Dear Dr. Chani,
I am reaching out to you to get your advice about a guy I am dating – let’s call him Avi. We have gone out for a few months and I am still undecided about moving forward. He has a lot of the qualities I am looking for. He is kind, thoughtful, smart, and very successful in his job. My issue came up when I brought him to meet my family. I am the only girl in my family and I have three brothers. We are a close-knit bunch. Whenever we are around each other, we kid around and laugh a lot. I really enjoy spending time with my family so it is very important to me that my husband feel comfortable around my family.
But the first time I brought home Avi, he was really socially awkward. Avi is usually on the quiet side, so I was not surprised that he was not running the conversation. But I expected him to be the way he is on dates with me. He usually listens to me and then he has a lot to say about what I said. Yet, over the four times that we hung out with my family, he was mostly listening and he did not seem to get our jokes. I felt like crawling under the rug in my family room.
At this point, part of me would like to break up with Avi and find someone who can get along easily with my family. But I am afraid that I will never find someone else who has all of Avi’s other great qualities. Is this issue something I should ignore or should I be worried about it?
It sounds like you have been through a roller coaster. You really like Avi and see his positive qualities. Yet his first experience with your family threw you for a loop. You began to worry about his awkwardness around your family. This personal issue is particularly significant for you since you are very close to your brothers. That interaction created a spiral that your relationship has not recovered from. It now festers in your mind and makes you hesitant about moving forward.
One way to help you navigate this issue and to clarify your feelings about Avi is to change your approach to making this decision. The process of analysis that you are going through to make this decision may actually be intensifying the problem. When you analyze the way Avi interacts with your family “in real-time” – it can lead him to feel uncomfortable around them. Avi can feel that he is being judged by you when he is with your brothers. Even if you do not say anything, Avi can pick up on the evaluative mindset that you have when you are with your family.
You might be surprised to hear that research shows more than 75% of the way we communicate is through nonverbal cues. Even if you do not say anything, your nonverbal signals such as your facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and the distance you place between yourself and someone else communicates powerfully. Avi picks up on your nonverbal cues and he can sense what you are thinking when he is hanging out with your family. This can make him feel tense and stiff – which is what you are noticing.
You can ease the pressure off of Avi when he is with your family by accepting him for who he is and allowing him to be himself, even if he is not getting the jokes. Instead of analyzing him, focus on all of the wonderful qualities you appreciate about him, like you did before he met your family. It is highly probable that he will notice. Just like Avi can feel your judgment, he can also sense your acceptance of him.
Even if you find it hard to suspend your analysis of Avi, you can begin by committing yourself to that for a few weeks. Tell yourself that you will not judge how he acts around your family for the next few weeks. This will give you both a chance to see how things develop. As you accept him and avoid judgment, he may become more comfortable around your family. It is possible that the issue will become less pronounced and noticeable, to the point that you will no longer be concerned about it.
After the few weeks are over, you might have more clarity. You might be able to have a new perspective on Avi and his interaction with your family. You also might get a new insight on how important this issue of him blending into your family is to you. You might decide that this aspect is not as much of a priority for you in the face of Avi’s wonderful qualities and you do not want to give him up. On the other hand, you may realize that something is missing for you and you need to continue searching for a guy who can fit in.
You mention that you are close to your family. It might be helpful to have them on board. Although you do not mention their reactions to Avi in your letter, it is reasonable to assume that they shared their thoughts about Avi with you. The tighter knit a family is, the more sensitive they are to each other’s opinions. It is important for you to separate your thoughts about Avi from your family’s opinions. In addition, if you are taking a break to have a more relaxed attitude towards Avi’s involvement with your family, it is important that your family be on board. If they have already shared with you their opinions about Avi, tell them about your plan to be more relaxed and accepting of Avi for the near future and convey that you need them to join you.
As you are more relaxed with Avi and you focus on enjoying your time together, both alone and with your family, you will hopefully gain clarity. Modifying your approach can lead you to a new awareness about your feelings for Avi, the importance of him blending into your family, and the potential for him to do so.
Wishing you much success,