Dear LetterBalm: I have significantly more education and a job that pays much more than my boyfriend’s does. My man and I have been together for three years, and I’ve never been happier. He’s kind, honest and intelligent, and he works hard as a specialized master welder. He’s well-read and funny, and he treats me wonderfully. My family is crazy about him. But when we get together with some of my friends, they are judgmental. They’re barely civil to him. We’re about to buy a condo together, and they say he’s using me and that we shouldn’t get married because he only wants my money. How can I make them see what I see?
Before we start, Ms. L.B. would like to interject a note about welding. In general, the job is being replaced by automation. But specialized welders who keep up with changing technologies are quite sought after. So, your guy is on the cutting edge of his profession, so to speak. Now, about your relationship. There are many happy couplings today between those unequal in salary and education levels. Your snobbish friends need a dose of humanity and graciousness. You certainly don’t want to bring an evening to a screeching halt every time one of them acts like an ass; for one thing, it would be embarrassing to your boyfriend. But you do need to shut down their ill-mannered behavior. Have a brief one-on-one conversation with the ringleaders. Take each one out for coffee (knowing that they’ll talk about the meetings with one another) and read the riot act:
Listen, my friend, it hasn’t escaped me that you think Ron and I are ill-matched. You’ve been quite liberal with your opinion. You think he’s some kind of gold digger who will rob me and leave me. Please stop the insults immediately because they’re cruel and hurtful. They make me think you don’t have confidence in my ability to run my life. Ron is the best thing ever to happen to me. We’ve been together for three years, plenty of time for him to show his true colors. My family adores him. If the only reason you don’t like Ron is because you think he’s low-class, then you can’t be my friend, even after all we’ve been to each other. I don’t want to know someone who judges people so superficially – especially a person I love. Can we move beyond this? Can I count on your maturity and genuine goodwill here?
Dear LetterBalm: Everything is O.K. between my husband and me except for one thing: He is controlling about my friendships. I can understand because he was raised by domineering parents who didn’t allow him to have friends. He maintains only superficial friendships through his work and no close relationships with his siblings. He gets annoyed with me when I want to get together with people I’ve known all my life or dear girlfriends, and he won’t allow us to participate in couples’ evenings or meet people. He even begrudges holiday family gatherings. This is making me very sad, and we fight a lot about it. I’ve had to make up excuses about being late and unreachable at work when I want to see a friend for dinner. How can I soften my husband’s attitude? He says friendships are unnecessary and won’t see a therapist.
How sad to go through life without the soothing presence and joy of friends. Your husband’s parents have damaged him and his siblings, perhaps irreparably. You have some serious decisions to make. You don’t say how long you’ve been married or if children are in the picture. (If not, for heaven’s sake, don’t get pregnant until this is resolved.) You can empathize with your husband’s not understanding the importance of friends, but he’s not being fair in not wanting to explore his neurosis, and you’re lying to him about hanging out with those close to you. Ms. L.B. encourages you to find a therapist to help you get a handle on this. Only you can know if his behavior warrants a trial separation. Be aware that, more than friendships, your husband may try to control other aspects of your life together. If you decide to have a last-ditch conversation with him, try this:
Andre, you don’t understand why I think friends and family are important, and I’m done fighting about it. Your parents horribly damaged you and your brother and sister by not allowing you to develop friendships. They crippled you, and you need serious therapy to heal. Either you agree to talk about this with a counselor, or our marriage is over. There is no negotiation here. Maybe it’s fear of therapy, maybe it’s something else, but you’re controlling my life in ways are unacceptable to me and harmful to us. You have many good qualities, and I want the man I fell in love with. I want us to reconcile and move forward, certainly before we have children who must have friends in their lives.
Dear LetterBalm: My parents will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in January, and the family will be throwing them a big celebration. I’m significantly younger than my brother and two sisters. They were in their late teens and my older sister was 20 when I was born. I’ve always been told that I was an accident, made to feel as though my parents and siblings joined ranks against me. They criticized me relentlessly growing up and still denigrate my life choices. (I’m liberal and non-religious, all of them are conservative churchgoers.) Fortunately, I did well in school, went away to college and built a life. I now have a wonderful husband and terrific kids. We’re close with my husband’s family who are truly great people. I’m not sure I want to attend the party. I’m not estranged from my family. I see them occasionally, but I don’t want to bring my husband and children halfway across the country to this party to be disparaged. They’ve been with my disapproving parents and siblings before and know how they are. I need help here.
What a woeful litany! It is admirable that you broke free from your toxic upbringing and crafted a good life for yourself and your own family. It’s amazing that your poisonous parents have endured for more than half a century together. It stands to reason that your relatives will find fault with you, your husband and your children, whether you attend the party or not. So, Ms. L.B. encourages a radical solution. Your family will not attend the bash. Call your folks, make a brief, heartfelt excuse (“We’re heartbroken, but we won’t be able to come.”), and don’t explain. The two of you talk with your children, and tell them you won’t be attending the soiree. They probably will breathe a collective sigh of relief. All of you decide on a special family outing the day of your parents’ fete (family vacation? fancy dinner? bowling? biking excursion?). Go online. Find the priciest luxury flower delivery website. Order a huge, expensive, knock-your-socks-off bouquet in a gorgeous vase. Arrange for it to arrive on the day of the event. Include a card, the message something like this:
Dear Mom and Dad,
Sixty years! What a tremendous accomplishment and testament to your abiding affection for each other. We wish you many more happy years together. Our warm wishes to you both.
Agatha, Ted, Rosie, Neal and Todd