiday? We expect it to be restful, relaxing, with perfect weather, delicious food, wonderful scenery and incredible fun. Can you think of a holiday that’s delivered that? Without tears, and sweaty stress or, at least, a shouty row and a bout of food poisoning. Two weeks of uninterrupted family bliss? Excuse us while we laugh for days.
So here’s what we suggest you suggest: a weekend break, in a place bursting with activity, with sights and restaurants and nice accommodation. Bath, Edinburgh, York. Somewhere you can coexist and explore the rules of engagement surrounded by distraction.
Absolutely no planes (airports are now just vortices of stress) and no longer than two nights. If it’s intolerable then you are going to have a really big think, but if it sort of works then you probably won’t have to do it again for an age, and you might even have put enough conversation in the memory bank to get you through the challenges presented by Christmas, birthdays, Easter etc.
Mostly, think about your mother-in-law – sorry – because anyone who has looked post-divorce singledom in the eye will know that these new relationships are hard-won. Of course she wants you to bond; she wants all the people she loves to love each other. This is what we all want. We all want people to find the treasure that we see in the people who make us happy.
Incidentally, there is a lot of “we” in your letter, Reluctant: “We think it will be too intense, plus we don’t really like him.” It sounds like you’ve already ganged up on him and that’s quite a powerful position to come down from. It’s one thing to be united in your marriage, it’s quite another to present a defensive human shield. Perhaps, in part, you are reacting to your wife’s discomfort; but the last thing anyone needs is an “us against them” mentality. It sounds as though it may fall to you to de-oxygenate the situation and be the facilitator. And who knows, you might even have a nice time doing it.
More from The Midults: ‘I’m struggling to make friends with the mums at the school gates – how can I find my crew?’