This week, R. Eric Thomas and J. Bryan Lowder discuss a Prudie letter: “Stop Thief!”
R. Eric Thomas: Hi Bryan! So this week’s letter was a bit of a challenge for me because mostly what I wanted to do was yell at everyone involved who was not the LW. It seems LW is in a tough spot. Did you agree with my advice?
J. Bryan Lowder: Uh, lol yeah—this situation is just Beyond, and I really feel for the LW. The family she has married into really sounds like a mess! But yes, I think you picked up on the right core issue, which is that fundamentally this isn’t the LW’s crusade to wage, and that her husband needs to step in and do something about it. We can wonder about the MIL’s mental health (though getting her to a professional sounds like it would be a challenge), but either way this has to stop.
How did you come up with that genius flyer idea? I do think something like that might put the fear of god in her…
Eric: Well, passive-aggressive graphic design is my passion. In college I would make elaborate signs shaming my roommates for not doing the dishes. I was not popular but I was right. When it came to this letter, I puzzled with how to get results without further dragging LW into the mess. A Reynolds Pamphlet-esque strategy seemed a semi-graceful solution.
Are there other options you saw?
Bryan: Hahaha amazing, yeah “right” and clean dishes always trump “popular” imo. The reason I like that idea is because I have a feeling being confronted with how gross and tawdry she looks doing this might be the only thing that gets through—clearly, she has no compunction about stealing in the abstract. I mean, a department store is one thing, but taking essentials and books from actual people in need? Yuck.
The gall of it all (especially with regard to the privilege aspect you and LW point out) makes me worry about how this is going to impact this couple’s relationship—like, I would have a hard time looking at my partner the same if he was being so nonchalant about this.
Seems like a recipe for contempt. Did that concern you at all?
Eric: Oh yeah. While no one should have to answer for how their parents behave, the lack of urgency that the husband has is a real challenge. If I were LW, I’d start wondering what else he shrugs off and how we can be aligned. It’s definitely worth a conversation of its own.
Bryan: Absolutely. I understand that this behavior might have become normalized in this family, and that the husband and his dad might have gotten used to dealing with the weirdness of it by waving it off, but it’s time for a reality check—if I were the LW, I wouldn’t worry about fixing MIL at all, but I would need my husband to understand just how concerning and off-putting the whole ~ tone ~ of this dynamic is. He can’t control his parents, but he can change the way he reacts to them.
(I might also consider stealing a few books or one of those boats from their house to donate to charity, but I’m petty.)
Eric: Yes, I think that’s spot on. The core issue for LW isn’t the injustice of the MIL’s actions, it’s the disconnect in the couple. And yes, I would definitely start reparative shoplifting from the in-laws’ home. Community accountability!
Bryan: We joke (?) but whew does that sound satisfying! Well, sending all my best to this LW because, yikes. My only other note is she may want to make sure MIL isn’t snatching packages from her porch when she comes to visit!