Dear Harry and Louise,
I am a gay man in my mid-twenties. I have been happily involved with my partner (let’s call him Michael) for two years. He has met my parents and has traveled to my home town with me once. Here is the issue: I am preparing for a long weekend in my hometown of Philadelphia for the upcoming Passover. I want Michael to travel with me and celebrate the holiday with me and my family. He knows that everything will be fine with my parents, but he is not too excited about meeting the rest of my relatives. He has heard plenty about my opinionated grandmother and great aunt and great uncle. They do not know that I am gay, nor do they care to know the details of my life. I am prepared to answer any questions that may be posed during the weekend. Michael is not enthusiastic about the gathering at all. He says that he would enjoy traveling with me to Philadelphia and that we could enjoy the city when I am not having family time. He simply does not want to be a part of the family celebration. He would not come to the Seder, he would not come to the second Seder hosted by my grandmother the following evening. I am ready to include him in my family life. I feel slighted and, yeah, a bit insulted. How should I approach this with Michael and my family?
• • •
Let me get this straight, so to speak: your friend, Michael, is willing to accompany you to Philadelphia, where you are going to celebrate Passover with your family, but he's going to skip the dinner, which is the heart of the holiday--Last Supper and all that. That's like traveling to a friend's home for Christmas but skipping the presents and the meals. This question leaves me breathless, though I am beginning to hyperventilate. I wish to answer as a Jew, since I am a member of the tribe. We are all about family, and the annual Passover seder is a wonderful expression of a family's food and conversation and patience at sitting through another telling of Exodus. The fact that Michael doesn't respect the holiday's significance in your life and the importance of your invitation is troubling, to say the least. Passover is a transcendent holiday. It is above sexuality. If Michael were Michelle and you were straight, my response would be the same: if you choose to be with someone for whom family and ritual and religion are intertwined in a fundamental way, then you have to participate--unless you have been ostracized by the family. It doesn't seem as if that's the case here. I wonder if you have made Michael aware of the Seder's importance to you? I wonder if he has explained the limits of his comfort with family and religion? I wonder if this isn't a deal breaker?
Here's my less enraged response: give Michael a pass this time. Don't bring him to Philly to hang at the hotel room and walk you up to the Art Museum. Go alone. Tell your family Michael couldn't make it. But have the talk with your guy about the importance of family and ritual, if they are important to you. If he simply cannot participate in that part of your life, you've got problems.
• • •
Leave Michael alone. You have assured him that you will clear the path with grandma and aunt and uncle, but this does not make him feel at ease. You can certainly make your case again once you have arrived, but be prepared that Michael is more comfortable keeping himself company while you celebrate with the family. Leave him alone. If he complains that your seder is going on too long, or you are spending too much time with the family, then you have reason to let him have it. He cannot travel to the City of Brotherly Love and then pout that things are not going his way. Right now, Michael's comfort zone is with you and your parents. He is not ready to dive head first into the family plot. This is not a new scenario.
There is a compromise for the weekend. Do not pressure Michael to make an appearance at the seders, but do arrange for a time when you and your parents (and siblings if they are in the mix) and Michael can spend some time together. A low-key lunch or dessert at your parents' house would suffice. You and Michael bring the goods since your mom and dad will have put much energy and planning into the holiday celebration. Michael will feel as if he is extending himself to your family, you will be pleased that he is by your side, and your family will realize that Michael is not slighting the family by not showing up to the seder.
You do not get want you want and that can be a big let down. Pressuring Michael to be a part of a family celebration is not the foundation of a happy time for anyone. Leave Michael alone. Both of you create a plan to see your immediate family--and the two of you make it as easy on those involved as possible. Time will make this better, I predict. If Michael is still in your life in the years to come, he will have to face the fear of meeting the entire family. As he becomes closer to you and more comfortable with your immediate family, this will happen sooner than later. I'll see you in Philly.
• • •
No, Louise. No, no no. Allowing Michael to show up in Philadelphia but not show up at the seder slights the parents. How do the son and Michael explain why he was in range but didn't have the respect to show up at the Passover table? Michael stays at home--or he breaks matzoh.
• • •
Let's give Michael the benefit of the doubt. He is not ready to face the heat of the family, but one day he will be. One day, he will need to take a deep breath and face the fire of the family. This is not about disrespect for a Jewish tradition, it is about finding his strength to face a new family with his supportive partner by his side.