#895: “Ugh, my mom re-married my jerk stepdad. How do I make it clear to his family that I don’t want to be a part of them?”

Hi Captain,

My mom was married to “Joe” for 19 years, my entire childhood, and they had two kids together. Their relationship was… tumultuous, largely because of Joe’s selfishness, sexism, short temper, and complete inability to manage money wisely, among other charming qualities. He has a rather large extended family and kids from his first marriage, and they were present for my childhood, but I wasn’t really close with any of them. About 7 years ago, when I was 21, he and my mom (finally) split up, and I didn’t keep in contact with him or his family, although I would occasionally hear from my siblings what they were up to. My mom remarried, but that relationship ended about 18 months ago, when she and Joe reunited. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t changed. I quietly hoped that this new go-round of their relationship would implode within a year, but that hasn’t happened, and at this point, I’m pretty much resigned to having him around. I’m polite when I encounter him at my mother’s house, but that’s it. I haven’t made efforts to reconnect with his extended family.

This summer, Joe’s mother died unexpectedly. I knew this was hard for my brother and sister, and I had always liked Joe’s mother, even if we weren’t especially close, so I made sure to stop by the wake (although I didn’t attend the funeral; my husband and I already had plane tickets to visit his family in another state that weekend, but I wouldn’t have attended anyway). This was the first time I’d seen most of Joe’s family since he and my mom reunited. (I’d seen some of them at my sister’s graduation – post-divorce, pre-reconciliation – and we were mutually polite but distant.) At the funeral home, several of Joe’s relatives seemed surprised but happy to see me. I received (and awkwardly accepted) a few hugs, I got called “sweetie” by Joe’s dad, and one of Joe’s brothers introduced himself to my husband as “Uncle Alex.” Later, one of Joe’s sisters got my current address from my sister. I kind of felt like I was being welcomed back into the family – except, I don’t want to be part of this family!

I’m sure this won’t be the last time I’ll be together with Joe’s family members – I wouldn’t be surprised if his older kids started showing up at my mom’s during the holidays, and my brother recently announced his engagement, so there will be events related to that. I know I’m worrying about events that haven’t happened yet, but I don’t want to be caught off-guard in the moment. How can I draw boundaries with Joe’s relatives (and Joe, and my mom) to make it clear that I don’t consider Joe or his relatives my family?

— Not Your Daughter (she/her pronouns)

Dear Not Your Daughter,

You ask:

“How can I draw boundaries with Joe’s relatives (and Joe, and my mom) to make it clear that I don’t consider Joe or his relatives my family?”

I like your question.

You want to do the right thing.

You want to prevent hurt and misunderstanding by making some kind of blanket statement so that everyone’s expectations are in the right place and you’re not bothered with all these feelings of guilt and filial obligation. You’re being proactive and in control!

The thing is…it’s hard to really prevent people from inviting you places or being happy to see you when you do a nice thing like drop by a wake for their dead relative. You can’t send out a “BTW, I Don’t Consider You Family. Please Don’t Ever Talk To Me” cards without becoming the jerk in the story. This is going to be handled over time on a case-by-case basis, which might mean fielding some more awkward hugs or well-meaning invitations that you don’t want for a while until things find a new normal. Your beef is with Joe and with your mom for re-uniting with a dude you strongly dislike, not the rest of everybody for being glad to see you for a minute. I promise, you don’t have to send these people birthday cards because you ran into them at a wake.

The main boundary that needs setting here is with yourself. Repeat after me:

If I, Not Your Daughter, am invited some place by Joe’s relatives that I don’t want to go, I will politely decline the invitation without a second thought. I will not feel guilty or agonize about it or yell ‘WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE WANT FROM ME?’ I will just say ‘No thanks’ and then go on with my life. If they invite me 1,000 more times, I give myself permission to say ‘No thanks’ 1,000 times. I will continue to be polite when I’m at my mom’s house. Otherwise, I will not perform Dutiful Daughter for a dude I can’t stand.  If people think I’m distant, let them. Maybe they’ll stop inviting me to stuff. If Joe (or Mom, as his proxy) tries to exhort me to ‘try harder’ I will say ‘I prefer not to’ and leave the encounter as quickly as possible. Most of all, I give myself permission to stop worrying about this. When I was a kid I had to do what other people said, but as an adult I’m free to cultivate my own ‘family’ relationships and let the ones I don’t want die on the vine.

Once your own boundaries about this are rock solid, the actual interactions with Joe’s extended family will be so much easier. You will like them more when you can see them as kind strangers (vs. extensions of Joe) and can say “Thanks for thinking of us, but no thank you!”

Another way to be proactive over time is to cultivate a relationship with your mom that isn’t at her house and isn’t with Joe (or AT Joe), like a monthly Mother-daughter-lunch-and-a-movie, where you might try to have pleasant, casual, light conversations and make some new memories to push the bad memories out. Eventually your mom might raise the “So, I know you don’t like Joe, but…” and you will say, “No, I don’t. But I want you to be happy, so I will be nice to him for your sake.” And your Mom will say “Well, Uncle Alex was asking about you at Joe’s birthday dinner…” and you’ll say “I don’t really think of him as my uncle, but he seems like a nice guy. How is [SUBJECT CHANGE] going?” If the subject change doesn’t take and she comes at you with the full ‘But faaaaaaaaamily’ play, here is one possible script for adaptation to your own words:

“Mom, I’ve tried to avoid talking about this, but since you won’t let it go, we’re going to talk about it one time. Okay? Okay. I don’t like Joe. I don’t have happy memories of him from growing up. I don’t think he was a good stepdad. I don’t like the way he treats you, and if he weren’t back in your life, let’s not pretend that he would be in mine. Since he is in your life, for your sake, and [siblings]’s sake, I will be pleasant and polite and do my best to make no waves when I have to be around him. The thing you could do for me in return is to stop pressuring me to feel any certain way about him or to try to bring us ‘closer’ together. How he and I interact now is probably as good as it gets. His [poor behavior, past or present] is not your fault, and my honest reaction to that behavior is also not your fault, nor is it on you to fix. Please, stop trying to make peace here. This IS peace. Thank you for listening. I love these Saturday afternoons with you, and I don’t want them to be all about Joe, so, can we change the subject now? “

As long as Joe is anywhere in your life, things will be uncomfortable, because Joe is uncomfortable. A victory here isn’t getting his rando family members to leave you alone, it’s giving yourself permission to disengage from him in a way that you could not when you were a child under his roof.

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90 thoughts on “#895: “Ugh, my mom re-married my jerk stepdad. How do I make it clear to his family that I don’t want to be a part of them?”

  1. Sound advice from the Captain. I, too, have a step-family that I really don’t want a serious relationship with. I treat them as People I Happen to Know – in other words, I interact with them no differently than co-workers or people in my social groups.

    I’m polite. I make friendly chit-chat. I behave like a good guest when I’m in their space. I hug/kiss those that I actually want to hug/kiss and refuse those I don’t. I refer to one person as “Auntie” because I truly see her that way. The rest I refer to as Bob or Mary no matter how many times they call themselves my Aunt or Uncle. I participate in the gatherings/activities that I actually want to attend and politely decline those I don’t. I’m gracious if I get a gift from one of them, but feel no pressure to give gifts in return. And so on.

    LW, just treat that “side” of your family as People You Happen to Know. They are no more responsible for the issues with your mom and Joe than you are so there’s no need to Take a Stand with them. Set your boundaries and enjoy your life!

    1. If no one has yet coined the term Acquaintance In Law, I feel the need to do so, if only to describe relationships like this.

      1. I’ll have to start using that! My MIL remarried after FIL died and I pretty much can’t stand the new husband. He’s super-religious and right-wing and I get strong whiffs of disapproval that I am not only the opposite, but also a FEMINIST (oh, the horror!!!) who doesn’t wait on her husband hand and foot.

        I have nothing in common with the rest of his family either. “Acquaintance-in-law” fits them all perfectly.

        1. The irony! My husband’s parents were ultra-left but still thought that it was the wife’s role to wait on the husband. (And on the elders.) They were furious that I kept my maiden name – they saw it as a rejection of them, which it totally was.

    2. This…I have stepfamily who, with the notable exception of one of my stepmother’s sisters, who is a horrible human being, are decent enough people, but I don’t see them as family. I do the same thing at family functions I happen to attend – I’m polite, respectful, and friendly, but I don’t want or need a more meaningful relationship with them.

  2. Yep. I too have a “step-family” that I don’t relationship with. My mom remarried when I was in my 20s, and this is her family now and has been for 2 decades, particularly since she is largely estranged from her abusive FOO. When mom and boyfriend/second husband first got together, I made an effort to get to know him and his relatives and do the family thing, but ultimately decided they were not people I wanted to keep in my life. So I stopped attending those family events. I stopped asking about them. I stopped any sort of reciprocity. When I see any of them, I am polite but distant. I may engage in small talk, but end it as quickly and politely as possible. I answer personal questions briefly and positively and quickly turn to neutral topics.

    You don’t need to say outright, “you’re no kin of mine, leave me alone.” Just be polite, distant, superficially friendly, noncommittal, and nonreciprocating. The Captain has provided great scripts for talking with your mom.

  3. As far as the “Uncle Alex” thing, if something like that happens again (where an extended family member of Joe’s introduces themselves to your husband as [FamilyTitle] [Name]), you can handle the situation like this without causing a scene:

    Alex: Hi, I’m LW’s Uncle Alex!
    LW: Alex, this is my husband [name]. Alex is Joe’s brother. How have you been, Alex? It’s been a long time.

    And just keep referring to them by their first name, no title. You don’t have to put an edge in your voice, and you don’t have to say, “You’re not my uncle” or “STEP Uncle” in the middle of a gathering.

    If they respond with, “I wish you’d call me ‘Uncle Alex.'”, you can respond with something like, “Thanks, but I prefer not to” or “Thanks but I’m not comfortable with that” and “We need to say hi to [PERSON ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROOM]. It was good to see you, take care!”

    (For use when YOU don’t want to cause a scene, not because a scene is never warranted.)

  4. I think this question and answer has just helped me in how I think about my in-laws. So, thanks letter writer, and thanks captain for answering it.

  5. LW, why is Joe a part of this problem?
    If you don’t like Joe, then try to avoid Joe.
    If Joe’s brother Alex is in town and calls you and suggests getting together for dinner, or vaguely angles for an invitation to your house for dinner, then have dinner with him, or not, as you like. If Alex is a jerk, refuse. If Alex is a nice guy, or if you think he might be, then the fact that he’s related to a jerk is not a reason to avoid Alex.
    I suppose that a relationship with members of Joe’s family may cause some entanglements with Joe. But Joe is married to your mom; some entanglements can’t be avoided. If the correct use of family titles is important to you, then Anon, Goodnight’s script is good. But whether you’re someone’s sister or step-sister or whatever doesn’t seem worth arguing about. The real issue is the actual relationship, which you control by accepting or declining invitations, engaging or not in correspondence and conversation, and however you control any other relationship.
    Good luck. Dealing with a jerk married to your mom sounds very difficult.

    1. Ditto this.
      LW, it’s possible Joe’s family doesn’t like him much more than you do. That doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be BFF, of course, but if you like them for themselves, you can associate with them without fear of Joe involvement.

      Good luck. It’s hard when someone you’re close to falls for a jerk.

    2. I can see why LW doesn’t want to get too close to Joe’s family, though. It sounds like LW was profoundly relieved when the marriage between her mom and Joe ended the first time. Any relationship she fosters with Joe’s family will ultimately only equal more Joe in her life. Even if these relatives are very nice people who aren’t super close to Joe, LW would still be more present for events where Joe and her mom might be there. She might feel guiltier turning down the invite to a cousin or stepbrother’s birthday party if she has a closer relationship with him. At the bottom of all this, I wonder if LW is still holding out the hope that this second reconciliation might fail, and there may still be a chance that she gets to live a life that resembles the way things were before Joe came back into the picture.

      We also don’t know what the vibe is within Joe’s family. Is it one of those “Oh, that’s just how Joe is!” families where everyone is encouraged to look the other way when he acts selfishly or in a sexist way? Do they all adore him, and try to rugsweep his bad behavior? Even if the other family members don’t like him that much, if they’re all encouraging each other to enable him, it could be even more uncomfortable for LW to try to keep him at arm’s length.

      1. “I wonder if LW is still holding out the hope that this second reconciliation might fail, and there may still be a chance that she gets to live a life that resembles the way things were before Joe came back into the picture”

        This is definitely accurate. It’s weird — I think that if they’d never split up, and they were still together now, I would feel quite a bit differently about Joe. I mean, I still wouldn’t like him, but there would be much more a “status quo” type of feeling about the situation, and I wouldn’t really be renegotiating boundaries at all, just leaving them where they were. But having him gone and then back leaves me feeling like I need to fight to maintain the distance that sprung up between me and Joe in the meantime, I think.

        As for how Joe’s family responds to his general Joe-ness… it’s kind of normalized, I guess? Like, some of the sexism is par for the course, for most of the men in the family, at least, although some more than others — I’ve never heard any of the other relatives give their daughters protracted lectures on how women are just not as capable or smart as men in most areas of life, like I know Joe has done with my sister (not a yelling screed, just a matter-of-fact lecture). I never got the impression that Joe was the “golden child” or otherwise treated with kid gloves by his family, but I never really saw anybody bat an eye over his behavior, either, if that makes sense.

      2. “It sounds like LW was profoundly relieved when the marriage between her mom and Joe ended the first time”

        This is definitely accurate! It’s weird, because I think that if they had never split up, I still wouldn’t be a fan of Joe, but his presence in my life and my family would be much more a “status quo” thing, and I would just deal with it as is, but having him gone and then back left me feeling kind of defensive. Like I need to fight to maintain the distance that grew between us during the divorce.

        As for how Joe’s family reacts to his general Joe-ness, it’s kind of normalized, I guess? The sexism is kind of par for the course, at least among the men in the family (although not all to the degree of Joe’s — I’ve never heard any of the other relatives give their daughters matter-of-fact lectures on how women are just not as capable or as smart as men, in most areas of life, like I know Joe has done with my sister). I’ve never gotten the impression that Joe is the “golden child” or that his family members are going out of their way to rugsweep his bad behavior, but I’ve never really seen anybody bat an eye at the Joe of it all, either.

        1. Sorry to hear that, LW. I can relate to your frustration – you thought you were pretty much rid of him! And then he came back. His lecture to your sister is really upsetting. Of course you don’t want to be around that! And if you’re getting the feeling that that’s kind of normalized on his side of the family, I think viewing them as Acquaintances in Law and maintaining a polite distance is the way to go.

    3. I could also see it from the perspective of someone who thinks these people are fine and all, but doesn’t want a family-type relationship with them. If that’s what they’re pushing for – and especially if they’re “but FAAAAAAAMILY” types – then I can definitely see not wanting to hang.

    4. I am getting a feel from the LW about what sort of a person Joe is. If I am correct, Joe is very much one of the movers and shakers of his family, and considers them to be extensions of themselves, and the rest of the family don’t exactly…object to that.

      Therefore, by allowing any kind of relationship with the family opens the door to Joe’s jerkiness. Similarly, any hint that the LW doesn’t want anything to do with Joe will be taken as a personal affront to the rest of the family. Therefore, while LWhas successfully side stepped any attempt by Joe to establish a relationship, attempts by family members might be genuine…or might be aiming to circumvent this. Hence the anxiety that arises with the situation.

    5. “But whether you’re someone’s sister or step-sister or whatever doesn’t seem worth arguing about. The real issue is the actual relationship….”

      See, I’m not sure about that. My mom died when I was younger, and was replaced by a stepmother who was NOT particularly nice to me when I was growing up. We’ve patched things up and get along alright now, but I went from having a mom who loved and cared about me and to whom I mattered to having a stepmom who… felt differently. So when people call my stepmother my mom, I see red. She does NOT get to take the place of the woman who EARNED that title by a) giving birth to me and b) lovingly raising me until she lost that option. So I can see how that might be a bigger deal to LW (up to her whether it really is or not) that this pseudo-family be calling themselves her REAL family.

  6. LW, the Captain’s advice is spot-on, and it occurs to me that it may be helpful in maintaining your boundaries to think of Joe’s family as co-workers who are nice, but not people you want to hang out with after hours. You all work at Blended Family, Inc, and your jobs are Being Civil And Polite At Special Occasions and Holidays.

    Family (or Faaaaaaaaaamily) is emotionally laden in a way that more casual relationships just aren’t. Re-framing ‘Uncle’ Alex as ‘Alex from Purchasing’ may give you the degree of separation and remove you need to politely turn down invites to weddings or parties that you wouldn’t want to attend regardless (who really wants to go to a co-worker’s child’s birthday party or graduation?), without feeling guilty or like these people are trying to suck you in to a role you don’t want.

    Best of luck to you, LW.

    1. This Blended Family, Inc reframing is going to be hugely helpful to me. I’ve already figured out that Uncle J is J from Maintenance, Uncle M is M from Marketing, and Cousin S is S from Legal. Done! Fixed! Thank you!

      1. Yay, I’m so glad it’s helpful! It’s been a life-saver in my own Blended Family, Inc. It’s also been useful for me in reframing hurtful or inconsiderate actions as thoughtlessness, rather spite. Something about the psychic distance makes it feel less personal.

  7. The Captain is spot-on.

    Pre-emptively telling people “I have no interest in knowing you; please do not invite me to things or talk to me beyond the bare necessities” is inherently a kind of nuclear option; the Captain is absolutely correct on that point, and wise to not try to give you a script for it. Sometimes the nuclear option is necessary (if someone is themselves abusive, mean, bigoted, etc., it may be worth the hardcore “do not contact me ever”), but in this case it probably isn’t (and, ironically, is likely to make you more enmeshed than not, especially since Joe sounds perfectly willing to detonate drama bombs of his own).

    As others have noted, it may be smartest to simply reframe who these people are. Rather than thinking of them as Joe’s-family-who-think-they-ought-to-be-my-family-because-Joe-is-my-family-even-though-I-don’t-want-Joe-to-be-my-family-either, which is obviously a hugely loaded set of feelings, think of them the way you would, as Karen says above, something along the lines of colleagues. Or like, friends of friends who are perfectly pleasant but you’re not really looking to expand your social circle right now, or… a tour group visiting Athens who are thrown together by dint of the tour group but will probably never speak again once you’ve left Athens. You’re pleasant to each other when circumstances put you together, and you don’t really have to interact otherwise, unless you want to (which you don’t, and that’s fine). And if one of them invites you to something, rather than mentally framing it as ‘attempting to suck me into the horrible Charybdis of this family,’ consider it the way that you would a similar invite from a coworker who you like well enough but don’t want to socialize with; a cheerful, “Oh, it’s nice that you thought of me, but no thank you!” (repeated as necessary for future invitations) is more than sufficient.

    (Side note: in my experience, most people won’t push if they introduce themselves as “Uncle Alex” and you just want to call them Alex. I call all my partner’s aunts and uncles just their first name, more or less reflexively becuase in my family we don’t even use “Aunt Myrtle” for your actual Aunt Myrtle–my very much beloved Aunt Myrtle has always just been Myrtle to me. But it was pretty clear that they introduced themselves as “Uncle Jim and Aunt Sally” to make it clear that I was welcome to use those titles if I wanted to–but I didn’t have to, and nobody ever made a peep about it. If someone does push, a breezy “Oh, I’m not comfortable with that, sorry! So, how ’bout them Local Sports Team?” is really all you need to say.)

    Consistently treating them as pleasant acquaintances but no more makes this a problem that will almost certainly solve itself–unless one of them is a pushy jerk about it, and at that point, you can pull out the nuclear option without it being an out of the blue explosion.

    1. I don’t even go “I’m not comfortable with that” (when asked to “call me More Familiar Version!”) — I just say, with bland friendliness, “I’m all right,” or “I’m fine, thanks,” as if being offered more dessert I don’t want.

  8. I’m on the other end of a similar equation. My father recently remarried, and his new wife is wonderful, but one of her three daughters is not thrilled about it. She was very close to their father, who died suddenly about 6 years ago, and my father is…an acquired taste. Her attitude toward me has basically been what Captain Awkward counseled: polite, but slightly distant. Reasonable people will read it the way I did: she isn’t interested in being close with me, and it’s probably not personal. We’re two people whose lives arbitrarily intersected as adults, and we don’t need to be close. Joe’s family members sound like nice people from the brief description of your interactions, so I’ll cross my fingers that they’re also reasonable people as well!

    1. Ack, the last sentence should include “also” OR “as well,” not both! More coffee needed…

    2. We’re two people whose lives arbitrarily intersected as adults, and we don’t need to be close.

      This is a wonderful way to think about it. People whose lives arbitrarily intersected as adults can become close, of course–but there’s absolutely zero obligation that they need to.

      1. Indeed! On the other end of the spectrum, I get along famously with one of the other daughters, and we get together for beers with our respective SO’s whenever my husband and I are visiting my hometown. I’m really grateful for having found a new friend in one “stepsister,” but also totally down for making polite small talk with the other two at holidays.

  9. Is it off-base that I think it’s nice how friendly Joe’s family was to Joe’s stepdaughter, who was in their life however tangentially for 20 years, with no choice in the matter since she was just a kid? It speaks well to them even if Joe is… well, LW said it themselves.
    They might be doing their best to make the LW feel welcome in a potentially really awkward situation, and I’m glad the response is basically “be polite.”
    You’re not under any obligation to accept invitations thrown your way, whether they’re to events or just familial intimacy generally, but it sounds like it’s safe to assume good intentions on their part and respond with your own polite good intentions to treat them with basic human kindness. Just the basic level if that’s all you want, but it sounds like they haven’t betrayed/lost the right to that basic kindness yet.

    1. Yes! I think they are being kind, so meeting them with kindess is the right thing to do (even if it’s a distant sort of kindness).

    2. Also, given that the LW went to Joe’s mother’s wake — from their perspective, it may well have looked as if by turning up, she was identifying as “part of the family” (obviously, from the LW’s perspective, she was there partly to support her brother and sister, and liking Joe’s mom does not mean feeling related to Joe, but they don’t know that).

      So responding by treating her as family, identifying themselves as relatives, etc., seems like a potentially kindly (if awkward) response.

      On the plus side for the LW, if they were responding to what they saw her as doing, it hopefully means that she’s not going to get swamped by a deluge of unwanted family-ness if she politely turns down invitations and distances herself from now on.

    3. You’re not off-base! I appreciate the reminder. I think if I hadn’t been reading so many FAMILY overtones into my interactions with them, I would mostly have just been happy that things had gone so smoothly, but instead I kind of panicked. Most of Joe’s family are definitely very nice people, even if they’re not people that I have much in common with or would really be friends with outside of knowing them through Joe.

  10. Great advice! Just want to add that “fielding awkward hugs” does not have to mean “allowing awkward hugs to happen to you.” If you don’t like being hugged by Joe’s family, it’s also fine to take a step back from the person coming at you with arms and say “I’m not really a hugger.” I’m pretty confident that was implied in the Captain’s advice, but I wanted to make it explicit.

    1. And maybe combining it with putting your hands up in a “woah there” gesture to physically block them (if they’re coming at you before you can object/if you can’t take a step back).

      I’ve heard going for a handshake instead can also be a good move.

      1. The handshake push-away! I’ve been racking my brains trying to remember where i originally saw it, but basically the handshake push-away is a subtle way to maintain personal space.

        The main gist of it is: You shake [person’s] hand, then you gently push your hand forward just before letting go. Sort of like shake, shake, push.

        I had a horrible moment where a supplier tried to kiss me on the cheek during a handshake and I recoiled, embarrassing both of us. I’m very cautious to use the shake shake push method to ensure my boundaries are not crossed nowadays.

        1. The *supplier* tried to *kiss* you? Sounds to me like recoiling is just returning the awkward to sender! Professional relationship != close enough for a kiss, even on the cheek!

          1. I didn’t back down from my instinctive reaction, i just wish i had handled it more smoothly. I explained that i thought it was unprofessional and then added that he could kiss me on the cheek as a greeting at our work meetings when he also did the same to all the men in the meetings.

            To his credit, I have meetings with him on a fortnightly basis and he hasn’t ever tried anything like it again. Its all professional handshakes and small talk now.

          2. When I was in my 20s and in a sales job, a broker kissed me. I was so shocked that I just left. I didn’t know what to say or do. I promise you guys that I was not trying to seduce 1. a work person 2 who was my dad’s age.

            I did know, however, to steal his biggest account. 🙂

  11. I think the headline here is incorrect, unless I’m missing something — LW only says that her mom and Joe “reunited”, which doesn’t necessarily mean they got married again.

    1. This is correct — they haven’t remarried. In fact, they’re not even living together. After they split up, Joe moved to another town about an hour away for a new job. When they were married, Joe had a habit of quitting jobs when he wasn’t getting the “respect” that he felt he deserved, without lining up a new one, and letting my mom’s income (typically low, until she went back to school; she worked as a waitress for a long time) carry all of us. When they got back together, my husband and I basically started counting the days until he made an excuse to quit that job and move back in with my mom, but so far that hasn’t happened. He does drive out to stay with my mom most weekends, though, or else she drives out to his place to stay with him.

  12. Lovely advice: after all, since you and Joe are unwillingly “family” it’s possible that some of Joe’s family feels the same way about him. Unless they ask for it, they should not be painted with your dislike of Joe.

  13. I feel you so hard, LW. I have the gender-swapped version of the same problem, with the added wrinkles that 1) dad had an affair with now-wife for years before my parents divorced, 2) now-wife does not like kids so she spent our visitation weekends mostly hiding from my siblings and I or criticizing our table manners, and 3) I try to do the monthly meal thing but he brings now-wife with him uninvited, every time. Historically, he takes her side hard every time, so I don’t think there’s really a way to say “actually I just wanted breakfast with you” without incurring dramatic hurt feelings. Hell, we were required to buy her Xmas presents when we were kids and now I can’t even figure out how to stop that. /derail

    It sounds like you’re on good terms with your siblings? Maybe you can mentally reclassify them as “siblings’ relatives, who they care about” and interact with them as you would in-laws, rather than “Joe’s family” and associating your Joe!badfeelings with them. After all, if Joe got hit by a bus, they’d still be your siblings’ family.

    1. I won’t go into my own ish, but I’m enchanted by this LW bringing to the fore that relationships can (should?) be renegotiated once adult. The forced Christmas presents sound joyless for all. And getting solo time with your parent is reasonable and your right, if it’s what you want. The lunch for two seems easy to invite a hanger-on to, but do you and your parent golf, for instance? Or sail, hunt or fish, if the step doesn’t like these activities-? (Square dance?) (Chess?) (Mechanics?) I’m thinking activities that naturally form a chute around you two.

      1. “Hey, I have one extra ticket for (seating reserved sports/theater/other event)! Are you free on (date) to come with me?”
        It’s much harder for an extra person to just show up, uninvited, to reserved seating type events. It’s possible,* but, harder. He may not come, but, the wife is less likely to show up as well.

        *once upon a time, my cousin got my flight details and showed up in the seat next to me on the second leg of a flight to my brother’s funeral. This taught me to NEVER EVER giver her enough information to do this EVER AGAIN.

        1. Oh my goodness. Your cousin! In the seat next to you on a flight! If *that* isn’t a situation that could be improved by unexpected turbulence + projectile vomiting, I don’t know what is.

        2. OMFG YOUR COUSIN. My shoulders are showing no signs of coming down from around my ears any time soon. SYMPATHIES.

    2. Wow, that christmas presents thing…

      Some ideas that assume you don’t live with them and won’t have to be too close to potential butthurt.

      *Forgo presents for either of them and just send a card. If you want to buy your dad, specifically, presents, you could save it for his birthday (since it’s not expected that you give presents to anyone else on other people’s birthdays).

      *Don’t buy a present for her and be prepared for a hissy fit from him (or her? it would be pretty weird to grub for presents from people you don’t even like, but who knows.). Decide whether you want to go with a breezy “Oh, guess I forgot” or a serious “Actually, I never wanted to do that in the first place, that was all you” or whatever.

      *Buy her a present if you have to, but a super low-effort/low-cost one. I.e. whatever the cheapest candy/stuffed animal/whatever in the holiday aisle the next time you go grocery shopping. Or a random book from that aisle. Something like that, where you don’t go out of your way to shop for it and spend as little time and emotional energy on it as possible. (If you’re mailing it, also keep in mind shipping costs!) The object is to fulfill the “obligation” by giving something gift-shaped, not to express fondness by giving something you think she’ll like (or enmity by giving something with a “message”). Pretend you’re getting it for a coworker you don’t know for an obligatory Secret Santa or something. Be prepared to act surprised/hurt if anyone tells you she doesn’t like it. (If someone passes on that she didn’t like it in multiple years, though, that could make it easier to transition into #2 with a “Oh, she never likes the things I get her, I thought I’d spare her from throwing it away”.)

      Good luck getting away from this terrible little holiday tradition.

      1. I don’t know, going the passive aggressive route in a situation like this is almost guaranteed to make the situation more contentious. “Forgetting” on purpose to gift her, or getting her a crappy gift and feigning surprise that she doesn’t like it, are most likely going to end with her complaining to your dad, making it hard on him and thereby harder on you and less pleasant all around.

        I like the idea of the shared gift or card at Christmas, followed up with a real gift for your father on his birthday. Oh! You could donate money on their behalf to a charity with special meaning to your *father,* but made in the names of both of them as a couple. Neither of them can complain that you didn’t get her anything, and it won’t seem thoughtless, especially to your dad who will recognize, rightly, that it was a gesture of love for him on your part.

        1. Well, it depends. Going for a cheap impersonal gift is not necessarily going to make her feel like you’re trying to be a jerk as long as you don’t go for a worthless or bad gift (“What? You didn’t want all of my used candy wrappers from this last year?? But I saved them especially for you!”). Most people who give Christmas gifts will have someone that they want to get something for but don’t know well enough to get something personal, and there’s a whole range of gifts that are meant to fall in that category of “acceptable but not necessarily personal”. Nice packages of soaps/lotions, a fancy box of chocolates, a fleece blanket, or something season-related (I got a pair of Christmas wine glasses one year, for example), are all things you can find for cheap and that will be accepted as a decent attempt at a gift without having to work too hard at it.

        2. Yeah, for #3 I meant what Jackalope said. Impersonal, not “bad”. Bad is a self-help book, or wildly mis-sized clothing, or food she’s allergic to, or literal garbage, etc. None of that’s a good idea (not just because of likely reactions–because it means putting more effort and thought into shit you don’t want to be doing in the first place). Impersonal is a random popular novel, or one of those plastic candy canes full of candy, or a christmas-tree-pattern scarf, or whatever else you can vaguely justify with “they seem popular” or “I thought it was cute” or whatever. If she likes it, fine; if she doesn’t, you “tried”.

          Hmmm, maybe I phrased that poorly. By #2 I meant: Don’t know how to stop it? Just stop doing it, while not saying anything about it, and also having a reply ready if someone comments on the Lack Of Gift… whether that reply is “Oh, weird, guess I forgot *rapid subject change*”, “oh I couldn’t find anything, she’s so hard to shop for”, “Yeah, couldn’t do it this year *rapid subject change and refusal to give any details besides ‘I just couldn’t’*”, or “I’m not going to do that anymore”.

          It’s sort of… ambiguous exactly WHY this is a thing in the first place or who was doing the requiring? It could be that OP’s stepmother would hide from the kids and then demand presents from them (through OP’s dad?). It could also be that she doesn’t care about getting presents from them and it’s all been OP’s dad trying to force them all to play happy families together. Or that she complained about them not liking her and OP’s dad decided the present thing would convince her they did. Or something else.

          So which it actually is, is going to affect how much butthurt there’d be and who it’d be coming from.

          And if OP isn’t going to have to actually be there for it? Or if they would be there for it, but would be able to leave and are willing to potentially weather an unpleasant scene [that another person is causing, on their own initiative, how embarrassing for them] and maybe even cut their visit short that time? And if there aren’t going to be knock-on effects like the rest of their family refusing to talk to them? Then, yeah, I would say go for it.

          Let it be “contentious”. It kind of sounds like anything other than sweet compliance already is. If one or both of them is Sad and Disappointed and Very Hurt about… no longer being able to force you to buy presents you don’t want to[1]… then that’s a shame, for them. They can have as many feelings as they want, but you’re not morally obliged to care, or to be their audience while they have a tantrum, or to sympathize with attempts to manipulate you.

          It obviously depends on your situation and what exactly the fallout is likely to be, and you’re probably the best judge of that, but as I see it your choices are:
          1)Stop doing it outright, rip the bandaid off, etc.–hope for it to pass without comment, but if not then let them have whatever feelings they’re going to have about it, away from you, and hope they get over it quickly,
          2)Sort of edge around stopping, i.e. sort of stop while keeping it deniable–gifts “to both of you”, stopping giving either of them gifts so you’re not “singling her out”, gift to charity in her/their name–anything that has a good likelihood of making them feel like you’re continuing to give your stepmother gifts (or at least like they’re not allowed to complain that you’re not) while allowing you to feel like you’re not really,
          2b)Stop, but it’s totally because there’s this specific other thing that you wanted to do instead! It’s nothing to do with her (and there’s no reason it would even look like it is), you just thought it would be really fun to do a Secret Santa this year (would your siblings be on board with something like that and willing to summon up some enthusiasm for the idea? surely they’re sick of this, too, if they’re also still giving her presents every year) and next year, and the year after that, with the downside that someone may still get the short straw there, or
          3)Keep giving her presents every single year for as long as you all live, and try to find a way to make it less obnoxious for yourself if you can.

          [1]Whoever was requiring OP and their siblings to buy presents KNOWS they didn’t want to, or it wouldn’t have been “required” in the first place. There’s no plausible deniability there. Like, they might have “forgotten”, if they haven’t explicitly said “do it or else” in a few years, and they may deny that it was ever the case, and they may be now pretending that recent presents and/or childhood presents were just, normal presents given out of fondness, not mandatory at all, haha!, but that doesn’t change the “forced to make fake gestures of affection” nature of it.

          1. I thought I was just venting in commiseration but then I got so much useful advice! Thank you! I like both the ‘donating money in both their names to a charity my dad will care about’ and the direct, “actually I never wanted to do this” approaches. Maybe I can apply the former for the next few years and then transition to the latter in hopes that she’ll be used to not getting Stuff from me and the butthurt will be minimized.

            As to why this is a thing in the first place, dad’s a champion conflict-avoider and she has always enjoyed passing judgement on how well siblings and I are performing ‘successful, respectful stepchildren’, so it’s likely that livingandcorporeal’s guess that she complained about how we treat her and he hoped this would fix it is pretty on the mark. For context, when I was maybe 10 I remember getting pretty sick on a visiting-dad weekend and soiling all of the clothes I had brought with me (sorry, gross). It turned out that stepmother had already bought me some pajamas for Xmas so they dug those out of the closet early so I’d have something other than bedsheets to wear. In short order dad was scolding me for not expressing sufficient gratitude to stepmother for buying me these nice pajamas. I was still lying on the bathroom floor.

            So, yeah, in the present day, “this is not mandatory at all, haha!*” *unless you opt out and then watch out! rings true. I will have to think about how best to level up my adulting skills and renegotiate this whole dynamic. Thank you, all.

        3. When mom in law got religious and no longer wore or wanted jewelry that closed off the easy gift route for her, so we gave donations to Heifer International instead that year. Then we did slightly larger gifts for both parents most of the time instead of trying to find one perfect gift for each.
          What *I* usually received was a number of small gifts that looked suspiciously like “free gifts with purchase” type things, and books that looked like they were from a book of the month club. You know, the ones that the in-laws didn’t feel like keeping themselves?
          Husband got power tools, mostly.
          An aunt of his that barely knew me gave me dried cherries or really wild socks. I liked that much better than the “free gift with purchase” type stuff from my parents in law because it implied that I had actually crossed her mind at some point.
          After the housing/financial crash in ’08, though, we all agreed as a family to not give gifts at Xmass at all and just treat it like Thanksgiving, and that was SO MUCH BETTER, I can’t even express how much better that was. Really, no gift at all was better by far than getting misc thoughtless odds and ends.

          1. no gift at all was better by far than getting misc thoughtless odds and ends.

            * A life-sized cast-iron cat
            * The adopting in my husband’s name of a Florida panther, a sea turtle, and (I think) a manatee
            * Three cheap Chinese pressed-wood nesting tables painted with hibiscus and hummingbirds
            * A box of old catalogs
            * A green glass pear
            * A vase hand-painted with purple flowers
            * A gift certificate to a spice store in Dallas. Where we do not live. OK, they have a website, but we live near the headquarters of a major spice company
            * My husband’s mother’s mother’s wedding ring, which was actually a lovely gesture, but then my MIL asked me to give it back
            * A potted Meyer lemon tree. We do not live in the tropics. We do not live in a place where there is 8 hours of sun a day in the winter and where it is over 68 degrees in the house in the winter.
            * A ceramic cat. To go with the life-sized cast-iron cat.

          2. Now I would love the virtual panther, sea turtle, and manatee, but this is why gift givers should know their audience!

    3. “It sounds like you’re on good terms with your siblings? Maybe you can mentally reclassify them as “siblings’ relatives, who they care about” and interact with them as you would in-laws, rather than “Joe’s family” and associating your Joe!badfeelings with them. After all, if Joe got hit by a bus, they’d still be your siblings’ family.”

      I like this framing a lot. Thank you! Also, just… solidarity. That sounds like a sucky situation, with your step-mom. I think #1 would be a dealbreaker for me on having a real relationship with this person, so I can’t even imagine having to buy her a Xmas present. Ugh. Horrible step-parents, am I right?

      [Disclaimer: Not that all step-parents are horrible! My dad and step-mom recently celebrated their silver anniversary, and my dad sometimes jokes that she only married him to get me, because we get along great and are fairly close. It can be done!]

    4. “Hell, we were required to buy her Xmas presents when we were kids and now I can’t even figure out how to stop that. /derail”

      Lots of charities do Christmas things where you can gift in someone’s name, and the person receives a lovely card thanking them for their generosity and telling them all about their sponsored goat or something. This is a great way to non-gift while looking absolutely inscrutable and making it nearly impossible for them to protest…

      1. An excellent idea!

        And not just useful for non-gifts. I did one of those once for my partner, who had been lamenting that she’d like to have a goat but it was completely impractical. (And she also tends to lament there being too much stuff around, so.)

    5. ” I don’t think there’s really a way to say “actually I just wanted breakfast with you” without incurring dramatic hurt feelings. ”

      Maybe there isn’t- but what if the dramatic hurt feelings aren’t your problem?

      After all, it isn’t unreasonable to want to have lunch with only your father. If your father behaves as though it’s unreasonable and becomes dramatic, he can do that, and you can not engage with it. Same with stepmom- if she becomes dramatic over it, not your problem. You might even say calmly “It’s entirely reasonable for me to want to have time alone with my father.”

      As for the gifts- you can just stop 🙂 Good luck.

  14. Also, maybe consider if titles are a hill you want to die on. You can probably avoid calling Alex “Uncle Alex,” but if for some reason it becomes an issue, you might think about reframing it in your head. Lots of people have uncles and aunts, including by marriage not blood, with whom they have little relationship and share no particular warmth or investment. Calling someone Uncle Alex isn’t a binding oath and doesn’t mean you have any obligations at all toward Alex-your-stepfather’s-brother. It can, for some people in some situations, be a sign of emotional closeness, but it can also just be a social convention that you participate in out of courtesy. I mean, I’m not trying to talk you into using that title — like I said, it’s probably easy enough, especially if you rarely see him, to avoid! Just pointing out that you wouldn’t have to feel like a hypocrite or like you were misleading anyone if you did decide it’s easier to go along with that. You’d be one of a billion people who have an Uncle-so-and-so they were not close to, or only unwillingly related to, or both.

  15. I’m wondering how easy it will be to completely separate from these people, though? I mean, sure, the LW can not attend events if invited, but it seems like they will be encountered: at sibling’s weddings, at holidays. It seems like it’s going to get terribly logistically complex/awkward after a while.

  16. Oh oh oh, just spotted something that I don’t think was mentioned yet!

    It sounds like you may not want Joe’s family to have your current address? If that’s the case, you need to have a chat with all members of your family of origin to say ‘Do Not give my address out without my express permission’. You can’t tell Joe’s family not to ask for it-that would be seriously weird- but you can tell your siblings and mom not to give it out. Even better, it’s totally OK for this to be a rule for everyone, so you don’t even need to get into the Joe-specific-nature of this.

    Incidentally, I’ve just realised I should no longer ask my mum for my cousins’ addresses. I’ll ask them myself in future.

    1. I don’t think my cousins intentionally didn’t want to give me their address, but when I was sending wedding invites, a couple cousins said just to send it to their parents’ (my aunt) address. It was fewer addresses to keep track of, and felt like a totally normal thing to do.

    2. I don’t have any specific problem with giving them my address, but it just took me by surprise when my sister mentioned later that Joe’s sister had asked for it, and I wasn’t sure what it would be for. Actually, I was kind of expecting to get a baby shower invitation, and was relieved when I didn’t. (Yes, Joe’s sister was 7 months pregnant when her mother died; another sister had just had her first child about a month before. It was just a horrible situation all around, even on top of the general horribleness of unexpected death.)

      1. My guess is she wanted it so she could send you a thank you card for coming to the wake – I went to one recently when my dad’s best friend’s mom died… they’re not technically family, but they sometimes felt like it, so I made the trip to show support. I was actually kind of shocked when I got a thank you card in the mail, but I guess it’s a sign that I’m an adult now… I get my own thank you card instead of getting thanked in a card to my parents. Anyway, I wouldn’t read too much into it if the baby shower invite didn’t materialize. There’s a good chance they want to be polite/do the right thing and send you a thank you.

        1. Either that, or possibly for a Christmas card list or similar. I’ve gotten bad about it myself, but about 3/4 of our X-mas card list when I was a kid was basically “people we know well enough to send a card, but not much else” and “friends and relatives to keep in touch with but not actually have physical contact with.” (The second was largely because my maternal grandparents had large families, but most of them never left Germany.)

          I guess you could call them “card friends”? We were friendly with them, but for some reason or another, we weren’t close. In the pre-internet age, my Mom would always send out cards to people–birthday, sympathy (if needed), X-mas, whatever, but I can’t recall actually meeting most of these people….

    3. If you are inn the US: post office box. I had one for years to keep my mailing address separate from my physical address. (I didn’t want people I was required to interact with for my job to be able to easily find out where I lived.) It will cost a bit more money and work to get your mail, though, and it doesn’t stop people who know where you live from telling others. But it’s an option.

      1. ooh! in canada you can get a free “virtual mailbox” that has an address *near* where you live – mine’s the nearest post office. I got it for the email delivery notifications and easy pickup, but I keep forgetting to use it.

  17. LW, first, may I commend you for going to the wake? We had a memorial for a relative who was well-loved among their friends, yet none came. It would have meant so much. Truly an area where real adult skills come in. You’ll be long remembered by the family for your graceful actions.

    I’m also admiring the Captain’s framing of setting up a contract with your Mother. It puts your Mother on notice that you are an adult who is choosing a behavior, and that this choice should be neither taken for granted, nor is it set in stone.

  18. I also had a selfish, sexist, neglectful, demeaning asshole of a stepdad. I still have nightmares that my mom will get back together with him, even though it’s extremely unlikely and that it’s been over 15 years.

    If I were you, I’d be furious and hurt. I’m amazed at how you’re handling this situation, and how kind you’re being to yourself and your family. I have no advice other than you’re doing great and are acting like the adult that Joe never was.

    1. I read this comment multiple times. Thank you. I definitely was upset, and just completely blindsided, when my mom first told me they were getting back together. I carefully asked what made her think that things would be different this time around, and she said that they wouldn’t fight about money anymore, because he’s got a good job that he’s kept for however long, and she makes more money than she used to. I asked her, “Ok, but what about all those fights you used to have because he thought it was your job to do all the cooking and housework, even though you were working midnights and he wasn’t working at all?” And she flat out ignored the question and changed the subject. It’s infuriating, for sure. I’ll be holding this comment close to my heart for a while, I think.

      1. If they haven’t moved in together yet, then maybe they won’t live together. Some relationships work fine as long as everyone retreats to their own territory occasionally and no one shares cleaning responsibility or money.
        I have a friend who is back with her college sweetheart after years apart. She is steadfastly resisting all his suggestions that they sell their respective homes and move in together because she KNOWS that would never work. He’s an extrovert and also wants to be with her 24/7 when they are together; she is an introvert and wants alone time and time to do her art projects. He has not mastered the art of reading quietly in the same room, or working on his project elsewhere while she works on hers. With separate living spaces and time apart they do fine. Living in the same space would break them.

        1. Yup. And one of my former coworkers has a long-term marriage in which they mutually decided that they were both happier keeping their respective houses. As far as I can tell, they’re very happy with each other and it works well for them.

  19. LW, I think you may be refining a bit much on the possible outcomes of a chance meeting, and attempting to cross a bridge long before you get to it. My guess is the reactions of Joe’s family at the wake were more along the same lines they’d offer any distant relative who showed up at this event – there’s no history of feuding, no old fights to re-fight, and you’re primarily showing up to honour a woman you knew and liked, rather than anything else. So my advice would be to wait and see whether anything eventuates.

    If you get invitations, you’re allowed to politely turn them down (unless, of course, you do want to go). You’re a grown woman, you have your own life and your own priorities, and quite frankly, it’s fully understandable that you won’t be available, or that you’d prefer not to go. If there is outreach along social media such as the Boke of the Face, then you’re allowed to be polite but distant, the same way you would for a former work colleague you don’t really have all that much in common with.

    But until you get either of these things, you’re essentially stressing yourself out to no good purpose. My guess is that if you haven’t heard from them in the eight years where your mother wasn’t married to Joe, you’re not much more likely to hear from them now. It’s also worth considering this: if the Venn diagram of your life and the Venn diagrams of their lives intersect only at that one little point where Joe is married to your mother, then most of the invitations are likely to be issued for the sake of form anyway – “we are having a Big Celebration which requires All The Family to attend, which means we must send LW an invitation, even though we barely know her; just like we’re sending second-cousin-twice-removed-by-marriage Albert over in Prague an invite even though we know he’s not going to come.”

    1. I agree with megpie71. Wakes and funerals are an emotional time when people might be looking to strengthen and appreciate even the most tenuous bonds and relationships. LW, I get the feeling that Joe’s family was both showing their appreciation for your presence (like a commenter above said, graciously attending wakes and funerals and other difficult events is higher-level adulting) and feeling a heightened sense of their connection to you due to the nature of the event. I don’t think this will necessarily translate into continued feelings of closeness on their part, or their having raised family expectations of you. You’ve gotten excellent advice from the Captain on gracefully bowing out of invitations and I don’t get the sense you’ll cause any waves by doing so.

  20. My Mom’s husband F is not for everyone, although he can get along with almost anyone. (Including my dad who he has solid reason to hate; they talk about their meds, their hearing aids and Gunsmoke) F’s family is legion. I think they might actually be related to most of the people in State where I live. I went to a few of the family gatherings before my 21st birthday, I was extremely overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Also, I’d never tell any of them this, they are dead boring. Pretty much the entire lot. My mother got together with F when I was 12; from that time til the time I stopped going to “family” functions all that was spoken of was things that happened and people they knew BEFORE THE DIVORCE.
    I got flack about bringing a book (and about how bookish I was); my mom actually laid it down about how books were my way of coping with too much sensory information and that I would always have a book with me.
    I’m in my 30’s and I hear that they’ve all accepted my mom and that so many people call her Grandma M and that she is the youngest and coolest of all the grandparents; that’s awesome. These people are not my family and never will be. I didn’t have to set that up, I just did a slow fade. I’m polite if i run into them, if I know (seriously I have 4 living relatives that I claim, small family) there may actually be thousands of people in a family where F is the patriarch, they are a very fertile people.

  21. Thank you so much Captain!!! I’m so grateful that you answered my letter. I’ve read through your response and all the comments here, and there is so much helpful advice. My initial intention was moreso to get some advice about boundary-setting behaviors rather than scripts, because, like you said, there’s not really a way to make a giant “You’re Not My Family, Get Away From Me” statement without becoming the jerk. But you’re absolutely right that those behaviors are going to have to be implemented over time, one situation at a time. The advice not to get in my own head, and to give myself permission to turn down invitations and maintain distance ad nauseum, without giving myself guilt over it, is perfect. Also, to clarify, I’m in grad school about 2 hours away from where my mom lives, so at this point, a lot of our relationship takes place through phone conversations (about weekly, or every other week), so we’re doing pretty good at maintaining a relationship outside Joe. When they first got back together, my mom would say things like, “Joe says to tell you hi” while we were on the phone, and I kind of just responded with “mmm.” She’s mostly stopped doing that now, so that’s an improvement, at least. She does have a “faaaaamily” streak that sometimes rears its head, though, and I will definitely keep the script for talking to her about backing off in my back pocket for when it’s needed.

    I think a lot of it is just that I’m so defensive of the distance that I’ve managed to get from Joe, that the interactions with his family made me paranoid about losing some of that distance and kept me from keeping the perspective that these are just people being kind and friendly, which is nice and good.

    Also: “A victory here isn’t getting his rando family members to leave you alone, it’s giving yourself permission to disengage from him in a way that you could not when you were a child under his roof.” — I’m going to sit with that for a while.

    Thank you!

  22. “You can’t send out a “BTW, I Don’t Consider You Family. Please Don’t Ever Talk To Me” cards without becoming the jerk in the story.”

    TRUTH. My mother sent this exact email to her second husband’s (my father’s) family after she married her third husband. Marriage #3 did not go well, and now she’s alone again, but no one in my extended family wants to reach out to her now. She burned the bridge and regrets it now.

    Not saying you, LW, would regret it ever… but you never know when you may need a friendly face! If they’re kind and welcoming, you can remain distant but cordial.

    1. I hit “post” and thought a little more about it – the point I am trying to make is that burning bridges is not great and generally speaking, we should all avoid that whenever possible… not that you MUST remain in contact with his family. I just wanted to note that in case my original comment was confusing ❤

  23. Reminds me of my friend. Sexually abused by her stepdad but her mom didn’t believe her. He stopped and she confided in me he started being weird to her again a night I stayed over. She finally told her mom again and he admitted to it so they split. They’ve since married and the poor girl doesn’t have the self confidence to kick her mom to the curb (her mom even slut shamed her for dating a couple guys. As an adult)

      1. Trash is the word you are looking
        My grandmother did this to my mother and my aunt not only knew but told them to put up with it because my grandmother wanted him to stay.
        Only divorced him when he got my mother pregnant and then only because my aunt finally threatened to go to police

  24. LW, I think the best way to proceed is pretty much what you’re doing: Polite, but distant. And the good Captain is absolutely right–you have no obligation to Joe’s various relatives, and you should feel free to decline any invitations. (Frankly, you should feel free to do that with anyone, including your actual relatives.)

    Remember, as long as you’re polite, it’s pretty hard for someone to complain much if you’re both adults. Not that they won’t try, mind you. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 41 years, it’s that good manners will get you everywhere.
    Also, remember that when/if you decline an invitation, you do not owe them an explanation why. A simple “Thank you, but I can’t make it,” is sufficient. They might try to wheedle one out of you, of course, but just keep repeating “I can’t”. You are now an awesome adult person, and the amount of BS you have to put up with, especially from family and wannabe family, has drastically declined. Eventually, if they have any sense, they’ll get the hint. That said, since the expected baby shower invitation never showed up, I would just wait & see. No reason to worry about problems that haven’t materialized yet.

    And looking back at what happened at the wake, I wouldn’t get too worried. I know lots of people, particularly if they’ve ever spent any in the southern US, who call everyone “Sweetie” or “Honey” or something like that. Annoying, yes, but maybe not worth the effort to try and change, particularly with someone you rarely see. As for “Uncle Alex”, his worst crime seems to be perhaps being overly friendly and assuming too much. Again, not cool, but if he hasn’t been after you for get-togethers and such, I wouldn’t worry. Plus, some people just get accustomed to be called Uncle So-and-so or the like. I personally know a fellow who is usually called “Opa” (German for Grandpa) by many of his friends–never mind that he doesn’t actually have any grandchildren.

    The address might be concerning, but it seems like you haven’t been flooded with unexpected visits and long letters since then, so I wouldn’t worry that much. My guess is you’re now on the “family” Christmas card list, or have been added to the “notify if someone gets married, has a kid, or dies” list. (Also keep in mind that the “courtesy invite” is still in existence–people you invite to an event because that’s the polite thing to do, but don’t actually expect to attend.)

    Please understand, I don’t mean to put down or denigrate your concerns–not at all. Dealing with family (and not-quite-family) is often a tricky endeavor.


    Be polite, be prepared to deal with them, but remember you are an awesome adult person now and can say no to things you have no interest in pursuing. Sounds like you’ve been doing fine, so just keep being your Bad@$$ self.

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