Advice Goddess

Amy Alkon drags people, kicking, screaming, and laughing, out of their misery with her behavioral science-based advice column, which runs in about 100 newspapers.

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Got a problem? E-mail Amy at AdviceAmy@aol.com.

Advice Goddess 

Thursday, Jan 15 2009

Turd Wheel — STARTS HERE

My fiance, "Ted," and I are planning our wedding and moving into a new house. He's starting med school and I'm completing my master's. Our problem is his 19-year-old sister, "Sue." During Ted's Army years, he moved three times. Sue transferred colleges to follow him every time. Their parents found this "cute." Sue throws tantrums, or rather, has "emergencies" (like needing furniture moved) at the worst times — making Ted late to my college graduation, a friend's funeral, and surgery that could've left me in a wheelchair. Saying no means getting days of berating calls from Sue and their parents. Sue's planning another transfer — here. Ted asked where she'd be living, and she said "with you." Ted said no way. Still, Ted's mother called me "to begin Sue's moving process." After I gently explained that we don't have room for her, his family stopped speaking to us. Ted's cut ties with his mother and sister before, but I'd hate for him to lose contact with his father. What's the polite way to handle this?

— Embattled

If his family has it their way, Sue'll do something "cute" like inviting herself along on your honeymoon. She'll be bouncing on the heart-shaped bed when you and your new husband open the door: "So...where are you two gonna sleep?"

You've got a mother-in-law-to-be who's actually demanding that you and her son have a child out of wedlock. Worse yet, the child's 19, and a gifted emotional blackmailer. Luckily, Ted seems to have a spine. The worrisome thing is, it seems to be a recent growth. It's bad that he was late to your graduation and your friend's funeral, but what's more important than surgery that could've left you in a wheelchair? The nurse asks, "Is there anyone we should call in case of emergency?" and what did you say, "Yes, but at the moment, he's helping his sister hang her new curtains"?

The guy is genteel enough to refer to the girl as his sister, but she's basically a big tumor with driving privileges. It seems the parents set her up to remain a little girl, and him to be her surrogate daddy and 24-hour handyman. It's a classic psychological trap: He gets guilted for saying no, feels like a chump for saying yes, but at the same time, gets props for being a wonderful brother. Also, like many people, he's probably loath to evaluate family in any objective way. While, in the face of some egregious act, it's easy to understand that "Friends Forever" is just a necklace, there's a notion with family members that you're supposed to say, "Oh, just back over me with your pickup a few more times. After all, we do share DNA!"

You've already handled this "the polite way": She's a parasite and you politely declined to host her. You and Ted need to handle this the strategic way, by agreeing on boundaries and a plan of action. Let him break the cruel news to his family: "I love you all, but what we say for our lives goes. If you don't like it, try to get over it. P.S. Berating calls will be sent to voicemail, and berating messages will be immediately erased." While it would be unfortunate if he lost contact with his dad, you can't control that. You're just two soon-to-be-newlyweds who'd like to be alone together. Yes, this means a young woman has gotten sad news about her living quarters, but try to keep in mind that it's Sue, not Anne Frank, who's being told there's no room in the attic.


Where Doobie Go From Here?

The man I've been dating for five months spoils me rotten and is good to my 4-year-old. Three months ago, he lost his job, and I let him move into my apartment. He spends his money on pot and gifts I appreciate but don't need. He'll occasionally throw me money for a bill, but he also owes child support. His continuing to buy pot when he's broke and jobless makes me want to break up with him.

— Am I Horrible?

When your electric bill's due, try sending in earrings he got you, or a jar of his bong water, and see if they'll accept it in lieu of a check. But, the money is a side issue. See that 4-year-old running around your apartment? The day you produced her was your cutoff date for acting like an idiot with men. You don't move a near-stranger in after two months because he lost his job and distracted you with shiny objects. Being a good mother means waiting a year before even introducing a man to your kid; finding out who he is and whether the relationship has legs — not just crossing your fingers that he'll walk in with big bags of groceries instead of a big baggie of weed.


Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (www.advicegoddess.com)

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