We're off to Utah to visit family for the next several day. I'm not terribly excited about the 15 hour car drive each way. But I am looking forward to getting out of Dodge, and seeing some kin that matter to me.
I used to DREAD trips to my husband's hometown. We did not go often during the first 15 yrs or so of our marriage since we lived in the Midwest back then. But after moving to the west we started making the trek to Utah once or twice a year. Some of those trips were excruciating. Nearly every one had me in tears at some point. But those days are long gone.
As I look back at why it was so uncomfortable for me in years past, and why it is not now, I am amazed by how subtle shifts of perception can make a world of difference.
When I was younger, I wanted so very much to be accepted and approved of by my husband's family. But that felt impossible. I do not quilt. I do not bake bread. I do not ride horses. And except on a few, rare occasion, I do not vote Republican. There seemed to be nothing about me that they would ever value or appreciate. Hungry for their esteem I would try my best to "fit in", but would inevitably stumble. All too often there would be hurt feelings over some remark that make it woefully obvious I would never be the kind of woman, wife, or mother, that fit the cookie cutter mold that tiny Mormon town deemed suitable. Everyone was nice enough toward me. But in far too many cases, I felt tolerated and humored rather than fully welcomed and embraced. I suspect much of that was more in my own head than theirs, but it was how I experienced those visits all the same.
What a difference a few years make.
I still do not quilt or ride horses or bake break. If anything my political views are now MORE different than theirs and my life experiences have taken me far afield from the things that are a part of life in Millard County, Utah. But the differences no longer chafe.
As I've grown up and grown older I've eased into a stronger confidence in my own values and strengths. As I became more comfortable in my own skin, it mattered less whether they liked me or not. Once I let go of hungering so much for their approval, I quit being so over-sensitive over any indication they might not. Now when I go to Utah I no longer try to be anything different from who I am. These days I feel no need to defend or justify my own life choices. I merely go and do the best I can to be open to the experience. Letting go of the old dance of striving to fit in has been incredibly liberating.
In-law relationships are interesting... I love my man. They love my man. He loves all of us. But that does not mean we are going to automatically be comfortable with one another. I've learned over the years to respect and truly appreciate this clan of folks who helped mold my beloved into the kind of guy he is. Some of them I genuinely enjoy being around. Others I am more guarded with. But overall, I honestly can look forward to these visits now.
In many ways I will always be an outsider when we go back there. I remain utterly oblivious to the social nuances in more ways than I can count. Sometimes going to that place brings with it a cultural shift that feels almost like the times I've spent in other countries. But like those times when I've traveled to Fiji, Costa Rica or Egypt, I now have learned to savor the differences and appreciate my time there. So I am excited we get to go and expect we'll have a wonderful time.