I am greatly concerned about my grandmother’s choice in men. I never met my grandfather because he was a huge jerk (to put it mildly). My grandmother then married another man when I was 9 years old. He ruined her financially, but caused that side of the family to get along better because we all hated him. He treated her terribly but she never left him. She almost lost the house when he died. Grandma has a history of dating men who are just terrible, and now she’s “engaged” to a married man who is apparently just as big a jerk as the others. I’m afraid she’ll be ruined financially (again) by this man who isn’t even divorcing his wife of 47 years. Should I, and how could I, approach this problem?
Regarding your grandmother’s selection of men, Prudie would lay odds you’re dying to tell her, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” Unfortunately, it is hard enough to advise a parent about romantic choices; counseling a grandmother approaches the realm of the impossible. Her track record is lousy and regrettably, judgment does not improve in later years. The only mildly good news in this drama is that an engagement to a married man means very little, and the fact that he has no plans to divorce makes it mean even less. If, however, your grandmother continues her folie a deux with this man, you are pretty much without ammunition in your war against Bad Boyfriends, geezer division. Poor Grandma is a magnet for users and losers, and realistically, there is nothing you can do to save her from herself.
I have wonderful in-laws who are in the middle of a divorce. They were married 25 years and separated the spring before my husband and I started dating. That was four years ago. We have been married three years and they are still not divorced. This would be a nonissue except for the fact that they drag us into it. My mother-in-law wants her sons to hate their father for things that may or may not have happened in the past. She takes no responsibility for the divorce despite it being obvious she is difficult, and constantly pushes us to take her side. We want children, but I am terrified of things to come. Holiday plans almost require a lawyer to handle the negotiations—who gets which days during holidays, etc. Do you think things will improve when the divorce is final? (Though it may involve my husband testifying against both his parents since they are now going to sue each other.) Or do we need to speak up and set rules for them now before bridges are burned?
—Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but a divorce decree will not cure what ails your mother-in-law, and her grievances are not likely to subside. This is just the nature of angry women exiting a marriage. (Please, no feminist objections; angry men act out differently.) The best option for you and your husband is to tell her that while you regret her unhappiness, the wrath she feels for her decamped husband is hers, not yours, and you wish not to take sides. Ask that she try to avoid further discussion of her marital travails because she is putting you in an impossible position. This will be difficult, but once you’ve gone on record, it will become easier to close her down.
I’m at my wits’ end. For starters, my mother-in-law isn’t the greatest mother to my husband unless there is something going wrong in our relationship. She sticks her nose in where it does not belong and fills his head with the most addle-brained advice about how to relate to the kids and me. First, she tells him to move back home with her (she lives in Germany!). Second, she was never there for him growing up but wants to make up for it now that he’s in his 30s. She talks about how he needs to leave me, make a better life for himself, and forget about his family. He has the attitude that she’s always right and that I’m the one to blame for all his shortcomings. I wish he would just tell her to mind her own business, but he seems unable to stand up for himself when it comes to her. I know that family comes first, but I think we should be the family that comes first!
—Ready To Pull My Hair Out!
Actually, it sounds like you’re ready to pull your mother-in-law’s hair out, and who can blame you? This is an awful situation. In something akin to Stockholm syndrome, it is not unusual for a kid who has suffered neglect to cleave to that parent when he or she finally decides to pay some attention. It is nothing less than outrageous that your m-i-l is counseling her son to leave you and his children. What you need to do is call his bluff and make an appointment with a couples counselor. (It may turn out that you should leave him.) In any case, you have to get this sorted out.
I have a bit of a problem. Well, more than a bit. Last June, my boyfriend of two years and I separated. OK, he dumped me. I’m 20 years old, in a great college, but can’t seem to get over this. We had made all kinds of plans—where we would live, our children’s names, our dogs’ names, everything. The only explanation he gave me was that he’d heard rumors about my supposed infidelity from mutual friends and the rumors changed his feelings about me. Well, I was crushed, simply devastated. A few months went by and he started calling again, and for about a month it was like old times. Then he stopped talking to me and started dating other people. He says he still has feelings for me, but that our not being together is for the best. It sounds to me like he’s keeping me on the back burner just in case he can’t find anything better. It is hard to let go because I’m still in love with him. I just feel like I’m never going to be able to get over it and move on. Am I destined to be a 50-year-old bitter woman pining for her lost love?
Hard to believe, but when you’re 50 you might not even remember this chap’s name. Despite the way you’re feeling now, you are just at the beginning of your romantic life. Prudie has a mechanistic suggestion for you: Harness some underlying anger to break the bond with this man. If you feel no anger, you should. Anybody whose relationship can be turned on its head because of rumors shows a complete lack of trust in you, not to mention commitment, and that should make you furious. Next time he calls—if he calls—tell him you agree that not being together is for the best. That ought to settle his hash. And you will feel soooo much better.
Correction, Jan. 5, 2006: Prudie goofed. In responding to “Had It,” she recommended the wrong publication. She meant to tell the writer to start reading the Texas Observer.