The Social Introvert on Houseguests

Hello Social Introvert,

Dealing with my in-laws has been difficult for all of my married life. And it is more complicated than just me being an introvert and all of them being the opposite, but for the purpose of this question, I’ll keep it simple.

Is it all right—socially and common courtesy-wise—to have my husband’s parents stay at a hotel when they visit for my daughter’s graduation? (I fully intend paying for it.)

My daughter is introverted like me and can only do so much talking before she is as desperate as I am for alone time. Why make her graduation even more stressful than it’s already going to be, with the emotions of saying goodbyes to friends and possibly also doing a speech? It will be an extremely emotional time for me, watching my only child, who I am so very close to, go through that ceremony. The whole thing, even without having noisy chaotic company, will drain me and leave me needing days to recover, I am sure.

Without having them stay at a hotel, I can picture the two days with them. (My husband thought it could/should be 3 or 4 days. Um, no. No way!) I will crash and become completely unable to be courteous anymore because it happens every time. I have found that I can do approximately 3 hours with them before I start coming apart. It takes a really big chunk of time before I feel ready to see them again. A whole day would barely be enough.

But if they stay at a nearby hotel, after a few hours of socializing, they can go off with their son and talk as much as the three of them wish. Then, us exhausted introverts can get our much-needed rest. I plan to be quite busy the following day, including—legitimately—spending time at my job. We can reconvene for dinner before the ceremony. After that’s done, I will have to be alone.

My husband will probably argue this is unfriendly, inhospitable, “abnormal,” and all sorts of other things. I am gearing up way ahead of time for the big argument. In the meantime, I would really appreciate the opinion of someone who is not emotionally invested.

Is it kinder to make plans and carefully control the situation so I am able to have a “win” for a change? So I can see some success with these people instead of the inevitable falling apart and looking like who-knows-what in their eyes? If they are in my house—my peaceful sanctuary—I can’t get away. When I have had it and am absolutely done with their voices (I can still hear them with my door closed), I’ll become a little monster, not a gracious hostess. I do not want to have to turn into that person every time, especially not this time.

Wouldn’t it be better to give them a few good hours with no meltdown in-between? No mysterious disappearances, tears, or faking illness? Plus, plenty of time with their son and as much as their granddaughter can give in-between her school obligations and her own need for quiet? I think it would be a big improvement from how things usually go—I just need my husband not to fight me on it.

I would appreciate your opinion, and I thank you so much,

Just Wants to Enjoy Her Daughter’s Graduation

Dear Graduation,

On the surface, its easy to answer your letter. Hells yeah, this is okay. You want to be able to face the emotional tumult of watching your daughter—and subsequently, yourself—go through a major life transition. You want everyone to get along. Youre offering to pay for hotel. Youre totally in the right!

BUT.

(And you knew that was coming, didnt you?)

Buried in the subtext of your letter is the message that you might not care for your in-laws regardless of your introversion. You talk about fights and past behavior that may not have been so great. You also speak in terms of winning and losing as if you and your in-laws are about to duke it out on the field of battle. I get the sense that this time, you want to be the victor. (I mean, you refer to them as these people.So.) I reassure you, its perfectly okay to feel this way. Youre not a bad person because you dont adore your in-laws. (This is a super common experience and the plot of at least one episode of every television sitcom. Youre not alone.)

However, whats most important here—and very much at stake—is your daughter and the way she gets to experience her graduation because her graduation is not really about you. And I know thats difficult to hear. You raised her since she was nothing but a peanut, and now shes going to go off and leave you. In my opinion, being a parent is a pretty thankless job sometimes. I dont envy you this task.

Nonetheless, its your daughters feelings that matter the most on this occasion. I dont really need to tell you this…deep down you already know it. You told me youre already thinking about the fact that your daughter will have to say goodbye to her friends, that shell be nervous about her speech, and that she will need alone time to process this event. Youre already being your wonderful, empathetic, introvert self, taking everyone’s feelings into account.

Here is the additional challenge I put forth to you.

You have to try to separate this event from your personal, complicated history with your in-laws. I wont lie to you. Its going to be tricky. Trying to be the better person always sucks, and the high road is a miserable, lonely place. Right now, youre gearing up for a fight with your husband. Im thinking youve already had a couple of shouting matches with him in your head. So, go ahead and have one more fantasy, then stop.

Go talk to your husband. Tell him your plan. It sounds like he probably is going to fight you on it, no matter how much youd like to avoid the fight. Instead of stockpiling witty retorts and justifications when he starts protesting, let him vent. Then look him in the eye and say, This is about our baby girl.Focus on your daughter and her needs during this conversation. Finesse this situation a little bit by taking all the sticky parts of your past out of the current situation. By keeping the greater good—your daughter’s well-being—in mind, youll wind up getting what you want anyway. Win-win. (Also, I must speak up for your husband and say that visiting with a spouse’s parents for an extended weekend is pretty much a foregone conclusion of marriage. Perhaps the compromise here is that if they stay in a hotel, they get to stay for longer, and you and your daughter, if she can swing it, are available for an hour or two on those subsequent days after graduation.)

I wouldnt anticipate your in-laws having a stellar reaction to your plan either. Inside each of us adults is a teeny-tiny screaming toddler, who wants to throw the tantrum of the century because they cant have what they want. When people set boundaries—which is what youre trying to do here—we have a hard time controlling the toddler, and it gets unleashed before we can rein it back in. I imagine your in-laws will have a comment or two to toss your way. Again, I advise you to take several deep breaths instead of taking the bait.

By now, you probably hate me. It sounds like Im telling you to put your feelings on a shelf when youre trying to be all healthy and not disregard them. Please believe me when I say that your feelings are valid and I am thinking of you. I am also thinking long-term and want you to be successful in this endeavor now and in the future.

After the whirlwind of graduation dies down, I want you to have another conversation with your husband, and then another with your in-laws. (This is a lot of talking, I know, but hear me out!)

It doesnt necessarily have to be in-person with your in-laws. I give you permission to email if that’s more comfortable for you and helps you express yourself more clearly. But I want you to tell your husband exactly what youve told me here—that you want to have a better relationship with his parents and that you need his help. Then you’ll enlist his assistance when you explain to your in-laws what being an introvert means. (Send them a link to Quiet Revolution if you think it will help. Often, people are willing to consider a third-party opinion when their own stubbornness gets in the way.) Describe for your in-laws how your introversion may have contributed to your behavior in the past, and apologize. Explain that you dont want to exhibit that type of behavior again and youd like your relationship with them to improve. Ask them if they’d be willing to talk through ways to improve your visits.

For instance:

You: Its very difficult for me to talk to people when I first get up. I need quiet to help me arrange my day.

Your in-laws: Okay, well let you have your coffee first.

There are simple baby steps here that can be accomplished.

This wont be the only big event you and your husband will have to tackle in your lives together, Graduation. Your daughter may choose to: graduate from college, get married, have a baby, decide not to have a baby and buy a dog then throw herself a puppy shower, buy a house, have a glamorous birthday party, etc. What Im trying to say is whatever life path your daughter chooses, there will be other points when you’ll want to celebrate her once again. And her grandparents may want to join in the fun.

Now, what if your in-laws decide not to engage in the introversion conversation? Then we get to call them jerks and say that you tried your best.

But try to nip this in the bud now. Focus on your daughter’s needs for this immediate conversation, and then have some difficult follow-up talks and set some boundaries around your own needs after the graduation. Peoples feelings will get hurt, and peoples behavior may worsen for a short period of time, but a few tough conversations are better than stretching it out over another decade. Or inadvertently hurting your daughter on her important day. Making sure your needs are met is important for everyone in your family, not just for you.

Graduation, youre a good person, and youre a good mom. You want to give your daughter a proper farewell to this part of her life. You want your husband to understand and not be angry. You want to behave better towards your in-laws. You want your needs to be understood. That list right there is beautiful. Unfortunately, we dont get to have everything we want right when we want it. Im not worried, though, because I am hopeful you can make a lot of progress. However grueling this experience may be, it will save you from hiding in a closet any time your in-laws walk by.

It will get better.

Sending you all my good thoughts,

The Social Introvert

Have a question about a personal or professional relationship problem? Email the Social Introvert at [email protected]!