Dear Captain Awkward:
I was hoping for some advice on dealing with my sister-in-law. Who hates me.
She’s a bit rude/rough around the edges most of the time, to most people, that I’ve seen – but she is really not a fan of mine. She doesn’t return simple greetings “Hi, SIL, how are you?” and looks right through me if I happen to be in the same room as her.
I don’t want to sound like I’m All That, but I get along well with the rest of the family – lots of cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. – this is all her. Other family members have noticed and mentioned (to me) her chilliness toward me over the 10+ years we’ve known each other.
I have no idea if it was something I said or did – and if it was I’m sure I would apologize for it! She’s never said. She and her brother (my husband) aren’t close at all, it could be auto-antipathy because they don’t get along? I don’t know.
And – here’s the awkward part? Although we have a lot in common, and it would be nice if we could be friendly, I have no real interest in talking to her, or in overcoming the barriers, tearing down the wall, or whatever.
I’d really just like some ideas for coping strategies for being flat-out ignored when I’m sitting there making conversation or having dinner with a group of people, one of whom refuses to acknowledge my existence on the planet, let alone in the room.
Any thoughts on how to deal with her as the future aunt of any possible spawn would be great, too.
Thanks so much,
The Silent Treatment Makes Me Uncomfortable
Let’s lay out a few axioms here:
- Not everyone will like you or has to like you.
- If someone really doesn’t like you, there isn’t that much you can do to make them change their minds. Usually the harder you try to make them like you, the more they dislike you.
- Whether or not she likes you, as long as there is no history vile deeds between you, she is the one being weird and rude when she publicly gives you the silent treatment.
At family events, I would continue to give a perfunctory greeting – “Hello.” “Happy Arbor Day.” – and then not engage with her beyond that. Don’t ask how she’s doing. Don’t even say anything to her that has a question mark at the end of it. Go talk to the people you get along with and let her be as weird and rude as she likes. If she actually says something rude to you, don’t smooth over awkward moments. Keep your “Wow” handy, as in “Wow, that was really hurtful. I’d like you to apologize, please.“(See also: “Bless your heart!“)
Has your husband offered any insight or assistance with this? Do you guys think it would help if he (or another relative you’re closer to, like one of their parents) had a talk with your sister-in-law to say simply, “It’s fine if you don’t like _____, but the way you freeze them out of conversations makes ME really uncomfortable. Can you be a tiny bit more polite? A little less glaring, a few more perfunctory nods?”
When you think about it, it isn’t about trying to run other people’s relationships, this is a straight-up host-guest problem. If I have a party, and someone is a huge jackass to one of my guests for no reason, it’s totally within bounds for me to say “You don’t have to like _____, but you do have to be a basic amount of polite to them while you’re in my house. I’d like an apology and your assurances that that won’t happen again.” And if I catch it in the moment, to say “Hey, _____ was speaking to you. Is there some reason you don’t answer?“
If the gathering is going to be at your house, consider having your husband straight-up disinvite her or use the occasion as a reason to open up the topic. “Sister, The St. Crispin’s Day Feast is at my house this year. Let’s talk for a second about how you usually behave toward Spouse. It’s fine if you don’t like Spouse, and we don’t expect an apology or any kind of close relationship, but after 10+ years, it’s time you dropped the silent treatment. If you really can’t stand to be around Spouse and behave with basic politeness for my (and the family’s) sake, then you should make other plans, ’cause there is no way Spouse has to put up with that in their own house.”
Can your husband have your back? Can he (and other family) back you up, or have they just all accepted this as one of her “quirks?” Unfortunately this has gone on for so long that it’s become a habit and it may seem like you’re the one making it weird if you upset the status quo and demand different treatment.
Someone who isn’t afraid to straight-up shun you in front of others doesn’t sound very persuadable or embarrass-able, so I am pessimistic that addressing it directly with her would have any effect beyond letting her know that her behavior gets to you. But if you’re game, give it a go; it’s not like you can make things worse and it may snap her out of it. Script:
“S-I-L, can we talk for a second?
I know we’ve never gotten along, and I’m not interested in having a close relationship with you, but I’d really like you to drop the silent treatment at family gatherings and be a basic amount of polite to me. Thanks.“
Don’t sugar coat it, don’t negotiate, don’t apologize, don’t explain, don’t linger and try to talk it out. You don’t want to give her any opening to gaslight you. Just ask directly for her to stop the troubling behavior and see if she does. If she doesn’t? Take comfort in the following:
1) You did your best.
2) You can truly throw up your hands at the WTF?-ness of it all. Whatever!
3) If her family brings up the weirdness, you can say “I asked her to stop doing that, but it looks like it didn’t work. Whatever! How are you?“
Edited to Add: I realized after I posted that I didn’t address the question of kids. I suspect that your future Spawn will form their own relationship with Aunt Nasty. Either they’ll get along fine, because, babies are cute and it’s hard to maintain a steady stream of hate for them, or she’ll dislike them too and they’ll figure out that she’s mean and avoid her. Keep your expectations extremely low about any kind of relationship that they might have, and teach them good boundaries (for instance, don’t force them to hug/kiss people if they don’t want to, teach them to respect her space – “Aunt Nasty doesn’t like kisses, it’s okay to not like kisses.“), and if they form a happy relationship with her don’t kibosh it automatically. Since this is a future problem, I wouldn’t worry about it too much now, and I definitely wouldn’t make “but what about kids?” part of the conversations about how she treats you in the now. Probably the best thing you can do for Future Child or Children is to model both politeness toward people one doesn’t necessarily like and standing up for oneself when someone crosses the line.
Anyone else out there in Awkwardtown have a family member who acts as if you’re encased in Carbonite? Did you talk to them about it or improve the relationship in any way?