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Finding your place in a competitive family
First Published Jul 17 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Jul 17 2014 01:01 am

Dear Carolyn • My husband’s family likes to play games, like pingpong, bean-bag toss or cards. I am not a real fan of games, I get incredibly self-conscious and I am not very good at most of them. Several of his family members are very competitive and the pressure to play well doesn’t help.

My husband is pretty good at playing when he feels like it and saying no when he doesn’t feel like it. But whenever I try to bow out, his aunts or others family members will convince me to play. I just don’t like games, but I do like chatting with people while they play.

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We are all getting together soon, and I would appreciate some guidance on how to either get the game-players off my back or learn to relax and just play.

Dear Non-Game-Player • The answer is embedded in your husband’s ease: He knows he belongs, so he feels free to respond based only on what he wants.

You’re not confident that you belong, so you’re responding from an insecure mix of what you want and what you think his family wants of you.

No means no, of course, even with pingpong among the aunties. However, people who are as boundary-challenged as this family appears to be will press harder, not back off, when there’s insecurity in the water.

So the secret to resisting this pressure is to remind yourself that you’re "in." You’re family, whether they like you or not, and if they don’t it’s their problem. That’s the platform on which you can say "no" like you mean it — or "yes" like you don’t care if you launch pingpong balls into the hedge. It takes time, but it’ll come if you embrace it.

At its heart it’s a defiant position to take, which seems right here, but angry defiance would be tone-deaf. You want light, family-friendly defiance, where you label your absentee self a Confirmed Spectator or Sideline Specialist or Conscientious Rejector — or you join in by asking, "OK, which team wants to lose?" Own it, own it, and smile.

Carolyn Hax’s column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.


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