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The Christmas Car

This happened the first or second year my husband and I were married. We got married very impulsively only a few months after we met, and I didn’t know his family well. Initially I thought they seemed really, really great. His mom was (and often is) a really, interesting person and his dad is a musician. As I got to know them better, I started to see some of their bad sides. His mom has an ugly temper, and his dad can be pretty inconsiderate.

Initially, both sets of parents wanted to make it a point to celebrate Christmas together. This particular year, my parents hosted. My mother-in-law, Sandra, showed up before my father-in-law. He was going to be late because he had to pick up my husband’s brothers from the airport. As we waited my mom, brother, husband, Sandra and I made small talk. We heard my father-in-law, Chris, pull into the driveway and my husband made a beeline outside to see his brothers. He went out through the garage door, and almost immediately turned around and came back inside. He was very troubled. My brothers-in-law came inside ahead of Chris. They too were upset. My husband privately told me that while his dad was on his airport run, he’d gone to a car dealership to pick up a new car to “surprise” my mother-in-law with for Christmas. He’d even sprung for one of those giant bows.

To give you some backstory: cars have been a huge, HUGE source of conflict between my in-laws for most of their marriage. My FIL loves a new car every other year or so. They’ve always had to live on a tight budget and the accompanying car payment has always been something that’s helped pushed them into living beyond their means. I knew this because my MIL mentioned it often, in relation to the fact that for the first time ever, they were within six months of paying of their car. The car my FIL had just traded in for a brad new car, complete with five years financing. My husband and BILs were not looking forward to the eruption that was sure to happen when my MIL discovered my FIL’s “surprise” that, given the history, was clearly NOT for Sandra but for him.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Sandra saw her new “present”. To say that she freaked out would not do her reaction justice. She was absolutely furious, and she let loose on Chris in front of everyone. Eventually they moved it into the garage, where she screamed at him for 45 minutes while the rest of stood around awkwardly, having our cocktails and waiting to start Christmas dinner. When she finally came in, it was awful. She was still clearly irate, and was barely able to disguise her fury at Chris. I’d like to say Chris was sheepish, but mostly he seemed mad that his gift wasn’t received the way he wanted. She made passive-aggressive (or, frankly, mostly just aggressive comments) to him throughout dinner while he kept saying, “I SAID I’d take it back. I TOLD you the dealership would let me return it for a week or 300 miles. I’m going to do it tomorrow. SORRY” It would have been uncomfortable enough if it’d just been me, my husband and BILs. But my parents hardly knew them and they had no idea what to do. My family isn’t very demonstrative (we might be just a teeny, tiny bit repressed in fact) so this blow out twenty minutes before Christmas dinner was not something they were very equipped to handle.

Needless to say, there was not much socializing after we all finished eating. Sandra apologized for making everyone uncomfortable, although she was still very clearly angry at Chris. My FIL didn’t apologize for anything. (I would later learn this is characteristic of him: either act like he did nothing wrong or defensively apologize in a way that makes it clear he doesn’t actually think he did anything wrong.) My parents have mostly avoided socializing with my in-laws since then (tellingly for my family, they mostly blame my MIL for her reaction, but that’s probably a totally different Etiquette Hell submission). My husband told me later that my FIL deliberately debuted the car at my parent’s house because he thought Sandra wouldn’t freak out in front of people she didn’t know very well (wrong!).

That Christmas will go down as one of the most memorable, but not in a fun way. 1213-12

Your poor husband.  To have grown up with two self absorbed parents who only think of themselves.   Chris is a disgustingly selfish manipulator and Sandra has no control over her emotions even when she knows that the situation has been manufactured to avoid her predictable explosion.     Had I been Sandra, I would have excused myself (assuming I could barely contain my emotions) and gone to the bathroom to get control over myself.    There is no way on earth I would have given the expected reaction but oh, the conversation I would have later in the privacy of the car or my own home.   Drama, anger, screaming, and other displays of heightened emotions very rarely have the effect of resolving the heart of the matter. It’s merely cathartic and while there is nothing wrong with a good cathartic outburst, the luxury of doing so must be reserved for your own home turf.


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  • Bint December 20, 2012, 4:11 am

    Last year I had the joy of Christmas dinner with my BIL and FIL yelling all the way through about my BIL having got a girl he hates pregnant/insisting it wasn’t his etc. It was like Jerry Springer but far more painful, and finally my MIL ran upstairs crying as my SIL and husband went after her.

    The selfishness was disgusting. I too feel sorry for your husband.

  • Lychii December 20, 2012, 6:26 am

    While Sandra’s outburst was what eventually spoiled the holiday for everyone, I don’t have the heart to blame her. This isn’t about having an ugly temper, this is about having a rotten husband.

  • SarahLovesFabric December 20, 2012, 7:30 am

    Every year I see those car manufacturers’ TV commercials with the car with the big red bow on top out in the driveway, and the ecstatic reactions of the spouses (usually wives.) And my reaction has always been, “Ooh, thanks honey, a car payment!” When you have a joint bank account, a huge ongoing expense like that is NOT a gift, nor is it an obligation one spouse (of either gender, and regardless of income contribution) should take on without a full and frank discussion with the other.

  • Lo December 20, 2012, 7:40 am

    Seems like they are both to blame for this. I mean that’s pretty selfish and awful thing to do to someone on his part but your MIL shouldn’t have had it out with him in front of your family.

    If it were me I would have just had us pack up the car and leave immediately to discuss this at home because I could’ve have held it together in front of others. Yeah, it’s the kind of thing worth screaming over, but never never never in front of polite company. I don’t blame your parents too much for blaming your MIL for their reaction, I think she deserves a lot of the blame, I’d have had a lot more sympathy if she just tried to brush it under the table and ignore her husband, given no reaction to the car, and then either made an immediate retreat to discuss this serious issue or held it in until she got home. (I suppose the brothers there makes it harder but maybe they could have come pick them up later?)

    Christmas was already ruined when he bought the car. Better not to ruin it for the people not involved.

  • Mary December 20, 2012, 7:48 am

    I probably would have been irate and killed my husband. However I would have waited until after leaving. But I would have had a hard time suppressing my anger and would have taken several bathroom breaks to cry my eyes out.

    That being said, I don’t understand the desire to have a new car every two years. Yes a new car would be wonderful but going years without payments would be even better. Of course this is coming from someone who has never owned a new car. In our fifteen years of marriage, we have purchased one used car. We have also accepted four hand me downs from my parents. My hubby is currently driving a 1994 vehicle with over 300,000 miles and my minivan is ten years old with 170,000 miles. We drive them until they die!

  • Spuck December 20, 2012, 8:15 am

    I agree that Sandra should have tried to compose herself or left, but this anger was brought on my someone performing an astronomically stupid act at a stressful time. He knowingly did this act in front of a crowd in an attempt to keep her from reacting badly. That is vile, manipulative, and much worse than Sandra’s justifiable anger. This isn’t a 2 people at fault situation. It is the husband’s fault, and the wife reacting very badly.

  • Allie December 20, 2012, 8:22 am

    I suppose this couple deserves each other. It’s just unfortunate everyone else had to be dragged into their vortex of drama. At first I was inclined to blame MIL more than FIL since she’s the one who did all the screaming, but he ought to have know full well the risk he was taking, and to make the decision to debut the car that way was just as blameworthy. I can’t imagine making a scene like that at someone else’s home in the middle of Christmas dinner. No matter how steamed I might be at my husband (and thankfully it’s never as bad as this), I would never, ever show it in such circumstances, although he’d certainly get an earful later on. Not in the car though. Fighting while driving is dangerous.

  • barb December 20, 2012, 8:23 am

    I will never be able to see another “car for Christmas” TV ad without thinking of this scene!!

  • RobM December 20, 2012, 8:27 am

    Clearly the MIL shouldn’t have reacted the way she did in front of other people, but the FIL sounds like quite a piece of work, trying to manipulate her into that kind of position in the first place.

    While it might be poor etiquette, I can imagine someone losing control if the car purchase had been discussed beforehand and explicitly rejected then their partner tried to do it behind their back and “gift it to them” in front of other people in an attempt to present a fait accompli.

  • PM December 20, 2012, 8:49 am

    Ugh, that’s awful. Such a major “credit-rating changing” purchase should be a decision made by the couple together. And for him to do it in a situation where he’s trying to prevent his wife from reacting, is despicable.

    I say this as someone who has gone through this situation with my own parents. My dad also learned the “no automotive surprises” lesson when I was seven or so. My mom and sister flew to another state for an extended trip to visit mom’s family. We were gone for several weeks and Dad was supposed to drive to pick us up so we could go on a family road trip. Dad got bored or something and decided to go look at cars. He ended up buying a “Lemon-Brand”* mini-van and I am 99 percent sure the only reason he did it was because of a super-special, but completely non-essential special feature the van had. He was just so enamored of that feature, he was sure mom would love the van, too. He forgot, I suppose, how much she loved her old van, which he traded in for the new Lemon van.

    So when Dad pulled the Lemon van in to Grandma’s drive, let’s just say Mom’s reaction was not “good surprise.” So we were treated to two days on the road with Mom lamenting the loss of her beloved Old Van and grumbling about how much she hated the new one.

    *To add insult to injury, the van was truly a Lemon. It broke down at least once every few weeks. I swear there were months my parents spent more for car repairs than they did on the car payment. The super-special feature Dad loves so much? It was the first thing that broke.

  • Mrs. Lovett December 20, 2012, 9:21 am

    I agree that the MIL should have handled it better, but I feel sorry for her much more than I blame her. A new car as a surprise for one’s spouse? In my opinion, that’s only a good surprise if the couple is wealthy enough that the car can be paid for in full on the lot without making a serious dent in the couple’s finances. Even then, unless the spouse has been hinting at a particular car, he or she should be allowed to choose the vehicle for themselves. After all, if he or she will be driving it all the time, it should be a car they feel safe and comfortable in.

    This is a case where a car is just about the worst surprise FIL could have given MIL. Not only was it a poor financial decision and a selfish gift, it is a “gift” that he gave with full knowledge that it would make her angry. Who gives a gift like that, especially when it is outside one’s income. He didn’t give her a car, he gave himself a car and gave them both a load of debt. I of course don’t know their financial situation, but he may have given her the gift of “you have to wait two years longer to retire than you had planned” or the gift of “we’re gonna be lucky if we can make both the mortgage and the car payments next month.” If he is usually this inconsiderate, manipulative, and perhaps even spiteful, I can hardly blame her if that kind of rage and anger is always bubbling underneath the surface. Yes, she should have tried to save it for the privacy of their own home, and it may have even been her manipulative way of trying to get the rest of the family on her side against her husband. Even so, I think much more of the blame lies with the FIL.

    OP, you have my sympathy regarding dealing with your husband’s family’s difficulties, and may your own marriage be much happier and less contentious than that of your in-laws. I hope this Christmas and all subsequent Christmases are much merrier!

  • Justin December 20, 2012, 9:24 am

    Wow, a car is not really a good surprise, it should be a joint decision, such as “instead of getting each other gifts this year let’s do a down payment on a new car since ours is getting expensive to repair.”

  • Audra December 20, 2012, 9:25 am

    @Spuck said exactly what I was thinking.

    @PM- You can’t tease us like that and not tell! What’s the super-special feature your Dad loved so much?

    I have owned 1 new car in my life. I bought it 12 years ago and I am still driving it. Like Sandra, I do not have to have a new car every couple of years and enjoy not having a car payment.

  • Z December 20, 2012, 9:30 am

    I know this is after the fact, but MIL and FIL could have avoided all this drama for their entire marriage if they had just agreed to lease cars instead of buying them.

    I think I feel worst for the brother who had to drive with the FIL, knowing the whole way what a blow-up there would be.

    My mother cared for her MIL while she was dying, and Grandma wanted to pay her for it. Mom refused to accept payment, so Dad accepted it on her behalf (without her knowledge). And then turned around and bought Mom’s Christmas present. He paid cash for the “little red sports car” Mom had always wanted, a 1991 Mazda Miata, which at that time would have been three years old. This car without the car payment is the only acceptable way to give a car. Mom loved the car and they still own it.

  • Cat December 20, 2012, 9:31 am

    MIL needs to learn to take action other than screaming. He shows up with the new car; MIL says, “Oh, a new car! I just have to take it for a spin!” She jumps into the driver’s seat with him as a passenger and says, “We cannot afford this. We need to live within our budget. Where did you purchase this because I am taking it back now!” She drives to the dealer, gets their car back, and returns to say, “Oh, it didn’t drive well so we took it back. We’ll look for another one later. Now, is dinner ready?” Deal with the problem; tantrums are for very young children.
    A rule for those about to wed: One of your major arguments will be about what you buy and how much you spend, for there are those who seem to think that credit isn’t really money spent and those who are descendents of the original E. Scrooge. Sometimes they marry.
    A good rule to have is that you agree, at least in a compromise, about major purchases. Houses, cars, trips…anything that is over a certain amount requires a discussion. Make a “Wish List” of what you want, either together or individually, and draw from that.

  • Cat December 20, 2012, 9:44 am

    Another story about major purchases and disagreements between married people. I was friends with a teacher in my department, and socialized with him and his wife. I was buying furniture for a new house. After ten years of marriage, the wife wanted her own house and furniture too. The husband, “Harry” blamed me for making “Harriet” spend too much money on furniture. He felt that living in a small apartment was all they would ever need.
    They were trying to adopt a baby. I saw Harry one day, and he seemed a bit depressed. He told me that they had applied for a baby well before his friends had, but that the friendss had already been given a child while he and Harriet were still waiting.
    I know something about adoptions so I asked if his friends lived in a house or an apartment. Why, a house, what did that matter?
    I explained that adoption agencies sometimes see young people in apartments as transients with no roots in the community, and suggested that he tell his adoption worker that he and his wife had wanted to buy a house, but had not for fear that moving would slow down the adoption. He might mention that they wanted a fenced-in yard with room for a sandbox and a playset. Just see what her reaction was.
    I don’t know what the worker said, but they bought a house faster than anyone I have ever seen. Sometimes you need, not only a shared vision, but a shared need.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith December 20, 2012, 9:46 am

    The problem with losing your temper is that you have also lost your power. Many people secretly pride themselves on the strength of their tempers and consider their outbursts to be fearsome weapons that will dissuade anyone from going against their wishes. As we see from the story above, the MIL merely demonstrated that being passionately angry is loud and unpleasant.

  • Shalamar December 20, 2012, 9:54 am

    I can sympathize. I love my parents dearly, but they’ve never been shy about having a fight in front of company, oblivious to how uncomfortable they’re making everyone. Once I dared to confront them afterwards and tell them how awkward they’d made everyone feel; they stared at me in astonishment as though I’d suddenly sprouted another head.

  • Nikki December 20, 2012, 9:58 am

    Oh, wow. And I thought my in-laws have had their moments (and weird car buying practices). This takes the cake.

    I personally think more of the blame falls on the FIL because he deliberately set his wife up to be upset and because he obviously was buying himself a new car in the guise of presenting her with a Christmas present. He even had the gall to use OP’s family and the holiday season as the time to attempt to “avoid” the likely emotional scene from MIL. There is no excusability for his behavior. The MIL should have had better control over her feelings, however; an outburst like that is not acceptable, ESPECIALLY around people who barely know you.

    I think choosing not to socialize with this couple – at Christmas or anytime else – is a wise move for OP’s family to make, regardless of whom they think is the guiltier party.

  • Emmy December 20, 2012, 10:07 am

    This is the Homer bowling ball times 10000. His plan to present the unwanted gift at the Christmas dinner to prevent the justifiable reaction was manipulative and underhanded. I can understand the wife not being able to pull it together and play happy at the family dinner when she is that upset. I know if my husband did something like that without consulting me and would affect our financial future for a long time, I would feel the same way. However, if she couldn’t pull it together, she should have said she wasn’t feeling well and left. It is unfair to spoil dinner for the rest of the family.

  • --Lia December 20, 2012, 10:15 am

    The purpose of an argument, whether noisy, quiet, in private, or in front of others, is to air differences, communicate better, and come to livable compromises. It isn’t to get into an erupt-simmer-erupt cycle. Which is what this couple is doing. They’re having the same argument over and over and making each other miserable. I blame whoever isn’t insisting on marriage counseling. Failing that, I blame whoever hasn’t filed for divorce.

    But now I’d like to run something by the EH crowd. My question is “what’s a hostess to do?” Would it have been alright for the LW’s parents to stand up at the first sign of escalating trouble and say “what a shame this dinner isn’t turning out to be an enjoyable time for either of you” and then proceed to kick them out of the house? I don’t blame them for not socializing with them any more than necessary following an incident like that.

    And a question for PM– I’m dying to know what the super special feature on the van was. I don’t know much about vans, and all I can think of is how excited I was as a child when a new (used) car had electric windows.

  • Elizabeth December 20, 2012, 10:15 am

    I put 60% of blame on Chris and 40% of blame on Sandra. WOW! Take your drama home, people. I’m a bit surprised dinner waited while they screamed in the garage. Perhaps best to proceed while they hash it out (read: kill each other). I don’t think I would have worked around their insanity and held dinner till they joined the group. They should have politely excused themselves and just left. And OP’s husband isn’t responsible for his parents’ behavior in any way.

  • Abby December 20, 2012, 10:16 am

    I don’t know…having been a Sandra before (I mean, with the car problem, not the screaming problem) I just feel so sorry for her. Finally thinking your husband has grown up and you’re done with car payments only to find out you’re back at square one is beyond frustrating. If I had been Sandra I would have not been able to hold my emotions in. I would have probably left immediately.

    I feel sorry for the people forced to sit and watch the drama but I can’t put Sandra in the same league as her selfish, irresponsible, manipulative husband.

  • Valerie December 20, 2012, 10:30 am

    Of course, I don’t know this couple’s whole history – but I think that living with someone who deliberately and repeatedly ruins your joint finances would be enough to sour anyone’s temper! And perhaps eventually make you not care who knew, either.

    I also note that the husband knew exactly where his wife’s hot-button was, and spent tens of thousands of dollars to push her over the edge in front of other people. She’s uncontrolled, but he’s evil.

  • Goldie December 20, 2012, 10:31 am

    Honestly, I cannot blame Sandra for reacting the way she did. Anyone who can keep their cool after their significant other surprise them with a new, unplanned major purchase, expecting a thank-you for it no less, should seriously consider a career as a professional diplomat.

    I confess I had a Sandra moment once. I lost it at a Christmas dinner party in front of forty guests (all of them our friends; no family). I was starting divorce proceedings that year, and had just hired a lawyer and put a deposit down on an apartment for myself and the kids. We had been married 20 years, i.e. pretty much all our adult lives, and I was very upset about having to end it, but it was not a good marriage and I felt we’d run out of ways to make it work. I hadn’t told any of our friends about it, but my husband had apparently confided in a friend of his. At the party, this friend decided to talk to me about my marriage. First, he pulled me aside and talked to me one on one. I told him, “let’s have a deal, I stay out of your marital problems, and you stay out of mine” and thought we were done, but he decided to talk to me about my relationship with my husband again, this time at a dinner table, in front of my husband and 40 other people. So after he asked me, loud enough for all to hear, if I’d ever loved my husband at all, I admit that I told him he was on my last nerve, stood up, and left the table. I spent the rest of the party hiding from everybody in a back room. I probably could’ve handled it better, but I had been very depressed and stressed out to begin with, and he insisted on talking about the very subject I was depressed about, and refused to drop it no matter how I asked him. It was just the last straw. So I do understand what Sandra felt. Only thing I can say, as someone who’s been in a troubled marriage herself, that Sandra should have been used over the years to her husband doing that kind of thing, and as such should have been prepared to handle it better in front of her in-laws. It was not a total surprise to her, since he’d done this before.

  • Helen December 20, 2012, 10:34 am

    Yikes! Not the point at all, but I don’t understand why people who want new cars every two years just don’t lease the thing. The payments are lower, and you can keep getting new cars.

    Not that I understand the need for a new car every two years, either.

  • AE December 20, 2012, 10:40 am

    Z – That is the sweetest thing ever! I got all sniffly just thinking about the collusion for such a wonderful purpose.

    As for the OP’s MIL, I would be royally steamed, too. Fortunately my DH and I have our cars in our own names, so he could never spirit away my valiant steed…not that he would. Heck, when he wanted to trade in HIS car, he still consulted with me anyway.

    The whole thing reminds me of that TV show where they used to “steal” a person’s car with the help of their family/friends and do a complete “pimpin’ ” rebuild. While it sounds like a cool idea, I just cannot help but imagine my reaction if someone took MY project car away from me and did whatever they liked. Especially some of the aesthetic decisions that were common, like putting in electric door locks and entirely removing the exterior door handles from 60’s/70’s muscle cars. Those chrome door handles are awesome!!! Why????
    I always half expected someone to burst into tears during the reveal.

  • postalslave December 20, 2012, 10:44 am

    This story made me really sad. Other posters putting blame on the wife makes me sad too. I can not image how stressful their marriage must be. The husband is horrible. He bought something they could not afford knowing it would anger his wife and then decided to bring that argument to his son’s in-laws house. Selfish and spoiled. My heart goes out to the wife. A history of irresponsible spending and the stress of new people.

    We can all say we would have handled this situation differently but it’s easy to say that in hindsight. The thought of publicly fighting with my spouse is mortifying and I can say I’d take it outside but I don’t think that would happen. I think I would have reacted the exact same way as the wife in this story. Then I would divorce my husband.

  • Wendy B December 20, 2012, 10:55 am

    I have to wonder what happened earlier that morning as well, or earlier in the week. I wonder if he had been needling her about something previously and she was trying very hard to keep it together and suddenly this happened and it was the final straw.

    I don’t know what I would have done in similar circumstances…fortunately, my husband is wise enough to know better as well. The only way I can imagine him doing something like that is if we had been talking about replacing one of our cars and had been looking but hadn’t made the purchase yet. At that point, he would be pretty confident that it would be an okay “surprise.”

    Everyone else has remarked on the behavior of the two, so I guess what I need to say is, how have they stayed together all this time? And how has this attitude affected your husband and his brothers?

  • Not Amused December 20, 2012, 11:09 am

    I have a question- what do you do when you are an innocent bystander who is held hostage at a holiday gathering by this kind of confrontation? Should you leave? Should you insist the troublemakers leave?
    What if it is happening in your own home and you can’t leave?!

  • Mrs. Lovett December 20, 2012, 11:16 am

    @Z, now that’s the way to give a car as a present! What a lovely story! It’s a gift-giving experience that’s all about graciousness and gratitude. MIL is grateful that DIL takes care of her in her poor health. She tries to show her gratitude by paying DIL, but DIL graciously declines and cares for the mother of her husband with no expectations of compensation. Husband accepts money and uses money that is a surplus to the usual family budget to show love and gratitude to the wife who is caring for his dying mother. Not only does he buy her a generous gift, but he buys her exactly what she wanted. I love it!

  • Lauren December 20, 2012, 11:32 am

    The car stories remind me of something that happened to my parents a few years ago. My mom went to spend the day in the city with her friends. While away my dad saw a piece on the news about dogs at the pound that were about to be euthanized. One in particular was a bedraggled three legged German shepherd mix. Without asking my mother, my father drove to the pound and, after making the dog would get along with their current dog, adopted him.

    The kicker? He told my mom he found their new pet roaming the streets of Queens, NY.

    My mom wanted to take the dog to a no kill shelter but my father wouldn’t hear of it. Finally, after 6 weeks (during which time my mom fell in love with the new dog), he came clean. My mom forgave him but he won’t be able to pull that trick again anytime soon.

  • Abby December 20, 2012, 11:36 am

    The MIL’s reaction was inappropriate, yes, but it was EXACTLY what the FIL knew would happen, so I place him squarely in E-Hell all by himself. What a selfish jerk. It’s one thing to waste money you have to waste, but another thing entirely to keep doing it when you can’t afford it, affecting not only your own quality of living, but that of your spouse as well. New cars are nice, yes, but so are yachts and vacation homes on private islands. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.

  • Shannon December 20, 2012, 11:50 am

    I think the lion’s share of the blame falls with FIL. Yes, the MIL reacted poorly, but FIL set her up in an impossible situation. FIL is a master manipulator and tremendous child.

    I also think that those of you who are saying they would have remained calm, and done everything perfectly, are probably kidding yourselves. Yes, it’s possible to react better than the MIL did. Nobody should have a temper tantrum. But I sincerely doubt anyone, when confronted with such a cruel and narcissistic spouse, would simply nod politely and ask for a cuppa tea. Let’s be real.

  • Princess Buttercup December 20, 2012, 11:54 am

    Personally I would have excused myself and husband from the gathering, gotten in the car and made him drive us back to the car lot. There I would have insisted the car be exchanged then returned to the gathering in our old car. And husband would get the ear chewing of a lifetime when we went home afterwards. (And if by chance the car lot was closed already or otherwise wouldn’t exchange then we would have gone home and called the others to let them know to celebrate without us)

  • Shannan December 20, 2012, 12:05 pm

    I have a friend who’s boyfriend has had several temper tantrums during social situations. Afterwards, he throws a pity party for himself beause everyone’s upset with him instead of being understanding of what maked him mad in the first place. He never understands that the reason everyone’s upset with him is because of his temper, which usually dwarfs what the offending party did.

  • Kristin December 20, 2012, 12:07 pm

    Why would you buy a car for someone who hasn’t been allowed to choose the model and color, let alone test drive it?

    It’s a good thing they don’t live in California. Once you drive a car off the lot, you can’t return it!

  • The Elf December 20, 2012, 12:18 pm

    Giving a car for a gift is like giving a pet for a gift. It’s such an individual choice that there’s no way you could possibly get it right, and you’ve now obligated the person to future expenses.

    I’m puzzled how husband was allowed to sell the car without wife’s consent. If they are that close to the margin, they likely needed both signatures on the credit applications, which means owner and co-owner. I know when we’ve traded in our cars, both of us had to sign. I suppose if MIL is a stay-at-home mom who never returned to work then they’d only need the FIL’s signature as he’s the only income.

    Since my husband also has a love for new cars (the difference is that we can afford to change up fairly frequently), I’m really, really familiar with the process of trading in and buying new. In two cases, I let my husband pick out the next ride absent me. I gave my financial information to the car dealership over the phone. When it was all ready, I had to show up to sign all the papers before the trade in and sale could be completed.

    But despite the choice of gift, bad manners on the part of the in-laws. The FIL for causing the scene (he had to know it would cause a scene) and MIL for making the scene. Save that one for the ride home, guys.

  • livvy17 December 20, 2012, 12:31 pm

    Merry Christmas: here’s the enormous bill for something for me.

    What a piece of work. Maybe I’m making assumptions here, but a lot of times, musicians don’t make the hightest or steadiest of salaries – perhaps that might be anothe reason the MIL wasn’t fond of new cars? In any case, while I absolutely agree she should have kept her temper in public or removed herself from the situation, I too would consider FIL’s selfishness EXTREME provocation. The fact that he tried to use his children and his child’s in-laws as tools to get what he wanted just makes him more loathesome.

  • The Elf December 20, 2012, 12:33 pm

    “That being said, I don’t understand the desire to have a new car every two years.” I knew someone was going to say this! People always do.

    The answer is because some people really love cars. It’s their hobby. I don’t understand it – it’s not my thing – but my husband absolutely adores his cars. He washes whatever he owns religiously, he’s always reading about the car industry and the latest technologies, he carefully researches what modifications he wants to make to his car. When he decides that he wants a new one, he so thoroughly researches what he wants that the car dealerships are stymied. It’s a little hard to sell a car to someone who knows more about the car than you do, and is adamant about every feature on his list right down to the color. If the dealership doesn’t want to deal for the exact car he wants at the price he is willing to pay, he walks out and goes somewhere else. Eventually, someone always cuts the deal he wants.

    My part of it is mostly financial. I test-drive the car and if I hate it we don’t buy it. That’s only happened once (Sorry, Chevy, but if you want to sell me a sports car try to make it drive like a sports car and not a tank.) I have a budget for the car that he cannot exceed, I run the numbers to make sure we can afford it before he even walks into the dealership, and I have budgeted for a car payment for perpetuity. Because he takes such great care of our cars, we get the best possible price on selling it, which promptly gets rolled into a down payment, which drops the payments to a level that can be paid off within our budget within 2-3 years, right around the time he gets tired of his existing ride and has his heart set on the next best faster more awesome thing.

    So, it doesn’t matter than you – or for that matter, I – don’t understand it. He loves cars, we can afford them, so why not? I don’t see this as dramatically different than someone who collects purses, except that the cars are more expensive.

  • Mich December 20, 2012, 12:35 pm

    I’m not sure that I blame the MIL for going off like that. Her husband assumed that this would be a good time to present his wife with HIS new car because he assumed she would not make a fuss.

    If I saw my spouse driving us into insolvency, I would not care who heard my anger. After all, this car was going to have an impact upon MY credit as well. This has been a long bone of contention between them, be played her and she was having none of it. Uncomfortable? Absolutely! But does anyone here really think that the car would have been going back to the dealership if the MIL hadn’t made such a scene?

  • sv December 20, 2012, 12:38 pm

    Allowing yourself to be drawn into such a scene was definitely the wrong thing to do, but man oh man, do I ever sympathise with Sandra. I doubt I could have held it together either. Her husband sounds like a selfish, petulant child.

  • Cat Whisperer December 20, 2012, 12:42 pm

    When my dad, who was bipolar, went on a manic swing, one of the things he would do is buy a new car. And my mom would go on a screaming, crying jag. And sometimes the new car got taken back to the dealer, and sometimes it didn’t.

    FWIW, I can understand Sandra’s screaming at Chris. My mom, who was rarely given to screaming, expressed the reason why she would scream at my father very succintly during one of their fights when he brought home a new-to-him car, an overpriced lemon of a used pick-up truck that could only seat three people (with my mom, dad, three brothers and myself, there were six of us total): “I’M SCREAMING AT YOU BECAUSE WHEN I SPEAK LIKE A NORMAL, SANE PERSON, YOU DON’T HEAR ME!!!! IF YOU DON’T LIKE ME SCREAMING, THEN WHEN I TELL YOU SOMETHING IN A NORMAL TONE OF VOICE, LISTEN TO WHAT I SAY!” I’m pretty sure Sandra could identify with these sentiments.

    Since this is an etiquette submission, and not a relationship or mental health submission, all I can say is that etiquette makes you responsible for your own behavior, but not that of other people. I think OP’s parents, who apparently tried to avoid the whole emotional blow-up and behave with whatever cordiality they could summon, probably did the best they could with a bad situation. And making a decision to avoid Chris and Sandra socially is probably a good decision for all involved.

    Sometimes there is no way to make a bad situation better. All you can do is try to soldier through it without making things worse, and hope that you can avoid repetitions in the future.

  • Cat Whisperer December 20, 2012, 12:43 pm

    Oops– forgot to turn the “bold” feature off, sorry about that! My bad.

  • Elle December 20, 2012, 12:43 pm

    Okay, yes admin your are correct that meltdowns, outbursts, and screaming should be saved for private moments. Buuuuuut…….

    This past Thanksgiving I got a call from my parents in the morning that they wouldn’t be able to make it to dinner. I’m not going to launch into backstory, but suffice it to say this was not a run of the mill “oh well [stuff] happens” situation. It took me twenty minutes of sobbing in the guest bathroom before I could face my in laws again. (And they are very sweet people who spent the entire time asking my husband what they could do to make it all better). Point is, *I* barely had the presence of mind to excuse myself and the objects of my anger weren’t even there. I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been if the incident put me several thousand dollars in the hole

    MIL’s reaction isn’t polite, it’s hardly optimal, but it’s completely understandable.

  • June First December 20, 2012, 12:46 pm

    Ok, I have an honest question from an etiquette standpoint:

    Would it have been ok for the OP’s parents (who hosted the dinner) to say something like, “This sounds like a private conversation. I’m sure you’ll want to continue it at home.” ??

    I just feel like the poor OP’s family was taken hostage by the temper tantrums of their guests. Other than trying to bean-dip and change the subject, is there a polite way for the hosts to address this?

  • GleanerGirl December 20, 2012, 1:07 pm

    Merry Christmas, sweetheart! Here’s five more years of debt and tightening YOUR belt to bankroll MY wants, and I sure hope you didn’t have anything of value stashed in the car, because it’s gone, now!

    I don’t blame your MIL, at all, for the way she felt. Frankly, I’m just glad she didn’t hop into her present and wrap it around a light pole. Driving angry is dangerous, but when you are in one of those “Don’t make a scene” situations, it is VERY tempting to make a quick getaway to a place where you CAN make a scene, even if no one is there to witness it, including the very person who caused it.

    I’d rather put up with a screaming match and some aggressive comments over dinner than a car wreck, and possibly death and/or dismemberment. So, yeah. She didn’t react in a particularly polite way, but it could have been a whole lot worse.

  • GleanerGirl December 20, 2012, 1:09 pm

    SarahLovesFabric – you’ve got that right.

    There are two circumstances where I believe seeing the new car with a pretty bow would be good: 1) The car was paid for in cash from money set aside specifically for big presents, and not eating into the rest of the budget, or 2) The car was a planned purchase, and the husband maybe picked it up earlier than planned, so the wife wouldn’t be put out of her way to get it. Of course, in that case, the bow is just silly.

  • Andi December 20, 2012, 1:29 pm

    Wow – and I thought my husband surprising me with a new puppy on Christmas was bad!

  • Lo December 20, 2012, 2:02 pm


    In light of your answer I do believe I was little too harsh on the MIL. Obviously she handled it badly but it is a stretch to say we would have handled it perfectly in her position, you’re right. I’d like to think I would have kept it together long enough to get away from the innocent parties involved but in all probability I’d have locked myself in the bathroom or something. That would have caused as much of a scene as yelling and screaming.

    I do applaud anyone who could handle such a situation with grace.