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Aunt Messy is Happy to dispense Advice along with Various Aperitifs and Treats! All you have to Do to Contact Her is send an e-mail to: .

Monday, November 30, 2009

Envy is an Ugly Thing.

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

Dear Aunt Messy,

I am a 41-year-old college professor married with two children; a son 13 and a daughter 12. My husband is an information technology professional. He's a smart, dynamic and witty man who happily refers to himself as a "regular guy". Before I met him, I dated several intellectual types, but they never really appealed to me. I certainly could never see myself married to one of them. It wasn't until I met my husband that I realized how wrong these individuals would have been for me.

Initially, my family was very unhappy with my choice. The could not understand why I didn't marry one of the intellectual types that I had dated in the past. They would call my husband a "regular guy", meaning it as an insult and I was furious about it. My husband shrugged it off, declaring that he IS a regular guy. Thankfully, he's very laid back and easy-going. It's almost impossible to offend the man.

I have a sister who is 18 months older than me. She did marry an intellectual guy, even though when she was younger, that is the last type of man that would have attracted her. Her husband is very smart, brilliant in fact, in an Einstein kind of way. They have two girls, aged 13 and 10 and live three hours away from us. At least once a year we've gone to stay with them for a couple of days. The girls really enjoy each other's company and it was a relaxed time for all of us.

My husband and son naturally feel left out at these gatherings. My brother-in-law is a workaholic who we virtually never see when we're all together, and my regular guys are just not interested in the girly things that the other kids are. Usually when we're there, they will go play a round or two of golf together at the course near my sister's house. This does not interfere with anything we all do together, like go to plays, have dinner or go to the park.

Not long ago, my sister called to tell me that my husband and son are no longer welcome if they're going to play golf during the visit. She sats that her husband's and children's feelings have been hurt by this. At the same time, she's been referring to my husband as a "regular guy" in a derisive tone and had been claiming that she doesn't understand him because they're so different from she and her husband. Lately she's been including my son in her talk, claiming that she just cannot relate to my husband and son.

I was so angry at this that I decided then and there to just never visit her again. She keeps pushing the issue, inviting us and implying that we are somehow rude and selfish for not coming and following her "rules".

Aunt Messy, are we rude to think that someone should be able to go golfing during a family visit? Should I plan a visit under her rules? Will I regret cutting her off at some future date as she has made it clear that there can be no relationship between us until I have given in and decided to do things her way?

A (Stupid) Intellectual

(Note: This Letter has been Edited for Length. Every bit of the information the writer has sent me is here.)


Oh, my Dear Girl! I am so Glad to have Heard from you! Please do Come In. Leave your Coat here and We'll go to the Small Parlour for tea.

I Must Apologize for my Tardiness in Answering your Letter. It has been a Most Confusing Time for me. I have Decided to Divide my Time between my Beloved Farm and my delightful Pied a Terre in Paris and Organizing everything has been terribly Time Consuming. Why, if it weren't for my Dear Brother Osgood and my Beloved Niece, I would Never have Managed!

(Ah, here's the Tea! Oh and Look, there are some of the Delicious Ginger Cookies that Cook Makes for me. Thank You. Now, it's Very Cold outside, would you Care for a Splash of Brandy in your Cup? Wonderful. I'll Join You.)

Now to Business.

You Husband sounds like a Lovely Man. You really should Bring Him along the Next time you Visit, dear, I'm sure that there are Plenty of Things for your Children to do Together and he would Enjoy them as Well. I Must Congratulate you on your Choice. You are Positively Glowing with Happiness. I am So Glad that your Family (or at least your Parents) have Come to Accept him.

As to your First Question, it's Merely a Matter of Precedent. Has anyone Objected to Your Husband and Son Golfing in the Past, or Has it been Accepted the they will Do So? It Sounds as if Your Husband is Happy to Entertain himself and your Son and that they Find the Company of Teen-Aged (and Nearly teen-aged) Girls rather Tedious. One cannot Blame them for Absenting Themselves for Part of the Day. As you Say in your Letter, their Activities do not Interfere in Any Way with the Visit. Had there been Activities Planned by the Hostess that Included them Specifically, then it would be Another Matter and you would All have been Expected to Attend.

(Will you have Another? Help yourself to the Cookies, I quite Adore them!)

I am More Concerned about her Recent Attitude towards your Husband and Son, though. This seems to me to be a Symptom of a Larger Problem. How Close are you two? Would she Tell You if she was having Problems with her Marriage? I must say that it Seems that Your Husband and Hers are Polar Opposites. Is it Possible that she now Envies your Choice? Her Husband may well be a Very Good Man, but if he is as Uninvolved in the Daily Life of his Family as you Describe, then Perhaps she is Lonely. Seeing you and your Happy Family may well Fill her with Envy and cause some of the Spite that she has Recently Aimed at you.

I Suspect that There was a Time when Your Parents' Opinion was far more Important to your Sister than it was to You. She may have Consciously or Unconsciously Chosen a Man like the one that your Parents had Envisioned for You after Seeing the Dreadful Way they Treated You and Your Husband early in Your Marriage. For a Long Time, she No Doubt felt somewhat Superior to you because she Made your Parents Happy in a Way that you did Not. This has Nothing to do with You. You demonstrated a Backbone and Determination that She was Incapable of at the Time, she may be Envious of that, too.

Naturally you Cannot Grant her Demand that you Abandon half your Family just for the Privilege of Seeing her! It is an Absurd Request and You Mustn't even Consider it. Let her Know that You and Your Family are an Inseparable Unit that that if They are Not Included in any Visit you Make, then You will Not be Able to Make the Trip Again. Whatever you do, you Must Not permit Your Son to Hear any of her Cruel Nonsense.

There May Indeed come a Time when you Must Cut her Off. This is Very Unfair to your Daughter, but if Seeing her Cousins must Also Come with the Exclusion of her Brother, then there is No Help for it. Your Sister cannot be Permitted to Set the Rules for Your Family and I think you are Quite Correct in Not Permitting her to do so.

(More tea?)

I Know that you are Very Angry with her, but Try the Following: Next Time you Talk to your Sister, propose that She and her Family come and Visit You for a change. Ignore (for the moment) All of her Nonsense about the Men in Your Family, and just Invite them All. If she Won't even Consider it, then you have your Answer. I Suspect that this One-Sided Relationship has been Very Comfortable for her. She has Always been the One in Control, but Now that you have Put Your Foot Down, she Sees her Influence on you Slipping, and that May Be one of the Causes of her Anger at You right now.

If you Decide that your Only Contact with her will be on the Telephone, then when she Starts Talking Nonsense, Tell her that you will Hang Up and then Do It. Never apologize for This. Her Anger is Her Choice, and if she won't Tell You the Real Source of her Problem, then that is Nothing to do with You.

Did any of This Help? You have a Long History of Not Allowing People to make choices For You and it has worked Splendidly so far. Trust your Instincts, they are Excellent. And my Dear? Never Call yourself "Stupid" Again. I shall be Most Annoyed if you Do, you're one of the Smartest People I've Met in Years.

(Oh look! Cook has Sent You a Bag of Cookies to Take Home! Isn't she a Dear Lady?)


  1. Dear Auntie,

    I woke up to your sound advice (yes, I did sleep till ten, but I had gotten lost in a very scary mystery novel last night and had to find out who done it, and it took till 4AM till my suspicions were confirmed)

    Yes, the "regular guy" laid-back hubby sounds great and he's probably one hell of a lover to boot!

    I believe your diagnosis is correct. There's envy from the sister here. Which (pardon my grammar) leads me to digress about the notion of envy itself.

    Around much of the Mediterranean envy is linked to the evil eye. My own experience was in Corsica where traditionally envy was considered very dangerous for the person envied. In the past (and in parts of the present –oops, time and space are a bit blurred here), if you complimented a baby’s cuteness you right away had to say some formula to ward off your own envy, same with a pregnant woman. This because envy was the evil eye which could cause the victim to become deathly ill or some other catastrophe. The fascinating thing about this is that traditionally it was thought that envy could be unconscious (yeah, Freud didn’t invent everything!), and unconscious envy was just as harmful as conscious one... (The evil eye is different in other parts of the world, as for instance Eastern Europe where the evil eye is a conscious power that witches use to put a curse on you )

    So, to get back to the envious sister, she better come to grip with her nasty envious feelings....actually, I believe envy makes the envious rather than the envied sick, and in this particular situation, if her own marriage is unsatisfactory, she’s losing the support she could have gotten from her happily married sister...

    PS: can you get Cook to send me some of them cookies?

  2. PS PS: I love your photos....

  3. Funny you should mention the evil eye thing. When my mother was on vacation in Greece a few years ago, she couldn't figure out why so many people were staring at her.

    Turns out it was her coloring. She's a pale Nordic blonde (too short, though), with electric blue eyes. The charm that Greeks carry to ward off the evil eye is....a blue eye. One granny told her she was blessed because no one could ever wish evil on her.

    True story.

    As for the sister - something has changed for her. If she's just quit whining and TELL the LW what's going on, something might be solved. As it is, she's acting like a.... manipulative toddler.

  4. The first thing I noticed, too, was that the sister could reciprocate and visit the LW on occasion. After all, shouldn't her "intellectual husband" make more money than the "regular guy"? Unless, of course, the intellectual is a teacher or professor, and the regular guy is a plumber or electrician.

    Yes, let her know that the guys will be visiting, too, but need some "boy time" away from all the girls. If she has a problem with it, the cousins will just have to get together at Grandma's.

    I don't think I'd do well with 3 teen/preteen girls all day every day for several days, either!

  5. Ah... O Cool One, you are correct, but I suspect the money angle heads in the opposite direction. The husband is an IT exec, which probably means that he out-earns the professor nine ways from Sunday. Unless there are fellowships and outside contracts involved, professorial types don't earn that kind of bucks - no school can afford that kind of money.

    I've got an inkling that a chunk of the sister's problem is not only that the LW is having more fun than her, but that she's doing it with a lot more money...

    I still say that if the guys aren't welcome, then EVERYONE stays home. The LW can't afford to say what the sister is trying to force her to say.

  6. Messy, did you mean the letter *has* been edited for length, and then intend a link to the full letter when you said "here", or, did you mean that it has *not* been edited and "here" meant already "here" on the page?

    I'm of a different mind. I don't think the sister has changed. I think that all along this has bugged her, but she's finally gotten fed up enough to say something. I think that, from the beginning, the sister has looked down her nose at the LW's husband. And everything that he does that she doesn't view as what "polite society" would do, she's been cataloging (because believe more, more than the golf bugs her). And she's now fed up (probably after conferring with her bitty friends who take their husbands' jobs and status as their own while they sip coffee at Starbucks and make fun of other women who come in). But, your advice is still 100% sound and dead on, regardless of the sister's motivation.

    Further, I'd suggest asking the sister flat out what's wrong with the boys going to play golf when there's nothing else planned, especially considering the fact that the sister's husband is at work all the fucking time when they visit (and thus not participating)?! And then I'd throw the word "bitch" in there. Because she is. The sister. And there's no getting around that. Okay, nix the "bitch" part, but the rest is a valid question to ask her. Sometimes people need their hypocrisy pointed out to them in big bright neon letters. The bitch part is purely gratuitous. ;-)

  7. And yes, you nailed it, the sister is tre jealous of the LW's life. And so being smarmy about the LW's husband is just a projection of that. And being able to call it "rude" makes her behavior that much more insidious.

  8. The letter was quite long. I saved a copy, but shortened it in length while keeping the relevant details. I hope the LW wasn't offended, I e-mailed to let her know that the answer is here and sent her the link. I promise that if she isn't happy with the edit, her response will be posted right here.

    Of course, she can also post right here that she thinks I'm fulla crap, too. I promise not to delete anything just because I can't take a little criticism!

    I was thinking more on the lines of the sister's situation may have changed. Perhaps her husband lost a grant application or she realizes that reflected glory is a little chillier than she'd hoped? Maybe there's a pretty post-doc that's a constant reminder that she wanted to go further with her education and that stings a bit?

    Nevertheless, she's behaving like an outright bitch and whatever it is she's taking out on the LW has got to stop. If she won't stop herself, then the LW has to take control of the situation and not permit her sister to continue belittling her family.

    You know I have no scruples about telling nasty family members to bugger off. Some people need to be told that it's all right to do that. Being related doesn't absolve anyone of acting like a jerk.

  9. My first thought in reading the letter was that, since the LW states that her husband and son feel "left out of these gatherings", I thought the LW should have suggested to her husband and son long ago that perhaps they'd be happier at home enjoying a boy's weekend together while the girls have their weekend together. (In fact, I thought this was going to be the problem.)

    Now I'd just tell the sister to kiss my ass.

  10. I am astonished at how astute everyone around me is when it comes to recognizing the main emotions behind people's behaviors. For ex., I doubt envy would have occurred to me in any way as to the LW's sister's problem. My sister & I have a rather contentious relationship. She has been particularly critical of every friend I have, no matter how little she knows them, and never ceases to badmouth them to me. 1 of my friends said she was probably jealous; you see, she had very few friends at the time because her boyfriend was jealous of her spending any time with anyone other than him & his friends. When this friend suggested that and explained it, it made so much sense. Which happened again, thanks to Aunt Messy. Is there a way to acquire such wisdom Aunt Messy, other than time?

  11. Well, you can always send a question to . Make sure and specify who you want to answer your letter, though. Aunt Messy's a pussycat. If you ask for SHADDAP! you'll get similar advice in a less....civilized manner.

    You do realize that I could be completely wrong here, right? It could be that the sister is just a generally nasty human being.... But that doesn't make sense, either. The LW is no dumb cookie, and she's been close to her sister in the past. That's why I have to think something has changed.

  12. Hello all. I am the LW, although my original letter was quite boring and Dear Aunt Messy certainly made it more fun to read.

    I don't think, Aunt Messy, that my sister is a nasty human being. I wrote you a follow up email though, which explained that we had suffered a falling out when I was a young adult. In short, I did think she was an absolute bitch. And of my whole family, she was the nastiest to my husband when I first brought him on the scene.

    But then, when we both had children at the same time, she just tried so darned HARD to be friendly, and to make things up to me. So we became close and have enjoyed a good relationship.

    Now she is turning into a bitch again.

    I would have her over my house, but my mother lives near us, and my mother wants her always to stay with her so she can see the grandchildren.

    See, it is also hard to be around her husband, because the man is a complete brainiac, socially retarded know it all. He talks and talks and talks because he knows everything about everything and drives you crazy. So I never them to stay with us.

    And you know, I think my sister was trying to say that we SHOULD do a girls weekend. But instead of framing it like that, she had to go and pick on my husband and son, and that just dang pissed me off. She has me complete off on this.

    I also had never really thought she could be jealous of me, but as the kids have gotten older, it has become painfully obvious that her husband is just too busy to spend much time with the kids, while my husband coaches teams and is around all the time. IT guys often wear beepers and have miserable lives, but when they work in education, they have it a lot cushier. Currently, he was lucky enough to change his hours to 7-3 so that he could come home to coach my son's team, and he just a very involved Dad.

    Let's just say my sister's husband is in no position to do that. So maybe she IS jealous.

    Another thing that changed is that her financial situation went down the tubes. My BIL turned his brains toward writing some kind of uber code that only brainiacs like him can write for software programs that do amazing things. He started a company employing other super geeks (that's his term) and farmed them all out, including himself, to tech companies in the Boston area. But that bubble has burst lately. None of the compaines want to spend their money that way right about now, and all the work has dried up. My BIL has not worked himself for a year, and they currently only have three employees, and their take on their hourly wage only comes out to a like, NORMAL salary.

    So between me (I just got tenure and although you guys are right, profs and NOT rolling in the dough, as the years go by we do fairly well) and my hubby (who has always made a pretty good salary) we are suddenly doing BETTER than them, or at least so it appears.

    So I don't know. Probably this is too long. I always end up writing too much.

    I have enjoyed reading all of your impressions of this though, and appreciate, Aunt Messy, that you replied to me instead of SHADDUP as I love the soft touch!!!

  13. Woops. I am not so good at editing my work for web postings. A college professor at that! Sorry for the typos!

  14. Holy shit. I am laughably stupid! I am looking at my letter and seeing for the first time that it must piss her off that her husband has not worked in a YEAR and STILL does nothing with their children!!!! I mean NOTHING. He spends all his time in their converted barn/office "working" on whatever. Yeah maybe she is jealous. I guess seeing it that way makes me a bit more sympathetic, but I STILL don't feel inclined to plan a visit somehow.

  15. Bella - I sent you an e-mail, and I'll respond in detail here on Friday, but there is one thing I have to say....

    Stop it with the "stupid" nonsense! You managed to get a degree that few will ever even aspire to because you're bright and you work hard. You are no dummy, and managing a couple of kids and a husband who works hard, too is not a job for the faint of heart.

    I hate it when women seem to feel the need to denigrate themselves. There's no need for it. Look at the degrees on your wall tomorrow morning and say to yourself, "I earned this".

  16. Fabulous advice, and so nice to hear from the LW. I am starting to feel sympathy for your sister as well, but I also agree that if she won't stop being a bitch, there is no reason to visit. There may need to be a come to Jesus meeting about her disparaging your husband and your son, her nephew. Honestly, who picks on a kid? Jeez.

  17. Aunt Messy, of course you're right that this is all subjective, but eveyone else who posted seemed to have come to the same conclusion, which now it seems includes the LW herself! I've just never understood people, so I'm always amazed by people who can read all those things that I cannot.

    Bella, sounds like Aunt Messy certainly helped you find a new way of seeing things. That's especially sad that her unemployed husband isn't taking advantage of this terrible economic time to at least interact plenty w/his kids.

    I think everyone is right in that you have to act on what is best for YOU & YOUR FAMILY first. Most definitely try and talk to her & support her if she'll let you, but never forget that you can't change someone or their behavior, so if she isn't open to your overtures, don't take it personally nor as a challenge, just limit your interactions or whatever works best for you until she stops taking her unhappiness out on you. She may be doing that b/c as her sister, she knows you won't completely reject her or abandon her no matter how awful she acts.

  18. I have to say, it would be really fun to see Aunt Messy and SHADDUP for the same letter... Hehehe.

  19. Hmmmm. Aunt Messy may be telephoning her answers to her Dear Niece to put down here. Look for some - er - conflict about wording...

  20. Bella, I finally have time to sit down. Whew. Uninterrupted time is something that just doesn't seem to exist any more, does it?

    When I read your response my first thought was that your sister is reverting to type. It sounds to me as if she's always harbored some resentment towards you and her behavior when you started dating your husband is probably closer to her true character than not. When you say she TRIED to be nice when the kids came, it sounds like she made a decision to put a lid on it, but that lid is coming off now.

    There's a whole list of things she could (and probably is) having trouble with.

    1. You live close to your parents, she doesn't. Betcha she had a hard time dealing with you when you were born, too - she was a toddler then. That sibling stuff has probably been dogging her for your whole life.

    2. You married someone who is engaged with you AND the kids and works hard to make sure it stays that way. You have a great husband and it's becoming clear that she chose badly.

    3. Money, money, money. It sounds like your sister is starting to panic over that, as well she should. Does she make enough to support their lifestyle?

    4. It sounds as if she's living like a single parent. Her husband may be smart, but he sounds like a mouthy jerk. The fact that he's locked in his office every day seems suspicious as hell to me. It's not like he has a job.

    5. You're happy and you're not willing to fake being miserable just to make her feel better (Yes, a lot of people do that). She sounds like someone who thinks the world owes her something and is smacking up against the realization that it's just not so.

    I could come up with all kinds of reasons she's so angry right now, but there's no real point to that. None of this is your problem. Your job is to make sure that her problems don't affect YOUR family. Your sister will either find a way out of the hole she's in or not - either way, she's on her own.

    You have to tune out her garbage. I've always been fond of saying that you can't change her, you can only change the way you respond to her, so that's what you're going to have to do. If she starts on your husband, tell her that you aren't going to discuss it with her. If she persists, hang up. It's like puppy training. She'll either get it or get so angry she'll stop calling so often. Either way you win.

    If your mother wants your sister and her family to stay there, then good. You won't have to deal with all the nonsense and the girls can spend some time together. Your husband can do his thing, and maybe you can get through a visit like that having to sit through one dinner or something. I suspect your husband can deal with the blowhard better than you can. Maybe you can even send your daughter with her grandmother and cousins on a girls day and skip the rest altogether.

    Remember that you don't HAVE to do anything. You don't have to pussyfoot around, you don't have to see her if you don't want to and you don't have to listen to a single thing she says. Any problem she has with that is on her.

  21. Ah, Aunt Messy, I love your words of wisdom! I'd write a letter to you myself about a sitch or two in my life, but I think it would come across as whining and who wants tea with someone like that? I'll just keep listening on the side and soak in your sage advice as I pet my two new kitty cats, Bella and Alice.

  22. New kitties? Congratulations! Are they babies?

    Mine are a little over a year old now, and I've found out the hard way that I'm going to have to have non-breakable decorations on the tree for a few years. Tin toys.....that's the ticket....tin toys....

  23. Yes, they are about 9 weeks old and we've had them for a week and a half. They have already settled in quite nicely, not a single accident in the house. Such good litte kitties! Bella lookes like a Siamese with dark ears, a dark patch on her face, mottled dark paws, a dark tail and blue eyes while Alice is a furry, fluffy grey and white ball with eyes the same shade of grey as her eyes. They have figured out that they can climb up my leg to reach my lap or up the comforter to get on the bed. They also like to get on my desk while I write (I'm writing a book) and sleep as I type. They make good ghost writers!;) My dog isn't so thrilled with the new additions but he is adjusting. I still love him, but I love my kitties! I'm not so sure about the Christmas tree or decorations. We may have to only put decorations on the top half of the tree and leave the bottom half clear of temptations. We'll see. But we love having them as part of our family! If you are not opposed, I will send you pics to your Aunt Messy account.

  24. I meant the same shade of grey as her fur. Sorry!

  25. The dog will adjust as soon as he learns that he is NOT the boss. Neither are you, for that matter. See, the cats know what you want them to do, they just don't care.

    When it comes to the tree, ours were a little older than yours last Christmas, but they still climbed to the top. I'll post a photo for you so you can see what I mean. I gave up on all but the totally NON-breakable decorations and lights. There was no fighting it, they just had to do what cats do best - climb.

    I know exactly what you mean about the writing, too. Sarah frequently curls up between my forearms as I type, so I have to have the laptop about 16" away from the edge of the desk. Nina will sit behind the screen and if she gets bored, the little tabby paw will come out and smack the closest keys. She once managed to wipe out ALL of my bookmarks. If you have a Windows machine (I don't), you can download free software called "Cat Typing" or something like that. It will prevent them from doing damage with random key strokes.

    I'll consult Smagboy about posting your photos. I'm sure there's an easy way to do that.

  26. Thank you Messy, for giving me so much of your time! I love your line "I'm sorry you feel that way." Repeat as necessary.

    bekkah: What a lovely name for a cat. I am also named for my cat.