The relationship hasn’t endured harsh words or movie-worthy confrontations. The hurt feelings reside in heavy silences and unmet eyes, invitations not issued and gestures not made. Years of orbiting around each other haven’t brought us closer together; like planets, something keeps the distance between us impenetrable and any steps towards each other are met with equal steps away.
Marriage is more than the cleaving of two individuals; we all bring others into the relationship. Young and falling in love, I perhaps didn’t understand what that truly meant.
Coming from a family with an open-arms policy, I may have misinterpreted the ease of in-law relationships.
I grew up watching my paternal grandmother stop by our house each weekend, walking easily through my mother’s door to mutual smiles and easy conversation. Visits to my maternal grandparents included my father calling them Mom and Dad as easily as he said the word to his own mother and sitting in conversation with my grandfather in relaxed comfort.
Pretending my own family is perfect is laughable and belittles the complicated threads that wind through our relationships. Overlooking their imperfections is made easier by the ability to be more upfront about my feelings, to trust in the safety net of the unconditional love they’ve proven to me over years of my own mistakes and countless blunders.
But in the twelve years I’ve been with my husband, I’ve never eaten a meal in my in-laws’ house. I’ve never been invited to go shopping or to lunch, and neither of them has ever called me on the phone. Our conversations are stilted and out-of-sync. We communicate through e-mail and my husband, who handles being the intermediary with grace though I see it weighing on his shoulders.
I vacillate between self-righteous indignation and guilt; the tension between us isn’t founded on malicious intentions. So I continue to extend invitations and welcome them to family celebrations and try to negotiate grandchildren time.
After all, the people we both love are wrapped in the net of our contentious relationship. They raised the man I love, a man who is kind and hilarious and loyal; they love the two little people who slid my heart out of my body to carry around in their hands the moment they were born.
And for those three people, I will continue to smile, to practice kindness, and to have hope. Hope that the unnamed tension will wisp away into the space of years. Hope that one day our hugs won’t seem stiff and perfunctory and expected. Hope that one day the “in-law” part of our relationship with be in semantics only, and that we will find the mirthful complexities of a deep, family connection.