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Heavy Meddle: My Unspeakably Rude Sister-In-Law

How do I confront the world's crappiest house guest? (Ronaldo Arthur Vidal/Unsplash)
How do I confront the world's crappiest house guest? (Ronaldo Arthur Vidal/Unsplash)
This article is more than 4 years old.

Welcome Meddleheads, to the advice column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions. You can use this form, or send them via email. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

...

Dear Steve,

I don't even know where to begin, other than with the words "Coffee enemas" and "Pristine bathtub."

I try to be a person who stays out of judgment, even when people, like my sister-in-law, cast their own judgments on me from way up there on their high-horses. For years, I've listened with patience as my sister-in-law has shared her wisdom about the world with me. Some choice nuggets: Women who have no children are not realizing their potential as women. (This as I was struggling to become pregnant.) Or: Your poor child. It's so sad to be an only — but can't you have just one more? (No, actually, but thanks for treading on my fertility struggles.)

When it comes to food, she is remarkable in her ability to ruin my appetite every time, such as when I commit the grievous offence of eating toast. "It's been such a revelation to me how gluten was ravaging my body," she's say, slurping up a smoothie that looks and smells like whirred lawn clippings.

But she is family, and I have my own quirks, so I let her have hers, too. Until now, when we returned home from 10 days away to discover our bathtub — a pretty old claw foot tub in a formerly sparkling white — stained brown. Why? Because, among the many weirdo health practices that my sister-in-law, who was "house sitting" for us, engages in, is a twice-daily coffee enema. In the tub. (Actual quote: "Oh I would never actually drink coffee! Silly!")

I don't even know where to begin, other than with the words "Coffee enemas" and "Pristine bathtub."

I don't know if the brown is just coffee, or a blend of coffee and caca, but does it matter? I am furious. I am urging my husband to send her a photo of what she left behind for us to clean (never mind the filth in the room she slept in), and he won't. "That's just her," he says. "She's always been careless."

Careless?

And that is the response from my mother-in-law, too. Surveying the damage and shaking her head, she said, "Oh, this is how she has been her entire life." Huh? Perhaps this is how she has been enabled to be her entire life. (She is now in her 60s.)

After trying solution after solution to clean the tub, without success, I finally found an ancient recipe (note to readers: cream of tartar and peroxide) that did that trick. Miracle! But I'm still furious with her, and I'm getting madder by the day that my husband won't say a single word about it to her.

Can I? Can I send her the before-and-after photo? Can I tell her I think her smoothies are gross and that toast is the best food in the world? Or do I have to board the Enabling Train and say nothing?

One thing is for certain: She won't house sit for us again.

Thanks, Steve.

Raising a glass of cold brew coffee to my lips, like nature intended.

Signed,
Calgon, Take Me Away!

...

Dear Calgon,

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Sounds to me like you’re spoiling for a fight. And I don’t blame you. Your description of this sister-in-law’s inconsideration is enough to spoil my next 10 baths.

But I wouldn’t get into it with her.

Why? Because if your depiction of her is anything close to reality, then you’re punching at a giant, fragile ectoplasm of entitlement and grievance. And no matter how good it might feel to take a swing, my hunch is her goo is going to get all over you.

Am I suggesting that you say nothing, like your quisling husband and mother-in-law? Absolutely not. Heck, if I were you I would have sent her a photo of the stains in question and told her (politely, but firmly) that this was her mess and she needed to come clean it up. If she refused, I’d have hired a cleaning service do the work and sent her the bill.

Why? Because this woman sounds a lot like a child. And children don’t do well with lectures. They need consequences that are directly linked to their misbehavior.

I’d have as little to do with her as possible. Rid her from your system, using whatever form of psychic enema will be most effective.

As it is, you’ve done the dirty work. You can certainly send her a photo, but I can’t see that doing much good — other than feeding whatever grudge she already bears you.

You can certainly let her know that she left the house a mess and that you expect an apology. But I’d leave it at that. She’s a toxic personality, certainly for you and maybe more broadly. I’d have as little to do with her as possible. Rid her from your system, using whatever form of psychic enema will be most effective.

Of more concern to me is the fact that your husband isn’t supporting you. What’s that about? This isn’t about his sister being careless. It’s about you, his wife, feeling disrespected and, frankly, pooped upon by his sister. He should be taking up for you, not making excuses for her. That may not be possible in the case of your mother-in-law. But you didn’t marry your mother-in-law.

So the most important conversation for you to have right now is the one with your husband, not just about this incident but the longstanding history of her disrespect. You don’t have to accuse him of enabling her. It’s enough to simply and directly communicate to him the ways in which this woman has hurt your feelings.

And if that doesn’t bother him — well, excuse my language, but he’s a real turd.

Hoping you find calm beyond the cold brew,
Steve

Author's note: Wow. And I thought I was a lousy house guest! Of course, with a letter this vociferous, you just know there’s another side to the story. But either way, she’s got to get on the same page with her husband, am I right? Or not? I trust you’ll let me know in the comments section below. And please do send a letter to Heavy Meddle, too. You can use this form, or send your questions via email. I may not have a helpful response, but the act of writing the letter itself might provide some clarity. — S.A.

Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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