My Scandinavian bridesmaid’s roommate is a creep

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Cary’s classic column from

He screwed my 17-year-old sister on my wedding night, and threatened to have my kneecaps broken!


Dear Cary,

I live in a Scandinavian country. I moved here a little over a year ago to be with my love and recently got married. Despite the difficulties of being from a different culture we have made some close friends. I have particularly become close to one young woman, and we spend a lot of time together, have a lot in common, and have become such good friends that I asked her to be a bridesmaid in my wedding.

My family and many of my close friends from the U.S. came over to be in the wedding, including my little sister who is 17 years old. On the night of the wedding my sister met my new and dear Scandinavian friend’s best friend of many years. He is a very good-looking and smooth-talking guy and sleeps with a different woman every night; at the time he met my sister he had a girlfriend (whom he had already cheated on and would cheat on again). He and my sister made out (running off to corners, etc.) all night long. At the end of the night as we were all leaving, my sister came to tell me that she was going home with him and with my friend (they are roommates).

I knew what was going to happen, and at that moment it made me feel sick. The wedding had been so beautiful. My family and my husband’s family had bonded, and all of the love between our families, ourselves and our friends and guests felt overwhelming. At the end of this kind of night the fact that my underage (but hardly virginal) little sister was going home with a man I knew (and she knew as well) to be a complete shark just felt like a very bad thing. I went to this man and told him, “Don’t sleep with my sister!” I did it in a very firm way, maybe even aggressive, but I did not swear at him and I did not shout. (Nor was I drunk; I had felt so stressed and had so little sleep leading up to the wedding that I made a conscious decision to drink very little.) He told me that I was being dirty, so dirty that if his father ever saw me he would have to break my kneecaps. (Yes, he said that, and not in a joking voice trying to diffuse the situation, but in a very angry voice!) When he said this it felt a bit like I had been slapped. I was standing there in my long white gown, in my veil, and had been told that, and I just felt it was very much over the line. I walked away from him and did not talk to him again that evening.

The real problem, and the reason that I am writing to you, is that my new friend will not accept that I do not really like or want to be around her sharklike best friend. She is very close to both of us and feels that it is unacceptable that I do not like him. We have had several fights about this. I do not badmouth him to her, I do not try to convince her not to be friends with him. In fact when she wants to talk about him (which she does very, very often) I in no way show my basic dislike for his (what I consider) lacking character. And I have helped her analyze him and his very strange and privileged background.

She has been trying very hard to get us to become friends again. She has started bringing him over (twice during this last weekend) trying to get us to hang out together. When we do so, I am very friendly and frankly quite fake, and I really don’t want to hang out with him. In fact I would rather that my friend would not come over at all if she wants to hang out with him. His affectations, which didn’t do much for me before the falling out, are just ridiculous to me now. My husband doesn’t like him either.

However, I do feel very, very close to this friend. She has made life here so much easier for me, making me a part of her life in a way that few Scandinavians are willing to do (besides, of course, my husband). She and I love to sit and talk for hours about life and literature and politics. I really hate the fact that this could have an impact on a new and important relationship in my life. I also hate that she is trying to force me to be friends with this person. She has asked me several times, “But you like him again, right?” I have answered yes, because when I told her several weeks ago that I didn’t want to be friends with him and didn’t like him she became very angry with me. However, to me this issue is not going away as fast as she would like it to.

I can not figure out if this is my problem or her problem. I don’t want to lose someone whom I like so much, but I’m not sure how much longer I can hold my tongue.

Confused and Abroad

Cary Tennis Writing Retreat in France

Dear Confused and Abroad,

I think he did a terrible thing and you are quite right to despise him. What a despicable act! Not only to defy a bride’s wishes on her wedding day, to sleep with her sister against her clear entreaties, but to threaten her? To suggest that he’ll have her kneecaps broken? That is beyond the pale. I don’t see how you could expect to get over such treatment and come to be pals with this guy. You need to be true to yourself. I would not let him in the house again. If it means losing this friend, that is the price you have to pay for being true to yourself.

But perhaps it doesn’t mean losing this friend. If they are roommates, they will probably not be roommates forever. Your social circle in this Scandinavian country, I’m guessing, is fairly fluid; your friends are young and subject to changes in their living arrangements and their loyalties. So if you end up having a longtime friendship with this woman, she too may come to see that her friend is a jerk. In the meantime, you have been pretending; you have not been true to yourself, and that, I think, is destructive to you. I’m sure there are reasons — you are in a foreign country and you are grateful for the society of the natives, you don’t know if your standards are right or not. But the reasons do not seem sufficient. What this man did, it seems to me, showed great disrespect to you. I think you should stay away from him, and make it clear to your friend that, however much you like seeing her, you do not want to see him.

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Can I skip my friend’s wedding?

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Cary’s classic column from

I can’t afford to go plus I dread seeing my mean, stupid ex and his shiny new whatever


 

Hi Cary,

My question is simple, but the back story is complicated. A very good, old friend of mine is getting married this fall. She and her fiancé have communicated that they want me there. In fact, it’s been implied that our friendship will be compromised if I don’t attend.

There are two reasons I am very hesitant to go. The first is the money. I have to fly across the country and pay for a few days at a hotel in the middle of nowhere. Money is tight, and this will set me back hundreds of dollars. I live paycheck-to-paycheck right now.

The second reason is, my ex is going to be there. I was in a long-term relationship with a man. We had a long engagement (too long, in hindsight). We moved across the country together. Right after we moved, he suddenly broke up with me. Turns out, he met someone else immediately after we moved. A month after he dumped me, he married this other woman.

I’m still picking up the pieces of my life after the breakup. It devastated me emotionally and financially. I basically lost everything. If I go to my friend’s wedding, my ex and his new wife will be there. I haven’t seen this woman face-to-face. And I am almost certain I will cry.

I don’t want to make a scene at this wedding. I want to go — it’s important to me to be there. But I don’t know how I could spend hundreds of dollars I don’t have, only to be hurt and humiliated in public.

I’ve tried to talk to my friend about it, but she just keeps telling me how much she wants me there. I don’t want my friendship to be compromised. But I also don’t want credit card debt.

Should I Go?

Cary Tennis Writing Retreat in France

Dear Should I Go,

Sometimes you get to do things for your own dignity. Sometimes you get to comfort your own soul, and tell your own soul, You know what, I’ve put you through a lot, and made you insecure and uncomfortable, and I know you are still hurting and you are going to be dreading going, so I am not going to force you into it; I’m going to wait for you to say OK.

So you talk to your soul like your soul was a kid you are taking care of. And you don’t drag her by the arm into the department store; you don’t shove her into the pool or into the classroom; you wait until she, of her own volition, indicates that she is ready and can prepare, on her own time, to walk in there on her own, and when she does she will show surprising strength because she has had time to heal. And you don’t assume that she will be ready when it’s convenient for you. You wait for her. You wait.

I have a feeling she’s not ready yet and that is fine.

You are still wounded. The wound is still fresh and might be reopened by an encounter with the same knife that caused it. You don’t have to risk that. You can give this wound time to heal.

You don’t have to go.

I mean, nobody’s stopping you. But you don’t have to. And it might be a good opportunity to get real with your friend. Has your friend asked you how you feel about the prospect of seeing your ex? Has she expressed any concern for your feelings? Or is she thinking only of her beautiful wedding and how special she’s going to feel having all her friends there?

This may be a good time to write your friend a letter and tell her how you want to remain friends but right now you have to take care of yourself.

You don’t have to be there for every Kodak moment. Some Kodak moments are best left to the photographers.

Don’t worry about regretting your decision. Instead, ask yourself what you want to take with you into the future. Do you want to take with you the debt you incurred because you could not say no, and the humiliation and anger you felt seeing your ex with his new wife? Or do you want to take with you the confidence that you can say no, and the money you saved, and the relief you feel knowing you did not have to see your ex?

What would you like to remember? Would you like to remember how you sort of knuckled under at the last minute and put yourself in debt and showed up just because? Or would you like to remember the courage you showed in making a hard decision that was best for you, and how this time you showed up not for somebody else in a distant town but for yourself, here, where you live?

You can fill your future with every imaginable item, or you can bring into the future only the things you want to bring into it, building your future like a house, furnishing it with sacred objects and memories.

I mean, it’s your choice. But you can see where I’m leaning. And I’m kind of angry at your friend, actually, for not making it more clear that she knows how hard it would be for you. Maybe she doesn’t know how hurt you still are. Or maybe she is thinking of no one but herself and her beautiful wedding.

 

 

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The bride kept the money!

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Cary’s classic column from MONDAY, JUN 20, 2005

A snafu on bridesmaids dresses resulted in a refund to the bride — but she never passed it on to the bridesmaids and the groomsmen.


Dear Cary,

A little over a month ago, I was one of eight bridesmaids in my brother’s wedding. The bridesmaids’ dresses kept not arriving at the new dates the store kept giving us, until it was three days before the wedding and the store (I’ll call it Acme Bridal) admitted there was no way the gowns could get there in time. The bride and I spent a good eight hours scouring every other clothing store within a 30-mile radius, and I finally found one that could get us all dresses in the right colors, and still do some alterations in time. The bridesmaids got their dresses, the vows were exchanged, the wedding bouquet was thrown, the couple rode off into the sunset, everything was a happy ending … or so it seemed, and still seems, to everyone but me.

In a reasonable effort to make up for their extreme screw-up, Acme Bridal refunded the bridesmaids’ money for the AWOL dresses, and then the bridesmaids used that refund to pay for the new dresses. A few days after the wedding, I got a phone call from Acme Bridal, just offering another apology and best wishes, and hoping that their compensation was adequate and no hard feelings. Through that conversation I learned that not only had the store refunded the original bridesmaid dress money, they had refunded the price of the tuxedoes for the eight groomsmen (which were also bought through Acme Bridal, and had arrived on time with no problems) and given the bride a check to pay for the cumulative cost of the new dresses we found at their competitors. So, they not only refunded the bridesmaids’ money, and refunded the men’s money, but paid for the new dresses, all before the wedding even took place.

OK, I figured, “Linda” the bride had a lot on her mind at the time, she just forgot to distribute the check to the bridesmaids. My boyfriend was one of the groomsmen, and I know for a fact that he never received compensation for his tux, though I haven’t told him about all the vanished funds. I haven’t told anyone about them, including the other bridesmaids or the groomsmen, because I’m not sure what to do (that’s where you come in, I hope).

A few days after the Acme Bridal phone call, I asked my brother about it (they didn’t take a honeymoon after the wedding). He got very defensive and said that money was Linda’s monetary compensation for all the headaches this store caused her, and that none of the bridesmaids deserved the money (it’s $165 each) because none of them helped find new dresses. That got me all riled up because, like I said, I was running around, cellphone in hand, spending two tanks of gasoline and talking to more store owners than I can remember in trying to help Linda. When I reminded my brother “Ryan” of that fact, he admitted I had been very helpful. But he said they were still paying off the wedding and they needed that money, and he would talk to Linda about it, but the fact of it was none of the groomsmen or the bridesmaids needed the money as badly as they did.

I was flabbergasted, to say the least. First, it doesn’t matter who needs it more — that money came from a source, it should go back to that same source. Let alone that by keeping this a secret, my brother and sister-in-law are doing what’s tantamount (in my opinion) to stealing from people who are their family and best friends! I brought it up with Ryan once more a few days later (despite having been in the wedding, Linda and I aren’t close. I was there as the groom’s sister more than as a friend), and was chided for being so selfish and basically told to drop it.

Like I said before, I haven’t told anyone else, in my family or otherwise, about the non-compensated compensation. I don’t want to turn this into some huge scandal over money, especially right after a wedding. Acme Bridal paid for the costs of the new dresses and tuxes and made the check out to Linda — but is it her right to keep it? I need an unbiased opinion on that, and on where I should go from here.

Bitter Bridesmaid

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Dear Bitter Bridesmaid,

It seems reasonable that the bride should pass the money on to the people who paid for the dresses and the tuxes. I think that would be the right thing to do. I don’t think very highly of the idea expressed by the groom that the wedding was expensive and they need the money more, so they’re keeping it. The money was intended, presumably, to be passed on to all the parties who were inconvenienced. It wasn’t intended to enrich the bride or compensate her for wedding costs in general. It was a goodwill gesture made by a business intended partly, no doubt, to protect the firm’s reputation and help it secure future business. Ideally the store would have reimbursed each buyer individually, but for one reason or another that didn’t happen. So if the store were now to contact each person in a further gesture of “goodwill,” telling them why the refund was made and asking for their future business, that would make sense. It would also put the bride in hot water. Perhaps the store thought it was more discreet to simply send the money to the bride and stay out of whatever squabbles may result.

A little more detail on the transaction would be helpful in saying exactly what should be done, but it’s not necessary to see what’s basically right and wrong here. It’s pretty clear that the bride should distribute the money. Instead, the bride and your brother seem to be doing something small-minded and selfish. Assuming the eight tuxes cost roughly what the dresses cost, we’re talking about substantial money — over $2,600. While the bride may have no strict legal obligation to pass the money on, the legal concept of “conversion” does spring to mind; she’s taking money meant for one purpose and converting it to another. I suggest you talk to an attorney, not so much because you have a legal cause of action but because your legal position will inform your ethical and moral position. A legal perspective can bring clarity to highly emotional issues. The more aspects of the situation you understand, the better you can deal with it.

There’s one other thing I would do. I would talk to the store owner again. It’s the store owner’s money. If the store owner wanted to just make a gift to the bride and groom, then fine. But if the store owner wanted that money to go to the people who purchased clothes and were inconvenienced, then I think the store owner has a right to know that the money hasn’t gotten to its intended recipients. And there are certainly things the store owner can choose to do. Maybe an owner would not want to take it further, but I do think a conversation is in order.

Ultimately it’s up to you if you want to fight about it or put it behind you. So far, I must say, you’ve shown admirable restraint. One word of this could ignite a wildfire of outrage among the other members of the wedding party. To your credit, in spite of your personal feeling of being wronged, you haven’t bad-mouthed the bride. I think you’re wise not to. In deciding what to do, it might also help to take a step back and contemplate why you participated in the wedding in the first place. You wanted to support them in their commitment, right? You wanted to step up and do your part. You wanted to take actions that would cement long-term bonds with your brother’s new family. So you did all that. You did a great job. You performed admirably. But was your heart in it? Or was it a cynical gesture? I’m not saying your attitude is relevant to the bride’s behavior. But it seems useful to review your motives for participating in the wedding, because if you take action it could have long-term implications for your relationship with your brother and his new family.

So if I were you … what would I do? I would talk to the store owner and talk to a lawyer. See what they say. If we’re correct in assuming there’s no legal obligation on the part of the bride, and the store owner doesn’t care what happens to the money, then it’s a question of personal ethics. In that regard I think principle is on your side, so I would make the case one more time to your brother, and perhaps to the bride herself if she will hear you out. Stress that news of this will probably leak out eventually. It always does. When that happens, reputations and relationships can be severely damaged. But if they still refuse to distribute the money, it may be more practical, and perhaps wiser, to let the matter drop.

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I lost my engagement ring — and secretly replaced it at Wal-Mart

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Cary’s classic column from THURSDAY, JUN 1, 2006

Cary,

I have a problem that I don’t know how to fix.

Three years ago, a year after I became engaged, I lost my engagement ring. While I was camping with my fiancé and two friends, we decided to take a walk in the water by the beach. As a joke, one of my friends pulled me into the water, and while I thrashed around, the ring slipped off my finger into the lake. We searched, but the ring was gone.

It still makes me sick to think about it.

To cover up the loss, I went to Wal-Mart and bought an inexpensive ring that looked very much like the original. This way, I hoped that no one would learn about what had happened. I didn’t tell anyone about the loss (most of my family and friends live out of town anyway), and I asked my fiancé not to tell anyone either.

However, my fiancé confided in his sister and one of his good friends. The grapevine was efficient, and soon all of his family knew. That Christmas, in front of my fiancé’s whole family, my future sister-in-law asked me if the ring I was wearing was a replacement engagement ring. I was forced to admit that I had bought the ring at Wal-Mart.

Meanwhile, the insurance for the ring came through. The amount was $900, less than half the ring’s value of $2,300.

However, the money has stayed with my fiancé. Although I’ve asked about it, he doesn’t seem interested in buying a new ring.

We are planning to get married in two months — a quiet affair, just the two of us, at City Hall. After the wedding, I don’t want to wear this “Wal-Mart special” anymore. I had suggested that we spend just the $900 insurance money on a new ring, or that he contribute the $900 from the insurance and I cover the remaining $1,400 to replace the original. However, neither suggestion seems to be the right one.

I have great difficulty bringing it up, because I feel such guilt over the loss. Should I simply let it go, and quietly stop wearing the engagement ring once we are married? We have other expenses right now — a trip overseas and home renovations — and I don’t want to add to the financial burden.

Please advise me what I should do.

Lady of the Lost Ring

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Dear Lady of the Lost Ring,

I suggest you sit down with your fiancé and try to resolve the emotional issues that surround the material issues. It may be that he is angry with you for losing the ring. You need to ask him, “Are you still angry with me for losing it? If so, you need to tell me.”

It was a lot of money. He may still blame you. You have to find out.

I’m sure you’ve already apologized. You need to make your apology once again and ask him to forgive you once and for all. The two of you need to agree to let this go. The ring is gone. It was an accident. It cost a lot of money. But it’s gone. Let it go.

If you don’t like wearing the Wal-Mart ring, put it away after you’re married. You’ll be wearing a wedding band then, I would presume, and you don’t need to wear two rings.

It’s vital to resolve this before you get married. The thing about marriage is that it lasts for a long, long time, and the patterns and stories you establish at the outset persist. So if this issue remains unresolved, it is guaranteed to come up later. When money is short or when you lose something again by accident, it will come up. You will realize: He’s still mad at you for that ring. Twenty years from now, it will still come up unless you act to resolve it now.

So act boldly and with confidence now, and turn this mishap into something positive. Make sure that he forgives you, and then:

After you’re married, use the $900 to buy a fishing rod and some top-notch camping gear and go back to the same lake with your same friends.

Go fishing.

When you catch a fish, clean it carefully. Look for the ring. Then cook it over an open flame and eat it by firelight.

Maybe one day you’ll catch a fish and inside the fish will be the ring. In fact, you could make it a tradition; you could go fishing there every year, and that will remind you and your husband of your early happiness and frivolity and your early mistakes, and it will become a tradition that will help your friendships endure. This innocent mistake thereby becomes a lifelong gift.

As long as you go fishing, there will always be a chance that you will find the ring. And that will serve as a metaphor for your marriage: Every time you open yourself up to possibility, there is a chance that you will find something precious you thought you had lost. Every time you cast a line, there’s a chance that you’ll reel in a miracle in the belly of a fish.
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I want a perfect wedding, but my in-laws are trashy

 

Cary’s archival column from FRIDAY, SEP 28, 2007

 

My future husband’s 38-year-old brother and his pregnant 20-year-old girlfriend: Yikes!

Dear Cary,

I am thrilled to be getting married this spring to a wonderful man. My fiancé proposed last winter, and we have been planning our wedding for over a year. This is a big deal for us. We started dating in 1999, and have lived together since 2001. We have struggled financially in the past, dealt with harrowing layoffs, college loans, illnesses and the loss of our beloved dog to cancer. Now we are finally in a place where we can have a nice wedding and share our commitment with our family and closest friends.

This should be the happiest time of my relationship, but I am struggling with an issue. My fiancé’s 38-year-old brother and best man has shacked up with a 20-year-old single mother who grates on my nerves. His brother met her through his ex-girlfriend’s daughter’s GED program. Seriously.

But it gets odder. She has just informed us that she is pregnant again, and will have the baby in time to bring him to our wedding. Now they are getting married too, possibly before the baby or immediately after. Translation: around the same time as our wedding. She keeps saying things like, “I’m not trying to upstage you guys, but we’re so excited!” She is beside herself with joy. She’s also leaving her job to go on government assistance. And she expects her new in-laws to help pay for everything.

The best man has children from his first marriage whom he has no relationship with, and is “really trying to make a go of this one.” He is very open about the pregnancy’s being an accident but wanting to do the right thing. I commend him for that; however, I am saddened and cannot process why people feel the personal need to populate the world with more children than they can obviously handle. I’m pretty sure it was intentional on her part, and she’s just a kid looking to “play house” or get a “meal ticket.”

I am also appalled that the pregnant girlfriend is so determined to interfere with our little wedding. I have been very positive and congratulatory to them, but their conduct is very hurtful to me. I know my fiancé loves his brother and will embrace his new nephew with love. We both will, but neither of us can understand their relationship. I also try to be respectful of them for my fiancé, even though it is often very difficult. Now I feel like I am involved in a “Jerry Springer” episode against my will. I just want to have a nice wedding. Does that make me a selfish Bridezilla?

Ultimately, I am not sure how to get past this. Do I have to be the bigger person at my own wedding? We weren’t planning on inviting kids, but she has made it clear the new baby will come, invited or not. I waited a long time to get married to the right person for all the right reasons. I cannot help being critical of my new sister-in-law, but I don’t want to be pushed around by a pathetic, attention-seeking 20-year-old, either. How do I deal with her without being a sucker or seeming like a total bitch by being honest and direct with her?

Baffled Bride-to-Be

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Dear Baffled Bride,

I must admit to you, honestly, I am very sensitive to the implications of family condemnation, of the looking-down-upon that happens in families, of “white trash” implications. I am sensitive to these things because of where I come from and what I have been through. Think of it as though I were a screw-up-type person and you were writing to me telling me that there is a screw-up-type person who wants to come to your wedding, and bring her child, and you are upset and angry about this and you want my opinion. I would say, well, as kind of a screw-up-type person myself, uh, I kind of identify with these folks!

No offense to recovering screw-ups. But I am, in my heart, that screw-up, that outsider, a person who has struggled mightily to gain respect, to live a good life, not always doing it with great grace or dignity or skill, often messing up and finding myself shamed and wanting. And yet I want to be at your wedding, too, if I am in your family. I want to be considered equal with others.

We are the scruffy ones you see at weddings off in the corners, scandalously ill-dressed, smoking or taking drugs to deal with the feeling of exclusion, trying to maintain bravado but feeling the clean and well-scrubbed scorn of the in crowd, feeling as usual not good enough, relegated to the margins. I identify with these people you would like to exclude. And in my happy little wedding movie, they get some love too. They get to feel as if they count, as if they are a part of the family too, screwed up as they might be.

That’s the happy little movie I play in my head when things get dark and tough. I’m not asking for your sympathy. I’m doing OK now. I know it’s just a happy little movie in my head, and a sentimental one at that, filled with patriotic hogwash about diversity and welcoming the stranger to the table. I’m just saying that you don’t ever really know who you’re talking to. You know, how the king goes out into the countryside disguised as a beggar. You can’t tell. So to be a virtuous bride, a princess, if you will, what you do is you welcome everybody with a big, generous heart and a bride’s beautiful, radiant love.

That’s what makes for a joyful wedding, that spirit. And it comes from you. You set the tone.

A joyful wedding is a celebration of family. This future brother-in-law of yours, and this future sister-in-law, they are family. As such, they want to be welcomed to your wedding and to be treated with love. That is what we expect from family.

From the standpoint of those of us who may not live up to the standards of other more prosperous and well-behaved members of the family, that is great. At least we can be a part of something. At least we can be accepted. It means a great deal to us. You cannot know what we have been through, how sharply we ache to be a part of this family, how keenly we burn with rejection, how deep the knife cuts. You cannot know what this young woman has been through. You cannot know. All you can do is love these people and welcome them to your wedding.

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How to shut up an obnoxious wedding guest — when you’re the bride

 

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Dear Reader,
Well, hello there. I just feel friendly today. We’ll get to the letter in a moment. It’s down there below this note –>>.

But  first: I’ve been out of Salon for a good six weeks now and am adjusting to being newly independent, an entrepreneur, dedicated to finding a way to exist economically in this culture without a regular paycheck from a company. It’s not that new for me, but it has been a long time. I worked at Salon steadily for 14 years, through periodic crises for the company. Many times commentators said Salon would go under but it never did. I watched people come and go and I just stayed, doing my little column, for a long time.
Now for the time being I’m an independent economic entity.
So, can I just tell you how great it was last week to receive donations from people for the column? Over the years people have occasionally emailed me to say they’ve been struck, moved, changed even, by reading certain columns. They have told me that. It is a priceless point of connection when someone tells me something like that. It does feel like community. Like we are all in this together. And, now being outside of Salon, not insulated or buttressed anymore by the salary, it seems even more that way.

So now, folks have the opportunity to donate once, or perhaps several times, at the end of a column, and that actually seems cool. And the fact that some people actually did last week was awesome. It felt like a good, solid, honest economic transaction. An honest and hearty thanks to to all who have donated! If I haven’t thanked all of you individually yet, I will.
So I am building a new Internet store on the Magento engine. I’m not sure that the store will be a robust enough source of income all on its own, but it will certainly be better and easier to use than the haphazard WordPress plugin we are currently using. So far Magento has proved to be reliable and, while quite complex, not bafflingly so — just necessarily so. It is comprehensive and has many features but they all make sense and are well documented.
The plan is to have our new Magento-powered store up and selling books and ebooks as well as workshops and getaways in time for the big holiday buying season — by Black Friday, and in time for Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday! So after posting this column, I’m back to building the store.
See you around the Internet, or around town. If you see me on the street, say hi. I’m doing fine. Glad to be alive and free to move about the cabin, and glad to be engaged in this new phase of economic self-sufficiency.
best
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Dear Cary,

My wedding is coming up.

But I am dreading having my self-absorbed, flirty family member be present at my big day (at my mother’s insistence). She is already invited, so that cannot be changed. In the past, she has flirted with my boyfriend (now fiancé), and demonstrated her appreciation of him (kiss on the lips goodbye, ongoing physical contact, in conversation, as well as trying to friend him on Facebook immediately after meeting him. p.s.: Without even asking me). She is an “alpha” personality type and thinks that her behavior and life experience is “fascinating” and worthy of attention.

Since that initial meeting, I have avoided her. That was over a year ago. I don’t fear abandonment, that she will “take” my boyfriend or he will fall for her, but I do worry about how she gets so close and so intense, focusing like a laser on the men in the room and trying to create private, inappropriate flirting and it grosses me out.

Even though she has a boyfriend, he is mousy and retiring, the peahen to her peacock. She tries to create this “jet setter” facade, someone who’s always on the go; trumped-up professional responsibility and success; or someone who always knows the latest and greatest. She even repeats compliments unknown third parties paid her (re: looks or physical ability). Every time I meet her, she always begins our conversation with, “Just got back from…” It feels real pretentious.

Even though we are family, she is not what I would describe as loving or tender with me. I sincerely find her advances upsetting and disrespectful. Growing up, I vividly remember how she has flirted with friends of the family, talked about sexual topics — and always alone in the company of someone’s husband or boyfriend. And always there was this tone of defiance to raise taboo subjects. One time, I remember her telling my father that she and her [then] boyfriend used porn [of women] and…. why they used it. It turns my stomach to recall how every man in the room had bated breath with each pronouncement she made. She was loving it. Gross. Needy. Her conversation struck me as distasteful even then, young adult though I was.

Since those days, she has also crossed the line with other partners in our family. When the women reproached her for her behavior, including reaching out exclusively to the men, or disregarding wives in favor of their husbands, her response was that they had a problem, not her. She definitely wasn’t open to “touchy- feely” exploration of their concerns or her own behavior/motivation. She is very unemotional that way. In the end, she claimed not to be interested in the men she flirted with. But I notice that the more modest members of our family (i.e. in terms of looks, “career success,” etc.) don’t seem to have this problem of her unwanted attention. In short, she focuses on some members who have her “currency” (money, lifestyle) while she barely acknowledges others.

In the past, my boyfriend’s head was turned by this behavior (we had just begun dating when they met). Damn him! He even flirted back. Since then, he admits that she was interesting to talk with, but asserts that he has no interest in her and that this is our day. He is very clear and strong about who he is marrying and who he loves.

Nonetheless, I still feel tense, and torn about what I should do.

Cary, can you share some sage advice to help me gain balance and perspective?

Help!

Upstaged

Dear Upstaged,

Ignore her.

How? How do you ignore her? In basically two ways. One, don’t react or respond or try to change the situation. If she is in a room and all the focus in the room is on her, let it be. If you don’t like it then get out of the room. Do not attempt to take the attention that should rightly be yours. Let it go. Excuse yourself. If you are talking and she appears and dominates the conversation, do not engage with her directly other than in a formal, or even icy way. Basically just don’t react to her. As you draw back and fail to react, notice what you are wanting in the moment. Are you wanting her to acknowledge you? Are you wanting praise and attention? Just notice that, and notice that you don’t need these things. You are fine as you are. It is your day. You have the love of your fiancé and your family and friends. You have your whole life opening up in front of you. You have permission, on this day, to enjoy yourself.

But how do you actually not react? It’s easier said than done. The best way is not to struggle with your reactions and try to shut them down but simply find something else to focus on. If she is in the room, find something that needs to be done elsewhere. Ask someone to come with you and exit the room. If she asks you a question, pretend not to understand, or promise her an answer later, or send her to someone else for an answer. Obfuscate. Do not engage with her. Put up a smoke screen. Delete her from your mental screen. Withdraw into yourself and redirect your attention to those people and activities with which you feel strong and safe.

That is my suggested approach. Now, you might find yourself resisting this, as though it’s not right. So here is something sort of “meta” about this. In a larger sense, this is about getting in touch with your self-protective instincts; it is about a good kind of social aggression. It is about recognizing that you don’t have to be polite all the time. You don’t have to treat people as though they were your friend. You can cut people off and you can refuse to engage. It doesn’t have to be done overtly, i.e. you don’t have to announce through a bullhorn, “I hereby refuse to engage with you because you are a narcissistic pest and you suck the air out of the room.” You can just firmly refuse to engage.

If such behavior is new to you then practice it. Try when you are out in public not smiling and nodding and agreeing. Try giving the cold shoulder. Watch how people respond. Take note of the fact that women are socialized to be kind and polite and smiley-face but you don’t have to be. You can project toughness. If it’s hard to practice this toughness on people, start with dogs. Dogs understand body language. If you lean down and smile and talk in a  high voice the dog will come and get in your face. If you cross your arms, plant your feet, look away from the dog and project an air of “I’m not interested,” most of the time the dog will not engage. That’s what you want. You want to project an air of non-engagement. It’s the only language some people understand.

Work on it. Be just a little meaner. It’ll help you survive.

Oops … almost forgot to put the “Donate” button here … hold on, it’s coming, gotta just cobble it together …  (working feverishly) … OK, here it is: Ta da!

 

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