The Vine: June 20, 2012
I'm getting married to a hilarious, brilliant, gentle, just generally awesome guy. As the wedding approaches, my therapist has helped me prepare emotionally for obvious potential conflicts: what to say when religious family members notice our officiant is not a priest; what to do when certain people realize they're not actually invited; how to compartmentalize and continue enjoying the night when my emotionally-manipulative boundary-hating mother gets drunk and cries during the reception, etc.
But my fiancé's family is relatively new to me, and…well. I'm a sensitive person, and their side is pretty devoid of sensitive people. Their world of stony silences and grudges is a totally new universe for me.
My fiancé's sister is a…challenging person to be around. She lives in a different country and we only really see her a few times a year, so it's usually easy to just accept that things will be ridiculous when she's visiting, do our best to remain zen, and then move on. But this last visit was particularly taxing.
It was the first time we'd seen her since the engagement. I don't talk to her much, and we hadn't interacted at all since we got engaged. I assumed I wouldn't get a "congratulations" or a "let me see the ring OMG how exciting" or even much of an acknowledgement, because anything we do is usually poorly conceived and kind of stupid in her eyes. And I wasn't disappointed in that regard.
Things went from, "Oh, you're going to Spain on your honeymoon? Feh. Spain's so boring," and "Gee, brother, it's pretty clear who wears the pants in THIS relationship," to "you guys are JUST like Mom and Dad" (their mother is very unkind to their father) and "You know, our grandfather and his brother didn't speak for thirty years and it was because his wife had TOO MUCH INFLUENCE over him, insert meaningful eye contact and glaring," pretty quickly. I just pretended I didn't notice the hard edge on the things she said, smiled, changed the subject. But it felt very aggressive, and now that she's back from whence she came I still don't know what to do with these feelings. I mean — what kind of person does she think I am?
My fiancé has lived with this dynamic his whole life. He values her opinions, loves her, but also has learned how to have his own ideas and ignore/let go of some of the more overtly disrespectful things she says/childish fits she throws. I'm not as used to it, and his "ignore it and don't let it hurt you" methods don't really work for me. He understands and sympathizes that I'm hurt, and sees why I'm worried about where this might go wedding-wise, but doesn't have any further suggestions on the matter.
Since we aren't taking sister's advice as to how our wedding should go (yeah, she was generous enough to scrap all our stupid ideas and re-plan the whole thing for us at dinner the other night) I know there will be further conflict. And because she started getting kind of aggressive on this trip, I'm afraid that she'll get worse as things get closer. My greatest fear is that she will come at me, judgy-fists flying, on a day close to the wedding when I'm already at my limits, and I will finally stand up to her and say, "Listen, bitch, stop being a baby and keep your opinions to yourself." And then shit will BLOW UP, because standing up to her is not a thing anyone has ever tried, ever, in the history of this family. Pretty sure this would end any kind of civil communication between us, and I would be forever cast as the manipulative succubus who drove the fatal wedge between wise sister and helpless brother.
Normally I'm better at boundaries and letting stupid things not matter than this, but I am completely unprepared to deal with this woman's glaring, disrespect, unkindness, implications that I've emasculated her brother etc. My fiancé points out — and I know he's right — that the okaysauce is going to have to come from me, because she's always been like this. But Jesus, Sars, this is a whole new flavor of crazy! What do I do?
Thank you, thank you, thank you for any advice you might have for me.
"Pretty sure this would end any kind of civil communication between us, and I would be forever cast as the manipulative succubus who drove the fatal wedge between wise sister and helpless brother." And this is a problem why?
Seriously: why? She's a twat — and I'm not a big fan of the "helpless brother"'s role in the situation either, I have to tell you. It's great that your fiancé is "gentle" and can let his sister's shit go and blah blah blah, but it doesn't change the fact that 1) she bullies him, and 2) he lets her bully him and you. And if that's how he wants their relationship to go, fine — but it's really not okay for her to speak to you as dismissively as she does, and if she takes it too far, you have the right to call her on her shit.
And you expect him to have your back. Period.
That's the issue I see here; it's obvious you view a showdown as inevitable, and it's just as obvious you don't think Fiancé will support you, come the day. I think you would feel a lot less agita surrounding the prospect of drawing a line with Sister — and might be able to let her crap slide more easily, ironically — if you knew that Fiancé would take your side in the event.
You need to tell him everything you just told me, and you need to tell him that, if shit goes down, you expect him to side with you. You need to point out that his shrugging attitude towards Sister's bullshit is fine for him, but not everyone is that evolved (or conflict-avoidant), and you'd like some acknowledgement of the facts, to wit: 1) her behavior and comments aren't appropriate; and 2) if you reach a point where you can no longer ignore them, you expect him to defend you, to her and the rest of the family.
Because he should do that already. Sister's territorial hostility towards you is creepy, and I don't want to come down too hard on Fiancé, because with certain personality types (read: "disorders"), it is just better to keep your head down until the visit's over. But he does need to signal to you that he gets that not everyone can do that, and that not everyone should have to do that, and if you can't do that, it's not you who's the problem.
You might also consider that the family has probably waited years for someone, anyone to empty both barrels into this hag, and that it might not go as badly for you afterwards as you think…but regardless, it's time to talk to your fiancé and to set boundaries about Sister. She's an asshole; you resent having to put up with it, you're tired of having to be the bigger person, and you don't want to have to worry about what happens if you crack. You'd like him to say, in so many words, that he's on your side — and you'd also like him to delegate a family member or groomsman to deal with/contain her in the run-up to the wedding, for everyone's peace of mind.
There's letting shit go…and then there's letting shit go. It's not always a good thing, and if his sibling is acting a fool to his future wife, Fiancé doesn't get to be all "not my problem" about it.
Tags: boys (and girls) the fam