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musicrulesmyworld's avatar

I have nothing in common with my family. How do I handle myself at big family gatherings?

Asked by musicrulesmyworld (12points) April 13th, 2009

I love my family to death and I know that they have nothing but support for me. But I have nothing to talk about with them aside from small talk – “how is school?” (I’m a sophomore in college), “what are you majoring in?” (I don’t know yet) and “do you know what you want to do after college?” (I do not). It has become quite patronizing after being asked repeatedly.

Aside from that, conversation among my uncles and male cousins (ages 30–60 years old) are limited to sports and business (finance). Female cousins and aunts talk about home furnishing and gossip about family friends. I know nothing about either of these topics, so when my entire family gets together for something like say, easter, I really don’t have much to say the entire time. Usually whenever I try to add to the conversation I get cut off by someone louder and more gregarious halfway through my first word (I know other people have experienced this on occasion, it is quite annoying), so on top of being very introverted, this has reinforced me to just not say much around my family, so instead I’ll sit and smile silently on the sidelines and appreciate being around everyone.

Here is the problem: afterwards, my mother will yell at me for being “antisocial”. She’ll tell me that by not talking and “sitting around not contributing” makes me look like a negative person. But the fact is, being around my family all at once gives me a lot of anxiety because I can’t think of anything to say anymore. I am more into the arts – foreign film, world music, etc – but my family is not interested in discussing those things. We are mostly a “sports” family and I never really got into sports.

Is my mom right? Is my behavior appropriate or is not saying much around my family reflecting badly on me? How can I better handle myself at gatherings?

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21 Answers

Facade's avatar

Don’t go. Seriously

qashqai's avatar

Take a big breath and smile. Act like you are really interested in what your relatives are talking to you about (even if you aren’t). Make sure your body language isn’t showing what you are really thinking. Finally, think that easter happens only once a year, and smile again, you are done for 2009.

Darwin's avatar

Your mom is not right, but if you want to mollify her pick up the sports section before you go to the next gathering so you can contribute something to the conversation. Otherwise, do what @qashqai says. She probably can’t hear what you are saying if anything, so make sure you look as if you are participating and having a good time.

Horus515's avatar

Pick one big sports topic and make it your mantra. I recommend “Jay Cutler as the Bears new quarterback”. If people try to get too specific with you or beyond your understanding use vague phrases like, “Well we’ve all heard that before.” or “He sure didn’t do that last season.” If they ask you what you mean exclaim that you might need about 5 more drinks to get into it…laugh heartily.

Poser's avatar

You ought to direct this question at your mom.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

I always think of a story or something important to me (that’s not likely to start any sort of confrontation) that I can share about myself before I go to those big family gatherings. Chances are, those family members feel a similar level on uncomfortability and they often fall back on “safe” topics like sports, work, news, and so forth. Even if you only share little details like some project you did at college, that will go along way. Maybe you tell the same story 4 or 5 times throughout the day but

miasmom's avatar

I would say take time to figure the answers to the small talk questions, even if it is something as simple as, I really like my (insert class) because we are doing (insert project). That could lead to another conversation.

Maybe ask questions about what they do like, even if it doesn’t interest you because it is a way of saying I like you and I want to know more about you.

Family history questions are always great, what was Easter like when you were growing up?

aprilsimnel's avatar

Ask them about themselves or their lives and listen to them. Most people love talking about themselves. You don’t have to say a word except to encourage them to keep talking and you’ll get bonus points for being a great listener.

flameboi's avatar

Pretend they are not your family, so it will be more easy for you to be nice and pollite :) and whenever possible, don’t show up…

_bob's avatar

Alcohol. Lots of it.

YARNLADY's avatar

The best way to get along is always ask their opinion, and then listen as if you really cared. You might actually learn something. “What do you think would be a good career choice for me?” “Which team do you favor and why?” “Who would you suggest I vote for and why” the and why questions are actually two different questions

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

Perhaps think of your family as a collecting project, like doing a family tree, and instead of waiting to be asked questions, you do the asking. That way, you get to control the conversation, and can cut a conversation short, because you have to move on. Keep track of the answers. All families are interesting, even if you have nothing really in common.

Jeruba's avatar

This sounds like my husband’s family as it used to be. I was with you right up to the point about being scolded for nonparticipation. It is your mother who is out of line here. You are doing your best, as this statement shows: “I’ll sit and smile silently on the sidelines and appreciate being around everyone.” You’re not being hostile. This is just not your milieu.

You could do a little homework in sports to fake it enough to get by, but I don’t think you should have to. Surely they know by now that it isn’t your thing.

If this were my family situation, I would consider it fair to tell my mother, “Look, Mom, I don’t know how it happened that I was born into this family because the sports gene missed me completely. I love my relatives, but it is about all I can do to sit there and be agreeable, never mind actively engage. If you think it’s better that I not come, fine, I’ll stay away. But if I do come, I’ll come as myself. I’d really appreciate your support for that, Mom.”

The other thing I would do is watch carefully to see if anyone else looks out of place or uncomfortable (say, those others whose remarks get trampled): a stray in-law, one of the kids, a grandparent—and explore a side conversation with that person. There may be a cousin who is absolutely dying to escape one more effing conversation about draperies.

Mr_M's avatar

I don’t understand what changed. You were NEVER interested in sports and your family knows that. Did you not ALWAYS stand around and say nothing while they talked sports? If the answer is no, then what DID you talk about? Remember those days.

Mr_M's avatar

Sports were an issue in my family too. I had cousins that would come to a family get together, turn on the game and sit in front of the TV for hours, no talking allowed.

To ME, that’s rude. If you’re going to do that, next time, stay home. And I said that. And I meant it.

RedPowerLady's avatar

Here is an “outside the box” idea for you to consider.

Instead of focusing on how to be more verbally social think of something else you can do to appear social (or at least rewarding enough to make your mother happy). What immediately came to my mind is gifting. Get a small cheap gift, perhaps an art print or an on-sale movie (fantastic if it is in the general area you are interested in) and give it to each person individually. It’ll give you a reason to talk with them and they will be so pleased you randomly got them a gift. You can talk about why you thought the gift would be great for them and it may even lead into an art or movie conversation. If not then they are still happy they received something nice from you. Then exit, lol. That way your mother doesn’t “see” you being antisocial. Haha.
Another idea instead of gifting is food. Prepare the food. It’ll keep you running in and out of the kitchen (i do this sometimes) so you won’t have to be as social. And you can always bring out special treats so people are awed by you. One other thing that seems to work for me is crafting. If you are working on a neat craft people will be drawn to it and start conversating about it.

Those are just some “out of norm” ideas. Perhaps they are good, perhaps not. :)

mattbrowne's avatar

Search for the one person who you might have an interesting conversation with.

Darwin's avatar

Another possibility is use those standard questions to start off a conversation:

“How is school?”
It is going well this year now that I know my way around campus. I’ve been especially pleased by the free concert series offered this year. When you were in college, did the school do something like that? What was your favorite activity? Tell me about it?

“what are you majoring in?”
I haven’t decided yet, but one of my favorite classes this year is ___________. The reason why I like it is because _____________. Did you have your major picked out by the time you got to sophomore year? How did you decide on that major? What was your favorite class? What did you like about it?

“do you know what you want to do after college?”
No, I haven’t made any final decisions about that, but perhaps you can give me some suggestions. What do you think is a good field to go into? Why? How did you pick your career? What do you like about it? Do you wish you had gone into something different? Why or why not?

And so on. Turn their questions that you can’t answer into a conversation about their experiences. They will love you for it. “Such a smart boy/girl! He/she asked me for advice and really listened. Not like some people.” Of course I am assuming that other members of your family went to college. If they didn’t, get them to talk to you about why they didn’t, how they got into what the do for a living, and whether they wish they had gone.

Or something like that. Use your imagination.

Odette's avatar

It seems to me that your family is doing little or none to help to the situation since they haven’t try to find out more about your interests and learn a little about it so they can have a decent conversation with you. If you mother wants you to participate more why don’t she try to learn more about the things you like (I believe she should have done that long ago) and this way encourage you to be more active in those meetings.

I know what you are going through since I am in a similar situation with my own family. The thing is that I don’t have to deal with those family meetings anymore since we now live very far from each other but when I try to get in touch with them by emails, for example, I feel they ignore me and this discourage me to keep trying. We are Cubans and honestly I never fit in the place I was born, most Cubans are very loud, they don’t respect other people privacy, like arriving to your house at any time without calling, (for not accepting that I am called antisocial too) I am not into sports either, specially baseball, I am not into Cuban music or dance and to and to cap it all I decided to married a non Cuban which is a deadly sin in my family, my husband is not accepted either and when they visit they don’t accept nothing to eat, since I don’t eat Cuban food anymore (never learned to cook it), they see wrong they way I talk (not that much as Cuban anymore) they way I bring up my kids, even they way I organize my house. That is mostly for my mother side, for my father side they seem to be more accepting but as my parents divorced when I was little I had little contact with them and now we are way to far away from each other.

I like AlfredaPrufrock’s idea about the family tree project, it will make people bring up interesting memories that will make everyone willing to cooperate and as a side effect it will be a wonderful gift for your kids once you have them. That is one thing I decided to get involved into and I got software at a very good price at BJ’s and I even got a couple of extra copies for two key people I believe are going to be a big help. I plan to install it soon and after I gather all the information I have myself I will start contacting other members of my family to try to get them involved. I already talk to my mom about it and she seems to be willing to participate since she told me she will bring some photos she has to share with me. My personal motivation at when I decided to buy those software was that I believed that if I started doing that now and get my kids involved and eventually my grandkids and I get to make this as a family tradition the future generations in my family will have a great bunch of information and knowledge about where they came from, something I which I could have now. But I also love the fact that something that simple may help to bring the family members closest to each other.

Darwin's avatar

My husband’s sister and brother make no effort to be interested in what we do. They are never going to change, so I have a couple of choices when it comes to family gatherings. I can skip the gathering with a good excuse (sorry, we all have stomach flu), I can go and sit in a corner, or I can realize they are who they are and are never going to change so I can make an effort to figure out what they are interested in and get them talking about that.

It is my choice to deal with it or accept the consequences. I have done both at various times.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

There’s a kinds of things you can get people to do—like tell you a story about your mom, or about other family members. The worst question you can ask is “How are you?” or “How’s school?” because the answer is “fine” but questions like, “who was the weirdest person mom ever dated?” or “do you remember what you were doing when they walked on the moon?” or “did you ever want to do something other than be a shoe salesman?” or “Who cooked easter dinner when you were a kid?” gets people talking about stuff that happened. Or you could band together with your cousins and make up a game of word bingo—see if you can get other family members to say certain words or expressions.

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