The “Pigpen” Effect

by admin on December 29, 2010

First, I love Etiquettehell.com and read your site frequently.  I write because I need advice from your other loyal readers.  The backstory:  I live in a small town, population less than 5,000, and live with my elderly mother.  My brother, his wife and their tween son live next door.  My brother and his wife are somewhat difficult personalities, and I can be inflexible and opinionated myself, but bro and I have built some bridges and there is tangible affection between us.  SIL, however, is a different story and I find her almost physically painful to be around.  I’m under pressure from my saint of a mother to accommodate what I consider to be dishonest and ignorant statements by SIL, which my brother either doesn’t mind, doesn’t hear or chooses not to deal with.  Typically I am a tolerant and kind person, but am bothered by those who need to look down on others to compensate for their own issues, to which I attribute much of SIL’s behavior.  She comes off as bossy and rude, and really doesn’t seem to understand how her behavior is perceived by others.  Really, I could overlook it if it wasn’t that she wants all in the room to understand that she’s the smartest and most dominant person present.

Although I haven’t lived here for most of my adult life, I returned about two years ago and have immersed myself in the town, enjoying a warm welcome by nearly all I’ve met.  It’s been great.  The volunteerism rate here is high, and I would need all fingers and toes to count the folks I could call for help who’d apply themselves to an immediate plan of action, including my brother.  There is a criminal element here, of course, but coming from living in the major metropolitan area of my state and being accustomed to high crime and hearing the occasional random shooting, this place is Mayberry RFD.

So, while making headway this holiday in dealing with SIL in a peaceful mode, she made a comment that really got under my craw, and I’d like advice on how I might have responded.  Following dinner of Christmas leftovers, a favorite meal, she commented that our town was populated solely with crackheads and meth labs.  I stammered back that it was a nice town, a good place.  She said “Really!?” with conviction and all I could do was repeat myself.  My nephew then stated that he knew of children riding around on bikes dealing pot around here.  Really, this is a town where folks still don’t lock their doors.  Crime happens, but I doubt it’s anything like the scenario he’s picturing.  He doesn’t go to school in our town but is about to transition back, and I don’t wonder why he shows some nervousness about being exposed to the local children of crackheads and operators of meth labs.

Mind you, SIL’s lived in this town for probably 15 years and knows no one, shows no interest in the lovely folks to whom she’s been introduced (retired police officers and the like), and generally has held herself apart from others, as I wish she would do with me.  I held back any strong response, since her son, husband and mother-in-law were also at the table (and remained unmoved, like statues), and really was at a loss for words.  It’s not the first time she’s made sweeping statements of an unkind nature about populations she’s unaware of, and I’m sure it’ll happen again.  I’m also surprised by the degree of protectiveness I feel for our little town.  It’s grown so much since I was a child, and there are so many excellent people here that are spared her company.

There was, actually, a meth lab a few tax lots away, many years ago.  It’s been rebuilt and there’s been no similar trouble since, and I can’t think of other nearby neighbors that have ever caused me to worry.  Also, since laws were changed regarding the sale of certain component materials, we really don’t have the same meth lab problem that plagued us in the 1990s.  We don’t really know all of our neighbors, but they are homeowners and seem reasonable people.  And again, the many folks I do know are absolutely golden, and they’d embrace SIL, if given the chance.  This isn’t downtown metro-ville by far, I assure you!

What could I have said, dear readers?  Now, hours later, I am thinking of what I could have said that would have been more effective, although I am glad I at least protested, however gently.  “Ignorant much?” was one response I wish I’d thought of.  Or asked her to be more specific.  I wish I’d pointed out the fact that she knows no one, and that her comment shows a great deal of fear regarding the people she’s lived near for many years, but even with a calm tone such straight forward questioning would have been taken as aggressive by my family.  I’m just so offended.  I can’t follow up with her at a different time, as I really do avoid talking with her unless I have to (at holidays).  I try not to be rude, but I nearly always walk away upset from something she’s said, and today, sadly, was no exception.  I’m not even going into the falsehood she rolled out yesterday.  It was so preposterous as to defy genteel conversation.  A revision of very recent history, as it were.  That was so goofy as to be comical.

I should sleep off my annoyance and consider the source, I expect you to say.  I should be glad to have at least voiced by opposing opinion, and resume tomorrow to enjoy my life here, among fabulous humans.  I just am left feeling that I could have said something else that may have opened her brain and heart up to thinking that sweeping, unkind statements are inappropriate, if only that my nephew does not grow up to parrot her behavior (and be left wondering why he does not win friends or influence people).  Advice, please?

Thank you, all.    1227-10

This reads almost like there was a sister-in-law competition to see who can take the self-righteous low ground.  You shouldn’t care if SIL thinks her community is a crime infested den of crackheads.  It’s just an opinion that does not insult you in any way.    You should be so confident of your own convictions that other people’s conflicting opinions are merely amusing or possibly interesting but certain not worthy of being elevated to the level of angst and a desire to retaliate with flippant replies like, “Ignorant much?”  Yeah, that will really open her heart and mind to changing.  Not.   A simple, “I would disagree with your perception,” is enough and then leave her to prattle on about the evils around her.  You cannot change her.   You can affect the people around you by being consistently positive in stark contrast to her negativity.

You have to trust that other people are not fooled by someone with a persistent pattern of negativity, disdain, lying, arrogance, etc.  The mental image I get of people who exude the aforementioned traits is of “Pigpen” from the “Peanuts” comic strip.  Pigpen walks around in a cloud of filth that he doesn’t seem to mind nor even particularly notice but everyone else does.   But similarly, people do notice a consistent pattern of positive thinking, respect, honesty.  It takes time but I can say with confidence, having been there, that people do figure out who is the person they trust and want to be with.

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Izzlebun December 29, 2010 at 10:06 am

“That’s an interesting assumption.”

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TheBardess December 29, 2010 at 10:10 am

Let it go. Seriously. This really isn’t a big deal- it’s one negative, ignorant comment from a person you know to be negative and ignorant. You say you are trying to learn to live and deal with your SIL- if that is the case, doing so will be a lot easier if you learn to let stupid comments like this roll off your back, instead of getting your panties in a twist each time and stewing about them for days. Do you really want to let your SIL live rent-free in your head like that? Stop letting her drag you down to her own levels of negativity and unhappiness. This is really just not worth being “so offended” about. Save your indignation and offense for something that really deserves it.

And if the things she says really are “so goofy as to be comical,” then stop getting offended and start laughing at her ridiculousness. Laughter is a powerful weapon, and it will be far more effective- and do a lot more to protect your sanity- than letting yourself get enraged and offended every time she says something stupid.

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Jillybean December 29, 2010 at 10:22 am

I have to agree with the Admin – you’re making way too much out of this. When I encounter people so negative, I’m just grateful that I’m not like them, as people like that are never really happy, and how awful for them that they aren’t. What you said was good – it’s a nice town, a good place. If it comes up again, something similar would be appropriate. Or a simple, “Hmmm, I wonder why you’d have such an idea, as I think quite the opposite.”

The one thing I do want to comment on is your perception that dispite not knowing some of your neighbors that “they are homeowners and seem reasonable people.”

The idea that being a homeowner somehow magically makes you a good or better person really annoys me. We act as if owning a home makes people superior and create an environment where people buy to their own detriment. It’s kind of absurd. Plenty of criminals own homes. Good people, bad people, honest people, liars – many own, many rent. Buying property isn’t some indicator of goodness.

Further – just because people don’t lock their doors (which is outrageously ill-advised as far as I’m concerned, no matter where you live) doesn’t mean that kids aren’t still riding around on their bikes selling pot. I’m not saying I think your SIL is necessarily accurate in her perceptions, but I’m quite certain you aren’t completely accurate in yours either.

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Kit Hope December 29, 2010 at 10:31 am

Them there’s always “I’m sorry you feel that way.” And then drop it.

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Sandy December 29, 2010 at 10:33 am

As the saying goes, never wrestle with a pig — you get dirty, and the pig enjoys it.

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ferretrick December 29, 2010 at 10:43 am

“It’s just an opinion that does not insult you in any way. ”

Yes, it does. She has just insulted the community where LW lives, which by extension insults LW as a member of that community. Even if SIL in her mind didn’t include LW in the insult, it still insults her as a member of the group. It’s no different than if LW were a minority and she said something insulting about her minority group, but “didn’t mean you.” Now, I agree with the rest of what you wrote-the incident is not worth this level of angst, and she should just ignore it and/or quietly state her disagreement. I suspect, though, this is a straw that broke the camel’s back moment.

What LW should do is remind herself that SIL must be a very unhappy person as she apparently has only a few family members and no friends. That must be a miserable way to live, which is why she feels the need to insult others to make herself feel better. Therefore, her comments should simply be quietly ignored or disputed calmly, without anger, as they aren’t worthy of that kind of mental space.

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admin December 29, 2010 at 11:54 am

Ferretrick, the OP’s sister-in-law lives right next to her and has lived in the community far longer than the OP so if the SIL was deliberately insulting the OP as a member of the community, then she was insulting herself as well. You appear to advocate that people should be extra sensitive little bunnies getting all offended over generalized opinions.

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Louise December 29, 2010 at 10:51 am

OP, you yourself say there was a “meth lab problem that plagued us in the 1990s” and that SIL has lived in your town for 15 years. It’s possible she’s not consciously revising history but making statements based on her own experiences. For all you insist SIL doesn’t know anyone in your town, she has lived there 15 years, most likely has met a lot of people, seen the town evolve firsthand and has had a completely different experience than you. You love your town, she doesn’t. Honestly, her opinion of it is as valid as yours.

Unless she’s using offensive language (“This town is full of *enter racial/gender-based/whatever slur here*”), I would deflect her comments.

Her: This town is full of crackheads!
You: Mmmm, OK. Would you pass the salad, please?

Her: People in this town hate kittens!
You: I hadn’t heard that. Did you watch “Dancing with the Stars” last week?

Her: This town is the worst town in the whole word!
You: Huh. Do you have a good oatmeal cookie recipe?

Maybe your SIL is just crabby and nasty, but maybe she has legitimate reasons to feel the way she does. Either way, you’re not going to change her mind by countering with glowing examples of how wonderful you think your town is. Don’t take her comments personally, disengage and change the subject.

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kudeebee December 29, 2010 at 10:54 am

Honestly, I would ignore her comments and act as if she did not say them. Change the subject and talk about something else. Why let yourself get upset by something that she says? You, and only you, are in control of how you react. You aren’t going to change her, so why get upset, fret and worry about it. Ignore it, move on and enjoy doing what you do in the town that you love.

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Typo Tat December 29, 2010 at 11:19 am

I don’t remember when I’ve last read such an annoying letter. It’s just oozing prim and proper righteousness and lack of flexibility.

This letter describes a very minor incident and hints at other “atrocities” which probably only exist in OP’s own mind.

My advice to OP is to stop stirring drama where there isn’t any.

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karma December 29, 2010 at 11:19 am

Gosh, the letter writer sounds as arrogant and inflexible as the SIL in the way she describes this scenario. Really, this is more about the lack of affection between the two women. It’s okay not to like the SIL, but the writer is internalizing this way too much.
Of course the town has issues. Every town does. If the town ever had meth issues, it’s not wrong for the SIL to mention them. She’s not incorrect, the LW just doesn’t like it when she says it out loud. The best answer is as admin pointed out: “Hmm..Sorry, SIL, but I just don’t agree that the town is that bad.”
Although I understand the love for home, there’s no reason to take it personally. If it sucks that badly, SIL will move.

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Elizabeth December 29, 2010 at 11:38 am

Just ignore her. It is her choice not to get to know her neighbors. You know the truth and that is all that matters.

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Enna December 29, 2010 at 11:44 am

I agree with Admin that there seems to be SIL rivlary here. You say there were meth labs going on before there were changes in the law hm, so drugs have been an issue. Maybe just say next time “I haven’t come across any, but if either of us do in the future then maybe we should report it?” Or “howabout we start a drugs awarenss group? We could go round the schools; I could call up my neighbourhood firends…” If she thinks it is such an issue then sugget you could do something together to sort it out. She’ll relaise that she’s gone over the top.

It’s like where I was studying at University, there were drugs about in the city but the closest I came across drugs was when a firend of a bf took them before meeting up with us and other firends on a night out. My bf was horrified, disaproved and concerned for his firend.

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Enna December 29, 2010 at 11:46 am

P.S the firend did come round and stopped taking the drugs. He realsied what he was doing to himself. I’m not saying SIL or OP is in the wrong or the right here morally/ettiquate wise. Yes, there probably are drugs, but if OP hasn’t come across anything then she knows she is keeping the right company- not falling in with a bad crowd.

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Pam December 29, 2010 at 11:51 am

Engaging a person who wants to fight is rarely a good idea. Resist the urge! You would not change her mind – I would’ve made a comment about being very thankful to know so many of the nice people around town, then change the subject. Negative people will always focus on the negative and arguing with them is a waste of emotional energy.

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Fran December 29, 2010 at 12:01 pm

If you really must respond to her ignorance, you might ask her where there is a utopian place completely free of crime. If she manages to state the location of such a place, you then could ask why she has not moved there since she dislikes this place so much. I, however, get the impression that the woman is unhappy about herself in general and is putting everything else down in an attempt to make herself feel better about herself. It won’t work, and no snappy comeback will get her out of that funk or change her attitude. I therefore would just ignore such comments and ask if she has tried the bean dip.

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bookworm December 29, 2010 at 12:10 pm

When you give this woman any bit of attention, including thinking up the perfect come-backs days later, she wins. You can’t be the bigger person in this situation if you respond to her in any way other than a polite smile and a nod. Just let her be miserable with her thoughts, and put your thoughts of her aside when she’s not in your presence.

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Goldie December 29, 2010 at 12:24 pm

This would be a non-issue to me, but then I’m originally from Eastern Europe and we tend to be pretty opinionated about everything ;) so I’ve heard much worse things at dinner tables. One comes to mind – shortly after a Presidential election, my husband and I were invited to our friends’ house for dinner, along with another couple we hadn’t met before. Our friends, my husband and I had all voted for candidate A; the third couple had voted for candidate B; candidate A had won. Not even thirty minutes into the dinner, couple #3 brings up politics; the husband goes “Have you guys heard this joke – what do Lincoln, Kennedy, and (Pres-Elect’s name) have in common? Nothing, YET!” He then raises his glass saying, “Let’s drink to that!”

Blank stares all around the table, four jaws dropping at once… but what could we do? There were really only two ways we could go from there – escalate this toast into a screaming fight, or pass the bean dip. All four of us chose to pass the bean dip. (I don’t believe any of us drank to that toast, though. We all just quietly picked up our glasses, then put them down.) In the LW’s case, it could’ve been, “Awww, so sorry you feel that way… Have you thought of relocating? What about…” followed by a discussion of various states/cities and their advantages and disadvantages… nice dinner conversation, no one’s offended, life goes on. Seriously, who cares what the SIL thinks of her city? She’s entitled to her own opinion about it, as long as it doesn’t affect anyone. As long as she’s not insulting the LW’s family members personally, I fail to see what the issue is.

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bansidhe December 29, 2010 at 12:27 pm

My SIL says stuff like this all the time. Often, her comments are aimed directly at me or my husband and are intended as insults.

I ignore or laugh at her comments. Problem solved!

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Ashley December 29, 2010 at 12:39 pm

As much as I may hate broad sweeping statements that include people they shouldn’t, I wouldn’t make too much out of these sorts of situations. It’s one of those fight fire with fire situations. Try to think of a witty come back and you will only end up with a bigger fire. At most, I would have said “I’m sorry you feel that way” and gone back to my dinner.

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Moonie December 29, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Sounds like a great opportunity for “What an interestind assumption” followed by a healthy helping of bean dip.

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Elizabeth December 29, 2010 at 1:03 pm

The poster’s SIL and my sister “G” seem cut from the same cloth. My sister loves, loves, loves drama. It makes her feel as if she’s the center of attention in our large family and in the spotlight. In order to create this drama, she will do things deliberately to make people angry or to touch a nerve. As an example, she loves to state broad, uneducated somewhat incorrect things (it can’t be a totally correct point or else no one would argue with her) trying to touch a nerve in me or my other sisters or in my parents so that she can spark an argument or debate (which she will then debate with all of the passion she has, cursing, yelling, the whole nine yards) in my otherwise peace-loving, non-confrontational family. My family as a whole has learned not to respond, because ANY response other than bland subject changing (“Oh, really? Gosh, Mom, these potatoes are awesome!” “Hmm, wow. Dad, how’s work been?”) will give her what she wants. It isn’t that she isn’t paid attention to on a regular basis, it’s that she’s never happier than when everyone is focused on her and her alone, and she doesn’t seem to care what she has to do to garner that attention, be it physical acting out behaviors (such as public nudity), excessive alcohol consumption, or hysterically loud fits of tears at inappropriate times.

My wedding is coming up. As her next-older sister, she’s always resented me for being born first. She doesn’t like all the attention focused on any one else than her, and she grows especially resentful and childish if it’s me that everyone is focused on. I’m just hoping this resentment doesn’t translate into a drink thrown on my wedding dress.

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Auryn Grigori December 29, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Just let it go. If your SIL is truly that negative, then nothing that you have said, or will say will change her. Sorry, there is no Abracadabra, no hocus-pocus, or any other magic word that will, as you put it, “opened her brain and heart up to thinking that sweeping, unkind statements are inappropriate.” If you must say anything, a simple “I don’t think this town is so bad” should be the only recourse. After that, no comeback, no matter how poignant, witty, or factual will change her thinking. You can only be offended if you let yourself be offended.

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Kat December 29, 2010 at 1:38 pm

The comment about the meth labs that plagued us in the 90’s struck me as much more generalized – meth labs were something that were more of a problem EVERYWHERE in the 90’s, before the components were illegalized. I didn’t have the impression that the OP was talking about her neighborhood specifically. But correct me if I’m wrong, OP.

I don’t see why so many responders are so down on the OP for seeking advice about this situation. She’s not saying her SIL’s behavior is shocking or appalling, she’s saying it bothers her PERSONALLY, which she’s entitled to. I’m surprised so many people are giving her grief for posting rather than offering the asked-for advice.

I agree with Louise – when she says something that bothers you, just ignore it as the silly whining you feel it is.

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Lisa December 29, 2010 at 1:58 pm

“As the saying goes, never wrestle with a pig — you get dirty, and the pig enjoys it.”

I love this! The visual made me laugh out loud.

This letter seems to be much ado about nothing. SIL is negative. Everyone knows someone like that. If the LW is accurate in saying that SIL has no friends in town, then she is making her own bed and you might as well just let her lie in it.

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AS December 29, 2010 at 2:10 pm

OP, even though your SIL made a stupid comment, I think you are taking SIL’s comment too seriously.

One of my pet peeves is when people make an opinion about a place without full facts. I live in USA and hail from a south Asian country (a so-called 3rd world country), and I always hear uninformed and untrue comments about people belonging to my country. When I was in my home country, I moved to a different state from my home-state, and a friend said that “people of XY state are very lazy, and don’t know how to work hard”! One of my roommates in USA branded me “dirty” because she claims people from my country are not clean (my room used to be cleaner than hers, and I was the only one in the apartment who would care to vacuum the floors in our common area). My friends from my home country “voice their concerns” about me dating an absolutely wonderful American man, which annoys me more than the insults about me. I have often had people tell untrue things about my hometown, but they just seem too trivial compared to what I and many other people have heard in terms of direct insults. When there is a direct insult, I usually try telling them in a very stern voice that they have a wrong perception. But you cannot change the minds or hearts of anyone. You can only try telling them something. If it does not work, be happy to know that you can see the good in your town, and hence enjoy it. Hopefully your nephew will realize for himself that his mother’s opinion is not true.

If your SIL insults the town, she is insulting her town too. So, it is not a direct insult to you. Just leave the conversation there, and move on to another topic.

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chechina December 29, 2010 at 2:17 pm

OP, your verbal response was fine, but I think your emotional response is too grand for the situation. Your SIL felt the need to say something mildly argumentative just to liven up the conversation, probably because you and her have nothing in common and she doesn’t know how to get through a meal with you either.
(Personally I would have responded, “Good point; I’m high right now! More potatoes?”, but I tend to respond to silliness with more silliness.)

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Sharon December 29, 2010 at 2:22 pm

I read once about a man who was a newspaper reporter in New York City in the mid 1800’s. He had traveled many places all over our growing nation. People would come to him and tell him they were thinking about moving “out west” to the new pioneer. “What are people like out there in the west?” they would ask. He would reply with they question, “How are the people that you know here?” When they replid, “People here are good. They work hard and are ready to help when you need a friend.” He told them, “You will find the people out in the west to be the very same way.”
When some people were asked that question, they would reply, “People here are horrible. No one gives a damn about anything but themselves. It is dog eat dog.” His answer to those folks??? “You will find the people out in the west to be the very same way.”

You cannot make someone be thankful the glass is half full if all they want to dwell on is the fact that it is half empty.

I don’t even understand why that particular remark stung you so badly. Good GOD, you should hear the PERSONAL criticism some of my family dish out to one another! I just avoid the flying crockery and change the subject. When it is directed at me, I just smile at my family and say… I am not sure if the faults I have a genetic or environmental in cause, but either way you had your own little part of making me who I am… aren’t you proud??? And then, I just smile!

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Calliope December 29, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Ferretrick, there is one huge difference between making generalized statements about a town and making generalized statements about a minority group: people can live in whichever town they choose.

I agree with the admin and most of the commenters that what the SIL said was not anything to get worked up about. This letter reads as if the OP were building steam the whole time she was typing it, getting more and more upset and righteous about little things. I don’t see what the big deal is if the SIL wants everyone to think she’s the smartest person in the room. Everybody wants to be perceived as smart, and a competitive person like the SIL seems to be–the OP seems a little on the competitive side herself–will naturally want to be perceived as smarter than others. Either she is, or she isn’t. If she isn’t, nobody will think that she is. So why dwell on it? It seems like the OP is spending way too much time stewing over this woman.

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Allie December 29, 2010 at 2:51 pm

She’s just baiting you. I’d ignore her comments completely. I know that’s not the answer you want to hear, but I think it’s the way to go.

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Daisy December 29, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Oh, for goodness sake! If you have to say something, look right at her with a dumbfounded expression, say “Wow” flatly, then immediately turn to someone else and change the subject. Why let her get a rise out of you? Either she’s completely dopey and thinks she’s right, in which case you’re not going to change her, or she’s messing with your mind, in which case you’re not going to change her. Life’s too short to worry about this stuff.

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Allie December 29, 2010 at 2:55 pm

P.S. My grandma used to make upsetting comments all the time. Not deliberately, but she was old-fashioned, and some of her ideas would really get under my skin to the point where I’d get really upset and start arguing with her. Then I discovered the most useful phrase in the English language – “how nice”… Whenever she would say something blood-boiling, I began to say “how nice”. The fights dissolved, I was a lot happier and calmer, and she went on expressing her opinions, which is her right.

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Mrs. Pilgrim December 29, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Hmm. I’ve always had a great deal of success with cross-examining–er, I mean, engaging people in conversation about their assertions. It might go something like this, always in a cheerful and inquisitive tone:

“There are kids who ride around on their bikes selling pot!”
“Really? What a shame. Who are they?”
“Wh-what?”
“Who are these kids doing this? If you know who they are, shouldn’t you report them to the police?”
“Oh, no, I only heard of it.”
“From whom?”
“Oh…uh…people.”
“Hmm, then they must know who these pot dealers are. Did you encourage them to report it?”
“Uh…no…”
“Well, next time they tell you about this, let them know that reporting it to the police can help clean up the community. I mean, all that’s needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing, right?”

Then neatly change subject to the lovely weather you’ve been having lately. Calling baloney on people who baloney will often get them to stop–indirectly, of course.

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Rug Pilot December 29, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Ask the SIL if she has informed the police about the crack dealers and meth labs. I’m sure they would want to know. This should shut her down on that issue.

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Simone December 29, 2010 at 5:24 pm

I agree with most of the advice posted here but I wanted to add one thing in the OPs defence. No matter how good you are at shrugging off little things in general it can be very difficult when the person doing the annoying is your in-laws. I know for a long time when an in-law said something irritating what I actually heard was “This is an irritating comment. And you just have to PUT UP with it. Not only that, but you’ll have to put up with comments just like it for the rest of your life.” The in-law relationship is the one we have the least power over (heck, you can cut off your own family but you can’t force DH or anyone else to cut off theirs and simply avoiding them can be a marital minefield) and one which can make your life unpleasant.

To the OP all I can say is that you did the exact right thing not engaging your SIL. I understand the temptation to think that if you just came up with the perfect comeback then that niggling annoyance will stop, but it won’t. It’s who she is and you can’t control that. So just turn it into a game or a personal challenge. See how bad she’ll get if you just don’t engage and then laugh about it later. Or use it to test how good your smiling-and-nodding skills are – they can be useful in other parts of life. And good luck!

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Toni December 29, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Mountain…out of a molehill…made. SIL’s trying to get your goat, and she got it. She knows it because we all read your lenghty portrayal, and it’s pretty obvious you’re “annoyed.” Love the comment about letting someone live rent free in your head, Bardess!

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etimodnar December 29, 2010 at 9:58 pm

I really really sympathise with the OP here as I’m struggling, STRUGGLING to get on with my future in laws (16 more days to go!). But have found the comments very helpful! Bean-dip, interesting assumption, how nice, and thinking about not wrestling with pigs need to be added to my toolbelt.

And it’s always the minor, petty things that set me off too! Like when I was complaining to FH about some people who think “maybe” is an acceptable rsvp to a catered wedding reception. Future, 16y.o. SIL walks past and says “like those people even care what you think” *cue rage*
In future, “that’s an interesting assumption”

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Kriss December 29, 2010 at 10:03 pm

OP that was a lot of words to describe something pretty simple. I only point that out so that should you submit something again or somewhere else you would be aware of how wordy you are.

You know OP it took my sister becoming a crack head to see how much crack passes through my town’s borders. Just because a meth lab was busted doesn’t mean that there isn’t another one out there that hasn’t been detected yet. You don’t know some of your neighbors and it’s very judgmental of you to assume that SIL’s experiences and aquintances would be the same as yours. Your nephew would have a better idea of drug activity since he’s in the thick of it. You are overreacting and making the same mistake you accuse your SIL of. Making broad generalizations.

I will say one thing in your defense. I lived next to my brother and SIL for about 9 months and it was 8 1/2 months too many. Oh she was an atrocious women so I understand how every little thing gets under your skin. You can’t get away when you live next door. My bro and SIL moved away to the next town over and our relationship has improved greatly. Hopefully you find some resolution too.

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Katie December 29, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Wow, this is totally myself and my mother. We disagree over crimes rates, unemployment, gender roles, politics, religion, tv shows, you name it. She gossips to me about people in her town who she’s never spoken to and makes assumptions about what they do. She doesn’t ever bother to check her facts. She also has a habit of taking nasty potshots at my best friend of ten years, because my friend is gay. That’s obviously very upsetting… which is exactly why she does it. OP, I’ll echo the sage advice other posters have already said, which my sister said to me: Does it really, really matter? You are twisting yourself into knots and you know how she’s feeling? Exactly the same either way. You can’t change her or her opinions. If she wants to make herself miserable then let her, and let it go.

My darling older sister then drew me a little chart showing my ‘Sphere of Influence’. Myself and my own reactions are inside my sphere of influence. My mother and her actions are outside. I still have it and keep it in my purse. Sometimes I look at it when I’m at work and my idiot manager has been in. Sometimes I look at it after an encounter with a rude stranger. And sometimes I look at it while I’m on the phone with my mother. It’s good to have a little reminder not to stress yourself over things you can’t change. Personally I react much like Chechina now. My response probably would’ve been something like, ‘Great, so I won’t have any issues finding crack here? I was so worried!’ and then asked my Dad about his woodworking. Everyone (except Mum) would’ve had a laugh and mentally wiped their brows that they weren’t going to witness the kind of squabbles they used to.

Please don’t get me wrong OP – I really do sympathise. I do bite occasionally, then kick myself afterwards. In the past I have pinned her down and opened a book/official internet site etc to prove her wrong, because usually it’s that easy. But while that gives me a momentary feeling of smugness and she huffs and is silent for the rest of night, in the long run it does no one any good. Not me, not her, not the rest of the family. Your SIL will likely never change her thought pattern, but you can change yours. Try this mentality, and I promise once you get into the habit it will all seem easier.

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OP December 30, 2010 at 12:25 am

All, thank you for the wise words. I’ll be saving this page for future reference. I agree about my response being larger than the moment that caused it; I needed your help to process, to get opinions with some distance, so I reached out to you all. I am not a drama queen, and no one else at the dinner has a clue about my feelings or given SIL’s comment a second thought, so it isn’t as if I’m stirring anyone’s pot but my own. The dinner came during a perfect storm of pms and the downhill side of surviving the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, and I felt I’d been lied to by SIL just the day before, so I may have been a bit touchy. That said, I take to heart your communal words of minimization, distance and conversational about-faces, and of leaving SIL to her fate (@Sharon: your story about western settlement was spot on!). AND I will stop thinking anything I can say will change SIL in the slightest. That’s a lovely burden to release. It all is, and you have helped considerably.

Thank you, Ferretrick, Kat and others (you know who you are), for your compassionate responses. Kat, meth labs were a problem in the rural West, where I’m at, in the 90’s as well as everywhere else, and folks were freaked out by it. We had one long-ago neighborhood lab problem that I know of, and the rest we are far-removed from, to the best of my knowledge. SIL likely has had little exposure to crack heads and meth labs, and totally missed the signs of the lab discovered in our neighborhood (Mom mentioned noticing a vaguely mediciney smell…).

To those I offended: Sorry. I don’t see myself as self-righteous, arrogant or competitive, and we are small family, so there’s room for everyone to blossom. I wrote my letter late in the evening while I was upset, and several good nights’ sleep and lovely days find me with some perspective and less annoyed. I am now pleased with my response. The suggested tactics of following up on the statement with an action plan were great, and I’ll use it.

Honestly, I don’t know if SIL was trying to bait me, or if we have a competition between us (if there is, it is one-sided). My complaints about folks who want to be superior to others harken back to my Women’s Studies training, and studies of how oppression works. I don’t like getting the sense that someone is only comfortable if their boot is on someone else’s neck, and SIL tends to get my hackles up. Of course, I should understand that her behaviour is compensation for feeling badly about herself, as some of you have suggested, but I’ve struggled to improve my self-esteem and don’t appreciate it when someone tries to rob me of it to bolster themself. I think the reason SIL gets under my skin so is that there is no one else I’ve known who is so squishy with the truth while so forcefully asserting their opinions and superiority, and certainly no one I have to have holidays with, or live next to door to.

What I treasure about etiquette is the idea that all are made to feel comfortable, that each person looks after the other and does not seek to put themself first, or assert their right, or opinion, over others, regardless of class, race, gender or whatever other differences that might exist. SIL flies in the face of that, IMHO, consistently, and it bugs me, but I am learning to let it go. This exercise has helped hugely, thank you.

@Jillybean: The “homeowners” comment was poorly phrased, and for the record, I’ve never bought a house. My point, so inadequately made, was that most folks here seem to want a peaceful life and that the criminal element is in the minority, however they house themselves. I am getting my Mom to lock the doors, by the way.

@Admin: Thank you for choosing my letter so I could benefit from the forum’s opinion, and thank you for the Pigpen analogy. In the heat of the moment, it is easy to forget just how much distance there really is between SIL and myself, our perceptions of this world and its perceptions right back at us. My sole New Year’s resolution is to remember this and treasure the distance.

Thank you all for your honesty and your time. Happy New Year! I move forward with a fresh perspective.

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Xtina December 30, 2010 at 9:26 am

I like the “put her on the spot” idea Ms. Pilgrim suggested. If SIL can’t come up with specific names, places, or incidents, then the point is made to her and all that are listening that she really doesn’t know what she’s talking about since she can’t name any proof, and it doesn’t come across as confrontational.

I agree with those who have said that it’s better to simply not engage and if it were an isolated odd comment that is what I’d do, but I also know how it is to live with people like this, and eventually you just have to say something, although carefully worded—I myself am constantly having to defend where *I* live, a side of town that has had a bad reputation in years past as well, and I get everything from people telling me that all that lives over here is blahblahblah types of people (excuse me, I am not blahblahblah and neither are my neighbors), to people asking me if I’m scared to go shopping at the grocery stores on the main thoroughfare here—all of which are ridiculous assumptions and questions. I wouldn’t have chosen to live here (safely and without incident, I might add) for the past fifteen years if those rumors were true.

So the other obvious question the OP could ask SIL is—well, why do you still want to live here, then? Said with a smile and air of genuine curiosity. But that is as far as I’d take it.

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aliasJaneCrow December 30, 2010 at 9:47 am

I didn’t read all the comments, but I have to comment, because I disagree slightly with our moderator. On holidays, birthdays for my SIL’s (hub’s sis) family, etc., we all get together and usually my SIL’s parents-in-law are there. Between the self-righteous speeches from BIL about the poor, “losers”, teachers, liberals, etc., and his mother’s snide comments about homosexuals and blacks, I get to the point where I’ve had enough sometimes and leave the room. (By the way, I’m almost affluent now, but I’ve been poor, and I come from two generations of teachers.) Maybe because I’m Caucasion and from the South they figure I won’t find it offensive. I do. I find it offensive these things are said around children. I resent that what little free time I have or my holidays are spent being exposed to such hate and prejudice. At some point, I think it’s perfectly warranted to indicate that one person’s bitter hate, animosity and prejudice are best kept to themselves, where they don’t have to taint or poison what is supposed to be an enjoyable event for everyone. What did I do? After the last comment — where she commented with amazement at seeing a homosexual couple at the product section — and it just amazed her because she didn’t expect to see “gay people that way” — I innocently waxed nostalgia on how I’d always had gay friends, missed gay friends, and wanted to find the gay community where we lived so I could make some. Next time she says something racist (btw, we’re thinking of adopting children of other ethnical backgrounds)? Hubs is going to ask her if her hood is at the cleaners.
To wrap up – in this age, one person should recognize that their opinions, however much they are entitled to them, may not be always welcome at social occasions and they don’t always know who’s in that crowd who may belong to that group. What if a recovering addict had been around? Or someone who was losing a beloved family member to addiction? We’re all entitled to our opinions, but we’re not always entitled to subject other people unwillingly to them.

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Jillybean December 30, 2010 at 10:39 am

@OP – thanks for the clarification. It’s a pet peeve of mine, lol, since many hold the opinion that homeowners are superior to renters, even though so many people who own(owe) are completely in over their heads. Meanwhile, kudos on getting mom to lock the doors. I know so many people who only lock the doors when they go out. It’s always struck me as weird that people will lock up when they aren’t home to protect their things, but not when they are to protect themselves. Weird, right? My sis claims it’s because an occupied house is less likely to be broken into, but I think that’s a risky assumption and know you are definitely more likely to get hurt if you’re there when it happens, and how hard is it to lock the door. But I digress. Glad you found the conversation helpful.

@ etimodnar re: Like when I was complaining to FH about some people who think “maybe” is an acceptable rsvp to a catered wedding reception.

I had a friend who kept telling me, “We’re really hoping to make it.” If you have not resolved this yet, I suggest doing what I did. I sent her a really nice note saying that it seemed like she couldn’t really commit and that while I’d love to have her there that I needed to give my final count it didn’t seem like it was going to work out. I told her that we would get together afterward so she could hear all about it. And, I have to tell you, she was thrilled to be let off the hook. She knew in her heart they couldn’t make it (for a variety of reasons), but had such guilt about RSVPing no. That may be the case with your person/people, or they might just need a swift kick to commit. Either way, I’m guessing you would get confirmation one way or the other. Congrats though, and I hope everything goes amazing for the big day.

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DocCAC December 31, 2010 at 2:04 am

I have one comment…to all of you who think that meth WAS a 90’s problem, where do you live???? I live in a very rural community with a bunch of other small rural communities around in our county and surrounding counties and meth labs continue to be a big problem. Did it disappear everywhere else in the 90’s?

It was good to hear from the OP. I agree with those who think the problem is worse when in the family (unless you live far away from the relative who irritates you every time you meet). The weak smile (a suggestion of Miss Manners’) is also effective. The worse comments are the insulting ones in which the perpetrator remarks (after you get angry or upset) that it was just a joke and you don’t have a sense of humor or they were just kidding, why are you taking it so hard when you both know the point was to insult you in front of everyone and get away with with it by putting the “bad” on you. I finally got smart enough in my 20’s to either give the person a blank “huh?” kind of look and say nothing or, if i bite and am being told it was just a joke is to give the weak smile and say in a flat tone ,”Oh. Hah. Hah.” then turn away and engage someone else. It worked so well, in fact, that the two relatives who are the main problems haven’t bothered me in many years. Quit letting her know she is pushing your buttons and she’ll finally stop. It quits being fun when you won’t play the game.

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karma January 1, 2011 at 1:28 pm

One viewpoint I’d like to offer that I have not heard: perhaps the SIL is not actually baiting her, asking for attention, or being nasty. You know, some folks are just not very smart—seriously. The world is not full of intelligent people only. It could be that SIL is not too clever, and often parrots stuff she hears from others. I think it’s quite possible.

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Cat January 1, 2011 at 10:48 pm

A friend of mine worked for a national magazine and he once received a phone call in which the caller said that everyone at that magazine was a Communist. My friend immediately spoke up, “Sir, I assure you that not everyone here is a Communist! I, myself, am a Communist and there are several workers here who refuse to attend the meetings!”
I might have said, “Kids on bikes selling pot?! Who are they? I’m sick of having to drive all over town to score!” Or perhaps, “Meth labs! And I just finished setting mine up! Give me the names of my competitors and I’ll set up the hits!”
Stupidity can be fun if taken with a grain of salt and lot of humor.

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bmyster January 3, 2011 at 1:08 pm

To me, it sounds like SIL loves negativity and drama. So, arguing with her accomplishes nothing, except feed her drama addiction, and raise your blood pressure, etc.

That’s why “turning the other cheek” is the best, yet also most selfish thing you can do. It protects you from her negativity, since you have absolutely no control over what she says, thinks or feels. And it protects those around you from an argument. This is probably why most of the family acts “like statues”—to avoid a huge blow up that will only benefit the SIL.

This reminds me of a parable. Two Zen monks were walking down a path in Japan — let’s call them A and B. A woman in an expensive kimono (they cost upwards of $50,000 each) had to cross a puddle but didn’t want to damage her kimono. At the time, monks were forbidden from touching women. However, monk A picked the woman up, crossed the puddle, and put her down.

The monks continued on their walk. Hours later, B said angrily to A “Why did you pick up the woman? We are not supposed to do that.”

A replied “I put the woman down hours ago. Are you still carrying her?”

My point is that getting into SIL’s negativity only hurts you, really. I know it’s tempting to try to “show” SIL that you’re right. But it will never work.

That being said, if you were hosting a gathering, you are welcome to refuse to invite SIL if you don’t like her negativity. But, beyond that, letting it roll off your shoulders is the best thing you can do for yourself, hard though it is sometimes.

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Miss Raven, sucking her teeth January 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm

While the OP was definitely overreacting a bit (and she knows it), this sounds to me less an overreaction about one specific incident and more exasperation in regards to a constant, persistent pattern of behavior from her SIL that she finds repugnant. Unfortunately, OP has to deal with her SIL not just as family, but also as a next-door neighbor where there is little respite.

Eventually, bean dipping can wear down on even the best of us. IMHO, there are ways of engaging your SIL without baiting her or inciting a row, and without leaving you feeling that you can politely change subjects until you’re blue in the face but she’s just going to keep on… being her.

SIL needs to be heard. I think the best thing you can do is to hear her. “Okay, I myself haven’t experienced crackheads or methlabs. Can you tell me about what you’ve experienced?” If all she can come up with is that shack you mentioned that was shut down years ago, it’s perfectly okay to say, “Well, I can see why you’d feel that way, but that meth lab hasn’t existed since 1994. Have you been around there lately? It’s beautiful.”

As Dale Carnegie says, you will never get anyone to change their mind by arguing with them. People who want to get under your skin are completely disarmed when you approach them with a friendly attitude of cooperation.

If you’ve tried actually talking to SIL about her bizarre opinions and listening to her reasoning and explaining your own feelings and she still insists on being laughably offensive, there is just simply nothing more you can do. Get revenge by living well.

Although, you said no one at the table knew how upset you are. If nothing else, you can at least mention it to your mom. It’s not “stirring the pot” to get your feelings out to someone you’re close to. Keeping it bottled up won’t end well.

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judecat January 7, 2011 at 1:13 am

If the nephew says there are kids on bikes selling pot, then maybe someone needs to believe the child, instead of just brushing it off because it doesn’t fit the OP’s preconceived idea of small town life. And really since the SIL has lived their all her life, and the OP has only been back for 2 years, maybe just maybe the SIL is not the one who is mistaken

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Me January 8, 2011 at 4:29 am

I wanted to add… when I was in high school about 20 years ago in a nice, respectable area, I regularly watched marijuana deals and usage in bathrooms and halls. There were harder drugs as well. Many of the students using these drugs were popular and well-liked by teachers and staff who had absolutely NO idea what went on behind their backs.

A couple years after graduation, one of the teachers’ pets died from a drug overdose and school officials were shocked. I was NOT shocked. My point is, there are many people out there who just have no idea what is going on under the surface. Maybe they are naive, clueless, too trusting, poor judges of character, whatever. But if the OP’s nephew says he’s seeing drug deals, he most likely is. These things are far more common than someone wearing rose colored glasses would expect.

Instead of being so self-righteous and looking down on her supposedly ignorant SIL, the OP might want to consider if she is in fact the one who isn’t looking closely enough. Small towns these days are often plagued with meth.

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