A couple of months ago you answered my letter asking for advice regarding a situation involving my hateful mother-in-law, whom I suspected of tainting my food or drink at family functions at her home. You had suggested swapping plates with my husband to see if my mother-in-law would react. However, as you noted, that would have required bringing my husband into my confidence. I did not feel it was wise to do that, because he already didn’t believe that his mother treated me badly.
But the next function was at Easter. She provided a traditional prime rib dinner, set up buffet style, and I could see no way that could be problematic. However, when we arrived at her home, the dinner table was set with place cards and in front of each was a ramekin of horseradish sauce and a small pitcher of au jus.
When nobody was looking, I switched the ramekin and pitcher between my husband’s place and mine. After my husband and I returned home, he became wracked with diarrhea, but I was not ill at all. In the morning I told him that I had switched the horseradish and au jus. He looked at me with such hatred in his eyes that I knew he had known all along what his mother was up to. His only words were to accuse me of poisoning him! I quickly packed a couple of bags and raced out of there. I have hired a divorce lawyer and I won’t be looking back. Thank you for your advice and concern.
— Alive To Tell the Story
I so appreciate your giving us this chilling, stomach-turning update. Thank goodness you got out before your mother-in-law’s condiments turned lethal. When you confer with your divorce attorney, do ask about the possibility of criminal charges.
After a history of dating Eeyores — the woe-is-me types — I’m now involved with a man who has a genuinely positive outlook on life. While a sunny disposition isn’t something we have in common, it’s one of the things I love about him. The trouble is his positive declarations use the word “super” as an adverb. “That was super delicious!” “He was super helpful!” The way some people feel about the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard, I feel about the word super when used this way. To me it smacks of an aggressive, abrasive optimism that undermines the sincerity and dignity of the sentiment expressed. It also sounds dumb.
I’ve never been the kind of girlfriend who expects a guy to modify his behavior to accommodate my preferences, yet every time I hear him use the word super as an adverb, I go cold inside. How do I communicate the fact that the supers have got to stop without sounding like a demanding and critical girlfriend?
— Not Super Duper
I have a revolting habit: I pick my feet. I can spend hours engaged in what Dave Barry, a fellow compulsive, calls “foot maintenance.” It’s super gross, yet my darling husband, perhaps not the most observant of men, has never remarked on my monkeylike grooming ritual. If my husband ever expressed his disgust, I would try to stop, but I’m grateful he’s decided to ignore it.
Forget fidelity, forget mutual interests, the key to a successful relationship is not noticing your significant other’s harmless yet fingernails-on-a-chalkboard habits. (And fingernails on a chalkboard are nothing compared to toenails on a coffee table.) I’m in favor of letting one’s beloved know about incorrect table manners, or something that truly is a social faux pas. But the annoying little tics we all have are different.
You could open a discussion with your cheery Pooh by telling him how perfect he is in every way, except that when he says “super,” you want to come at him with a machete and cut his tongue out. A more delicate approach would require you to leave out your observations about his “abrasive optimism,” lack of “dignity,” and sounding “dumb,” and say you have a complaint you know is trivial, but it’s just one of those silly things that bothers you. Be aware of how petty you will sound and how self-conscious it will make him.
There’s also the possibility that he might say to you: “Thanks for opening this can of fingernails. I wasn’t ever going to say anything, but you should be aware that before you take a drink, you dart out the tip of your tongue like it’s a snail emerging from its shell, and it puts me off my food.” By the time you finish that discussion, you’ll realize it’s time to dust off your profile on Match.com and start looking for your next Eeyore.
My husband’s parents divorced about two years ago, which was the same time we were getting engaged and then married. He’s in his early 30s, but the separation was still extremely upsetting for him. We learned his mom had been having an affair with a married man before the divorce. His dad was devastated and relied heavily on my husband for support. Supporting his dad took a real toll. Meanwhile, his mom was living it up and going to parties with her boyfriend.
Now, wounds are healing, and my husband has returned to having a loving relationship with his mother. Before all this I had a pretty good relationship with her, too. But I’ve lost so much respect for her. We all live near each other, and I try to be pleasant, but inside I’m still a little bitter. Am I being ridiculous for holding onto this grudge? If so, how do I can let it go?
— Bitter and Strained
Be grateful you’re describing a happy ending to this mess. Many grown children whose parents have divorced go through life pressured by one parent to forever punish the other. It is not your mother-in-law’s fault that your father-in-law overstepped his bounds and turned his son into his confidant. Fortunately, it sounds as if that phase has passed, and, most importantly, your husband no longer feels he has to side with his father against his mother.
In the years to come you will see versions of your in-laws’ drama played out among your friends. These marital misadventures will confirm just how messy, painful, and even silly life can be. While your husband continues to restore his relationship with his mother, focus on being cordial and enjoying her company. Having a good time with her will help blot out your mental images of her good times. If you someday have children, she will be their grandmother, and probably a devoted one. In that case you’ll realize despite her failings, you’re lucky to have her around.
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