Note: This story was first featured on AE in 2015, but we felt like some of you may need this one again right about now. Happy Holidays!
You’ve met a girl who makes you feel like everything is right in the world, and so you want to bring her back to the world you came from where everything feels wrong. It’s equal parts naive and sadistic, but you can’t help yourself, can you? So let’s get on with salvaging for parts. As the product of a remarkably passive aggressive family, let me use the flaws of my childhood to school you in the art of manipulation. Or in simpler terms: arm yourself and your girl to the teeth.
Like zoo animals, these exist to be trapped, examined, and tamed. If you go in thinking that her quick wit and joie de vivre will send your mother forth with Hosannahs and finally make your father proud of you, you may be right. Just kidding. You know this: you’re wrong. Make sure she knows, too. Let her know it may be difficult. Warn her of their flaws, trickery, and any vestigial limbs that are not to be looked at. Let her know that what’s important to you is not how your family reacts. It is that the two of you walk away from Mordor hand in hand.
Learn The Language
Just because you shouldn’t expect change doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try for a piece of it. As many God-fearing Southerners say with contemptuous sneers directed at food stamps, “God helps those who help themselves.” (It is a good idea to teach your girl such stupid Southern platitudes, as crowdpleasers or even as fillers, the way people from other regions say, “um.”) Or, as I say, just because I’m going to die one day doesn’t mean I don’t binge eat kale.
Share Enemy Intelligence
How do you arm your girl to the teeth? As the product of a remarkably passive aggressive family, let me use the flaws of my childhood to school you in the art of manipulation. Let her know each member’s key likes (“My mom would vote Hilary for free iced tea”) and dislikes (“Cuss words make my mom’s ears bleed”). Like all symptoms of mental illness, politics and religion should be given special attention.
Identify Potential Allies
The weird aunt, the senile grandmother, the pervy grandfather, the stoned brother. Take what you can get. Strength in numbers. Rocks of refuge. See how platitudes make life more generic, and hence, easier?
Like their horse trainers, Southerners are always sniffing for specimens of “good breeding” who they can then saddle with absurdist nicknames. Let your girl score points by tipping her hat to Southern hospitality. Visiting your mom’s house in the suburbs? She should thank the hostess for her hospitality, compliment her outfit, and present her with a mass-produced pink-ribboned bottle of white wine with a cupcake or a dog or the word “skinny” on the label. (Do not get the Menage-A-Trois one, smart ass.) Your dad loves a cigar and is visiting you? Have your girl bring cigars for all of you. No candles, no picture frames, no bath salts, no sweaters. No gift wrap. Things that gesture gratitude and goodwill but are instantly and casually consumable. In an anatomical phenomenon, Southern hearts are accessible via the stomach.
If your parents are divorced and Southern, they hate each other. If they have remarried, they each hate the other’s new spouse. And of course, they will not admit it, because they are above that. Christ wouldn’t hold a grudge against his ex. Like all things involving pain, this opens up a sizable hole for you to exploit. First, introduce her to the more sympathetic or simply more passive and paralyzed parent. Next, prior to introducing your girl to the other parent, mention bonding time with and shocking acceptance of said first parent. The competition is on. Your girl gets the clutch move. She then gets to bond with the second parent by bitching about the first parent’s spouse. For example, my girlfriend will tell my mom that my father’s wife looks like a horse in drag with a dead bird on its head and a riding crop up its ass. In like Flint.
Like a clusterfuck of baboons, this seminal occasion should be kept short, loud, and frantic. If you spend three hours staring at each other over deviled eggs, it will get awkward. It will get boring. And when hands are idle, where do they go? Religion. Even most straight people wouldn’t be so careless. So drum up an activity. Get their atrophied Southern legs moving—even if it means the two-minute walk from the parking lot to the mall’s GAP. See some bland live music that you can all make banal comments about every 20 minutes. Resort to board games if necessary.
Most importantly, have somewhere else to be. Mention it ahead of time. Even if this occasion goes beyond your wildest dreams, and not nary a homophobic comment is uttered, the fun can continue later. Take a preemptive halftime break. Check in with your star player. Give her a massage, a moment to bitch, a moment to cry alone in her locker, and a slap on the ass as she returns to the court.
Once the two of you have left Terra to its maddened holdouts and the dust has settled, check in with your girl again to see how she is feeling and to convey your admiration and thanks. Maybe she didn’t change the South over two courses of pork chops, but she did survive it with her identity intact. Sometimes that is the strongest way to stand tall.