Dear John: My Father-In-Law Is Trying To Date My Friends
Tuesday, November 05, 2013
I am a woman in my 40s. Happily married, but my relationship with my father-in-law is cordial at best. He’s divorced and fancies himself, I suspect, to be something of a gift to the ladies.
He typically comes to our house on holidays, so he has gotten to know our circle of friends. Well, I was somewhere between annoyed and angry when a close friend (who is a bit older than I am) informed me that my father-in-law called to ask her out on a date!
I’m not sure exactly why this bugged me so much. I think it’s partly the sheer presumption of him thinking my friend, who is attractive, very accomplished, and significantly younger than he is, would be interested (she is not), in addition to the fact that I don’t want our lives to intersect any more than they do now. But most of all, I think he should have at least given us a little advance warning that he was going to do this, don’t you think? Is it unreasonable of me to expect that? My husband doesn’t think so, and I want a second opinion.
I agree it would have been considerate if he had given you a heads-up about his plans. But you’re all adults – he had absolutely no obligation to do so.
You don’t go into a lot of detail in your letter as to why you have a less-than-great relationship with your father-in-law, but whatever the reason for it, you’ll probably find yourself irked less often if you expect him to behave accordingly.
My son graduated from high school recently. He is a very bright boy, but he always disliked school. The structure of it, the rote learning, all the things that work for most kids he fought against from his earliest years in elementary school. I long ago accepted that his intelligence, which is readily apparent to anyone who talks with him, just does not translate to a conventional school environment. When he told me a few years that he wasn’t interested in going to college, I was not surprised nor did I try to change his mind.
The problem is, not going to college after high school is almost unheard of in our community. When I run into parents of his classmates and they ask me what he’s doing next year, an awkward conversation ensues in which I fumble to explain that he’s not going to college but that’s fine, college isn’t for him, etc., all the while receiving pitying looks from the person I’m talking to. I end up sounding extremely defensive, and I know it. And I get furious with myself afterwards because I hate that I feel this pressure to justify his not pursuing his education. As if it’s something that requires an explanation. This has happened a couple of times, and I’m sure it will happen again. Do you have any ideas for how I might handle it better next time?
Twelve Years Was Enough
It’s just a hunch, but is there a chance you’re less accepting of your son’s choice than you're willing to admit? Is it possible that those aren’t looks of pity, but that’s how you interpret them because that’s what you expect to see? To be completely honest, that’s the impression I get from your letter.
I’ve long believed that there should be less pressure to go to college right out of high school and that it’s unrealistic to expect people barely out of their teens to know what they’d like to spend their lives doing. And for some people, college will never be the right choice. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
When people ask you what your son’s plans are, what he’s doing next year, etc., just tell them the truth: he’s figuring out what he wants to do with himself, just like everyone else his age.
I recently stayed for the weekend at the summer house of one of my best friends and her husband. I’ve stayed with them there before and we always have a great time. Very comfortable and relaxed.
This last time was a different story, though: I accidentally walked in on my friend’s husband masturbating in the bathroom! This is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to me in my life, and I assume the same goes for him. I screamed; he doubled over; and I dashed back out and slammed the door.
Neither one of us said anything about it, and I don’t know what I would say even if I wanted to. I just tried to avoid seeing him for the rest of the day until it was time to leave. The goodbye was extremely awkward, though. I’m very shy and am not the kind of person who can just laugh something like this off – I blush during sex scenes in movies! I feel like I do have to address this, though. My friend is already talking about having me for another visit, and the thought of this hanging in the air between all of us is too much to bear! But what should I say?
Dear Accidental Audience,
I think this is one of those things that has grown way out of proportion as you’ve dwelled on it. Yes, what happened was undeniably embarrassing for both of you, but really, it’s not that big a deal. I think the entire episode would be put to rest if the two of you acknowledged it with whatever good humor you can muster. It’s the avoidance of it, as if it’s something so dark and shameful, that’s making this a bigger deal than it has any right to be.
Accept your friend’s invitation. When you have an opportune moment alone with her husband, tell him you hope acknowledging the bathroom incident will rid your visit of any lingering embarrassment and anxiety. Maybe buying him a simple hook-and-eye lock will help lighten the mood. If you find the prospect of saying something to him to be too daunting, write down what you want to say, practice it a few times, and force yourself to blurt it out. As soon as it’s out there, it will become easier to talk about. And then it will become easier to forget about.
John is a middle-aged family man from Providence, Rhode Island. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at [email protected]. He's away from the advice desk this week, so he's chosen some of his favorite letters from previous columns to share.
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