Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My boyfriend’s mother has started introducing me to her friends as her “daughter-in-law.” There’s a long history of her discomfort with the fact that her son and I aren’t married (yet/ever?), and I’m not sure how to address this new wrinkle. Should I just leave it alone, since it’s relatively harmless and probably makes her feel better in her social circle, or correct the inaccurate label?
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DEAR MARYLAND: What has your boyfriend thought or done about it? This is his move before it’s yours. I hope he greets it with a pull-aside and a discreet, “Mom, please cut the (crud). Thank you.”
If she’s doing it when he’s not around to hear it, then I suggest speaking up to her afterward, in private. “I appreciate how welcoming you are, but calling me your daughter-in-law leaves me with two awkward choices: to correct you or to deceive others. I hope you’ll understand that I’d rather not do either one.”
Obviously I disagree that her using this terms is “relatively harmless.” What she’s doing is manipulative and wrong — forcing her views, really, under a veil of propriety, family and apple pie.
Is it manipulative to use a formal term for an informal relationship? I used to refer to my (now, really, truly) stepmother as such when she and my dad were cohabiting. It was mostly for simplicity’s sake but also to introduce her in relation to me, and there was no other good term for it. Dad could call her any number of things, but all I had was “Dad’s live-in girlfriend,” which felt impersonal, or “stepmom.”
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Remember, we’re talking about a situation where “there’s a long history of her discomfort” — hence my reading it as manipulative.
To answer your general question: Whenever you’re not sure, ask. “I don’t like to call you X because it feels Y. OK if I call you Z?
It can also be helpful to err on the side of omission. Of the three pieces of information — “Dad’s,” “live-in,” “girlfriend” — how many did your listener really need?
DEAR CAROLYN: I’ve been out with a guy a few times. We seemed to have really awesome chemistry (I know, I know, everyone always thinks that), but he canceled our last two dates, citing what seemed to be very legit reasons. He also said he wouldn’t be able to get together for the rest of the month because he was behind on work, but that he was looking forward to seeing me next month.
Now it’s next month and I have heard nothing. So: Do I text and ask what’s up and risk seeming too eager? Or do I let it go and assume he is not that into me?
— To Text or Not to Text
DEAR TO TEXT OR NOT TO TEXT: I can argue both sides with conviction.
In favor of getting in touch: Who cares if he thinks you’re too eager? You just want to know what’s up, and if he thinks that makes you his groupie, then that’s his problem.
In favor of not getting touch: You already know as much as you need to know.