Jenée Desmond-Harris is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. I WILL be the one in white: I am getting married for the second time to a wonderful man soonish, and I have found and bought the dress I’m certain is perfect for me. I love everything about it. There is one complete nonproblem (in my opinion), which is that it’s white. My future mother-in-law, who I’ve always felt was a bit rigid about tradition but never seemed like a fit-thrower, is livid about this. Livid! About a dress color! She told me it’s tacky and tasteless to wear white on my second marriage, and she won’t shut up about it. She’s tried to “reason” with me several times, and she’s even offered to buy me a new, “more appropriate” dress. She has begged my fiancé to get me to change my mind incessantly for weeks. After the first few incidents, he asked whether I’d be willing to wear an off-white dress for the ceremony and change to the white one for the reception (to which the answer is obviously no!).
I know this seems like a ridiculous thing to call off a wedding over, but I’m worried that this is just the start of him siding with his mother on “insignificant” things just to save himself the trouble of arguing with her. To be clear, he’s not concerned about hurting her feelings as much as he just feels like it’s a hassle to deal with her dramatics. What should I do?
A: Wear white and make sure your husband knows exactly why 1) you want to and 2) you refuse to set a precedent that his mother can cause a fuss about things that are none of her business and get her way.
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Q. Not the babysitter: I own a loft condo where the only enclosed space is the bathroom. I also live in a very fun if bustling city so I get a lot of requests for overnight visits. The main living area is a pretty good size and has seen up to eight people sleeping there (that was a very fun bachelorette party). Usually it is just me and my two cats, so I love company (and can sleep like the dead).
My brother and his girlfriend had a baby this year. She also has a 3-year-old from a previous relationship. They struck gold and got rare tickets to a musical. We all have been vaccinated so I invited them to stay with me overnight. I thought they were going to leave the kids with her mom. They brought them instead. I woke up at 8 in the morning to find out I had been “volunteered” to babysit while they were at the musical.
It was extremely awkward. My place is not kidproof. The 3-year-old got into everything and scared my cats into hiding under my bed.
I invited my new neighbors over. The girlfriend got both kids down for a nap in the bedroom. But it is an open area—sound travels. The girlfriend kept hushing us if we talked in more than a whisper. She rolled her eyes and frowned repeatedly after someone dropped a knife or laughed. She repeatedly mentioned there were sleeping children upstairs and we needed to “control” ourselves. My brother was oblivious. My neighbors started to make excuses to go when my cat jumped up onto a windowsill, knocked over an abandoned mug, and shattered it. There was crying from the bedroom and my brother’s girlfriend started cursing out my cat.
I’d had enough. I escorted my neighbors out and pulled my brother to the side. This was not going to work—I offered to go half on a hotel and babysit, but I didn’t appreciate being embarrassed or set up like this. The girlfriend caught the last end of my conversation. She called me a child-hating bitch. I showed her where the door was.
Look, I have no relationship with her, and my brother and I aren’t close, just given age and ethics gaps. I try to be kind. My brother knows the layout of my condo, they didn’t tell me the kids were coming, and no one gets to curse at my cat in my home. I am not ashamed of kicking them out or them losing their musical tickets because they had to go home with the kids. It isn’t my fault.
Well, my brother and his girlfriend went on social media and did their best to blast me and make it my fault. I love my family but I don’t understand how “waking the baby” is worse than surprise babysitting and leaving your babies in an unfamiliar environment. My loft has stairs and it isn’t like I have a baby gate on hand!
A: You’re obviously right here. You know that, but let me back you up just in case you want to post this response on social media in a comment under your brother’s rant: He and his girlfriend are beyond rude, entitled, and unreasonable, and anyone would have kicked them out.
You can continue to have a kind but distant relationship with your brother, but draw the line at having him come to your home. He’s lost that privilege.
Q. Unsure: My nibbling sent me a link to a Christmas wish list. I noticed a second list, and when I checked it out, it had female-to-male transitional items, like a binder, that were very recently listed. I don’t know if this list was meant to be public or private.
While I love them, we only recently started seeing each other more than a couple of times a year and we aren’t very close. I want to support them wholeheartedly but I’m unsure how to approach this. Do I ask for their pronouns next time I see them in private? Ask everyone? Just let them know I saw the items and I love and support them no matter what decisions they make and they can always talk to me, and then back off unless they want to discuss? Pretend I saw nothing?
I don’t want to pressure them, but do want to offer whatever support they could use from me. If they came out, they wouldn’t be in any danger at home, but they may not get complete support either. I just want to make sure they have it somewhere if needed.
A: It’s really nice of you to want to be a supportive adult in this possibly trans child’s life. But I think being supportive requires first actually being in their life as a regular, trusted presence. So start there, by working to build a closer relationship, before offering yourself up as someone to talk to. Can you work to see them and their family more often over the next six months or so? Find out what they’re interested in? Tell them a little bit about your own life and your values? Find little ways to demonstrate that you can be trusted? I suggest doing all of this before asking for pronouns or putting out a query about what you saw on the Christmas list. Then, when you do decide to say something—or better yet, if they decide to say something to you—you’ll have established yourself as someone who’s safe to open up to and whose support is meaningful.
Q. Interfaith counselors didn’t warn us about this: I’m in an interfaith marriage, and we’re reaching the point where the next generation is starting to turn 13. This means that the children on the Jewish side of the family will have bar and bat mitzvahs over the course of the next few years, while the non-Jewish side has no corresponding life cycle event As a result, we’ll be writing large checks to our Jewish nieces and nephews on the occasion. The dilemma this raises is whether we should give similarly large gifts to nieces and nephews on the other side when they turn 13.
On the one hand, it seems a little unfair to give much larger gifts to one side of the family only; on the other, a bar or bat mitzvah takes years of study in preparation, the completion of significant public service projects, and requires taking on new responsibilities in the community. On some level, it seems like it would be devaluing the hard work to give such a large gift for what is just another birthday on the non-Jewish side. What’s the fair thing to do here?
A: I don’t think you need to even this out by giving equivalent 13th birthday checks to the other kids. Like you said, the Jewish children will have put in a lot of work (not to mention their families will have hosted an expensive event), and receiving gifts on this special day is a part of their culture. What you might do is mentally set aside a similar chunk of money for each of the other nieces and nephews to be used if they have an important occasion that represents a big commitment on their part or a key part of their identity—like fundraising for a big school trip or traveling to a competition for an expensive sport. So the consistent rule here is you get lots of money from your aunt and uncle not because you’ve been on Earth for a certain number of years, but because you’ve done something monumental and meaningful to you. Don’t feel like you’re required to write a check, but just make it an option if you feel they have something in their lives that makes it appropriate.
Q. Confused middle school girl: Help! I have got a huge crush. But the person I have a crush on is gay. What am I supposed to do?
A: Having an unrequited crush is hard, and this probably won’t be the last time in life you find yourself in this situation. But it’s totally normal! Remind yourself that developing feelings for someone who, for whatever reason, doesn’t share them is something that happens to almost everyone. And at some point and, especially in this case, the fact that the interest isn’t returned isn’t personal.
Maybe you’re thinking about letting your crush know how you feel. Don’t. When you get this urge, think about what you would like someone to do if they liked you and you didn’t like them back. It would probably just make you feel weird if they were to make a big deal about it. But that doesn’t mean you have anything to be ashamed of or there’s anything wrong with you. And honestly, trying to turn a crush off or suppress it can often intensify it. So try to be at peace with your feelings and trust that they’ll eventually pass. In the meantime, the qualities you like in this person might tell you something about the qualities you might like to see in someone you date in the future.
Q. Re: Not the babysitter: Letter writer, this is on you in part. When there are kids, why didn’t you ask: “Are you bringing the kids?” You always have to ask this. When they say yes, you can say, “Sorry. No kids.” Don’t assume—ever—that people will do what you think is sensible.
A: “Don’t assume—ever—that people will do what you think is sensible” is very good general life advice. But I definitely don’t think it’s on the letter writer (or anyone) to assume that they’ll be asked to babysit. If you have to ask a guest, “Are you expecting me to care for your children while you go out and have fun?” I think that person should just never be invited back.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: That’s all for today! Talk to you next week.
From Care and Feeding
My husband hates Christmas. Neither of us is very religious, though both of us were raised in Christian households. I have very fond memories of the holiday from when I was little, and I want to share those traditions with our son.
I share my husband’s distaste for the idea of telling kids that Santa is watching over them and policing their behavior, and also agree with him that it isn’t necessary to buy our son piles and piles of presents that he doesn’t need. However, I want to do a bit of gift-giving and share in some of the magic of Christmastime with my family. How can we find a middle ground?