There’s nothing like being at an 11-person, Irish family reunion to throw all my concepts of sex, love and relationships into a tailspin. Especially when the high priestess of our family (otherwise known as my mom) decides to pack everyone into a 4-car caravan headed to Disney World (otherwise known as my own personal Hell).
I know that family reunions don’t sound like the kind of fodder that results in a great sex column, but believe me, after having spent the past two weeks baking in the Florida sun, surrounded by babies and Irish whiskey, I have now observed numerous types of relationships, romantic and otherwise! I can’t really say I have any more answers on what makes some couples work well together and others fall apart, however I do think that it was, at the very least, an interesting sociological experiment, going with my whole family to Disney World. After all, we are the family that was the subject of a caustic remark my friend Mark once made, namely, “You Warners put the ‘fun’ back in ‘dysfunctional.’”
Disney World is possibly the most stressful place on Earth. While we were there, I witnessed a father (from another family) eating dinner two tables away from his own screaming brood. I guess he just couldn’t take it anymore, and his survival mechanism at that moment was “leave dad the fuck alone.”
On the way into the park, there was a misunderstanding with our tickets and my mom, sister, brother, and his two kids had to wait for an hour before they could finally get through the gates, even though my dad and I easily sailed through to the other side. We patiently watched for them under the Magic Kingdom castle. I was sweating profusely and hoping no one from New York was around who could recognize me. My dad turned to me and said, “When it’s all said and done, I really hate this place.” I asked him why we were there then, and he replied instantly, “Mom.”
Then after a pause that was too long to make what he said next sound at all convincing, he added, “And the kids, of course.”
Therein lies the secret to a successful 35-year marriage.
My parents met while my dad was stationed at the American Embassy in Dublin. My mom was a Foreign Service national working as a secretary at the Embassy as well. Really, however, that was just a means to an end for funding her very expensive addiction: professional show jumping. This woman could ride a horse! That is until one bucked her off during a cross country run and she broke her back. She had to wear a metal brace for the next 6 months. During this metal corset time, both of my parents were having a drink at the Embassy bar. My mom was sitting on a sofa sipping a brandy and red lemonade (really, Mom?) and my dad was sitting at the bar. He called across the room, “Vanessa, come sit up here with me.” And my mom responded that she couldn’t because she had to sit with something supporting her back. At this time my dad was pretty fat. We come from a family of what I call “jolly” looking people. With my dad’s dark skin, bushy beard and rotund stomach he resembled something of a cross between Omar Sharif and Santa Claus. He yelled back to my mom, “Dear Vanessa, I’ve got all the support you could need.” He then pointed to his big belly and said, “Just lean on me.”
It was at that moment the Fenning-Warner clan was born.
My parents weren’t the only couple at this family reunion. My brother is divorced, so it’s not like he’s part of a functioning couple, but he has custody of his kids during the summer. His divorce was so acrimonious I would rather not get married than ever have to have that kind of breakup. In the words of my late American grandmother, “I think it would be easier to just have a baby with someone than to have to go through all this marriage hullabaloo of ’till death do us part.’”
And yet, my cousin Hannah and her partner Dan are an affirmative answer to the whole “Does true love even exist?” question. They’re both on the younger side at twenty-five and they already have a baby, which makes them act a million times older and wiser than me. They operate in a way where they know they have something bigger and more important than their individual lives—they have their relationship and their family. Though this may sound antithetical to being a sex columnist, watching them together makes me want to scream, “Dear God, someone marry me or at least knock me up!” They make me consider that maybe…I think so…no, definitely yes, someday…in the future, perhaps (give me a moment, let me think about this) I want a family and a partner too?
My sister, my aunt and myself round up the family and form the single ladies club. My sister and I have brought home many a prospective boyfriend to meet the family, but no one has met anyone my aunt has ever dated. She once admitted to my sister that at the age of 48 she was still a virgin. This was perhaps her way of trying to scare us into not having sex, and scare us it did—but in the opposite direction. Now she has a niece who writes about her sex life for a living.
I used to think I was so superior because I was single. I thought, “Look at me! I’m an individual!” I relished the fact that I didn’t have to employ that weird baby voice that couples use with each other, or risk falling victim to the strange way people start to resemble one another when they date for too long. I loved being an adult with no one to look after but myself. But having been a integral part of this family reunion, I started to think there was something to this other lifestyle, the one that involved a happy and healthy relationship and family.
I don’t know what my kind of romantic relationship or family would look like. I mean doesn’t it seem boring to sleep with one person for the rest of your life? But let’s be honest, open relationships don’t seem like a walk in the park either. In fact they seem down right unsexy with all their rules and constant talking and communication. And what about kids?! How much does a woman have to accomplish to feel successful before having children? Being a sex columnist doesn’t pay like it used to, and I’m certainly not bringing in enough right now to be a woman who “has it all.”
Maybe being with your family for too long just makes everyone freak out a bit—maybe it changes us all into different versions of ourselves. Not only do we revert back to the dynamics and familial roles we grew up with, but we’re also forced to take into account our future selves. All I know is that when I finally got back to New York and I pushed my way onto my beloved F train, a wash of relief came over me. I was home. I was exactly where I needed to be. Then I put my hand into my jacket pocket and found the missing My Little Pony.
Follow Lacy Warner on twitter @laceoface