Rejecting sister-in-law turns mother-in-law against her
Q: My husband and I were high school sweethearts. Work kept us away from our hometown until about five years ago. His sister, "Jane," still lives here and has grown into someone I really don't like. It is nothing overt — more that we don't have much in common, although sometimes she does interject her opinions to her brother about our private relationship. I am polite but ignore her overtures and third-party commentary.
The problem is my mother-in-law. I am one of the few women on the planet who truly loves her. For the past 20 years I have considered her a dear friend. She now realizes the distance between me and her daughter is no longer about geography.
To make matters worse, Jane does not have many friends and is often lonely. I have fallen in with a dynamic group of women who keep me very socially active. The first two or three years it was "Why don't you invite Jane?" or "Jane would love to attend that," which I could deflect with excuses. The last two years the messages have come through my husband.
This year, my mother-in-law won't even return my calls. How do I approach her when I won't be held hostage to a friendship with her daughter? Isn't the relationship between brother and sister the focus?
All Set for Friends
A: A recap, if I may:
Your husband's lonely sister has reached out for your friendship and you "ignore her overtures" — not because she has done anything overtly wrong, but because you have much cooler friends to play with.
Perhaps Jane has said a few choice things about you to her brother, but maybe she said them (1) with justification, and (2) in confidence, or (3) harmlessly, and you're amplifying them to justify excluding her.
Surely you: don't claim to be perfect; do grant siblings the right to speak candidly to each other; do understand that rejection causes hurt feelings; and do see that you protect your image by blaming Jane for her own exclusion.
And yet these are the four things I get when I take the fact that Jane "does interject her opinions to her brother" — your only stated beef with Jane — and I break it down to its component points. Four points entirely reasonable and/or human.
Meanwhile, your implication that your mother-in-law is all but universally unlovable is pretty choice in itself.
I do fault Mama for not dropping the issue years ago, because forcing friendships is always a nonstarter. And I do fault Jane for not stopping her mom, unless of course she was unaware of her mom's efforts on her behalf.
I don't fault Ma, alas, for souring on you. She's in a nasty bind: Her "dear friend," her son's wife, also happens to be her daughter's own personal, peri-menopausal Mean Girl — at least that's how she probably sees it.
Looks that way from here, too, without the benefit of more information. Unless there's more (or less) to Jane than you've shared, I can't think of any harm that might have come had you just humored your mother-in-law and invited Jane along once in a while. Not as her hostage, just as her hostess, one gracious enough to suck it up occasionally for someone she avowedly "loves."