You Can Choose Your Friends

Now more than ever, I’m reminded of a saying that my mom would repeat when my siblings and I would argue. “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” This was often thrown around with complements like, “blood is thicker than water,” and so on, but never has it felt more applicable than now.

I often write about my family, and our relative (pun intended) dysfunction (almost always paternal). My wedding was met with the coldness of first cousins not coming for an array of excuses, and uncles and aunts barely staying through dinner, all without congratulating us on our nuptials. Nearly immune to the sting of familial nonsense, I found it funnier than I did rude.

It’s not that I don’t like my family. I’ve worked to develop relationships with some cousins, and I genuinely enjoy getting to know them. But then there’s this element in the generation above that I’ll never begin to understand.

I’ve always been pegged as the outspoken one – and I suppose the proof is in this post. And, like anyone with Kirsch blood pumping through their veins, I’m a stickler for protocol. When I poke fun at the fact that my paternal aunts and uncles barely stayed at my wedding, in their minds they likely reason that they were there, and that’s what matters. In their defense, I don’t really know them. In my defense, they never really tried to know me.

Like I said though, it’s the generation above – the parents – that I find to be at the root of this problem. Shame on our parents – all of them – for allowing drama between them to trickle down to the kids. It’s hard to navigate past family mishigas that’s been over a decade in the making, and so bonds that could have been formed among cousins never quite flourished.

But if we really take the time to traverse the course of this dysfunction, it’d probably trace back to the grandparents. The silence – perhaps you could call them silent feuds but that seems like a stretch – between my uncles and aunts and me is trivial compared to the relationship I have now with my dad’s parents.

At my sister’s bridal shower – one that should have been nothing but a celebration of simchot, my grandmother planted a sour seed. She was upset that the thank you note I sent her after my wedding was only two lines long. Leave it to my bubby to be the one person who can accuse an act of gratitude of being an act of hostility. This accusation – an alleged clearing of the air – came four months – yes, that’s right…nearly half a year – after the note was sent.

Passive aggressive at best, her words about the alleged diss were vile. I’m a woman of my words, and so I stand by whatever I wrote in the note. I’m not so bothered that she was bothered, I’m bothered by her complete lack of respect for my family. My parents – and honestly, mostly just my mother – have bent over backward for my grandparents over the years. My grandmother’s words have always been laced with insult and offense (very much meant), but I would have hoped that out of respect for my family – if not my parents, for my sister – she could have held her tongue a while longer.

Instead, she erupted at me – accusing me of fighting some sort of fight on my mother’s behalf. And that’s when she won. I gave in, and I reacted in defense. I let her know that she had offended me by insulting my character. If anything, I don’t fight my mother’s fights, because she taught me to only fight my own, and to always pick my battles wisely. I would never have chosen to engage in verbal battle with my grandmother. But I’m also not going to be walked all over. The truth hurts. It hurts that she’s never had my back. It hurts that she’s never defended my character or my mother’s. What hurts most of all, though, is that she couldn’t – just for once – embody a typical grandmother, and accept my initial apology. Instead, she let me say my piece, which was the final step in seemingly severing our relationship.

I’m grateful that I’ve been able to choose such fantastic friends, and that my mother’s family has been so unconditionally supportive and loving. I’m also thrilled to have married a man – and his family by extension – that only communicates from love. And, if I’m lucky enough that the time comes where more relationships are built on my dad’s side, so be it. I’d embrace such a thing with open arms.

Writing this post has been difficult, because it stoops to the same level of immaturity as my grandmother’s confrontation, but it’s a necessary evil – and a cathartic one at that.

3 thoughts

  1. Alexandra, please do not take offense to what I am about to write. I thoroughly enjoyed your post and actually laughed out loud. Being from a very large Italian family I can relate – it has been going on for literally centuries. I’ve learned to laugh and just enjoy ‘their version of acceptable ethnic familial vendettas’. That said, we have a lot in common.

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