#880: “You should be more independent (Even though I hover over every aspect of your life):” A Paradox

Dear Captain Awkward,

I should probably start off by saying that I come from a culture (one of many) where family ties are super close, and family members getting into your business is acceptable and if you complain about it you’re ungrateful and aggressive.

I am now going to be working in another country (my country of birth) for the summer, and my aunt and grandparents are also here, staying in their home. I’m living alone (hallelujah) in another apartment, but i go over there once in awhile to see my grandparents.

However, something very strange is happening. I’ve been on my own pretty much, or trying to be. My aunt, however, decides to accompany me back to my dorm whenever i leave their home, even though I do not ask her to do this. She also decided, unilaterally, that she would accompany me to meet the person I’m working for. So she came in and SAT IN THE MEETING, and she did all this at the speed of light, totally ignoring my attmepts to divert her and giving me no chance to say hey, maybe you don’t need to be here. The job is acutally an internship and has been in the works, and this was not my first impression on the person I’m working for, so I’m not as mortified as I would be. The interviewers are also from the same culture, and appeared to understand the dynamics of the situation, for which i’m thankful.

That’s not the weird part. The weird part is that on the way back, as we went our separate ways, she told me that I needed to be more independent. I had no idea how to respond, besides “uh, i’m perfectly capable of being independent, except when you all foist yourselves into things that don’t concern you.” This is a common pattern in my family – be overbearing and steamroll people, then proclaim that they are too dependent and can’t live on their own and NEED the intervention of people constantly trying to dictate things to them.

What i’m wondering is…..what on earth do i do here? If i object to their meddling it’s considered rude. If I accept their “help” without comment, they use it against me to claim that I need their help, when i never asked for it. What. The. Hell.


Trapped in a Feedback Loop

Dear Trapped in a Feedback Loop:

I want to introduce you to my favorite word right now and it’s not “no” or “wow” or “really?” as you might suspect. It’s “okay” and I’ve found it useful whenever someone is projecting something onto me that isn’t really about me at all.

Family Member: “You really need to be more independent!


Family Member: “If you don’t listen to my intrusive advice, terrible things will happen!


Family Member: “I’m just worried that my stream of anxiety about you will actually come into being!


Family Member: “I’m just worried our family won’t see it as a ‘real wedding’ if there is no religious aspect.” (True story, y’all)


It’s a different version of “Sure, I’ll think about it!” where you will think about whatever it is (and then not do it if it doesn’t suit you). It’s a non sequitur/feigned agreement way of saying “I heard you and I am not particularly ruffled by your concerns but I also don’t want to fight with you.” It doesn’t work in every situation, but try it out and see what happens. Sometimes it stops the conversation in its tracks because there just isn’t any place to go from there.

Another way to deal with the “You need to be more independent (while I totally undercut your independence at every turn)” Auntie is to ask her what she means. “Auntie, I’d love to be more independent. Can you help me understand what you mean by that?” She’s not gonna gain sudden self-awareness about how her intrusion on your job meeting or walking you home every single night conflicts with that wish, but it might help to know her specific concerns and get an idea of her point of view about everything. Don’t argue with her when she answers you even if what she says is very unfair, just hear her out and tell her you’ll think about what she suggested. Then, over time (not during that particular conversation, just, when another intrusion comes up organically in a specific situation), gently and inexorably refer back to that conversation. “Auntie, I’ve really taken to heart your advice about being more independent, and I’d like to handle work meetings by myself.” “Auntie, you’re very kind to escort me home, but for the sake of being more independent, I’d like to go by myself tonight. Thank you!” Think of it as boundaries-Aikido, where you are channeling her aggression away from yourself. In that sense, the “Be more independent!” advice was a gift she gave you to help you start gently maintaining your boundaries. It gives you a way to say “Thank you, but thanks to your excellent guidance,  I got this!” and carve out some space in a constructive way rather than lapsing into a teenaged-sounding “QUIT SMOTHERING ME!” (even if that’s legitimately how you feel around these folks).

She will not disengage quietly, so know going in that it will probably take many attempts. Go slow and avoid ultimatums to the extent that you can.


128 thoughts on “#880: “You should be more independent (Even though I hover over every aspect of your life):” A Paradox

  1. Excellent advice from the Captain. I don’t come from a culture where this overbearingness is common. But I was the oldest in my family and had to “teach” my parents how to let us kids go. What worked for me was moving out (so you’re on track there, living independently – stay that way!!) and then being vague about my schedule. I didn’t mention my suitors/dating unless and until it got to the point where we wanted to meet each others families. I didn’t talk about what I planned to do on a day off – I just got up, left the house and did it. I didn’t feel compelled to make a weekly phone call home or a weekly visit with the folks. When they’d ask “what’s new?” I’d keep it boring and vague, “Oh nothing much, just work and school. Same old same old.”

    The less ammunition you give them, the less they can nose into business you’d like to keep private. For this to be successful, you have to balance it with attending family events, helping out relatives where you can, and taking an interest in other family members – all so that they don’t worry that your vagueness means somthing’s wrong.

    This is what worked for me. As someone who is fiercely independent and values her privacy, I wish you the best!

    1. Great thinking, Jill! I noticed with my older sisters, they would give my mom details and ask for her approval even as adults. They would argue that they could do what they wanted. Yet wouldn’t do it if they didn’t get verbal permission.

      I learned from them just to not give any details. Say “I’m going to do X” and then proceed to do it without pausing. We established a very different relationship very easily.

      Our mom is just the kind of person who likes to share her thoughts and stick to her guns. She wouldn’t have physically stopped them or prevented anything. When I want advice or a sounding board, she’s incredibly helpful

    2. This is great advice – I’m westernized but do have Eastern European family (that luckily my father is estranged from, so I don’t have to interact with them much) who will bowl over boundaries and have the social “right” to do so. The solution for me has been just not to play – I don’t let them add me on facebook, I give them sanitized accounts of my life when we see each other once every couple of years, and I smile and “thanks for the advice, I’ll think about doing it that way!” aaaaand subject change when possible. CA’s advice is great on this front. I can’t imagine what things would be like if I actually lived within their sphere of influence.

      (Note to people in this thread making comments about “normal” adult behavior – it’s worth bearing in mind that “normal” is culturally relative and that “normal” in the US is not at all normal in Poland for example, where enforcing boundaries around older family members is the ABNORMAL thing to do.)

    3. While I didn’t do that to the same extend (and my family is of the “give roots and wings” variety) I have had great success in being vague. E.g. when my mother couldn’t reach me via phone, I now call her back within a few days (and not immediately) and say: “Oh, I wasn’t home” or “I was meeting with some friends” instead of listing the names of the friends or the exact activity.

      I don’t do that all the time and I will often talk about the movie I watched with friend A or the food I made with friends B and C, but I don’t feel the need of informing my parents of everything I do. Also, I am much too old to do that anyway, but since I have a good relationship with my parents and we end up talking every week or so, they’d usually know if I am away for a weekend. However, I make a point not to *inform* them of weekend trips per se, only if it comes up in conversation (as in “let’s phone on Saturday” – “I’m actually away for the weekend” and then they might ask me what plans I have or not).

      Also, this works both ways. Now, my parents will go for a short trip and I get informed more by accident, the same way I inform them. This used to throw me a bit (“You went to [City]??? You didn’t tell me you planed that!”) but it is nice to have a more grown up relationship with my parents.

      1. My parents and I have a great relationship that runs like this. I would add one caveat to the idea that information can be offered after the fact. Leaving a message that ‘the minor surgery went fine’ is a good way to get frantic calls about *what* surgery?! Since it really was minor and really did go fine, it wasn’t a big deal, but I was very unhappy with my parents for a short time after I got that message!

  2. Honestly, LW, I don’t understand. When Auntie “decided unilaterally” that she would accompany you to the meeting, how was she going to do that? Ride in your car? In which case, you could have said, “no, Auntie, that’s not appropriate,” and refuse to let her into your car. If she drove herself, stand in front of her car and say, “No, Auntie, that’s not appropriate” and repeat it when you get to your meeting. “No, Auntie, please wait outside. I’ve got this under control.” It can be as polite and sweet as you like. “No, Auntie, I’ve got this. No thank you, Auntie, I’m all set” when she tries to horn in. When she tries to “accompany you back to your dorm,” – respond, “No, Auntie, that’s quite all right.” “No, Auntie, I don’t need a chaperone.” Don’t let her in your car. Don’t let her into your dorm room. Say no. Repeat no. If necessary, start saying it louder. Captain Awkward is right, Auntie will not disengage quietly. Stand your ground, be an immovable object, do not let her walk across you into your spaces, be it your car, your workplace, or your apartment. “No, Auntie. Please leave now.” If necessary, turn your back on her, walk into your place, and shut the door firmly in her face.

    Of course, they’ll consider it rude! Not getting their way is always “rude” in the view of pushy, overbearing people! Accept it and polish your spine, and stop waiting for them to simply become nice people. They aren’t. Say no to whatever “help” they’re imposing. Shut doors in faces (quietly, or not). Refuse to take what they try to hand you. Deny them to others when they say, “Oh, I’m here to attend meeting/class/whatever with LW” – “no, I’d prefer they wait outside, thanks.” No. No. No. No to them, no to others about them. They will not give you your independence even if they claim they want it for you. You must take it.

    1. I’m not sure such a drastic approach is necessary at this stage. LW was taken by surprise at the meeting, and I don’t think second-guessing her reaction is all that helpful right now.

      The tactics you describe may have a family fallout that LW is not yet prepared to live with, compared to the level of annoyance she’s currently getting from her aunt.

      1. A smiling, firmly stated “no, Auntie” is not drastic. It’s necessary. Especially given that Auntie is lecturing her to be independent – heck, she could point that out. “No, thank you, Auntie, I’ve got this – you told me I should be more independent, so I’ll handle this alone. G’night!”

        1. Depending on the family, that can be pretty drastic. Like Karyn said, this approach may have family fallout that LW isn’t prepared for yet. And given the family culture, it sounds like gentle pushback may be more appropriate at this stage. I know when I’m shocked that someone is doing something, I have trouble saying anything, let alone “No.”

          The way I read it, it sounds like there’s a culture of letting older family members get away with whatever they feel like intruding on. That plus the fact that female-presenting people are generally socialized to be kind and quiet and not stand up for themselves… combined, that’s some serious social pressure. Sometimes people need a run-up to the flat “No”, because it could be the opposite of helpful to say “no” and then, because of socialization and social pressure, give in later. That shows that the person’s boundaries are negotiable with enough pressure, which is probably not what LW is going for.

          Cap’s advice gives LW a framework to get more comfortable with standing up for herself while minimizing the family friction, especially since LW’s family thinks it’s rude to stand up for herself. A gentle tweaking over time of her family’s reactions can have great results, particularly since it seems LW wants to remain in contact with her family. “No” is almost certainly going to have much worse reactions, including potentially alienating LW’s family.

          The tactics used really depend on what the primary goal is. LW’s seems to be to remain in contact with her family but get her aunt to back off, and Cap’s suggestions take that into account. If the primary goal is “assert boundaries come hell or high water”, that’s when “no” is a good tactic, but that can have a lot of collateral damage, besides being difficult for someone who’s in a culture like the LW describes. (I’ve done both, because this family attitude is widespread.)

          1. +1
            What’s acceptable or not in any given situation depends heavily on culture. For example, in Japan it wouldn’t be acceptable for me, a woman, to greet another woman by kissing her in both cheeks. In my country it’s the standard greeting among women, though.
            The strenght and aceptability/rudeness of the word “no” really depends on your culture.

      2. Agreed. My culture is similar to LW’s (Chinese, not sure about LW) and the fallout one gets just from what is considered a polite “no” here Stateside, at least, is really, really not worth dealing with, speaking from personal experience. It’s a lot of “but faaaaaaaaaamily” combined with “how DARE you, they had good intentions and you REJECTED them!”

        The Captain’s advice is best here to get LW through this until the internship is over.

    2. This comes across as mega victim blaming to me.

      LW may be dealing with a situation where being able to SAY the word “no” is different from actually having the luxury of being able to ENFORCE that “no.”

      1. That certainly wasn’t my intention. Based on what the LW said in her letter, she lives alone, is able to coordinate a meeting on an internship opportunity alone, WANTS to be independent, yet Auntie (undoubtedly with much bluster) “unilaterally decides” that she is going to horn in on all those things. LW describes these actions as being “at the speed of light” – I’ve dealt with rampaging boundary-bashers too, and they do move at the speed of light. That’s why it’s necessary to practice cutting them off at the pass: Stop at the car. Don’t let them in the car. Stop at the door. Don’t let them in the room. Repeat firmly, sweetly that you’ve got it under control.

        The LW wrote to Cap asking for advice on “what on earth do I do here.” It’s not “victim blamey” to give LW that advice.

        1. No, but it’s victim-blamey to say “I don’t understand, why didn’t you do these things?” after the fact. You acknowledge in this comment that the firm cut-off is a skill that takes practice; for whatever reason, maybe because she didn’t have that practice, the LW wasn’t ready or able to pull it off in the internship-meeting situation. It’s done; too late to change it. Your advice might be useful going forward, but the part of it that goes “Here’s a list of things you could have done differently so this didn’t happen” is not helpful.

    3. One thing that is missing in your comment is acknowledgement that learning to say no so bluntly is a skill that develops over time and with practice. It should be really simple, right? Boundaries 101. “Just say no!” But growing up in a family and culture where have been groomed never to say no (because “faaaamily,” because “respect for elders,” because “we care so much about you” because “this is our culture”) makes this feel like the hardest thing in the world in the moment, especially when the Aunt does something so strange as to insist on coming along to a job interview. I think that when you start to say no and enforce the boundaries as an adult it can be very transformative to realize that the earth won’t open up and swallow you the way your entire childhood led you to believe. It gets a little easier each time. But it’s less a matter of “polish(ing) your spine!” than “Start small and go easy on yourself.”

      1. Yes–being from a similar culture, saying “no” is really not that simple! Saying no is a rejection of said family/elders’ goodwill toward you, no matter how unnecessary/hurtful/intrusive it is, and therefore not only do you get fallout from other members, you are made to feel like a Bad Person for rejecting the people who care about you and have nothing but good intentions for you.

        1. I actually think it *is* that simple–the trick is to persuade yourself to believe it.

          Say no, stand firm. Blithely and lovingly ignore any and all “hurt feelings!!” and accusations, and drama.

          I do believe this. It’s that simple. That doesn’t mean it’s -easy–, bcs “easy” and “simple” are not the same thing.

          1. We’ll have to agree to disagree, then. It’s certainly not easy, but in my personal experience from having to enforce boundaries with my own family, it is not “simple.”

          2. In a USA cultural context, I agree this is generally simple, if not always easy. However, in other contexts, as noted, it’s not necessarily simple, as the ripple effects can cause problems with other family members in the moment, and those problems might also be continually referenced into the future, making the family political fallout anything but simple.

        2. It is not that simple, and some people have toxic relationships that force us to find alternate ways to communicate with pushy people.

          Example: With everyone but my mother, I am obnoxiously honest and very clear when I say no. This is because people I chose to be friends with are all typically people who respect a no, whether firm or soft, and do not harass you to explain or justify your no, or wheedle you out of your no, or ignore your no and bulldoze on ahead, etc., etc.

          My mother is a narcissistic personality at the very least (though undiagnosed and with all the caveats about not diagnosing anyone over the Internet) and refuses to accept a no, whether polite, firm, explicit or implied. I am forced to deal with her in ways that make me feel bad about myself and which injure my pride in myself for being a honest and straightforward person, which adds resentment into the mix.

          Currently my mother has decided to give away more of my belongings (something she does to get tax breaks or to ingratiate herself with co-workers or handypeople or even total strangers) without asking me first. She volunteered to the yard guy that I would be happy to give him my window A/C units. One of those units was loaned to me, thus not mine to give. The other unit (that I bought myself) I intended to hold on to, as back-up, as I have two exotic animals who suffer when the heat gets over 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit. In my area, summer heat easily tops 120 degrees Fahrenheit outside PLUS it is a humid heat. My mother likes to threaten me with homelessness when I tell her no (even if her requests are outrageous). It is possible I might need an A/C unit if I move to a place I can afford down here, some of which are older small homes with no HVAC where you have to provide your own A/C window units.

          A normal person would [A] not volunteer someone else’s things to another person without asking them first, especially not by guilting them about how “poor” the yard guy is, [B] would accept “no, it is not mine to give away” as a valid response and [C] would buy the yard guy an A/C unit (if that genuinely concerned) with their 6-figure annual salary and not harass someone scraping by on the fringes of poverty to give up their material possessions in order to make the other person who is giving up nothing look generous and thoughtful.

          A narcissist cannot accept “no” if it might impede getting some warm fuzzies from a grateful yard guy for a free A/C unit that isn’t even theirs to give away. Being thought of as generous by the yard guy outweighs being known as the person who couldn’t spare $20 to help their relative buy some groceries, and then mocked them for getting food stamps for two months.

          Now, I contacted my friend who loaned me the A/C unit and she said “keep it, we don’t want it back.” Great! But I’m not telling my mother that, because I don’t want to have to JADE my choice, and that way I keep one of the units and the yard guy can have the other. Everyone’s happy. But if I let her know I was given the loaner unit, and thus it is now my choice whether to keep it or give it away, I would be harassed for my so-called selfishness and pressured non-stop to give the yard guy both units.

          In short, I am forced to be less than frank about things with my mother. I do not lie–if she asked me if the status of the loaner A/C had changed and I now owned it, I’d admit that I did. But I am not champing at the bit to share that info with her, either.

          Some people are pushy, abusive, bossy, aggressive, etc., etc., and will not accept a no. Not a firm no, not a soft no, not a polite no, and not a rude no. If they don’t like the no, they will add a complaint about HOW you said no to their complaint that you have dared say no at all.

          If you have not encountered this kind of bully in your life, it is easy to shrug off what other people say about how hard it is to tell some of them no.

          Add to this cultural expectations (e.g., in my case, being raised “a proper Southern young lady of class”) and there are all sorts of etiquette rules and unspoken societal rules that are excruciatingly hard to untrain yourself out of, even if they are not exactly good life skills to have now that it is no longer the 1880s. Knowing the proper way to eat an artichoke at a formal dinner is all well and good, but it says something that they teach you stuff like that and not how to be properly assertive. That is stuff you have to learn on your own, and you can’t learn it while you are still stuck in (or forced to revisit) the environment or culture that taught you “helpful” stuff like artichoke rules but refuses to listen when you say no.

          1. britpoptarts, I’d send you a muffin basket/treat of your choice for this comment. You said it way better than I could. Thank you so very much.

      2. That I definitely understand. I am certainly colored by my own experience, in which the “gentle” approach was completely futile – efforts to remedy an utter and complete lack of boundaries that lasted into my 30s came consistently to naught. Mom just didn’t comprehend all “gentle” efforts or hints or attempts to “let down easy” and much drama resulted (i.e. “why are you avoiding meeeeee are you mad at meeeee” “where have you beeeeeen for the last 24 hours?!” and much wailing to the extended family that I no longer loved her. Around age 33, I had had it, and started being blunt: “No, Mom, I don’t need your help with xyz.” “No, Mom, I’m not going to call you every day.” “No, Mom, I don’t want to come to dinner. Because I don’t feel like it.” And – a code phrase that has served me very well since I developed it a couple of years ago, “Mom, do we need to talk about boundaries?”

        There was much pushback, much whining about how “I feel like I have to be careful what I say to you or you’ll think I’m being pushy!” But Mom did learn, and our relationship has, at last, become more what I want in terms of a 30-something adult daughter and mother.

        The other commentors who’ve noted that retraining yourself to think “this is how THEY think the world is” or “this is what THEY believe” rather than “this is how it is,” this is how it’s supposed to be, etc, are on target. And the golden refrain: “I am not responsible for their feelings.”

        1. There’s a spectrum, to be sure, and one part of developing the skills to set and enforce boundaries is choosing your battles and figuring out when you want to make a point vs. when you want what you want with the least amount of friction vs. when you don’t care what the person thinks about you as long as you get your way in the end. Sounds like you learned the hard way! The LW is in the very beginning of that process, so thanks for understanding & being gentle.

          1. Very true. And I admit, my attitude is colored by looking back on 10+ years of frustration and kicking myself for not “escalating” to bluntness sooner. It was a “give ’em an inch, they’ll take 26.2 miles” situation, and I was so desperate to “keep the peace” that I kept surrendering inch after inch, ending up with next to no privacy, having to justify any and every instance of doing something on my own. So I confess I had a knee-jerk reaction.

          2. I have to agree with 3Fluffies here. I’ve been in a similar situation (it wasn’t a cultural thing, it was a family-who-doesn’t-understand-boundaries thing) and trying to avoid conflict and saying “okay” exactly got me nowhere. Maybe it works for some people, but until I learnt how to say a firm “no”, they just walked all over me. You’re right, they won’t take it well, and it’s also true that you need to teach yourself how to say no and it’s a long process. But I’m afraid that, based on my own experience, the Captain’s solution just doesn’t do anything to improve the situation. For me, the blunt, “rude” way was the only way that worked…
            No matter how you do it, you’ll be the “mean” one anyway, so you’d better get used to it.

        2. OhDearGodYes.

          I’ve hinted about my background, but I guess I might as well put it out there–with the exception of my sister and I and my Mom & her sister, everyone else further back–Dad & all 4 grandparents–were native Germans. Old-school traditional Germans. So I can’t say how much of my experiences will relate to the LW.

          Dad in particular could be a nightmare to deal with. There was no arguing, bargaining, debating or changing his mind. Period. Mom was thankfully much less stubborn, but I was her youngest and the result of a very difficult pregnancy that almost didn’t have any sort of positive outcome. (Short version: 5 years of trying to get pregnant including 3 surgeries, I’m the surviving twin where the other miscarried about 3/4 of the way through, emergency C-section and born with massive health issues.)

          Anyway, they always meant well–I honestly believe they really thought they were doing the best for their kids–but in reality, not so much. I in particular was always closely watched. Not in a stalker-ish way, but in that they always had to know where I was, where I was going, and who with to a fairly extreme level.

          Like 3Fluffies said, the gentle or “diplomatic” approach went *nowhere*. I’d have been more successful pleading my case to the cat. And my previous good behavior made no difference. For example, I had much stricter curfews than my sister, despite not going out anywhere near as much. And the one time I broke it?

          I was 10 minutes late getting home from the *opera*. Didn’t matter. Was still grounded for a month.

          Things pretty much continued this way until I hit 30, although they did back off a little bit. Dad died when I was 25, and Mom got even more clingy. That, plus what we learned later were early signs of Parkinson’s and dementia, put things over the top. A classic example? I put on a fair amount of weight in college, which as of age 40 has yet to depart. Anytime I went to visit Mom, one of the first things she said was something about how much better off I’d be if I lost weight. Of course, 30 minutes later she’s telling me how she’s fixed my favorite foods, found a new ice cream I had to try, or baked me 3 dozen of my favorite cookies to take back with me. I honestly don’t believe it was malicious; that just wasn’t her. I tried dropping hints, but nothing took. Things finally changed when, after listing all the high calorie things she’d made me, I gave her a look over the top of my glasses and said, “I thought you wanted me to lose weight. This is helping how?”

          Later on, I had to put her in a nursing home but still did a lot of her care. For about the first 6 months, any time I suggested doing something, she’d get snippy and disgruntled and shoot down every suggestion. I finally hit the point where I blew up a bit and said, “Mom we’re doing x and y today.”

          Her answer? “Oh, okay.”

          *headdesk*. Suggestions were no good, but if I basically just told her what we’re doing, no argument whatsoever.

          So basically? LW knows their family better, but sometimes you just have to lay it out there. For me, putting things directly but somewhat jokingly always worked well, because while my point was made, there wasn’t a lot of frustration coming with it. If I were in LW’s situation, I’d probably have said something like, “Yeah, I know I should be more independent. But it’s a bit difficult when someone’s always following me everywhere, ya know?”

          LW, you know your family & your culture best, and know what would be likely to be taken the wrong way and what wouldn’t. But if the subtle approach doesn’t work now, it’s probably not going to work in the future. If you think voicing your objections in a more lighthearted manner might work, try it.

          Unfortunately, growing up in any particular unique culture is a double-edged sword. For me, on one side you have people asking you for beer recommendations and car questions, and on the other side you have your classmates calling you a Nazi* any time you get on their bad side.

          (*For the record, both sides of my family were dirt poor, and by the time he was 10 years old, my Dad had survived 35 RAF bombing raids that left his smaller city hometown about 78% destroyed. So yeah, I really dislike people throwing that word around.)

          1. “But if the subtle approach doesn’t work now, it’s probably not going to work in the future.”

            Agree, 100%.

        3. The pressure from your Mom sounds brutal. Did her own Mother act the same way with her, and if so did you ever see your Mom push back? Did you see a change as they aged?

          1. I think this was for me…

            Honestly? Mom was the easy one. And her mother was even worse, in those ways. All my grandparents were. My Mom at least was willing to accept pretty easily that things wouldn’t always go as she wanted. Dad….. Dad just couldn’t process some things. (In fairness, the same therapist who diagnosed me as Asperger’s said he was probably somewhere on the autism spectrum too, and I agree. He was very, very certainly full-blown OCD– a “cleaner” type.”) It wasn’t until I hit late undergrad/early law school that we actually started getting along, and getting along very well. We were very much alike, and it was just like flipping a coin-same coin, total opposite sides/perspectives.

            The biggest one was that just because I’d been tested as very intelligent didn’t mean I was brilliant at every subject. Both my sister & I knew from a very early age we were going to be engineers. Not because that’s what we decided, but because that was what we were told. The idea to do something else never really entered my mind, at least. Unfortunately, the subject my brain just wouldn’t process was Math. I had trouble with science, too, but it was a lot less abstract so it was much problematic. In fact, during my senior year of high school, I had to drop out of calculus, but learned it anyway (and better) because it was also taught in my advanced physics class. Still, if I had a nickel for every time I heard “We know you’re smarter than this,” I’d own the entire contents of the Porsche Museum and still have some left over.

            It took them both a lot of time to accept that my brain just wasn’t wired that way. My biggest intelligence characteristic, for lack of a better term, is that I have a freaskishly good memory and an innate feel for language. I actually credit a lot of the second to Mom & Dad–they didn’t teach us German as kids, instead making 3 years of it mandatory in high school. However, whenever they had something to discuss that they didn’t want us kids to hear, rather than having to sneak around, they’d just sit there at the dinner table right in front of us and switch to German.

            Generally, they were very no-nonsense, but they did hold their kids to *extremely* high standards in every way, which was both good and bad. Even starting about 8th grade, I had about 5-6 hours of homework a night. My easy classes in high school were high level German and French. College got nightmarish until 2.5 years in, when I just hit the wall and told them engineering wasn’t happening. Yes, I literally ended up in law school because it was the best acceptable alternative I could think of. They were demanding, pushy, and rarely accepted failure.

            But they were good people, both of whom had very rough childhoods. Mom was literally a dirt-poor farmer’s kid who was the first in the family to not only go to college, but got her Master’s in education as well. Dad? Google the phrase “Darmstadt bombing” and take a look at the pictures that come up. That was his life from ages 5-10. Even afterwards things were hellish. Given the fact that my sister is 6′ 1′, and even stunted as I am, I’m still 5′ 7″, I figure Dad was supposed to somewhere around 6′ 2′ or 6′ 3″. He was 5′ 11″, probably due to malnourishment as a kid. We could never throw out food–he’ dig it out and try to insist it was still good. Nothing ever got thrown away unless it was used up or broken beyond repair, and every piece of clothing that got a stain or grew a hole was immediately cut up & added to the rag bin in the garage. And this was a man who probably made $80,000 to $90,000 a year.

            So yes, in many ways it was brutal. They believed in corporeal punishment, but you usually had to make a concentrated effort to earn it, and nothing more than a hand was ever used. I worked myself to exhaustion all through school just to try to keep up with their expectations.

            But they were not bad parents necessarily, and they certainly weren’t bad people. Both could be ridiculously generous, and as long as you were in the right, they’d back you up beyond the gates of Hell. My sister & both learned that when we brought home a boyfriend and they liked him (which wasn’t hard-if they were generally good guys, they were in), well….. They practically adopted the guy. And while I think Dad kind of wanted 2 boys so he could teach them tools and engineering type stuff and especially share his love of cars and racing, when he got 2 daughters instead, he decided it didn’t make a damn bit of difference. He took us out to the Speedway every May for practice and we loved it.

            For all that they were very cautious money-wise, they often surprised us. In jr high, I got obsessed with the movie Top Gun. I didn’t care about Tom Cruise or Val Kilmer in the slightest, but I wanted to fly an F-14 so bad I could taste it, and I was hooked on the movie. And they got me twice with that. First, I got mono in the spring when the movie came out on video/VHS. But tapes were about $25 a pop then, and Mom & Dad thought that was ridiculously expensive. So on the way to the doctor to find out if it was actually mono, Mom got irritated with my constant pleading and told me that if it was actually mono, she’d get the movie.

            Not only was it mono, I had a seriously inflamed spleen and was given orders to move as little as possible.

            Without another word, Mom left the doctor’s office and drove straight to Target, and left me in the car. When she came back out, she had one thing— a brand new, $30 copy of Top Gun. 🙂

            Better yet, I, like everybody else, lusted after a leather bomber jacket. But I also didn’t bother asking because it was policy that they didn’t buy their still-growing children $200+ pieces of clothing they didn’t necessarily need. Fast forward to Christmas. The gifts are open, everybody’s evaluating their haul, and then Mom says, “Oh wait–Werner [Dad], didn’t we forget something?”

            Sure enough, here comes Dad out of their bedroom with 2 large boxes. I don’t remember what my sister got, but I damn near passed out in shock when I lifted the lid off. Lying in the box was a glossy brown, super soft leather bomber jacket.

            It doesn’t fit anymore, but that doesn’t matter because it’s so worn the leather was beginning to tear. I will never get rid of it.

            And with Mom in particular, yeah, she bugged us a lot. She adored kids, and frequently reminded us she would love grandchildren. I, on the other hand, knew about age 13 that not only did I not want kids, I would never have my shit together enough that I *should* have children. And for all that she bugged me, she also sat me down more than once and super seriously told me that if I did not want children, by God do not have them. She taught gradeschool for 20 years, and stated that there were already way too many unwanted kids.

            The dementia and Parkinson’s was hell, and frankly, I was glad Dad didn’t have to see it, because it would’ve destroyed him. For all that when they fought, it was ugly (nothing physical ever, by my God the yelling), they were married almost 40 years when Dad died. When we went through his wallet, we found pictures of both me & sis, plus the ticket stub from their first date.

            TL;DR– Yeah, it could be hell, and both of them had trouble knowing what to do with me. But it was far from all bad, and they were fundamentally good people who were somewhat hamstrung by being products of the upbringing, for which I don’t blame them.

            (My apologies for the novel, Cap. I’ve never quite learned the trick of being brief, and it was and is a very complicated situation.)

      3. Most of us don’t remember learning to ride a bike, but if we could remember or if we’re aware while we’re teaching a child, we’d say it was impossibly hard. That is, it’s impossibly hard WHEN WE’VE NEVER DONE IT BEFORE. After we get the hang of it, once we’ve been riding around the neighborhood a bit, it’s so easy we can’t believe we ever had trouble learning. Learning to be assertive is like that. Standing up to family, calmly putting up a boundary, saying no again and again and getting bored, not anxious while doing so, it’s all as easy as riding a bike. You just practice, and then you hop on and go. I’ll carry my metaphor further and say that if you live in a place where everyone rides bikes everywhere and all the time, then you have lots of examples. You probably learn at an early age. If you live in a place where bikes are rare, then the inherent task of learning to balance and pedal isn’t actually harder, but it will seem that way.

        1. @Clarry: to stretch your metaphor a bit further, though, some people really can’t learn how to ride a bike. I was fine riding a tricycle, but completely unable to ride a bicycle without training wheels, even when my dad, trying to be helpful, bought me a brand new bike and traded in my old one so I’d ‘realize’ I was able to do it. People generally do not believe me when I say I can’t ride a bike, or if they believe me that I can’t, they can’t believe that I ever tried to learn, because saying “it’s like riding a bike” is to say “it’s easy and almost impossible to forget how”.

          So if saying no is like riding a bike, then some people don’t have working feet, some people have motor skills deficits, some people have a cultural taboo about women sitting astride anything, and some people live on boats where there just isn’t any room to ride a bicycle. Assuming that everyone’s metaphorical feet, motor skills, cultural taboos, and living space is the same makes it very difficult to offer good advice.

    4. I find myself wondering – what should the OP do if the OP says that Auntie can’t come with but Auntie gets in the car, or if Auntie starts walking alongside her, or if Auntie refuses to step away from the car once the door is locked, etc? That seems like what the Aunties I have known would do if faced with a hard “no”, and it seems like the OP would have very poor choices – sit in the car until Auntie gets bored, get out of the car and get a taxi while Auntie tries to get into the taxi, stand in the middle of the sidewalk until Auntie goes home, run away from Auntie as fast as she can, etc. Those seem like DEFCON 1 options and likely to be very upsetting to the OP no matter how good she feels about her boundaries.

      For this reason, I think that the soft method given by the Captain is not only likely to be the easiest for the OP but likely to produce the best results. Setting a very hard boundary with someone seems only to work if you can literally enforce the boundary in the moment, and it is difficult to do that if someone is accustomed to physically following you all the time.

      1. Yup to all of this–I’ve had an auntie who completely pretended I didn’t say no, or would just keep steamrolling me while the other elder family members laughed or said, “just let her already.” The options that would hypothetically get her to listen would be DEFCON 1 and also have long-term consequences.

      2. Yep – it’s easy to take for granted the “culture of consent” or just being mutually accommodating we have in the US around family relationships (though even that isn’t perfect), while my Polish family for example would see nothing wrong with just continuing to drive where they wanted to go regardless of how many times I said “no, I will not go out to lunch with you after this errand, I need to go home now” or hopping into a cab with me after I said “no, I can’t have the driver drop you off at your place all the way across town on my bill, I’m going straight to my hotel.”

        Escalating to a physical confrontation or even having to have a “NO, I said NO!!” discussion in public (that would be interpreted as a tantrum by everyone around, rather than as an adult enforcing their boundaries to another adult) is not something many people would be comfortable with – especially in front of a boss in a professional setting.

        1. Exactly–to get your point across in these cultures, it means you’d have to make a scene and act, well, regrettably. Certainly I wouldn’t be comfortable with how much I’d have to do to get my point across. In LW’s case, as a junior member of the family, it would not only be upsetting to them, but the repercussions could be so drastic that LW might just decide to keep their head down next time instead of going through something like that again.

          There’s also the fact that with baby steps, LW can get more comfortable with setting boundaries and start letting go of any guilt they might feel by pushing back (assuming they do feel any).

          1. Learning to just do what I wanted without trying to get agreement/consensus first was the key for myself. You can talk about “saying no” all you want but in some relationships it just isn’t going to make a difference! Instead I just make the plans that work for me and keep them need-to-know. If that means I’m arranging my own transportation instead of accepting a “free” (monetarily, though with the emotional cost of maybe having the driver barge in on whatever the thing I’m doing is!) ride somewhere or being vague about my vacation itinerary until the exact moment of “oh actually now that we’ve had our lunch/movie date I have another friend expecting to meet me promptly at 2, it was good to see you!” then so be it!

            I think of it as enforcing boundaries on information (and on the time I myself spend around them) since that’s the element that I CAN control with certain people.

      3. Except overbearing people rarely take a hint. They just ignore the “subtle” cues. The more subtle, the easier to ignore.
        Sure, it’s the easiest path. Best results? I think not.

    5. My mother and I just started speaking again after I confronted her on some awful shit she had let happen to me as a child. She handled it badly and I cut her off. Very recently I began speaking to her again, very conditionally, this time with firmer boundaries. Then she found out I’m going to India to meet my new husband’s family and have a second wedding reception with them. She asked to go. I said no, very nicely. Told her my husband’s parents were a bit prickly and I want to get off on the right foot with them and I’m not sure how she’d react to my being prayed over by a Hindu priest. (This woman is a missionary and a racist and proud of the fact that she “speaks her mind.”)

      Long story short, the fallout of that has been really fucking ugly. She’s trying to make everyone in my family feel bad for her and berate me into taking her. She’s trying to fuck with my already fucked up relationship with my brother, who IS invited, not because I particularly like him but because he’s never had a chance to travel and I can at least count on him not to be an asshole to my new in-laws. My sister feels like shit, my brother is treating my MOM like shit, and I feel like shit. And I’ve slammed the door, again, on a crucial relationship with the woman who raised me, a relationship I was hoping to sustain.

      Because I said no. I won’t take it back. But I tried everything in my power to keep from having to do that because I *knew* how ugly it could get. I tried to keep it secret. My brother’s kid let it slip that he was going – it was nobody’s fault. I reminded her I loved her, though I don’t atm, I held way back when she told me her heart hurt and she’s sad. I lied and said that some other year she might be invited. Everything to avoid that nice, smiling “No” that you’re advocating.

      It’s just not a simple matter of “polishing your spine.”

    6. Um, I’m not sure you realize the level of sturm-und-drang drama that a simple “No, Auntie” can release. I mean 3-hour-semi-berating-and-defensive speeches, notifying every single relative everywhere who now all call you to find out just what the heck you did, still-being-brought-up-30-years-from-now-at-Thanksgiving level of drama. Been there, done that. Part of growing up in a culture like this is learning to determine which fights are actually worth the trouble.

      If you think I’m exaggerating, then ask me about how nuts my Dad went when I was a little kid & painted my toenails bright red without permission. Zero to ballistic in less than 2 seconds.

    7. It sounds like LW is walking back and forth, which is a lot harder to refuse to let Auntie do. What do you say then, “No, Auntie, you can’t walk next to me down this street”? Here in America we’re a car culture, but some places overseas, you walk home and to shopping and to class and
      and to visit family and to job interviews and back. Locking someone out of your car might be a lot easier than telling them they can’t walk with you.

      1. Even some places in the US are a walking/public transport culture. Where I’m attending university there are a lot of cars, but there are also a lot of students who walk, bike, or take the bus to get between home, shopping, class, work, visiting friends, etc.

    8. It’s not as simple as that. The LW may not have gone by car. She was likely walking. (Based on the fact that she walks to her relatives house.)

      I have a similar family. I’ve had my mother literally follow me into a doctor’s office, much to my surprise. I had expected her to wait outside. Once she was in, the only way to get her out would have been to yell at her and cause a scene. I did ask her politely to leave, but she just shook her head and sat there with so much *inertia*… On that particular day, I decided I didn’t care, and was going to save my energy for other fights.

      The result of that day is that I don’t let my mother remotely near me when I don’t want her involved in my activities. But on that day, I didn’t want the drama of yelling at her in public to get her to behave decently. And if I was at a job meeting, in a culture where the employer may be more sympathetic to the overbearing relative, I *especially* wouldn’t want to have a public argument.

  3. One thing to think about for the LW: let your family OWN their opinions:

    “family members getting into your business is acceptable.” Consider noticing this as “Family members *believe* this is acceptable”

    It’s okay to believe differently from people who you generally love. As you say, they consider it rude. It’s okay for other people to disagree with what you believe it’s rude. You can’t control their beliefs. You can say to yourself “Okay, I don’t believe it’s rude. They’ll probably always believe that and it’s okay if we never agree on this”

    Hope this is somewhat helpful in re-framing the situation. Sometimes adjusting our own stories helps me to feel more comfortable in figuring out what to do about it.

    “Don’t waste your energy trying to change opinions … Do your thing, and don’t care if they like it.” Tina Fey, Bossypants

    1. Such smart advice – Reframing “They believe the world is this way” vs. “The world is this way” can be so very powerful in reclaiming a sense of autonomy & control.

    1. Maybe not so much rude as blunt and straightforward. Trying to phrase things somewhat diplomatically while still making your position as clear as possible is something I’ve found to be a highly useful skill. Family and friends of mine are very familiar with me phrasing things like “You know I love you dearly and think you’re an awesome person generally, right? Please bear that in mind when I tell you that was really a dumb thing to do” and similar. With my parents, it was more like “I know you love me and really only want to help, but honestly, this isn’t helping.”

      One can be polite and still make your position clear.

  4. Hi LW, I come from a similar culture and have had good luck with the “vagueness about plans” tactic combined with sharing info on a need-to-know basis only. Sometimes this involves outright evasion if necessary. It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission in a family that will simultaneously encourage and punish independence.

    Having dedicated family time will help, as will something like “study sessions” or whatever you can come up with that sounds innocuous and gets you out of their orbit. If you can find a friend/accomplice similarly situated it’s helpful to have each other as backup.

    I suspect coming back to your dorm with you will die down, but diverting your aunt’s attention by saying something like “oh, they discourage weekday visitors but can we have time this weekend? ” or something like that might work. Might. You know what your family is like! Just definitely minimize the flow of information and create activities to extricate yourself.

  5. Use sparingly, at your own discretion:

    “I think this is another one of those things that I can be independent in.”

    This is for after you’ve talked about how your family wants you to show your independence, after you’ve done the boundaries aikido, when you feel it’s appropriate to expand those boundaries.

    Also, “I can handle this. I see why you’re concerned, though. How about I’ll do the first one on my own and I’ll come to you if I any help.”

    If your first impression is, “Hell no! My family will not go for that,” listen to your instincts.

  6. “If i object to their meddling it’s considered rude. If I accept their “help” without comment, they use it against me to claim that I need their help…”
    Be rude. Honestly, being rude to someone who is steamrolling right through your boundaries is not a horrible sin. She’ll get over it. It won’t crack her in two like some delicate crystal ornament.
    You’ve been more than patient and polite with her and it’s gotten you nowhere, so time to change tactics.

  7. While I truly sympathize with the LW, I wonder if the aunt’s advice isn’t as contradictory as it sounded. Perhaps her attending the meeting as family is considered acceptable to some degree in this culture and therefore wouldn’t even be a consideration (because it’s “normal”), but the aunt saw some dynamic in the meeting that prompted the comment. So as a hypothetical, maybe the LW asked the boss some question in the meeting that made her sound unsure or tentative and this prompted the aunt’s comment about being independent. It might be worth a follow up conversation no matter what because, family aggravation aside, it can be helpful to have feedback into your professional conduct sometimes.

    1. I find the most useful thing for me, when being professional, is having an unwanted, uninvited person announce at the last minute they are going to supervise my interaction with my boss.

      Point being, LW, ask Auntie what she means when she says that, sure. But feel free to employ “okay” as a reply when she does. I would not trust that she is a good judge of behavior (the boss is- if you really want to know, ask them!). Was your behavior in that meeting even your usual behavior? If she has feedback, do you trust it’s about how you really are? Do you trust her feedback at all. Because telling you one thing and treating you the opposite way is a sign of someone undermining. Undermining people are not to be trusted in the matter of improvement feedback.

      You know Auntie, so go with your gut. If your gut says “ask for feedback” do it. If your gut says “evade forever” then do that, too.

      1. +1 It’s good for your Auntie that she has an opinion, LW, but if you don’t feel like seeking it out taking it into honest consideration, then don’t and “Okay” away.

  8. “Okay” is surprisingly effective and powerful. I have a nosy, meddlesome neighbor who is always after me about my house. I was working outside one day when she came over and started in on me. I didn’t want to engage in a pointless argument with her so I let her finish, said okay, and walked inside. She has never bothered me again.

    1. Yes! I have a similar neighbour who when I first moved in was over every other minute with “pointers” about what I was doing wrong in the visible external parts of the house and yard (and who was big on helpful pretexts that might allow him to get inside it — which I managed to deflect) (this was not a creeper situation, more, a busybody with too much time on his hands). At first I went with polite: oh really? I didn’t know that (increasingly bombastic declarations about how what I was not doing was the ONLY way to do anything; also, quantitative ramping up of unnecessary and obvious advice about EVERYTHING home-related including my favourite: that one should shovel snow *away* from the house). Then I sometimes pushed back (while I thank you for the offer to come over and shoot all the squirrels and crows around my home [I live in a suburban neighbourhood, not on a farm, and wouldn’t agree to this anywhere], please don’t) and got head-shaking about how I didn’t understand the nature of the neighbourhood ecosystem’s dynamics… Finally I tried “okay” (not about shooting, obviously, but in response to the barrage of advice and suggestions and critiques). Which gives no purchase for keeping the interaction going, really — it’s not a a contradiction or an affirmation. He hardly ever comes around anymore and it never ever had to become confrontational. Another vote for the power of “okay”.

    2. I used okay recently too. My fridge space at work was taken away. I’m graduating soon and the stuff in that fridge was expired, but I should have that space as an employee here. Rather than start an argument when I technically don’t need the space rn and I can probably demand more later if I do need it, I just said okay to everything our lab manager said. It was good bc I didn’t agree with her that she did a good or fair thing, but I didn’t challenge her or be rude to her either. A way to acknowledge without objecting or approving, okay is a good word to use.

    3. I can also vouch for the power of “Okay.”

      “Those pants aren’t very flattering.” “Okay.”
      “That is a weird way to slice tomatoes.” “Okay.”
      “Your car is really dirty.” “Okay.”

      It’s the best, y’all.

      1. I wonder if it also works for unprompted (inappropriate) compliments. Gotta test that!

    4. I’ve started using it to kill conversation with one of my friends when he starts being arrogant or an unintentional asshole. I’ll engage as long as I can, and then he’ll say something else completely dickish and I’ll say “Okay” and stop responding.

      The latest was last night getting very excited about Pokemon GO, and he was bitching about how it was probably going to be terrible because blah blah blah. I said, “Okay but I’m excited so let me be happy,” and he answered, “I’m not. -Insert more dickish comments about quality and expectations-“. I said “Okay”, and left to go play the game myself, happily, without his commentary.

  9. As someone who also comes from a culture of close knit family nosiness and YOUR FAMILY JUST WANTS WHAT’S BEST FOR YOU, this is my preferred deflection tactic from constant botheration:

    Family member (FM): [Does or says the controlling, intrusive thing.]

    Me: “Aww, mom/gramps/auntie. Thank you for thinking of me, but I’ve got this!”

    FM: [Here are the opinions and advice and criticism about you that you don’t want and didn’t ask for.]

    Me: “Hmm, okay. Well, I’m working hard at it!”


    Me: Oh no, no, I couldn’t ask you to do that. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it. [If appropriate:] You raised me to take care of myself– I’m working hard at being independent.

    Repeat variations of this as many times as necessary in as friendly and upbeat a tone as you can manage. “Working hard, doing my best, don’t worry and thanks for the thoughts” is your constant refrain. Reframing the situation as “Oh, I couldn’t possibly put any burden on you. I am the hard working youngster you want me to be,” seems to be a culturally appropriate response (for me, at least) that allows everyone to save face while you get your own way.

    1. I can vouch for this from the mediterranean background overbearingness spectrum for sure. Really good advice that my younger sis even uses on me sometimes.

    2. This is great because it answers part of the reason families in some cultures are controlling – they’re worried about their place in your life and the respect you have for them as an elder. It’s toxic and overbearing, but a good way to lighten that load on you personally can be to proactively validate them by singing their praises for already teaching and preparing you to deal with things, and for being a rock you know you can rely on IF you get in over your head.

      It’s all word chess and it’s stupid that sometimes you have to do it, but it does help in situations where you’d rather de-escalate than aggressively enforce your boundaries.

      1. Yes, proactive validation is a great way to describe this tactic. Even if it’s a bit of a stretch, being able to say, “Thank you for teaching me so much, it’s all because of your efforts that I’m so prepared now– so don’t worry! You can leave it to me” soothes ruffled feathers and indignant family complaints about “gratitude” and “young ones these days don’t know anything”. It’s praise for them and praise for you, and a way to positively communicate to your family that you are independent and your own, awesome person who has their life in control.

        It can also disrupt the unfortunate “chase” dynamic that occurs when controlling family members hound and chase after a person who (understandably) just wants to run the heck away. You’re not avoiding them! You actually really respect and are thankful for them… and that’s why you’re gonna do whatever you want anyway. With their teachings and blessings!

    3. I agree with relentless positivity! Very much. Although I don’t come from an intrusive or forced-closeness kind of family, I’ve found it really useful with intrusive people in general, especially in a close living situation where you’re forced to interact. There was one woman in particular who wanted to make me her listening ear, source of affectionate attention (& also advice about how to do her work whenever she got into Helpless Mode), occasional scapegoat, and partner in repetitive Apology & Forgiveness dramas over petty or imaginary issues, always complete with very huggy Reconciliations (which were of course the point.) My blood pressure would go up the moment I saw her. I learned to do two things:

      – Avoiding eye contact. It’s amazing how this disengages you psychologically. Of course I don’t mean avoiding all eye contact, as people notice this & get offended, just most. Little glances & then finding something else super interesting.

      – Relentless positivity. I smiled real big, said hi with enthusiasm, told her how great it was to see her, and never asked her how she was nor engaged on more than a very bare surface level with anything she said. If she asked for advice I smiled & told her I was sure whatever she did would be right, if she offered unwanted favors I smiled real big & said, No, but thank you!!!!, etc.

      Eventually she started attempting Are You Mad At Me by offering apologies for unusually trivial things, like whether she hadn’t said hi to me one time (lady, don’t get me started, I prefer it when you don’t say hi), and then admitted she felt we weren’t “close” anymore. I smiled at her and told her I certainly wasn’t mad at her and I thought we were doing great! I really feel like this was the kicker. She’s left me alone since then except for some light positive conversation now and then.

      There’s something about positivity that’s like plausible deniability. You don’t give them anything to grab onto to use against you. They didn’t get what they wanted, but you were so nice! To accuse you after that would mean admitting what they really wanted, which in many cases would be embarrassing when said out loud in so many words. (I wanted her to make me feel better about what I’m doing, I wanted to go with her so I could show her off, etc.)

      Obviously this is a tactic that will work better for some people than others, and in some situations than others, and there are times when it’s soul-killing to be positive when it’s a lie about how you feel inside. I think, looking at my own experience, it’s mostly a technique for people you would truly prefer not to hurt. In spite of how awfully she was behaving toward me, I couldn’t fully blame this lady–she has serious un-dealt-with mental & emotional issues & I’ve seen before how little she comprehends that others have their own feelings that are sometimes different from hers and that constant strokes, Sweet Sweet Emotional Closeness & Helping Each Other are not everybody’s goal in life, and I think she imagined I enjoyed our “friendship”. So I didn’t want to hurt her. And the technique worked great–it can’t have hurt that much or she would have let me know (would she!) It’s like Teflon.


        The ‘Oh you must think I’m so rude I haven’t said hi’ thing, I cannot. I mentally award myself a medal every time I refrain from saying ‘lady, I’ve been on the phone/had headphones in the entire time you’ve been here so far, I would not have heard you even if you’d done a literal song and dance of greeting.’

        Smiling super brightly is a godsend in these situations. People are conditioned to receive sentiments in the manner you deliver them.

        1. I got yelled at (at work) once for not saying “hi” to someone when I came in for my shift, even though I had done. It confused the heck out of me because we weren’t friends (or enemies or anything) But she’d had a bad time with a customer and decided to take her temper out on me. I mean, as the manager on duty I was the safe option to vent to but it was bizarre that she made it about me not greeting her when I came in.

          People are weird.

          At least she apologized after we’d processed why she was actually upset.

      2. This strategy (the relentless positivity part, anyway) works really well in customer service, as well. The worse a customer was to deal with, the brighter and more pleasant I got with them, while mentally cutting back the list of things I’d be willing to do to help them out.

        Personally, I find it kind of empowering to be relentlessly cheerful to mean/rude people while giving them the bare minimum I need to get them out of my hair. As long as I can compartmentalize their behaviour or attitude into the “not personal” box in my head (as in they would do/say these things to anyone in these circumstances), it works for me.

        I really like this combined with Tea’s suggestion of turning the conversation around into “You’ve done your part by teaching me, thanks for letting me handle this like the adult you raised me to be.”

    4. This reminds me a little bit of my SO’s descriptions of taarof-ing, where people offer things or favors with the expectation that the other person is going to decline (but only in very specific, socially accepted ways), and they have to do this back-and-forth 3 times before anyone can say what they actually mean.

      Maybe that’s what’s happening here? Aunt is offering a bunch of unnecessary help in order to show that she’s willing to help family, but is expecting LW to decline in a specific way according to custom, and when LW doesn’t follow that script (maybe isn’t familiar with it? It sounds like LW did not grow up in the country this is taking place in) they assume that means LW doesn’t know what they’re doing.

      1. Ohh this rings bells. Not in quite the same dynamic, but I have experienced living in a foreign country and being treated like I’m dimmer and dimmer over the course of a single interaction. Realised eventually that it was because I wasn’t responding according to the default cultural script there (I knew what it was but hadn’t ingrained it), and when I made an effort to respond in the expected way suddenly I was treated much better.

        I’m pretty sure in at least some cases, the absence of the scripted response isn’t even consciously noted, but “this adult isn’t responding like adults do, I will therefore treat them like a child who doesn’t know better” still happens.

        1. ugh, I HATE this stuff. Just say what you mean/really want! I usually try to emphasize this around people I care about, that I despise this sort of thing. I can deal with anything, as long as you like, actually TELL me what it is! I think it’s a big part of why I am so introverted in social interactions, I know that there are all these types of social scripts floating about and I don’t know what they are and don’t know how to respond in the ‘appropriate’ fashion.

          1. I mean, I agree with you, because I was raised in a culture where directness is the norm, and I find it really confusing going into places where hard refusals are considered rude. (Let me tell you, going to college in the rural midwest was a learning experience in just how culturally different various parts of the US really are)

            But in most of the places where you see this dynamic, everyone who has grown up with this as a cultural norm knows exactly what’s going on. You just take the extra 20 seconds to go through the song and dance of “Offer and refuse, x3” and then get down to business.

      2. OH MAN, my mom was FURIOUS as a 6-year-old when, carefully guided by my grandmother, she Did What Was Proper and declined the first offer of cookies while visiting a neighbor. And then the neighbor put the cookies away! Without offering again as she was supposed to! And poor kid-mom couldn’t do anything but sit there helplessly, fuming the entire time. Sixty years later, she still laughs and tells this story. 🙂

        1. Actually, I’m impressed your mom stuck to the politeness script and didn’t say anything. Most six-year-olds I know would proceed to explain to me that I was supposed to offer again so they could accept that time.

      3. Definitely a possibility. LW doesn’t make it clear in the letter, but it sounds like they were born in this country but left at a very early age and is now back there as a young adult. Again, speaking from experience, being raised in a heavily ethnic/nationality-leaning household & culture is not the same as actually growing up in that culture itself. Sure, you’ve got one heck of an advantage as an expat, but there is still a lot of things you’re just not going to know. You will make embarrassing social gaffes–just considerably less of them than most.

  10. LW, the walking-you-home issue might have a way out in its execution. Is it possible that whatever reasons she has for walking you home at night could be re-purposed as “Auntie, I don’t want you walking back home alone after you drop me off. It worries me and I want to say good night to you knowing you’re safe at home.” Use whatever health issue she might have- night blindness, a mobility disability- to further your case.

    It also has the advantage of being true!

    If she’s using the walking you home to get some alone time with you, is it something you could acknowledge with an invitation to a solo lunch or daytime walk, that you set up?

    It occurs to me that she’s getting alone-time from her home when she walks you home; maybe that’s what’s fueling this. Maybe that pleasure is something you have in common?

  11. I am just here to seize on the “I’m just worried our family won’t see it as a ‘real wedding’ if there is no religious aspect” part. WE HAD THAT TOO. His mother: “I certainly hope your justice of the peace is an ordained minister, or your grandmother will not consider it a real wedding.”

    1. With ours it was “Everyone will judge you if you don’t serve fish at the reception!” I’m a vegetarian, spouse does eat meat but hates fish, so that wasn’t happening. Everyone but those relatives had a great time, and they were going to find something to be dissatisfied with no matter what, so nothing was lost.

      1. The q&a website Quora has an ongoing question that goes: “What ruined your wedding?” I love it because of the assumption that no matter who you are, SOMETHING is going to [attempt to] ruin your wedding. It’s in the nature of weddings.

    2. We had this in my family! Sorry for the OT but I think you might like this story.

      My brother and his wife had a beautiful wedding ceremony in the woods. Our mother went nuts afterwards fretting and worrying because they’d gone off for private time immediately afterwards and *she didn’t see them sign anything*. She was all “but what if the marriage isn’t legally binding?!!!”

      Quite apart from the fact that they could easily have done it in private rather than have everyone twiddle their thumbs and stare at them doing paperwork for ten minutes, here in England no wedding ceremony is legally binding unless it’s carried out INSIDE an officially approved building. So no woodland ceremony would lead to a legal marriage anyway.

      When she realised this, our mother went absolutely apeshit. I tried to point out that if this was what my brother and his wife wanted then it actually didn’t matter but she wasn’t having it. Eventually she cornered the groom to interrogate him about it and he confessed that they’d quietly got the legal stuff done at the local register office a few days previously. She then badgered him for ages trying to get the date of his “real” wedding anniversary, but he was brilliantly firm with her. He told her today was the day their family and friends came to see them married, today was the day they had the ceremony they’d always wanted, therefore today was their wedding day. I have never seen such brilliant use of the broken record technique.

      1. Man, seriously, what is with these people who “don’t consider others married”? I can barely fathom the level of arrogance needed to declare yourself absolute arbiter for all time of who has a “real” marriage and who doesn’t, not to mention the narcissism of thinking other people even care.

        1. yeah… tell that to the monster inside my head (it’s been too nasty lately to call it “jerkbrain” any more). it still likes to randomly accuse me of not having a “real” marriage, but nothing would actually satisfy it anyways.

          coincidentally, I’ve been using “okay” to deflect its attacks this week too!

      2. Oh my… your Mom would’ve gone ballistic at my sister’s wedding. Sis managed took care of everything, but her future husband had exactly *one* thing to do: get the marriage license. So everybody shows up to rehearsal the day before, and the officiant asks for the license. Sis asks FH for it.

        “I thought you got it….????”

        Long story short: Ceremony was on Sunday, license acquired Monday, and actual marriage on Thursday.

        Mind you, these are not unintelligent people–both have Masters degrees.


    3. “I certainly hope your justice of the peace is an ordained minister, or your grandmother will not consider it a real wedding.”

      “That’s nice. The state will.”

  12. Awkwardeers have inserted a car into the narrative, where I do not see one…

    LW, I’m thinking that your aunt may have been told to do this, to “look after you” and make sure your internship is not actually a brothel, by your grandparents. That kind of delegation does happen, so as you block and buffer your aunt and the others, keep that possible wrinkle in mind. She may not be all that keen on this herself and the snark about independence is because of that. The escorting-to-dorm thing is making sure you’re not staying in a brothel—or meeting inappropriate local persons and striking up an acquaintance with them, which is possibly worse! I am assuming that there is no serious safety concern around your moving around alone, but if there is, you should address that independently and announce you have found a solution to your aunt being imposed upon and forced to schlep around town after you, you hate imposing such a big inconvenience on her and therefore you have found a reliable local taxi agency, will not be leaving the house at “hazardous” hours, or whatever you can work out in your situation.

    The “Okay” conversation-stopper is effective. Deploying that along with extreme uninformative vagueness about anything scheduled or planned in your work life is probably the best you can do without starting up a pitched battle (if there is an easy or culturally-accepted way to shut them down, you might find out by asking others staying in your dorm). On the work thing specifically, if she shows any inclination to do something like that again, as it is a career matter I think that blowing up about that specific type of intrusion would be pretty safe. It undermines you in front of your boss and peers! It makes you look incompetent to the people you are trying to impress! No, it is not supportive, it is destructive because it implies that you are too stupid to be there! Have they not raised you to be diligent and respectful, you intend to make a good impression at the office and having a nanny with you does exactly the opposite! Et cetera. Work is a separate space and the needs of the employer trump your family’s desire to monitor you.

    If there is a car in the picture, that is, if you are using a family vehicle/driver to get around, is there any way the employer could provide acceptable, appropriate transportation for you? Or carpool with someone else from the dorm?

    Cultivating a local ally in the business where you’re interning or dorm will be helpful, so assess the people around you for support (and of course future professional contacts!) in getting out from under the family surveillance system.

    Best of luck to you with the internship. Focus on that, not the re-infantalization with the family—don’t let the annoyance and stress of that (or the demands on your time) undermine the work experience. It’s just one summer.

    1. “Cultivating a local ally in the business where you’re interning…”

      This is really important, because what you’re dealing with isn’t just a family matter, it is an employment matter and an issue of professional standards. Someone – hopefully at your internship – is going to need to Very Authoritatively explain to family just how damaging it can be in an American workplace to have family members following you into the jobsite and important meetings. Unless you’ll sick enough to go into the hospital it just isn’t done.

    2. Awkwardeers have inserted a car into the narrative, where I do not see one…

      I noticed that as well. I found that odd, but I guess there are many places in the US that it’s just assumed that everybody drives?

      1. Yeah, I noticed that, too. She didn’t say anything about a car? And she did say it’s not the US, which is one of relatively few places in the world where it would seem at all likely. Especially for someone both young and unemployed!

  13. Not having been raised in a culture that espouses such family closeness, I see a pattern that may not be there. That is, “I’m going to railroad you into doing thing X, while simultaneously complaining that you are not instead doing thing Y” can, in cultures like the one I was raised in, be a sign of somebody who wants your attention very, very, very much, but isn’t that interested in you as a person. LW, has she engaged in this pattern with you before, about other matters? Or does she perhaps have a slowly lengthening list of family members and former friends who don’t seem to spend much time with her anymore? People who perhaps change the subject when her name comes up in conversation?

    I could be seeing something that isn’t there.

  14. This isn’t exactly apples to apples here, but I was raised very strictly and religiously (I’m fortunate that I can point at many others and say “their experience was more extreme than mine,” but…). When my brother and I were little and asked to do one thing or another, my mother would pose a series of more-or-less rhetorical questions to us, based on James Dobson’s teachings:
    1. Is it safe?
    2. Is it legal?
    3. Is it moral?
    4. Does it hurt the integrity of the family?
    My mother added 5. Does it diminish your own dignity?

    This was a very annoying exercise, UNTIL we figured out that we could use it against her. She was a parent who was inclined to say “no” instead of “yes,” so even if it was as innocuous as “may I please go out to Chili’s with my friends after evening service? I have a ride there and back home” she would usually say no. So I whipped out “But mooooooooom! It’s safe, AND legal, AND moral, and…”

    I generally got what I wanted with that.

    Sometimes, when you’re not able to say “F this S, I’m out!” and do whatever you want (due to health, or finances, or really any reason), it helps to preemptively address their concerns. This won’t always apply, but it’s sort of a variation on the Captain’s excellent strategies. I hope it helps.

    1. Ugh, Dobson. Glad you figured out a workaround for that stuff. (For those unfamiliar with Dobson: On one hand he’s all nice and grandfatherly and stuff, and on the other hand he cites his failure to train a Dachshund and his susequent savage beating of the poor little animal to make it obey him as evidence that he understands the right uses of authority.)

      1. Yikes! It had seemed reasonable. Then again he violated his own 2-4 as well as the added 5.

    2. My parents used roughly the same scheme, but for the most part they were willing to start at “yes,” which made it a whole lot easier to deal with. I can’t recall having to reverse engineer it like you so cleverly did.

      1. I read that list and thought, “That’s a great list! Because if the answer to all of those things is yes, then why wouldn’t the answer be yes?” But I guess, I’m starting from the idea that “yes” is pretty much the default unless you can point to a specific logical, positive reason why it should be no.

  15. i would like to add my voice to the chorus and say that this advice is great! if you can get this to stop without being rude, (“rude”), then that is absolutely the best way to do it. but sometimes, not necessarily in this situation, but sometimes you have to be rude. it’s difficult, and it takes a lot of practice, but sometimes? it’s your best option. again, not saying you need to do that here, now, but “it would be rude” shouldn’t be a reason to exclude a course of action entirely. try to think of it as a reason to consider the consequences carefully before doing anything, rather than a flat “can’t go there”.

    also, i think your aunt telling you you need to be more independent is, in itself, pretty rude. ymmv. best of luck defusing your aunts weirdness.

  16. LW, I haven’t any useful advice to add, but offer my support and sympathy. My head exploded when your aunt sat in on your meeting. I wish you the best of luck and a healthy sense of humor.

  17. So far none of the commenters has touched on the LW’s gender as a possible reason for Auntie’s pushy behavior. LW didn’t specify, but this kind of buttinsky supervision seems much more likely if LW is female than male.

    If LW presents as a woman, then maybe Auntie is acting as a chaperone with the goal of protecting LW’s honor or checking if LW is involved with a man. Is this a culture where young women (now or in the recent past) do not walk outdoors unaccompanied or have meetings alone with men? Do the grandparents and aunts believe that they have a responsibility to LW’s parents to protect her (as they perceive it)?

    Is it possible that “independence” could mean “prudently always having a female friend along”?

    Is it possible that the LW’s country of birth has a rape culture far stronger than where she grew up, so her aunt’s behavior is in fact protective?

    1. That’s my take, yes.

      LW needs to assess her own situational security, but the aunt going to work with her at the internship was taking the monitoring a little too far: squinted at, it becomes an insult to the employer, presuming a predatory rather than professional interest.

  18. I think asking her what she means by “more independent” might help clarify the situation. I’m wondering if “be more independent” actually means “don’t let me find out about situations I will then have to be responsible for doing something about.” Does she feel that you shouldn’t be traveling back to your dorm alone, and therefore wish you’d arranged to walk/ride with a friend, or take a taxi, or whatever would be culturally appropriate, so that it wasn’t on her to “fix the problem”? Does she feel that by telling her about your internship and your meeting with your new boss, you’ve placed an obligation on her to go along to make the situation safe/respectable, and actually wish that you hadn’t talked about this with her at all?

    I agree with the Captain’s advice for pushing back, and this may just be a frustrating double bind, but I think it’s worth exploring whether “be more independent” is code for “I am obligated to meddle if I know you’re doing something that sounds unsafe/inappropriate, so please either don’t do [X] or don’t let me find out you are doing [X].” In which case limiting the information you share with her may be a relief to both of you.

  19. Is your auntie protecting you? That’s what it reads like to me – escorting you home, making sure you’re not alone with a ‘stranger’, being around to make sure things aren’t suss. I agree that it’s overbearing, and seems the opposite of being independent… But it might be worth bringing the protectiveness up with your auntie, as well as what she means by independence? Maybe she wants you to organise your own escort home? Maybe she wants to meet your friends or some coworkers so she knows the people who will have your back when she’s not around?

    1. I have to say that this was my vague impression as well! Auntie is doing what she thinks she has to do so that LW is safe (for some value of “safe”), which is not *actually* helpful at all because there will never be an event that guarantees LW Is Always Safe In Own Company Now.

      This might also imply that Auntie feels she is giving up her own safety (walking herself home after) to provide these bodyguard duties.

  20. Oh my mom was really good at this. Except her lines were:

    a) “You need to be more assertive!”
    …and I’m going to teach you that by either yelling at you or freezing you out every time you disagree with me or try to do stuff your own way so that you learn that your best options are to obey me or to be sneaky, underhanded and ashamed about figuring out your own preferences and your own path.

    b) “you’re too tense, you should do yoga or something!”
    … And I can help you unwind by giving you my constant tacit disapproval about your life choices. Sometimes, to switch things up, I’ll yell and tell you mean things about yourself (see also point a). God, I hate to see you so anxious all the time!

    1. ::shudder:: my mother’s variant was, “I’m just trying to understand you and support you,” by interrogating me. I wouldn’t cough up with the details, so she’d hold my prisoner and continue the inquisition—and then when I’d innevitably let something slip just to get her off my back, she’d critique every last nuance of how I was Doin It Rong. And she was puzzled about why I wouldn’t talk to her.

  21. Have you considered asking Aunt what she meant? It doesn’t have to be “Hey, hypocrite, how am I supposed to be independent when you have the helicopter on 24 hour standby?” Play into her need to be in charge, into her perception that you need guidance and help. “You said the other day that I need to be independent, but I’m having a hard time reconciling that with you attending the interview with me. Can you tell me where you think I should stand on my own a bit more?”

    There’s a good chance that what she means has nothing to do with standing up to Aunt and Family, and more something odd like standing up to your boss so you can have afternoons off (to sit with your family.) You know, independence that lines up with their desires. But hey, maybe she’ll say “You should be arranging your own escort home” and you have something tangible to talk about.

  22. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that:

    You need to be more independent = You should be more grateful.

    In which case the appropriate answer (after asking what she means and getting a vague nonsense answer) is to thank Auntie for something you can honestly thank her for. That’s not for showing up to walk you home and horning in on your job interview. But if she’s ever made you cookies that you’ve liked or invited you over for dinner, out of the blue non-sequitur style, thank her for that. You’ve visited her home, and she bizarrely insists on walking you home. When you take leave of her, thank her for her hospitality, and every time the independence thing comes up, thank her again, very specifically, for the hospitality. You might also start bringing small hostess gifts, flowers or dessert. I believe this will go a long way in showing that you’re growing into a competent independent person who does not need looking after.

  23. I come from a culture just like the letter writer and I handled this sort of thing when I was too shy to speak up otherwise by putting all the “blame” on my supervisor. “Oh, my supervisor insists we meet alone.” “Oh, my supervisor insists on these hours, and it’s just like a job, and I don’t want a bad report.” That helped a lot. But I eventually had to cut ties to be truly free, so I wish the LW luck on doing it smoother than I had to.

  24. I came back to this to re-read, and as I was skimming I suddenly had the following thought, which is admittedly rude, but could be useful:

    “You should be more independent.”
    “So should you.”

  25. The Captain has great advice as always! This is more for LW’s emotional benefit rather than anything tangible to do, but I find it’s sometimes useful to imagine everything that nosy, obnoxious people do repeated back in a very patronizing voice, like they are 3 years old. It might seem sorta mean, but Aunt is being mean, and at least you’re keeping your mean-ness in your own head.

    Aunt: “LW, you need to be more independent!”

    In your head: “Aww, wittle Auntie thinks I’m the one who isn’t independent, the silly dear.”

    Aunt: *walks you back to your apartment without asking*

    In your head: “Poor little Auntie thinks that she needs to walk with me. How cute.”

    Doing shit like this in my head helps remind me that I am not the one in any way at fault, and these peoples’ opinions of me are completely irrelevant. It makes it a little easier to be at peace with remaining non-combative with them while they seem to constantly insult me with their behaviors. Then, once you have that feeling of self-security and superiority, saying “okay, Aunt Nosy” feels less like a surrender and more like patronizing a little kid who doesn’t know any better. Cuz that’s basically what you’re having to do.

    1. Excellent suggestion.
      Auntie isn’t controlling LW; LW is indulging Auntie’s need to feel in control.

  26. I’ve found that when dealing with my nosy and intrusive relatives, it helps to be able to call on the tone of voice one hears used to indulge and dismiss small children and the very elderly: something between respectful but short-lived attentiveness, merriment, and a small but noticeable amount of pity at perceived diminished faculties. It resolved a LOT of issues for me. The first time I’d use it on a relative they’d get mad, but end up losing steam and ignoring me… because I’d SAID nothing to get mad about.

    “You should buy a car new, never used!”
    “Oh? That’s good to know.”
    “Oh yeah, I guess that’s true, eh?”

    I don’t have to do this much anymore.

    1. This sort of strategy was very helpful in getting my one Fox News-watching uncle to stop engaging me about politics. Every time he’d assert that Trump’s business background is exactly what the U.S. needs to get back on track following the debacle of the Obama administration, I give the same sort of chuckle an aunt might give a small child who insists on keeping a whole place setting out for their imaginary friend. There was some fuming, and he’s tried to sidle in the occasional election discussion since, but the briefest hint of my most condescending smile shuts that right down.

  27. I’m moderating from my phone today and it’s not easy for me to delete comments or change handles (or find those requests in the thread). If you need an edit, email me a link to the comment itself and I’ll fix it as soon as I can.

  28. My mother would always say that we needed to be “more independent”, but she wouldn’t let us flex our independence or do anything without her approval. (And I mean ANYTHING … school projects with friends, stay late to work on a project at school and catch the late bus, etc.) What she wanted was us to be dependent on her. She chose to let her anxiety and control freak tendencies run her life.

    As a result, she knows next to nothing about my life, or my sister’s life. I go on vacation and don’t tell her. (Seriously. I went to Mexico last April, and she wasn’t told until we came back. That’s what you get for whining that I didn’t spend my last much-needed vacation visiting your stupid ass.)

    1. Wow, EXACTLY the same. Mine kept kicking me out of our home when I was too young to be independent, just so I’d come crawling back and proved I was dependent on her, then when I was old enough she tried to stop me leaving and repeatedly tried to sabotage my independent living situation.

      I don’t tell her anything about my life, either. I’m away on vacation now, but she wouldn’t know. Partly that’s for the same reason you gave but also partly because she has exactly zero interest in who I am as a person, rather than Her Daughter.

      1. My mother also sabotaged plans I made (over the age of 18) more than once. I have since not told her anything of importance beforehand, and sometimes stay mum afterwards, too. This includes traveling by car from NC to NV (without any idea in re: exactly where I’d live or work once I got there), traveling solo to London, driving eight hours to random places from my home base, etc., etc., all of which were good experiences for me, and added a lot to my life, and which she would have sabotaged (or tried to wring out all the joy from my decisions in advance).

        When I am forced to tell her something (recently had a breast cancer scare and needed a biopsy), I’m finding setting boundaries a bit easier in some regards and harder in others. I did not want her coming with me to my appointment to get a biopsy, because she would make it all about her, and infect me with anxiety and so on. So I told her exactly that: I would end up focusing all my energy and attention on her, because she would be anxious and chatty, and I needed to focus on myself, sit quietly without having to hold a conversation with anyone, and get the procedure over and done with as little fuss as possible. She was very hurt, but it was the truth, and I’m increasingly weary of care-taking the feelings of people in my life who routinely stomp on my feelings without regrets or guilt.

        amberxebi’s comment above (re: not recognizing you as a real independent human being as opposed to Her Daughter) rings true.

  29. For those that have already mentioned the aunt thinking she needed to chaperone or protect the LW, my thoughts exactly. I’m wondering if she can ask Auntie in a polite, culturally acceptable way why she sat in on the internship meeting. If Auntie didn’t want Niece to be ALONE with a strange man, for example, then Niece can say something along the lines of, “Oh Auntie, I appreciate you looking out for me! Next time (assuming that with Auntie there will be a next time), could you sit outside in the hall instead while I meet with my boss in his office? The door will be open, and I’m concerned because the company likes to keep company business private/it’s not acceptable for family to interfere between the boss and the intern in this country/some other level-setting response.”

    The reason I suggest this approach is that as has been mentioned above, LW’s attempts at setting boundaries may be completely ignored if it’s a culture of Elders Know Best and Young Females Listen to Mom and Auntie ALWAYS. Plus, by acknowledging what Auntie may see as “normal” and acceptable, LW’s pushback attempts may be met with less resistance.

  30. Sometimes, being rude is not a bad thing, especially when they are already being rude by intruding into your life where they are not wanted.

  31. One of the big themes here appears to be “If I don’t go along with that and stand up for myself, they’ll be angry at me/hurt/won’t like me anymore/will “take back” their love/shun me/say mean things about me to other family members — and I don’t want to undergo the pain of that, I don’t know what I’d do if they withdrew their affections/connections.”

    I know that feeling, I know the fear of that potential loss — and whatever anyone says about their culture or their family “being that way” (because my family is “that way”) the bottom line is it’s time to bite the bullet and do as you must, their responses be damned, because otherwise, you’re being manipulated in the worst way (“If you don’t do what we want, we won’t love you anymore, and you’ll be left all alone in the world forever”), and giving them positive reinforcement for doing it.

    How long is it ok for this to go on? How long does anyone expect it will go on? Does anyone expect it will stop by itself, or before someone who’s doing it actually dies?

    A genuine question, in hopes of a discussion: what do you think would happen if this sort of manipulation happened to a male family member? Would a “traditionally socialized” male family member be as likely to chew his fingernails about potentially losing family approval as a “traditionally socialized” female? Are women in “that sort” of family raised to be more submissive and accommodating? And so forth.

    1. My dad is one of those male family members that went against SOME norms. He came from Italy in the 60’s when he was young and was sort of expected to marry someone from ‘the old country’, but he married an American woman instead – at a JP and not in the Catholic Church, to boot. They eventually divorced (also a no-no to catholics) when I was very young. (Dad remarried another Irish American woman which I find slightly humorous.)

      He doesn’t talk much about what his parents thought, but I assume they acted like he does towards me when I do something he doesn’t like – lots of yelling, “you should do X!”, “what’s wrong with you?!”, then calming down and eventually getting over it, with some snark thrown in from time to time.

      And let me tell you the italian women on my dad’s side are NOT submissive lol. Accommodating, maybe, but so are the men. Truly a clan of mamma’s boys. My dad is at his mother’s house after work 5 out of 7 days doing house/yard work, and has been for as long as I can remember. Not visiting/calling/helping your parents is one of the norms he hasn’t broken. I have not followed that norm and call him maybe once every three weeks as a generous measure. He got angry about that when I was in college, but like I said, he yelled, I yelled, he got over it, and I’m guaranteed to get a quick “Oh hey, you’re alive” comment when I do call. That sort of guilt comes from both male and female members of my dad’s side of the family…it’s definitely not gender based.

      It took me years to get over my dad’s emotional abuse about “doing things the right way”. I’m ashamed to admit I needed someone outside of the family (my now-husband) to tell me that certain things were very wrong (like being sworn at by your own dad). Having someone like that on my side helped me look at my dad’s guilt trips as his own insecurity and allowed those comments to gradually roll off my back while appreciating his good sides.

    2. I am female. I have one brother. I figured out in my mid-20s that I was getting the short end of the stick from my family. I collapsed in a therapist’s office and needed some basic things explained to me. (At least, they seem basic now. At the time they were revelations.) Expectations. Favoritism. Guilt. Manipulation. Mixed messages. Personality disorders. Sexism. I made my break for freedom, took a lot of flack for it, and they got over it, sort of, annoyingly. That is, they realized that if they were going to have any sort of relationship with me at all, they were going to have to put up with my (arbitrary! ridiculous!) boundaries. My brother and I are in our 50s now, and our parents are quite elderly and needing help. There are many heartbreaking things about this situation, but I am getting such a giggle out of my brother coming to me with the insights that are dawning on him. He tentatively tells me things he’s figuring out our parents and expectations, favoritism, guilt, manipulation, mixed messages, personality disorders and sexism. I’m tempted to yawn.

      It’s not as simple as this, but basically he is the male family member who was traditionally socialized about losing family approval, but it was so subtle that he didn’t recognize it for what it was. Suddenly it feels like an advantage to me to have been the proverbial whipping boy since it meant I could get away. He couldn’t (or didn’t). He must have thought that he got the perks because he was more deserving, not (as was obvious to me), because he was male. Only now he’s realizing how indebted his is and the extent to which he went along with their program. I’m the one who went through hell back then and don’t have to go through hell now. He’s only now feeling it.

      I know there must be a thousand variations, but my experience answers your (zephyr haversack) question a little.

  32. “This is a common pattern in my family – be overbearing and steamroll people, then proclaim that they are too dependent and can’t live on their own and NEED the intervention of people constantly trying to dictate things to them.”
    You’ve done an excellent job of labeling exactly how this dysfunction opeartes to perpetuate itself. I think this kind of social/behavioral awareness should serve you well, and based on that I suspect you’ll be able to put The Captain’s advice into practice. Good luck!

  33. Hi, new here; I hope I manage to keep this safe for everyone.

    As an auntie myself I know a little Auntiespeak. In this context it may be that ‘be more independent’ can translate to ‘get married.’ This may seem a long stretch, but in my experience from my late teens aunts (and uncles) were far more likely to ask me, ‘Are you courting?’ (yep, those words) than any other relation. My family was very patriarchal without anyone realising it; women sitting in the kitchen, men in the living room. Me wandering between the two, and finding myself at home in neither, but being aware that I could not just leave the house on my own from my aunt’s house; someone would be quietly found to go with me. From home I could, but not from there. (One discussion was predominantly about doctors, illnesses, death and dying, the other about the best route for the whole 250 miles from our house to my aunt’s house, both in excruciating detail.)

    So, bearing in mind that very often when they seem to talk about us, other people are really talking about themselves, a translation might be, ‘Why don’t you find a nice (partner of choice), settle down and get married, so that you can be independent of me having to look after you, and your (partner) can look after you instead.’ With the subtext; work is fine for now, but your real job is to graduate to talking of doctors, illnesses, death and dying, or preferred driving routes.

    Sometimes my uncle would ask me what route I had taken to get to his house. My usual reply was to say that I really couldn’t remember, which was true, and I would have to try to think; was it the M? or the A??. Second generation drivers are not the same as first generation.

    My aunt and uncle are not with us any more; good innocent, hard working people, in innocent days. I miss them.

    1. “You should be more independent” = “You should get married and depend on your husband.” Of course! This makes sense.

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