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Advice

Carolyn Hax: My mother-in-law wants ME to apologize to her for her son’s behavior

  • Author: Carolyn Hax
  • Updated: July 23
  • Published July 23

Dear Carolyn:

My husband, "Eric," and I accidentally offended my mother-in-law, "Gwen." Eric's parents are very nice people but are pretty conservative. They had a party at their house a couple of weeks ago to celebrate my brother-in-law's 21st birthday and I offered to go over early to help cook and set up. We arrived to a seemingly empty house, which didn't surprise us -- Gwen had texted to say we should let ourselves in since she and my father-in-law had some errands to run.

I immediately got busy in the kitchen and after a few minutes my husband came up behind me, started kissing my neck and saying some very graphic and sexual things. He does this often at home and as usual I was giggling about it.

Suddenly we heard Gwen loudly clear her throat. Eric jumped back, apologized and explained that we didn't know she was home. I hoped she hadn't heard too much but then during the party she was much icier to me than usual. I assumed it would blow over since we hadn't actually done anything, but she doesn't seem to be getting over it. I saw her last weekend at my sister-in-law's house and she barely spoke to me.

Eric talked to her about it and she wants ME to apologize for us "violating her kitchen" that way. Apparently, Eric's not at fault but I am, since women should know better while men can't help themselves.

That sexist attitude really bothers me and I am not inclined to indulge it. However, if this grudge of hers continues, it is going to make things very awkward. What should I do?

-- Anonymous

Oh hell no.

"Eric talked to her about it and she wants ME to apologize for us 'violating her kitchen' that way."

At which point Eric said to her, “Are you kidding me? You want my wife to apologize to you for something I did? Mom, that’s not only unfair, but also shockingly sexist. I will not ask her to apologize and I suggest you don’t, either.”

Right? He said that to her? Because if he didn't, then he is now the problem.

Not to mention, the only things I can think of that violate a kitchen are electric blue frosting roses. And marshmallows on sweet potatoes. And spray cheese.

***

Dear Carolyn:

My daughter recently ended a five-year relationship with no marriage involved. She has moved on and now has a boyfriend. My daughter, her boyfriend, other family members and I attended a graduation ceremony. While sitting in a gymnasium waiting for the ceremony to start, my daughter pointed out that her ex had a co-worker sitting in the audience, without physically pointing to them so as not to draw attention. Minutes later I glanced in that direction only to see that person pointing their camera at us.

A few days later my daughter called me and said she got an angry call from her ex to ask who the new boyfriend was. It was obvious that the picture was sent to her ex.

I would love to put this nosy person in their place but not sure I should or how to go about it. Any thoughts?

-- D.

Well that's creepy.

But it's not for you to fix.

And this people's-paparazzo is not the one to call out anyway, even though the shooting and sending were both the work of a true bottom-feeder.

It's the ex-boyfriend who owns the truly reprehensible choice here. When presented with this photograph, he had one decent response available to him: "Why are you taking pictures of my ex, much less sending them to me? Her life is her business now."

But he didn't. He took the low road instead, and scolded your daughter for having the audacity to do what either half of a broken-up couple was fully entitled to do.

It's not for you to put him in his place either, though. It was your daughter's place to say to her ex, calmly and firmly: "The photo was inappropriate, this call is inappropriate, and I'm hanging up now." [click.]

If she didn’t, then please encourage her to, if and when this type of line-crossing ever happens again. Explaining herself only tells him, falsely, that he deserves an explanation from her.

***

Hi, Carolyn:

Recently I have been somewhat deluged by requests from friends (and distant acquaintances) for Go Fund Me contributions so they can go on their "bucket list" vacations.

I think these requests put people in a difficult situation -- is one a "real" friend or not? There is an implied guilt trip ... or maybe it is just me.

I have recently taken two trips to Europe. These trips were important to me and they put a dent in my finances, but they were my choice and I will deal with the debt myself. Friends want to take river trips in Europe or walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and those are nice plans, but they should also plan to pay for the trips.

My fear is that people will remember who gave and who didn't -- I know I would if I ever made a request like this -- and this will change the nature of relationships.

So, instead of feeling guilty, I get angry.

I also see requests for birthday donations to charities. I think this is rather narcissistic, as in, "Aren't I wonderful for having a noble cause?"

-- L.

So I guess I shouldn't ask you to support my cause, Advice Columnists Against Extravagant Projecting and Judging.

By my count, you've said asking for money for oneself is bad; asking for money for others is bad; and not giving money to those who ask for it is bad, even though their asking was bad in the first place.

Maybe you're just having a bad day?

Without even offering an opinion about online bucket-list panhandling, I can give you a way out of this that is possibly the easiest way out of anything ever: Give what you want to when you want to, and don't give anything you don't want to.

If you want to streamline some more mental and emotional clutter, then make a conscious decision not to judge anyone -- not even yourself -- for asking, not asking, giving, or not giving.

Because judging is work. It asks you to get informed (if you're doing it right), to keep things in mind and balance competing interests, to care about things not your business, to take sides for or against people you know, to invest yourself in an outcome, and to declare yourself superior for knowing better than the person you're judging.

Why bother, when all you have to do is decide, delete, live your life.

The one thing I would judge, full disclosure, is scorekeeping. If others keep score of friends' decisions not to donate, then that's seriously petty. It's also a self-solving problem, because if I lose a friendship because my friend is too petty to be my friend, then it's hard to see that as a loss.

And if you yourself would “remember who gave and who didn’t,” truly, then please work on whatever drives the “who didn’t,” grudge-holding half of that emotional equation -- and in the meantime, keep being someone who doesn’t ask others to give.

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