Adapted from a recent online discussion.
You'll have to deal with dad bringing mistress to wedding
Q: I am 25 and getting married. My father is in the middle of his second divorce (still legally married) and living with his 25-year-old mistress. He brings her everywhere. I don't care if she is around when we are at dinners at his place, etc., but my mother, stepmother and future mother-in-law are uncomfortable with the idea of her being at the wedding. Neither my fiance nor I think it is appropriate. We have told him she is not invited, and he claims they will be engaged in a few weeks — but, as he is still legally married, that is about as meaningful as gum on my shoe. What do we do if he brings her to the wedding?
You Can't Make This Up
Carolyn: You manage. The more you fight this, the more the drama will co-opt the wedding. You could disinvite him — but, again, even though it might seem like the right thing (to appease his exes, to draw a line), that makes him a bigger deal than he needs to be. I know I'm not advising them, but the closer the maternal troika can get to ignoring the sideshow that is your dad, the better things will turn out — for them and for you.
Anonymous: You just did it again. Lately you just expect us all to turn the other cheek and allow people to get away with bad behavior. I feel like every time someone writes in about dealing with toxic people, you just tell them to deal.
Carolyn: But I explain how and why to deal, too. When people choose to have difficult people in their lives, their best course for dealing with them is to minimize fuss. Starve the beast of attention.
Distress, shunning, arguing, confronting, telling off, revenge, whatever else — these all constitute attention.
Now, when people decide to remove toxic people from their lives, after a genuine effort to make peace, I support that. But many people aren't ready for that. If today's letter writer were ready, then she wouldn't have written in.
Till she reaches that point, choosing to enforce the exclusion of the girlfriend will suck away more of her emotional energy than if she just chose not to fight this battle.
So, if you're going to take a reductive view of my advice, make it "Don't feed the beast."
Anonymous 2: Think of the dad's insistence on bringing her as the gift that keeps on giving. He has managed to unite your mother, stepmother and future mother-in-law against a common enemy.
Carolyn: Brilliant! After the zygote that will become his fourth wife reaches adulthood, the club may even add a member.
Anonymous 3: As opposed to what? The idea that someone is "letting" another person get away with bad behavior suggests there is some way to control that other person's behavior. Adults' instructing other adults on how to behave is what controlling people and bullies do — not something to emulate.
If Dad is going to behave like (a donkey), then that's who Dad is, and plan accordingly. You have a small choice of options, but changing him into a non-(donkey) is not one of them.
Carolyn: Zackly. Thanks.