Adriana E. Ramírez: We all know how Prince Harry feels
There's a long history of people complaining about their families to the general public.
One of my dearest online friends, who we'll call "Susan," put up a long post on social media last week. The gist of her diatribe, boiled down to one sentence: "my mother-in-law insists on adding bacon to every potentially vegetarian item she makes." Susan and her son are strict vegetarians.
Green beans? With bacon. Mashed potatoes? With bacon. Dinner rolls? With bacon.
For Susan, this was pretty much a declaration of war. After trying to speak to her mother-in-law about it unsuccessfully, Susan turned to her 3,000 followers. "I just don't know what to do anymore — what do y'all think? Should we start boycotting her dinners?"
She filtered her frustrations, writing "only friends can see this post, and people I know won't talk to my husband's family." She didn't want to be rude, but she also didn't have an unbiased outlet to make sense of her in-law's actions.
My mother would call this airing out dirty laundry. Today, it's both derided and lauded — demystifying family dynamics and revealing perhaps-too-much, all in the name of some big truth.
Of course, there's a long history of people complaining about their families to the general public. All memoirs are pretty much built on this premise, as are most novels — readers love misbehaving families, or at least the misbehaving families of strangers.
It's a little different when the family under scrutiny is your own. Within two hours of hitting "post," Susan had taken down her declaration against her bacon-wielding in-law. "Someone referenced [the post] to my husband, who tried to find it, and then got super upset when he realized I'd filtered him out too," she wrote to me after I asked what happened.
Susan was able to delete the post and remove evidence that it ever existed. She decided to keep a screenshot in case anyone ever misquoted it, but she doesn't anticipate the situation escalating any further. "No one really saw it. Just a handful of people. But that was enough to get me in trouble."
It's hard to keep a secret on the internet, especially one about family. People find it exhilarating when family members turn on each other. It's hard not to imagine someone wanting to discuss the matter with Susan's husband.
We seem to never run out of opinions on how other people relate to their closest relatives; millions of words and think pieces have been dedicated to discussing family dynamics — do we learn from other people's dramas, have we normalized dysfunction, is it all cringe-worthy? — and I'm not sure we are all landing on the same page. But perhaps the conversations are helping us anyway.
Consider recent headlines about Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, or anything related to the Kardashian-West family — are we more empathetic or better people for having discussed their petty squabbles? The answer might be yes, even though over-saturation makes us all weary.
I know more than one person who has evoked the Duke of Sussex in discussing their estrangement from their parents."We have a Prince Harry type situation," is shorthand for a whole lot of complex relationship issues.
It's easy to see the schadenfreude and relief inherent to reading about and discussing others' dysfunction. "Thank goodness that's not my family," seems to be the prevailing sentiment, but is there more to it?
There's another pleasure to be had in the practice of publicly displaying our relative's soiled clothes — the joy of telling the brutal and unvarnished truth.
I've often fantasized about standing up during a holiday dinner and telling everyone in my family what I actually think of them, what I know about who they are, how I feel about their cured meats and whatnot, but I also know how difficult, and embarrassing, it would be to sit through someone else doing that.
Still — the truths keep coming. It's titillating when the child of a politician unmasks their parent on TikTok, when a royal son complains, when a woman gets to shame her mother-in-law. The truth is cathartic, but the truth is also hard for those called out.
Freedom of expression is not freedom from consequences. But I'm not sure the Susans of the world have to face the consequences alone. Her mother-in-law should be held accountable as well. She could make one dish without bacon, after all.
Perhaps this is the age of airing out dirty laundry. The best defense, though, is to keep your laundry as clean as possible, before it ever makes it outside.
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