Dear Amy: Can you help me to understand the boundaries of offering advice? Coronavirus-related circumstances mean my 35-year-old daughter must make an employment decision involving relocation.
From experience, I have insights into her potential relocation choices that she does not have. What I know on this topic could affect her ultimate happiness.
She hasn’t asked for my insight, so I haven’t given it.
Should I anyway?
I suspect she’d be okay with what I have to say, but her husband might react badly. He’s an in-charge kind of guy who might interpret his mother-in-law’s input as meddling rather than helping.
— Reluctant Adviser
Reluctant Adviser: I have a faded sticky note stuck to the bulletin board over my desk: “Unsolicited advice is almost always self-serving.”
For a professional advice-giver, it is vital that I rein in my own tendencies toward friends and family. I’m not always successful.
However, the wise choice not to offer unsolicited advice does not mean that you should always proactively keep a lid on things, certainly if you possess actual insight (and not just a knee-jerk reaction).
One way to handle this would be to invite your daughter to solicit your advice.
You can say, “I have some insight about your relocation ideas, based on my own experience. I don’t want to get in your way, but if you’re interested in hearing my thoughts, let me know and we can talk about it.”
You are your daughter’s mother. Her husband is not in charge of her conversations with you. If she asks for your opinion, you should offer it, regardless of how you think he might interpret it. Whether your daughter chooses to follow your recommendation should be up to her — and so you should detach from any particular outcome. (c) Ask Amy
I don’t really understand this scenario. If I had a daughter who told me she had relocation options, my natural response would be, “Ooh, I hope you choose St. Louis! I love that city!” And then I’d gush about St. Louis.
I wouldn’t be offended by her ultimate choice, but I’d be disappointed (not disappointed in her–not by any stretch of the imagination–but just sad if she didn’t choose St. Louis).
So I can’t help but think that the letter writer’s overthinking this. Where’s the harm in sharing your choice, your opinion, your preference? Like, “Oh, wow, I’d choose St. Louis!” This ideally doesn’t put any pressure on my fictitious daughter to choose St. Louis herself. It’s just a way to chime in with my own pretend vote.
And then if my daughter said, “We’re not sold on St. Louis due to such-and-such,” I’d be supportive and understanding. Like, “Oh, well. I got excited for a minute!” It’s not rocket science. I just don’t understand why such a conversation needs to be… staved off? Prevented?
He’s an in-charge kind of guy who might interpret his mother-in-law’s input as meddling rather than helping.
There could be two sides to this. Maybe the letter writer is, in fact, a meddler. While I think my above conversation is harmless, meddling would add a huge manipulative element. “Darling, if you move to Albuquerque, you’ll be miserable for the rest of your life. Don’t you want better for yourself? No daughter of mine would ever live in Albuquerque. Perhaps your husband’s not thinking straight about this.” Boom, we’ve just introduced meddling.
Or, maybe the husband’s a control freak, in which case, I feel sad for the letter writer that she can’t even share her opinion of favorite city.
I think the letter writer should do some soul-searching about her agenda. Does she want to share what she knows about a city that she loves? Or does she want to subtly and manipulatively make the decision for her daughter? This matters. A lot. I say that if you can share your opinion in a pressure-free conversational way, where’s the harm?
Dear Amy: My husband and I are retirees, married for 37 years. He golfs regularly with “Brian.”
I think Brian is a know-it-all, and his wife “Karen” is self-centered. I feel we have very little in common with them, and, frankly, they don’t seem very interested in us. Both of their children have been married within the past two years, and we were not invited to the weddings, and they don’t send us Christmas cards or acknowledge other special occasions.
However, despite their lukewarm attitude toward us, my husband frequently makes plans to get together with them.
For instance, my husband wanted to miss our daughter’s college graduation (a major event, in my opinion) so we could travel with this couple, and he also wanted me to “not tell them it’s my birthday” to go to another event he had invited them to (pre-pandemic).
I’m not eager to spend time with this couple, but how do I get my husband to let them go?
I don’t understand why he doesn’t get that their vague interest in us indicates that they’re not into us, and he’s been offended when I pointed out to him that they don’t make much of an effort to get in touch.
Dismissed: It sounds as if your husband is somewhat captivated by this couple — to the extent that he has developed social myopia, which I define as an inability to perceive social cues accurately.
Some events — such as college graduations — are nonnegotiable and absolute obligations for couples to attend together. You were right to insist on a course correction.
To communicate about this, don’t dwell on your personally dim opinion of “Brian” and “Karen.” Ask him with an open attitude to describe why he enjoys their company so much. Does he believe the relationship is balanced?
Tell him, honestly, that you believe they aren’t very interested in a close friendship and that he can choose his own golfing companions, but he can’t choose friends for you. If he makes plans or accepts an invitation without discussing it with you in advance, you could choose to stay home.
I… sort of disagree. I think it’s a great idea all around for the letter writer to let her husband spend time with them while avoiding them herself. Why does everyone need to be friends? Like, suppose you can’t stand your in-laws. Couldn’t you let your spouse visit his parents on his own? It’s the same sort of thing. Married couples needn’t be joined at the hip.
Tell him, honestly, that you believe they aren’t very interested in a close friendship.
Yeah, no. Don’t do that. Here’s where I disagree. I mean, what if this married couple are the husband’s best or only friends? I’d never want to tell my dad, “Uh, that person isn’t really interested in being friends with you.” That would be freakin’ hurtful. If it’s gotten to the level of being stalkerish or creepy, that would be different, but Brian and Karen choose to spend time with the letter writer’s husband all the time. Sure, I’d step in if they cut him off and he kept reaching out. I’d gently tell him to let go. But that’s not what we have here.
The only thing the letter writer could do, given her concerns, would be to try to find her husband some better friends. Then, by comparison, he might come to realize that Brian and Karen aren’t all that into him (assuming the letter writer’s correct about that). And I wouldn’t frame it as, “Time to find you some new and better friends!” I’d just subtly introduce my husband to some people who he might hit it off with better. Everyone deserves to have good friends, and the letter writer should be more positively proactive instead of trying to ruin what might be her husband’s only friendships.
It just rubs me as hurtful because my mom has done that to me. “Your cousins don’t really like you, you know. They’re nice to you during the holidays, but then they make no effort to keep in touch with you. Their niceness is a huge act.” And, “Your grandmother thinks you’re strange. She doesn’t understand how your mind works. She prefers your popular, cool older cousin, Shannon.”
And I’m just saying, there’s no call for that. It’s hurtful and unnecessary. So the letter writer should not tell her husband that they’re not into him. She should let him discover this on his own, and in the meantime, if he wants to be friends with them, where’s the harm?
But yeah, he shouldn’t be skipping graduations and birthdays. That’s a bit… odd. (Did he skip his own birthday, or his wife’s? My reading comprehension fails me.) His wife has every right to have her husband around for major occasions. Unless it was, in fact, his birthday, because he could’ve spent part of it with his wife, too. If it was her birthday, then he should’ve spent it with his wife.