Dear Carolyn: I have been married to a wonderful man for 20 years and the only time we ever fight is regarding his mother.
Every time we see my in-laws, my mother-in-law offers me advice about weight loss, or gives me books, tapes, etc., on it. Yes, I am overweight (size 12-16) and my size has gone up and down over the years. She is a perfect size 4. I know this because she tells me so … all the time.
She has never been anything but, so she knows nothing about the trials of weight loss. I have received such helpful tips — including my favorite, “All you have to do is eat less and exercise more.” Really? Gee because I thought it was the opposite — eat a lot and sit on your ass all day.
My husband’s stance is that we only see them a few times a year and his mother will never change. When I have talked about it with her, she says I am oversensitive or just says she has never said anything to me about my weight — complete denial. My father-in-law is the nicest man on earth and she is also very mean and critical to him, a whole other story.
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So yesterday, I asked my husband to please tell his mother not to comment on my weight this Thanksgiving. We got into a big fight and he ended up calling her and disinviting them to Thanksgiving. Now everyone is upset. I feel like the bad guy and do not know what to do next.
While overweight, I am very healthy, successful and have a wonderful family, so part of me thinks I should just ignore her. The other part says 20 years is enough.
More Than a Number
Thanksgiving without that nasty bird sounds delightful.
I realize feeling like the bad guy is the price you’ve paid, but that role belongs to the person who thinks 20 years of uninvited commentary on another person’s body is even remotely appropriate.
But — as long as you’re feeling bad-guyish, why not bring on some Heath-Ledger-as-the-Joker flair? Minus the casual murder, I should say.
For example, next time she starts in, whip out your phone and film her advising you. Or, grab a pen — “What was that last one?”
Or, put up your hand in a “stop” gesture: “This is not polite conversation. So, how is [polite inquiry pertaining to her life]?” If she presses, then you excuse yourself and leave the room.
Or: “Twenty years, you’ve advised me about my weight. How’s that working?” Twirl for her. Curtsey.
Books? Tapes? Trash bin.
If/when she protests, counter with this, gently: “How do you think I’ve felt, being viewed as wrong, damaged, broken or less-than through your eyes for the entirety of my marriage?” Then never respond to her on this topic again.
This is not intended to unlock her apparently meager stores of empathy. Twenty years of experience tell you there’s little there to unlock. Instead, it’s about your grabbing this up in both fists and heaving it off you like a bag of dirt. Your husband is wonderful but this is his blind spot. Quit lobbying him and protect yourself. Bad guy, shmad guy. Rhetorical assassin sounds about right to me.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.