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saying no

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m afraid I might be walking into an Alice situation (a la letter #247). My boyfriend’s family is very conservative and even though he is an adult, he not only lives with them (which is fine) but lives by their rules, curfews, and puts up with their interrogations over who he is spending time with, who his friends are, etc. They don’t know I exist, but he’ll be telling them within a month. He hasn’t so far because due to conservative culture reasons he can’t tell them he has a girlfriend, but rather that there is this girl (me) he wants to marry. And I’m terrified because they’re going to hate me (his mother especially) and I need scripts on how to deal with that when I meet them.

From everything he’s told me (and I take his word for it) I will be considered all wrong because I’m older than him, have been married before, am bisexual (here’s hoping his family needn’t find out, at least initially), am from a different culture (and don’t speak the language he speaks with his family, and his mother doesn’t speak English fluently), I’m not conservative and certainly don’t fit the mould of what a stereotypical wife would be like (I have no intention to just pop out babies, cook and clean, etc., which Boyfriend is fine with but his family won’t be), I’ve already vetoed the idea of us living with his family when we get married, and I’m expecting there to be body shaming.

Boyfriend has said that he expects his family’s displeasure about all of this to be voiced to him, and not to me and I know I can’t force them to like me. Boyfriend is also scared himself about their reaction to his upcoming conversation with them about wanting to marry me. I have tried to direct him to this site so he can read up some great advice about setting boundaries and making it clear what shit he will put up with and what he won’t, but he says that sort of thing is not done in his culture and apparently I just don’t understand (it’s true, I don’t), and while he sees that I’m trying to be helpful, it’s not helping because boundaries is just not the done thing.

How can I support him with this difficult conversation coming up for him (which will be more of an extended series of fights/arguments) while respecting his decision to not have me encourage him to set boundaries, while also being able to set boundaries myself? What am I meant to say to his family when I meet them (and yes, I’m trying to learn the language so I can at least exchange pleasantries with his mother)? (And yes, social anxiety and severe depression is making me overthink all of this, and yes, I am in therapy, but any scripts would help a lot!!).

Any help would be much appreciated,

Scared of future in-laws

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Hello,

Preferred pronouns: they/them

I found out a few weeks ago that my grandmother was in the hospital due to an illness. This surprised me, but I also knew she was getting older. I decided I needed to start thinking if I wanted reconciliation.

When I was around 12 or 13, I purposefully discontinued all contact with her. This was for a lot of reasons. She had never really been involved in the life of my brother or me. She’d drive hours to see my cousins, but would never even call us on our birthdays.

The point of no return for pre-teen me was when I heard she had been speaking badly of my mother (her daughter) over my parents’ divorce (which happened when I was 10). I had heard this a few times, but it hit me especially hard since my mother had finally taken the time to tell me about the physical abuse she’d endured growing up.

My only act of discontinuing contact was to be the one to stop calling. For more than a decade, she has never once called. I had planned on telling her that I no longer wanted to speak to her when she finally called, but it never once came.

Over the years, my mother sought reconciliation and gave forgiveness to my grandmother. I know there’s still issues, but she is grateful for the relationship they have. Still, I’ve never forgiven my grandmother or looked back. Her relationship has, frankly, never been that important to me. It has been important to my brother, he took the time to invite her to his high school graduation and graduation party. She never showed up and it broke his heart.

With the news of her sickness after a particularly bad day in a particularly bad week, I made the mistake of posting a general sort of complaint about my week on social media and added a single sentence of “I found out this week an estranged family member is ill and may need to think about reconciliation”. I was trying to be vague given the sensitive nature of her hospitalization, but my family knows that I haven’t spoken to her since I was young, by choice. (I am not friends with my grandmother on social media.)

I found out a half an hour later that the diagnosis had come: cancer. It didn’t look good, either. Between calling to comfort my mother and brother late into the night, the whole post slipped my mind.

The next morning, my cousin replied very inappropriately and we spoke over messenger about the situation. I knew she was just upset over the diagnosis and tried to be gentle, but firm. I wasn’t going to let her hurt me because she was hurting, but I certainly didn’t want to kick someone who was down. My aunt called my mom later and said she had just been grieving and hadn’t meant to be cruel to me (as I guessed).

During the conversation, however, I realized that actually, I definitely did not want to forgive my grandmother and that I would not regret that decision. I obviously did not vocalize this to my clearly upset cousin, but it struck me then.

Since then, my family has been passive aggressively trying to show me she still cares about my brother and me (such as sending me a photo of my grandmother’s shelf with old photos of us still there and gifts we gave her). I’m worried they told her I was considering calling.

On the one hand, I have never needed her in my life because she’s never tried to be in it. On the other hand, she’s a dying woman who has brought joy and love to at least some of my family and seems to want the comfort of family during what may be the final months of her life. I don’t want to crush any hope she may have for that comfort, but I also don’t want to be insincere or lie.

I know that if I tell my mom, she will communicate my decision to my family (she has always understood my choice and never pushed my brother or me one way or the other). I’m trying to be there for them at a difficult time in their life, but I’m not sure I can be there by coming to some peace with my grandmother that I just do not have (and probably never will).

I’m hoping for advice on how to talk to my cousins about this decision without making their process of grief over the illness of a loved one worse.

Regards,
Not Sorry

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Ahoy Captain and Commentariat!

I feel horrible for writing in with this question because Fiancee and I are supposed to be getting married in roughly 20 days. This was the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in and the most serious, but I’m so stressed out I’m about to snap.

We met two years ago, started dating formally at the end of 2015, she asked me to marry her in March 2016, I said yes even though it felt a bit rushed.

Problems:

1) Fiancée has a small dog that shits and pisses everywhere in the apartment. When we moved in last June she assured me this would stop now that it was away from her abusive stepdad. NOPE. I’ve told her several times how much it frustrates me and asked her to please clean it up and train the dog, but she just acts frustrated or depressed with me for asking and defensive of Dog. Though she does clean the carpets maybe once a week, Dog is still not housebroken. I am so done dealing with this creature. I want it gone.

2) She acts entitled toward my money (apparently it became “our” money when she moved in), her constant spending has run me $1,000 in debt, and she won’t stop even when I tell her we are out of money and to give me back my cards. (I am the only one currently employed.) I’ve raided my savings account to cover expenses so many times it’s practically empty. I have also brought this up several times to no avail. Her spending habits have me so stressed I have contemplated suicide.

3) She is so messy: dirty clothes all over the bathroom, bedroom, and closet; dirty dishes in the bedroom with moldy food on them; piles of garbage covering her side of the bedroom floor; and dried food left on the kitchen counters and stove after cooking, to name just a few. I have OCD and anxiety, and the mess is driving me insane. I’ve asked her to please clean up after herself several times, but nope. She literally screamed at me last night for bringing it up. She later apologized, but that’s not something I want to deal with forever.

4) We originally planned our wedding for Earth Day 2018, but in January she woke me up in the middle of the night — when she knows I won’t remember anything — and convinced me to bump it up to this coming Feb. 27. When I didn’t remember, she got angry and hurt (at least I think she did; her favorite way of being playful and joking is to act offended by something I did or said, so I have a hard time telling the difference), questioned my commitment when I was hesitant about keeping the new date, and claimed we had to because same-sex couples might not have that right given Trump, and I caved in and agreed.

This is not actually okay with me, but I’m too scared of hurting her feelings (she has a past history of suicide attempts), really dislike emotional confrontations, and don’t know how to deal with the potential fallout, since we live together.

5) I’ve got the feeling more than once that she’s just using the relationship to get out of her stepdad’s house, get more financial aid for when she decided to go back to community college, and to get on my health insurance. But I also have PTSD and depression from past abusive relationships, so this could legit just be paranoia.

6) Finally, she doesn’t have a job, doesn’t go to school, and we don’t have kids, and spends most of her days in bed watching Netflix, outside working on various projects watching Netflix, or playing video games. I’m honestly tired of bankrolling her extended vacation from the real world while I’m stressing out making ends meet and have very little free time.

Despite all this I love her very much and would love to make it work; she is kind, funny, talented, and smart, tells me often how much she loves me, that I’m beautiful, that I’m her muse for art projects and the love of her life, is physically affectionate, and does small things like bring me food when I’m busy or make me gifts from the raw materials I buy.

On the one hand I really want to spend my life with her because the good stuff is so good! But on the other, I often daydream about being single with just my cats in a clean, organized, dog-free home. We love each other a lot, but after almost a year of living together my opinion is that we don’t have compatible living styles.

Aside from breaking her heart and possibly forcing her to move back in with her abusive stepdad, my main concern with breaking up is who will get the kitten we rescued and raised since she was a day old. I honestly think I should get to keep her because I have income and can care for her, plus her step-dad hates cats and her mom is allergic. But Fiancée got to spend more time with Kitten when she was really young because I couldn’t stay up with her all night due to my job.

Can you please give me some scripts to 1) ask that she fix the above problems or I’m gone (without sounding like an asshole), 2) if she agrees, scripts to postpone the wedding to make sure the fixes stick and aren’t just lip service; or, if she doesn’t agree or she does but the problems continue unabated, 3) scripts to call off the wedding and break up?

Thank you in advance!

~Would I be dodging a bullet, or losing the love of my life?

PS: Please, no How to Train Your Dog tips – I do not like Dog and do not want to waste any more of my very limited free time dealing with it more than I already have to.

[She/her pronouns]

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Dear Captain,

I have a school friend, “Susan.” We met last year when I started the program. Around the time this school year started, I started therapy to address Issues, and I came to the decision that Susan should become a Small Doses Friend.

I find Susan kind of draining to interact with, and I feel like she has a hard time respecting my boundaries. She often brings up subjects I’m uncomfortable with, and I feel like when I ask/ remind her that I’m not comfortable talking about X, it becomes a big production. I’ve also tried to explain to her that because of Issues, I don’t like to say “I love you” to friends because it feels smothering to me, but she often seems to “forget.” It also seems like lately when we hang out there’s a lot of complaining, nosy questions, and little honest enjoyment of each other’s company.

So, all of this considered, I thought it best to just enjoy her company when I can and detach when I can’t. We’ll both be graduating soon, I might be moving really far away, and I imagined we’d kind of naturally drift apart, as people do sometimes.

Just about the time I figured this out, though, she got engaged. She’d been talking for a while about how she wanted to get engaged and married Very Soon, so when she told me I was of course very happy for her and imagined that the wedding would be this spring or maybe summer at the latest. She asked me to be her Man of Honor, and I was really touched. I said yes.

A few weeks later, I asked her if she had an idea of when the wedding might be (thinking which month). She said they haven’t yet settled on a year, and the earliest possible date is a year from this summer. When I think about having to keep this up for at least another year I want to run away screaming.

I think I need to tell Susan I can’t be in her wedding, but I don’t know how to do that. I keep meaning to ask my therapist for help sorting this out, but then when I consider that I only have an hour each week to work on Issues with a professional, there always seem to be more important things to deal with than how to get out of a wedding. I’m wondering: is it wrong of me to want to ramp down this friendship? And how can I get out of the wedding commitment, since that seems to be what needs to happen?

Thanks so much,
27 Issues (he/ him)

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Hi there,

I have a bit of an odd quandary. I am divorced, and I divorced young. My relationship was a very bad and abusive one, and that was a dark time in my life. I have gotten therapy, learned a lot about myself, and I think I’m doing well. It’s daily work to deal with lingering issues, but I typically feel most comfortable addressing those to my therapist or close family who knew me then. It’s intensely personal to me, and revisiting it in casual conversation isn’t something I’m interested in doing. I have PTSD, and it coming up usually sets me up for a good day of feeling anxious and awful.

I’ve since moved across the country and none of my new friends really know much about my divorce or that I was ever married. I don’t hide it, and a more in-depth peruse of my social media probably holds some clues, but I don’t proactively bring it up. I’m an age where many of my friends are getting married and navigating serious relationships for the first time, so it’s very plausible and even likely that none of this ever happened. People assume that (I never lie), and I don’t correct them.

That said, I’m fortunate that some of these relationships are becoming closer, which raises two issues:

1. It is normal to not tell a minor acquaintance your life story, but it is starting to feel like a purposeful omission to people whom I see often and confide in me. I know I’m not obligated to share it, but occasionally they’ll find out and when they do there’s a bit of “whoa, that was a pretty big thing to leave out.” I stammer and ineffectually mumble some sort of half-apology, but I have no idea how to even start. I don’t feel like I need to apologize, but I always feel like I kind of lied, even though I didn’t.

2. I’ve been asked, directly, a few times – “were you once married?” and I don’t want to lie. I also, however, want to be clear that it isn’t something I enjoy talking about without disclosing more about the relationship than I’d like to.

I want to set a boundary, I don’t want to lie, and I don’t want to sensationalize. I feel like I need to give a reason why I never said anything, but that gets into self-disclosure I’d rather avoid (“Yes, I was, but it was a difficult and painful time and not something I talk about” generally creates pity and curiosity and gossip and more prying, all awful.) Not giving a reason or changing the subject generally creates a weird, stilted conversation or doesn’t adequately communicate that it’s off-limits so then it comes up again.

I need a polite way to communicate that this is not a secret but not something I talk about without making it into a bigger deal than it is and not making anyone feel as though I’ve slighted them by leaving that out. I’d love to have scripts for either of these instances because right now I’m just floundering, it’s awkward, and it’s starting to become the elephant in the room, and I’m sad I can’t think of something better to say.

Thank you so much. She/her pronouns.

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It’s been a long time since we’ve looked into the abyssthe internet’s unfiltered Id… the words that people type into their search engine windows in order to find this place. Good news, Patreon contributors met the first monthly goal, and this will be coming back as a monthly feature. Shall we dance?

1. “Colleagues surprised I got promoted.”

And they point out their surprise? To you? Depending on my comfort level & closeness with the people in question and the likelihood that they’d have the grace to be embarrassed, I might say something like “Thanks for that astounding vote of confidence, Marian!” to help everyone laugh off the moment. I might also call no attention to it and pretend I didn’t notice, based on the fact that sometimes people have weird reactions to things when they first find out about them and do better when their first reaction can be private.

Now, if they keep bringing it up after that first announcement, like, “I was so surprised they promoted you and not Andy…” – it’s time for a wicked smile and “And yet…here we are!” (+ subject change).

2. “Can I ask neighbours not to be on my drive.”

Yes? “Please don’t use my drive, thank you.

3. “My mother died without resolving our strained relationship or saying thank you.”

We all die in the middle of something unfinished.That SUCKS and I’m sorry for the loss of your mom and for the loss of the chance to make things right between you. It sucks to be grieving someone when you’re bouncing back and forth between grief and anger and regret.

I hope you will honor your mother’s memory and your own experiences with your mom (the ones that made you need to keep your distance) someday when some more time has gone by. Write her a letter of all the things you wanted to say to her, but didn’t. Write the letter back to yourself that you wish that she would send you, the one where she says, “Thank you” and “I’m sorry” and “I understand.

Be kind to yourself.

4. “Why would a man tell you he will take you out for coffee once in a while, even after breaking up?”

Maybe this man has some idea that you’ll still be friendly. Only he knows for sure, so before you say yes you might ask him: “Hey, was there something in particular you wanted to talk about over coffee?”

Before you go, ask yourself:

Do you want to go out for coffee?

Do you want to stay in contact, or would you benefit from a clean break?

Do you want to go even if it doesn’t really mean anything special about your future together?

5. “People who care about grad school too much.”

Duuuuuuuude. Seriously. What is it with grad school, being all expensive and intense and competitive and interesting and stuff.

(I have no good answer, sorry. Grad school: It’s absorbing.)

6. “She says, ‘Not now, sorry’ when I want to talk with her.”

My best guess is that she is busy and doesn’t want to talk right now.

Try saying, “Ok, let me know when it’s a good time” and then going and doing something else with your time for a while.

In a good [romance][friendship][artistic collaboration] she’ll come find you when she’s ready.

7. “My brother is an insufferable ass.”

You can’t choose your family. Can you limit the amount of time you spend in his company?

8. “If my boyfriend forces me to change my appearance”

Is this one of those fill-in-the-blank scenarios?

“If my boyfriend forces me to change my appearance, and it is not a matter of life and death because we are on the run from an international spy ring, then I should dump him for being a controlling jerk!”

People who “force” you to change important things about yourself are not on your side, Young Googler. Please love yourself enough to get away from this person.

9. “Why is my boyfriend really aggressive about me wearing makeup?”

The simplest explanation is that he does it because he is a controlling asswipe. See #8. He is literally trying to control your face. 

10. If a family member shuns you, do they ever think of you?

Maybe? Sometimes? Without action on their part, it’s hard to know.

11. “I found my grandmother’s sex toys.”

Yes! GET IT, GRANNY!

My best suggestion is: Put them back where you found them and act the way you’d like Nana to act if she stumbled across your sex toys (i.e. “quiet” & ” discreet”).

12. “‘Sorry I can’t date you’ message.”

I like replacing “can’t” with “don’t want to” or “am not interested,” if you feel safe to do so. “Can’t” implies circumstances beyond your control, like, “I would totally date you, but this tornado just spirited me away to the land of Oz, so I can’t.” That little window of ambiguity can send a persistent lover into a tizzy of looking for ruby slippers that will click you back to Kansas when really you just want them to leave you in this Technicolor world where it’s not the Great Depression. Whereas, “It’s nice of you to ask, but I am not interested in dating you” is clearer and more specific.

13. “Are all bad girls confident?”

Marie Claire’s former pillock-in-chief Rich would have it so. I need a better definition of terms. What is a ‘bad girl,’ exactly?

14. “How many times should I invite myself to stay as a house guest?”

This is my personal house-guesting code as a 42-year-old white American lady with a job. It does not have to be your personal house-guesting code.

With a close friend or family member,

Where I have a good history of reciprocity,

And I trust them to say an honest “no” if it’s not a good time or whatever,

And the dates of my travel are pretty well-defined (nobody likes “sometime” hanging over their head) and short (1 night – a few days);

…I may ask once or twice or every now and again. More likely when I know that the hosts have a guest room and a habit of saying “Please come visit, we have a guest room and we’d love for you to stay with us!,” in which case, they have invited me and “inviting myself” is more about suggesting a specific time. Much less likely when there is no guest room or guest bed and I’d be taking up someone’s main living space. Not at all likely when the prospective hosts are brand-new parents of a baby or enmeshed in other big deal life stuff. Definitely not if a suggestion of staying there is met with any hesitation; one may askIs it okay if I stay in your guest room for a few days?” but one must not try to convince the hosts.

This was all more fungible when I was 25 and used words like “crash” and traveled more internationally and AirBnB did not exist.

15. “How to ask friends not to invite themselves over?”

“Hey, friend, I love your company, but when it comes to my space, can you wait until I invite you over? Thank you.”

16. “I don’t want to be friends with ex-boyfriends.”

You don’t have to be!

17. “A message to write to a friend to tell some one they are of value to you even if they have gone broke.”

“Hello, friend, I know times are really hard right now. I just wanted to say that you are important to me and I’m hoping things get better for you. Can I fix you dinner sometime soon? I’d love to see your face.” 

18. “What is Captain in sex?”

If you’re lucky, there’s a recorder solo.

19. “Should teenage boys have sex toys?”

I’m neither a parent nor a legal expert, but my instincts say, “Why the hell shouldn’t all teenagers have access to information & resources to make themselves feel really really good in their own company?” I wish to hell I had grown up with Scarleteen and a waterproof, adjustable-speed vibrator.

20. “Do therapists want to hear how their former patients are doing?”

People in the helping professions sow a lot of seeds without expecting to see the blossoms, so, I say “yes” if you had a good relationship and the information is conveyed in a medium that doesn’t demand work from them. Think of it the way you’d write to a former teacher you wanted to thank in a short note, like, “Dear Therapist, I just wanted to let you know that things are going better at work thanks to your suggestions for managing my time and anxiety better. I hope all is well with you, thank you again for your help. Sincerely, Your former patient.” If you find yourself generating paragraph upon paragraph of text, maybe make an appointment?

21. “Stop meddling and being a matchmaker!” 

Yeah, knock it off, Emma! 

22. “Me and boyfriend break up because we never have sex.”

Breakups are HARD, even when they are the right thing to do. I hope you are both happier with a little time and distance, and may your next partner(s) be more compatible with you in that way.

23. “Should it bother me that my husband wants me to party with alcohol & cocaine knowing I have seizures and interactions with medications could be harmful?”

I find it useful to replace the word “should” in talks I have with myself. When we’re talking about feelings or big decisions, what “should” happen is not so helpful. The better question is “what IS happening?”

“Should it bother you…”

==>

DOES it bother you? It sounds like it bothers you. (It bothers me!) And, since you are the sole boss of what substances you put in your body, you are the sole decider of what risks are unacceptable for you. “Husband, I don’t want to ‘party’ with you. I don’t want to have a seizure or a bad interaction with my meds. Please stop asking me.”

24. “My roommate leaves the bathroom door open when he goes to the bathroom and showers.”

“Dude, close the door!” (+ open the window!)

 25. How to get your boyfriend to look after himself?

Any answer I give is going to generate an automatic “But it’s more complicated than that!” or “But I love him!” response, and rightly so, but I’m going to talk to my younger right now and let everyone listen in. If it’s not applicable then it’s not applicable.

Hey, Young Jennifer, I’m so sorry, the Time Machine did not get me back here in time to stop you from falling in love with [Hot But Troubled Boy]. I had the dial set for 1990, which is why I have all these catalogues for women’s colleges and a bass guitar in here with me, but I can see that I’m a couple years late.

I know you love Boy. His skin feels like magic and when you touch each other it feels like the microscopic space between you is filled with stardust. He smells like two angels fucking. You can stay up all night talking and fixing the world together. You are unstoppable…except for when he is very stoppable.

Boy has a condition called depression. You have it, too, and you should go and get checked out for that. Where I come from you didn’t figure that out for another 5-7 years, and I can’t help but wonder what would be different for me/us if you knew. Depression doesn’t mean you’re unloveable, it just means that it can take medical help and concentrated effort to manage the condition. When Boy hates himself, and stops going to work or class or washing his clothes or wanting to do anything with you, when he has mood swings and gets dark and mean, when he tells you that he doesn’t deserve you and wants you to go away, and then the next day tells you that he’ll die if you leave him,  it’s at least partly a manifestation of an illness. It’s not your fault, it’s not something you are doing wrong or not doing enough of. What that also means is that you cannot love him out of it. You can’t fix him or fix it for him. He’s got to do it himself.

What I know now that you don’t know is that the time you are spending, tidying his space for him, worrying about him, talking to your friends about what to do about him, trying to coax him to eat or shower or go see a movie with you, wondering what he’s thinking about, making sure you always look pretty when you see him, keeping track of his schedule and his deadlines, processing the stuff he says to you in and out of his mood swings, taking care of him, trying to lay your love and your body down into all his cracks and fill them, time spent biting your tongue not wanting to make him sad or angry…this is time that you will never get back. You are stealing these years from yourself and offering them up to him, to no one’s benefit.

I know, you love him. I know.

And I have unfair knowledge, because I know stuff that you can’t know now, that maybe you wouldn’t have ever learned if you didn’t try and fail at this.

But I’m from the future, and if I could tell you what to do right now I’d tell you to have one conversation with him where you ask him to seek help for his troubles and to start being nicer to you. If he does? Great, maybe you can have that love story you’re so sure this is going to be. If he won’t? Especially the part about being nice to you? Then I’d tell you to bail. It’s too late for the women’s colleges, but it’s not too late for the bass. Take it, find some other awesome women, start a terrible punk band, and use all the painful things he’s said to you as material for lyrics. Hold out for someone who is always kind to you, someone who doesn’t need to be fixed or parented.

P.S. In 1997, when your friend I. offers you a chance to work at her internet startup but you’re going to take the job at the non-profit instead? WORK FOR I, FOOL. She’s gonna sell that thing to Yahoo right before the crash in 2000, and you can donate your millions of dollars to the non-profit.

This is Captain Awkward Dot Com Pledge Drive Week, as you know. Ways to contribute:

  • You can become a patron at Patreon. At the next funding goal, I release an e-book of columns once every year, free to patrons, a few $ to download for non-patrons. When/if we hit $2000/month, the blog goes ad-free. 
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Thank you so much for reading and for your generosity. It really makes a material difference in my life.

 

 

Dear Captain & Crew,

This is a question about Xmas boundaries + the ever-awkward subject of money. I know, it’s completely ridiculous to be worrying about Xmas in July… I don’t want to think about Xmas before Turkey Day! However, Husband’s family starts planning Xmas far in advance, and they’ve started poking us about Xmas plans alread. Cue holiday anxiety!

After a blow-up at Xmas time 5 years ago by MIL (who is generally very sweet and kind), I have become very anxious about holiday plans with Husband’s mother and his extended family. MIL insists on spending waaaaay too much money on us, especially at Xmas time. For last year’s extended family visit, MIL bought our plane tickets ($2K+) before I’d agreed to the dates, paid for the rental car Husband and I used ($500+), insisted on paying for all the meals, and bought everyone a ton of gifts.

MIL’s trend of insisting on covering all expenses makes me very uncomfortable and anxious. 3 years ago, we all agreed on a Secret-Santa arrangement for Husband’s family, and set a spending limit of $40. Although MIL agreed, she bought gifts for everyone and blew right past the $40 spending limit per person.

I am increasingly uncomfortable with how much money MIL is spending on me. While it’s her money (and her choice to spend it), I really dislike how she insists on paying for everything whenever we see her. I really want to speak up about it. However, because of my own “I want them to like me!” issues, I feel like my mouth is glued shut & can’t speak up in the moment. I also know that my Husband really doesn’t want me to “rock the boat” by contradicting his mother.

I’m reaching my wits’ end in this situation, and I’m hoping you can offer me some scripts. I want to find my voice again and have agency in this relationship.

My questions:
1) After setting spending-limit boundaries in advance, how do I enforce those boundaries in the moment when everyone (but me) is all “yay, gifts!” on Xmas day?

2) If I can’t speak up to MIL in the moment about #1, what can I say to her after the fact to gently+firmly express that all the money she’s spending on me is making me really really uncomfortable?

3) What can I say when we go out to eat and MIL insists on paying? (Saying “we’ll get the next one” doesn’t work because she stubbornly insists on paying at every meal).

4) What do I say to Husband when he pressures me to keep quiet about Xmas/general over-spending?

Signed,
Stressing and Exhausted about the Holidays Months in Advance (DAMMIT)

(she/her pronouns)

Hi Stressing,

I’m sorry, I don’t have good answers or scripts to your specific questions. You are already doing & saying the right things. I think your best choices going forward are:

Go. And go knowing what you’re in for, including too much money spent on you, awkward gifts, & her picking up every check. Go wholeheartedly and try to enjoy what there is to enjoy about your in-laws and the way they celebrate. After this many years, you are not going to change your Mother-In-Law. She already knows how you feel. You can refuse to accept the gifts, fight every restaurant check, make a point, etc. but she is still gonna roll how she rolls. Choose your battles (like, making travel arrangements around YOUR schedule). Let your husband take the lead in all interactions, bring a really good book with you, stick to your own spending limits, and peace out of looking for middle ground where there is none. When you feel uncomfortable, go for a walk or go to bed early to read or go to the movies by yourself for a little while and give yourself some space.

Vs.

Don’t go. Celebrate the holidays your way, according to your preferences & values. Create a holiday tradition of your own with just you and your husband. Be low-key and thrifty and quiet and relaxed. Visit your In-Laws another, less-gifty time of year. In the meantime, let the guilt-trips and the “It just won’t be Christmas without you!” furor and the prospect of too-expensive gifts sent in the mail wash over you for the next half a year.

My recommendation would be “Go sometimes as a gift to your spouse, don’t go sometimes as a gift to your own well-being.” Reminding yourself that it’s a choice will hopefully give you more feeling of control. You went last year, so this seems like a good year to respond to the questions about your plans with “We’re planning to stay put this year and do Christmas with y’all every other year.” This is your husband’s family, yes? Then let him be the one to deliver the news and sail his non-rocky vessel through the guilt-storms.

P.S. “It’s July, I haven’t decided yet/I’ll let you know when that changes” is a perfectly fine answer to all winter holiday inquiries btw. Leave out “It’s fucking July, WTF fam?” part for best results. 🙂