I am a woman in my late 20s and I, like so many others, am having a MIL problem that is now causing tension in my relationship. “Jane” is overall a nice person but has been un/under-employed for most of the five years that my fiancé and I have been together. She has bounced around from family member to family member in turns, living with them for a short while — including us on several occasions. For the most part, I’ve had no problem with her staying with us as we have always gotten along well and even though she wasn’t paying us rent, she helped out by cleaning and buying groceries when she could.
The problem started after we moved to a new house. I had a box set aside for things that were to be given away to charity. In another room, I had a box of shot glasses that I had been collecting for over 10 years and that held a lot of sentimental value to me. Somehow, Jane put this box with the charity items and gave my collection away. I was, and still am, heartbroken about this and very upset with Jane over it. She maintains that before she took the box to charity, she asked me to look through it, so it’s not her fault. I say that there’s no reason I would ever think that something of mine would be in the giveaway box if I had not put it there. In an effort to avoid discord I tried to put this behind me, despite her lack of apology, and made excuses for her, thinking that perhaps she was embarrassed about it, and went on as before.
Fast-forward to a few months later, and the tensions in the house have been rising due to Jane’s continued lack of employment and her seeming lack of any efforts to find any. During this time, a friend of mine let slip that Jane had told her that I was being very immature about my disappearing shot glass collection and that she had done nothing wrong and had absolutely no intention whatsoever of ever apologizing, and that if I thought that I was owed one then I was mistaken. I am FURIOUS about this, and this new information combined with my frustration with the employment situation caused a humongous row with Jane and she moved out — after a year of living here rent-free — still refusing to apologize, and I no longer want anything to do with her.
My fiancé has thus far been very supportive of me in this and defended me to his mother during this period of turbulence. Unfortunately, he now wants to start inviting her over again and doesn’t understand that I do not want her in the house. I feel that until I get an apology, there’s nothing that we need to say to one another and while I will not prevent him from seeing her, I don’t feel I’m obligated to play hostess to her. He says that they were just shot glasses and I need to get over it. How can I make him understand that this is not about the shot glasses anymore and rather about his mother’s total lack of regard for me? My fiancé and I are planning to be married at the end of March next year and I feel that giving in now will set the tone with her for the rest of my life and I am not going to be walked on by anyone. Am I being immature? SHOULD I just “get over it”? Or am I right to put my foot down over the principle of this matter? — Shot Blown
I always love it when a letter writer ends his or her letter with a couple of really obvious questions, because it makes my job so much easier and it also means it won’t be a total shock when I say, “You’re being immature! You should get over it!” Because, SB, you are being a little immature and you should get over it. That’s not to say that your future MIL is off the hook, but she isn’t the one who wrote in to me. If she had, I’d tell her to get off her high horse and apologize to you for her part in the mix-up that resulted in the loss of your beloved shot glass collection. But she didn’t write to me; you did. And what I’m about to say will probably shock you a lot more than me simply saying you’re acting immature. I think you should apologize. Yes, you!
As you say, you and your MIL are going to be in each other’s lives for many, many years. You’re going to spend holidays together and birthdays, and who knows how many family get-togethers and reunions. She’s the mother of the man you love, and if you have kids together, she’ll be their grandmother. You owe it to all of them to do your part in creating a harmonious home where family comes first and people are happy and comfortable around each other. This means picking your battles, and frankly, this battle you’ve picked is kind of a stupid one to base an estrangement over.
So, yes, you should apologize, because the truth is, you really are as responsible for the disappearing shot glass collection as your future MIL is. She was just trying to help you guys in your move. She was trying to contribute to the household by saving you an errand and taking the charity boxes to charity herself. And it wasn’t like she just grabbed a bunch of boxes and took off. She asked you specifically to double-check and make sure she was taking the right stuff. And rather than take a few minutes to indulge her, you waved away her request. Imagine how she must have felt when she learned that not only was your sentimental collection inadvertently included in the charity pile, but that you were heartbroken and furious with her. Here’s a woman who may quite likely already be feeling depressed about being unemployed and “mooching” off her children and now she’s gone and pissed off a future DIL whom she was only trying to help out.
Yes, she should have apologized! Absolutely. But for whatever reason — pride, shame, fear of you — she didn’t. Her reaction — to shut down and then to bad-mouth you behind your back — was childish and hurtful and I am definitely not excusing her. But can you try to understand that the fault was not 100% hers and yet she felt you were 100% blaming her? If you want to talk “principle of the matter,” look at that point for a minute. You were demanding an apology for something you were partly responsible for and yet you had no intention of issuing an apology yourself. And why? Because you’ve let your MIL live with you rent-free for a year so you don’t ever owe her anything (especially an apology)? Because you were the one who lost something as a result of the mistake — not her? It doesn’t matter. If we’re going to get on our high horses about principles, it would seem that the if two people are equally responsible for a mistake, then they are equally responsible for shouldering the blame, regardless of who the bigger “victim” is. If you both started a fire that burned your house down, would she be more responsible simply because the house is yours? That doesn’t make any sense.
So, apologize. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your fiancé — your poor fiancé who has these two stubborn, self-righteous women he probably desperately loves and wants to please at each other’s throats. Swallow your pride and apologize for him so he can go into his wedding and marriage without a crazy estrangement between his wife and mother already at play. Tell your future MIL that you’re sorry you didn’t look through the charity boxes like she asked you to and you’re sorry you put all the blame on her for your missing shot glasses. Explain to her that you were overly emotional because there was a lot of sentimental value in that collection and the shock of losing it made you a tad irrational. Apologize for letting things get so blown out of proportion and tell her that you always appreciated the help she provided around your home while she stayed with you and you hope you can put this episode behind you and repair your relationship from here. You may not necessarily get the apology you desperately want in return — though it’s definitely possible! — but I bet you’ll get the respect and regard you say you’re missing from her.
*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at email@example.com and be sure to follow me on Twitter.