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When They Bring Someone Special Home for the Holidays

They're affirming their relationship, not asking for our permission.

Key points

  • Celebrating their love even if you don't understand who, why, and what they see in each other.
  • They're not asking for your permission or even your blessing, although it would still be nice to have it.
  • The heart has its reasons; if you ask the right way, they'll tell you.
  • Keep your doubts or misgivings to yourself; they won't forget or forgive you.

The archaic custom of asking the parents of one's beloved for permission to marry is making a comeback, not just in traditional families but in unconventional ones, too. The holidays, which often reunite far-flung kith and kin under one roof for celebratory rituals, are a popular season for couples presenting a ring or otherwise committing to a relationship with a future, whether or not an engagement or marriage is formally announced in whatever medium is favored, the newspaper of record or the status bar on Facebook.

Although a blessing would be nice, it's not required. Young adults aren't really asking, they're telling. Their closed circle is opening up enough to admit you, unless you express your doubts, concerns, or misgivings. They don't want your judgments, they're not asking for your advice or opinion, and unless or until they do, keep it to yourself. Maybe you don't see what they see in him or her, but you don't have to, although there's nothing wrong with saying, "Tell me what you love about them," or even asking, "When did you know this was It?" not in a challenging tone but a gently curious one.

Doubtless, you'll have plenty of time to get to know the actual person you're being presented to or with, but be cautious about making snap judgments. Years and years ago, I prepared myself to welcome my kids' partners into my family, but it was a long time before I thought of them as a real part of it, not just an adjunct to our small unit, a single parent and the kids she'd raised mostly on her own. In fact, I loved the families my children married into, and even after their divorces we kept in touch; after all, we had grandchildren in common and years of their milestones to observe and celebrate together.

The "mishpocha," as Ashkenazi Jews call their kids' in-laws and their families, can be a blessing to a young couple, helping them through rough patches by not taking sides or rescuing or infantilizing them when they're emotionally needy, but supporting their efforts to fix things themselves. It's not our sympathy they need but our empathy, because we've been there and know how it feels to struggle through the challenges of keeping love alive in turbulent times.

Once, my daughter in law turned up at my apartment weepy and miserable, missing her own mother and needing a shoulder to cry on. I cautioned her not to tell me the details, things I had no business knowing, but offered her a Valium and a bed in the spare room. In the morning she was gone, back with my son, and neither of us ever mentioned it again.

It's natural to imagine their love lasting forever and hoping it will. That's the dream they're sharing with us, and especially at this season we hope beyond reason or even statistics it comes true. Grab the newest member of your family, get them under the mistletoe, and plant one on them—after all, it's a blessed time to open your heart as wide as you can.

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