*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.
It was one of the most awkward situations I've ever experienced.
I dated a coworker. On our first date, he took me home to meet his parents. They were aloof, but polite, and I thought they were a typical family, even if they seemed reserved.
He lived with his parents. So I saw them often, especially in the early days of our relationship, when I visited him at his parents' home a lot.
Within weeks, their icy demeanor had cooled off more, and I started noticing something strange. I'd engage them in conversation, and they would respond, grudgingly, but they wouldn't look at their son. They wouldn't even speak to him.
If they wanted to ask him a question, they'd ask me instead. Then I'd turn to him and repeat the question as if I were a translator, except we were all speaking the same language.
He would answer me, and his parents would look at me expectantly for the answer as if they couldn't hear him speaking from two feet away. They wouldn't acknowledge his answer until I repeated it for them.
I asked him about it.
"Oh, yeah," he said with a shrug. "We stopped talking."
He stopped speaking to his parents. Just like that. He walked into the house one day and just stopped talking to them because they had always fought, and he couldn't handle it anymore; he was twenty-eight.
When we first started dating, I noticed nothing out of the ordinary about how they treated him or acted around him. But now I saw there was tension between all of them. How could I have missed it?
My boyfriend looked just as confused as I felt by all this, but it didn't bother him. He was used to it.
I learned this wasn't the first time he and his parents had given each other the silent treatment. They had been doing this off and on for years. I'd met them during a brief period when they were actually engaging with each other.
Now they were back to the status quo.
"How can you live like this?" I asked him one day when his parents didn't respond to anything he said or did. He just shrugged and told me they always acted that way around him, so he'd given up trying a long time ago.
It sounded like they were all in an emotionally abusive relationship with each other. That's when I realized how bad the tension was between them all.
It felt like there was this big elephant in the room that no one wanted to acknowledge, which just made it more awkward. I could tell things weren't pleasant between any of them.
As our relationship continued, I felt like they were using me as a liaison between them. It made no sense to me.
They didn't even like me; I guess they liked him even less.
"You know you can talk to your parents," I told him one day when they ignored everything he said and acted like he wasn't standing there listening to every word they said. "They're still your parents."
His mom looked at him, and he looked back with a blank stare. She turned to me again, as if my comment had been addressed to her.
"Please don't tell me how to handle my family," she said curtly. "I'm fine."
And that was the end of that.
We dated for eight years. He and his parents weren't on speaking terms for seven of those years. I do not know whether they are on speaking terms today, but I wouldn't talk to any of them if I saw them on the street. I bet the feeling is mutual.