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.
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?)