Despite what boyfriend's mom says, her gifts might be hints
Q: My boyfriend's mom recently sent him a book about tips for a successful marriage. Our first reaction was to have a good laugh about it; we're not ready for marriage yet, and neither of us has talked with our parents about it.
But as I thought about it more, questions started popping into my head: If down the road she decides she wants us to hurry up with the grandkids, will I be getting What to Expect When You're Expecting in my Christmas stocking?
He asked her if there was any additional meaning behind the gift, and she assured him she just thought it would be an interesting read for him. I'd like to take her word for it, but I'm still kind of suspicious. Do you think this could be a harbinger of how she treats us in the future, and if so, how do we deal with that?
A: Please go back to your first reaction — if only because my laughing would then be laughing with you, not at you.
I don't know which is funnier, her sending the book, or insisting with a straight face that it was merely "an interesting read."
And either way, I do think you've seen the Ghost of Christmas Future. Even if that future doesn't materialize, though, it can still be productive to look this meddling style in the eye.
It has already taught you that: (1) You and your boyfriend both laughed. Meaning, neither of you reflexively put your dukes up. Meaning, yay. (2) Your boyfriend wasn't afraid to approach his mom, where the parent to beware is one who must be handled like unexploded ordnance.
So, good news so far — you were a team and he wasn't afraid. (You may have both been a tad credulous, but optimism has its charms.)
In time, you'll learn whether you and he can stay unified, keep your senses of humor, and maintain warm feelings for the woman who may someday stuff your stocking with 101 Ways to Humor Your Mother-in-Law.
Those aren't just three steps for dealing with her (or just about anything), they're also windows into how you'll treat her in the future — conveniently, the part you can control.
Two-faced sister-in-law plays both sides, enjoys power trip
Q: My sister-in-law is an extremely pious woman. Over the years she has treated me as a close friend and confidant while verbally denigrating our other sister-in-law to me in private. Turns out she treats the other sister-in-law the same way — as a close companion, while privately telling her about my many faults, some true, some false. This has been going on for years. What is she getting out of this?
A: Uh, power? A lot of it. She set herself up (with the piety and criticism) as a woman of high standards, and indicated you were worthy (by confiding in you). She made you feel special. You, in turn, placed a high value on her company.
Had she not used this simple bit of human puppetry, she would have had to earn your respect the old-fashioned way: by being tough on herself and forgiving of others. Hard work, that — where the reverse, forgiving yourself and being tough on others, is a snap.
That is, until the puppets compare notes.