≡ Menu

Anatomy Of A Polite Spine

I have a very hostile relationship with my aunt. At first, she didn’t like me and I grew to dislike her. On the other hand as a teenager, I babysat all my cousins, including her sons, with great pleasure, whenever I could. As time went on, we only met at Christmas so I didn’t get to know her sons as well as my other cousins.

Other things happened between us but the one that takes the cake is this. One day, she, my uncle and my cousins moved to my part of the world (about a 10 minutes drive). I was deliriously happy and invited them to dinner and lunch repeatedly but they never agreed.

Eight months later, it was the day before my fiancé’s birthday, I got a phone-call from her. She explained to me that my cousins never saw me (ok) and a bunch of other sentimental things, then explained that the next day my 17-year-old cousin was taking a train at the station the next evening and I should go there and keep him company until he got it. I had spent many hours in station waiting for trains alone when I was his age but I still understood her concern. I refused nonetheless – it was exactly the same time as the dinner reservation my FIL had made for my fiance’s birthday celebration with my MIL and SIL (well all soon-to-be, of course) so, for the first time since she knew me, and to my own astonishment, I told her no, I couldn’t, explained why and stood my point until she hung up. She tried guilt-tripping me for her lack of planning, but to me it didn’t feel like an emergency, rather a demand.

A few months after that, they moved away. Two years later, I met my uncle at a family function and he told me that she had finally “forgiven” me for that… 0622-14

And this is what a polite spine looks like.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Justme June 26, 2014, 4:25 am

    I love people that cant be bothered with you until they need something. There was nothing for this person to forgive. She requested, you declined. She was probably ticked because you didn’t bow down to her demands.

    • Cecilia June 26, 2014, 8:34 am

      ? Exactly.

      Kudos, OP.

    • Cecilia June 26, 2014, 8:36 am

      Exactly. Auntie did not need your food or hospitality, she just needed you to sit with her son.

      Kudos, OP.

  • Anonymous June 26, 2014, 6:15 am

    That’s a great story. Also, it gave me an idea. You know the E-Hell shop? How about making “polite spine” T-shirts? There could be a spine printed on the back, where a person’s real spine would be, and it’d say “Polite Spine,” and then on the front, it’d say either “I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” or “Lack of planning on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on mine,” or something to that effect. I’m thinking a black shirt would be best, because vertebrae are white, or close to it.

    • JO June 26, 2014, 7:48 am

      I would buy one of these!!!

    • Yellow Rose June 26, 2014, 8:50 am

      I like that idea with the spine on the back. I’d like the famous one word sentance on the front: No.

      • Anonymous June 26, 2014, 8:39 pm

        Yeah, that could work too.

      • Red Cat June 27, 2014, 9:41 pm

        How about “‘No’ is a complete sentence.”

    • Wild Irish Rose June 26, 2014, 11:51 am

      I’d buy one!

    • Vrinda June 26, 2014, 12:41 pm

      For variety purposes, we can use many dark colors – navy blue, dark purple, dark green, red, crimson, burgundy, bluish purple, and even fuschia.

    • Bri June 26, 2014, 2:39 pm

      No, not white, silver. Then it’ll not only be a polite spine, but a shiny steel one at that.

      • BB-VA June 26, 2014, 8:50 pm

        Excellent suggestions from all, but Bri put the icing on the cake!!

    • kit June 27, 2014, 2:04 pm

      Wouldn’t it be quite as rude as that maternity t-shirt? Half the people said it was rude, remember.

  • DGS June 26, 2014, 6:25 am

    Great job, OP! Polite spine all the way. Kudos.

  • Ripple June 26, 2014, 6:43 am

    Good for you. Her lack of planning did not make it your emergency. And what 17 year old boy wants to spend significant time with a virtual stranger of the opposite sex while waiting for a train?

    • Goldie June 26, 2014, 10:22 am

      Seriously! What’s the point of this request? I believe my sons were something like 13 and 16 (and both over 6 ft tall) when one day it dawned on me that I shouldn’t be walking them around bad neighborhoods, dark streets etc, like I used to for their safety. Having me with them was no longer an asset to them, but a liability – two tall teenage guys would be safer on their own than if they had a woman with them, that they’d have to protect should something happen.

      OP, when I read that your aunt had finally “forgiven you for that”, I swear my head exploded. Forgiven you for what – not canceling your fiance’s birthday dinner with your soon to be in-laws because of a last-minute, irrational request from your aunt? How generous of her to forgive you for this only a short five years later… ugh, some people have trouble admitting that the world does not revolve around them!

      • Goldie June 26, 2014, 10:24 am

        Sorry, two years later, not five. My point still stands, though!

      • Rayner June 27, 2014, 3:42 am

        Two teenagers on their own – young teenagers, even if they are six foot tall – are not safer on their own.

        Muggers and their ilk prefer fewer victims to lessen resistance to their crime (would you steal from one person in a group or a single person on their own?) and prefer people who might carry expensive goods but be vulnerable, such as teenagers who have phones + mp3 + other electronics. Having you with them increases their likelihood of not being attacked – three potential people, not two, and one older than the others, travelling in a group, together.

        Implying that your sons would be put in a defensively inferior position by virtue of you being a woman and thus they must ‘defend you’ is a little off. Leaving your sons at thirteen and sixteen to wander around ‘bad neighbourhoods’ to apparently ‘protect them’ because you’ll make them ‘less safe’ if you were there is also skewed.

      • Victoria June 27, 2014, 7:44 am

        Too true. My 14 year old probably feels just as protective about me as I do about him. Of course, he’s got 4 inches and 40 pounds over me…

        And I still find myself looking around and making sure he’s safe when we’re in a store. I should work on that. I’m probably embarrassing the heck out of him when I tell him to keep up.

  • The Elf June 26, 2014, 6:46 am

    (applause) Good job, OP! Even if this were a closer relative, you’d be perfectly in the clear for refusing because of prior commitment. But since it isn’t……. Well, her son’s train schedule is her and her son’s problem.

    (And I’m with you – I have no idea why a normal 17 year old would need to be kept company at a train station.)

    • violinp June 26, 2014, 2:39 pm

      Honestly, my parents would have been petrified to leave me alone at a train station alone at that age. I would have been fine, but my parents (mostly my mom) worried over me and were certain that, were I alone in a strange place, I would be utterly vulnerable and unable to defend myself from any bad person who might come along.

      So, I think it’s a bit silly myself, but I can fully understand a parent feeling that way.

      • Tana June 26, 2014, 6:13 pm

        I bet, however that your mother would have planned the outing, not at the last minute expected someone else to pitch in (unless the scheduled person had a serious emergency.) It’s not the parent feeling like they worry about their kid (they do even when the kid is 60,) but that they can’t be troubled to make actual arrangements.

    • Sarah June 26, 2014, 3:57 pm

      That is ridiculous! At the age of 17 (and one month, so not nearly 18 or anything!) I flew to Paris alone, crossed Paris by subway; changing at least once!, got the train to Bordeaux and managed to meet up with my host family; all with not a lot of French. Two months later, I reversed the process! No cell phones, no internet – GoogleMaps or GoogleTranslate. Just me!

  • Joni June 26, 2014, 8:00 am

    It’s really a shame that this woman’s behavior prevented you from having a closer relationship with your cousins. I hope she feels like it was worth it.

  • LizaJane June 26, 2014, 8:24 am

    Why didnt SHE keep him company? Bet he’d have loved that. ; )

  • Cat June 26, 2014, 8:41 am

    I have to agree with you. I don’t like her either. To imagine that you would abandon your fiance, your future in-laws, and a birthday celebration to babysit a seventeen year-old young man is beyond entitlement.
    I bet he was just so excited by being assigned a “keeper” at a train station. Why not just hang a tag with his name, address, phone number and destination around his neck?

    • doodlemor June 28, 2014, 2:10 pm

      I actually had a great great aunt who was sent to Pennsylvania from Sweden with a sign around her neck when she was a child somewhere around 8 to 10. I think that her mother had died, and that her father and brothers came to the US without her because they couldn’t care for an infant in those times.

  • lkb June 26, 2014, 9:22 am

    I understand the aunt’s concern somewhat, “her baby” was going off to the big, bad world alone. However, if she was so concerned, why wasn’t she at the train station keeping him company and seeing him off?

    Bravo OP, keep polishing that shiny new spine and best wishes.

  • Jewel June 26, 2014, 9:33 am

    Please, please, please, I hope you responded, “And I have forgiven her for only contacting me when she wants something”.

  • Nannerdoman June 26, 2014, 10:36 am

    Wow. She “forgave” you for not asking “How high?” when she told you to jump. I am in awe (of you, not of her!).

  • lakey June 26, 2014, 10:43 am

    Your response was perfect. There’s no point in expecting people who are this unreasonable to be reasonable. That’s why arguing back and forth is a waste of time, even if you are right. Use a straightforward 2 sentence response. No more discussion after that. Sometimes we make the mistake of trying to make the special snowflake understand.

  • hakayama June 26, 2014, 10:44 am

    I am still working hard on resisting explanations when saying “NO”. I have some friends that will actually try to find for me a “way out” of a prior obligation so that I can be where THEY want me to be.
    Probably the key to successful refusal lies in the tone of voice one uses in saying “Sorry, etc.”

    I wonder, OP, if when the uncle said that his awful wedded wife “forgave you”, were you at all tempted to say “La di da, goody gumdrop!”? I know that, even at a young age, I would have heard the little impish voice. At a no longer young stage of life, I’d definitely say something that would show my “appreciation” 😉 for the forgiveness and my non-respect (disdain?) for the “wonderfully charitable and forgiving” person. Without actually saying “your spouse is a miserable, self-centered, demanding gimme pig.”

    • Vermin8 June 27, 2014, 6:42 am

      I think the old school mentality was that if you receive an invitation it’s an insult to the offeror to say no unless you have a previous appointment that can’t be rearranged. Therefore the instinct is to explain why you have to say no – which then invites argument as to whether the previous commitment can be rearranged or not.
      When I was working on a Master’s I’d stay home avoid social gatherings because I knew even if timewise I could do it, there would be an effect that would impact my studies (eg, out a little later than usual, sleep in a little later, less study time in the morning). Plus I’m an ADD type (never diagnosed) so I’d need to set aside 6 hours if I wanted to get 3 hours of study. If I tried to explain that, I’d be told that’s BS. So…don’t give them anything to debate. Just say no.
      There was a previous entry on EH where a woman was complaining about a friend who was always trying to mooch off her. Friend asked her to purchase something (cigarettes? snack?) and the poster told her she had no cash. When they went out to lunch and either post got cash or paid for items at the convenience store with credit, friend but her desired item on the counter, because since poster resolved the funds issue, she could purchase said items, correct?

      The general principle is don’t give an excuse because if that excuse goes away or is no longer invalid, the assumption is that you can now do what is requested.

    • Red Cat June 27, 2014, 9:48 pm

      I posted this earlier, but it’s useful to point out again – ‘No’ is a complete sentence.

      Obviously with some people you want to give an explanation, but, unfortunately, there are others who will use an explanation as a way to negotiate or argue until you give in.

  • Harley Granny June 26, 2014, 10:47 am

    Good for you! I would have chuckled at the Uncle’s statement tho.

    • Vermin8 June 27, 2014, 6:44 am

      I wonder if a sarcastic “oh good! Now I can quit my therapy!” would be an etiquette violation.

    • kit June 27, 2014, 2:16 pm

      I wondered if the uncle had quotes in his voice when he gave her that information.

  • Ashley June 26, 2014, 10:54 am

    Good for you!

  • Abby June 26, 2014, 11:26 am

    I am confused about something- from her story, it sounds like OP and her aunt’s family all live in the same town. So, even if it was necessary that a 17 year old boy be supervised at a train station, the mom is in as good of a position to do it as the OP is. And if the mom has another commitment…so does the OP. I love how babysitting her nearly adult son isn’t a priority on the mom’s list, but she feels it should be on her niece, whom she has tacitly ignored the past few years.

    OP, I’m sure the fact that you’ve been forgiven is a *huge* weight off your shoulders.

  • NostalgicGal June 26, 2014, 11:53 am

    Bravo. It more smelled of a ‘torpedo your event’ than a true need.

    And out of the blue too. Congrats on your shiny spine 🙂

    • Weaver June 27, 2014, 3:32 am

      It more smelled of a ‘torpedo your event’ than a true need.

      That’s what I thought. The request was so ridiculous I wondered whether it was a spiteful power-play by the aunt, rather than a genuine desire for OP to keep her nephew company.

  • Tyler June 26, 2014, 11:59 am

    I know the dynamics are different among different families, but what an odd request (or shall I say demand). I was taking flights by myself at 17. What 17-year-old male needs a distant relative to come keep him company while he waits for a train?

  • myfamily June 26, 2014, 12:23 pm

    Applauding the OP – this is a great example of what a polite spine looks like.

  • Enna June 26, 2014, 12:23 pm

    Well done OP. Honesetly some people are so entitteld!

  • Rebecca June 26, 2014, 12:52 pm

    Oh, how nice of them to forgive you for not changing long-standing plans for something trivial on short notice.

  • Nina J. Hodgson June 26, 2014, 12:58 pm

    I’m ready to plunk down cash for one of those tee-shirts.

    • Coralreef June 26, 2014, 3:14 pm

      Yep, this would be a “Shut up and take my money!” item.

      The OP did a great job. I know that at 17, my own children would rather not have someone babysit them at a train station.

  • JD June 26, 2014, 2:45 pm

    It’s so great to hear someone stand up to a silly demand. The aunt is so off-course in thinking you should give give-in to her last minutes plans for you that you had no prior knowledge of — good for you!
    I like the idea of polite spine tee-shirts, too!

  • Cathy June 26, 2014, 3:31 pm

    Perfect response. Don’t you just love people who only contact you when they want/need something? We had a neighbor like this in our former neighborhood. Always with the demands (and often rudely demanded at that), but if we asked some trivial thing like “could you pick up the mail on the weekend?” it was Oh, no I’m way too busy to do that. But she could leave the state for two months’ vacation and blithely tell us we were in charge of keeping an eye on her house AND her husband who had dementia. Sheesh! I just don’t get how people become that entitled. I was so glad to move away from her!

    • NostalgicGal June 27, 2014, 10:41 pm

      If the husband had dementia and no care provider lined up, she blipped off I would have called social services to step in. She could have fun explaining that one (and probably had authorities track her down and cut her “fun” very short). And be the innocent when she came steaming back.

      Glad you escaped by moving.

  • Steve June 26, 2014, 4:09 pm

    “Two years later, I met my uncle at a family function and he told me that she had finally “forgiven” me for that”

    You should have asked what she wanted now.

    • LizaJane June 26, 2014, 8:51 pm


    • NostalgicGal June 27, 2014, 10:42 pm

      [LIKE] <<<made my own button

  • PM June 26, 2014, 5:07 pm

    Ah, so Aunt is a “You only exist to me when you’re useful to me” person. Well, at least you found out early in life. 🙂

  • Wendy June 26, 2014, 6:46 pm

    The request is stupid really why watch the kid on the station and not on the train or at his destination? Having caught trains through big cities often between the hours of 10pm-4am due to work I know the most dangerous time is not actually on the platform it’s on the train. Aunt should have gone if she wanted a guard for her baby I would cancel my plans for something like this before I ever even for a second considered asking someone else to change theirs.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith June 26, 2014, 10:40 pm

    OP’s aunt does seem to have some issues. Nonetheless- “no” is a complete sentence. It wouldn’t have mattered if your plans consisted merely of continuing to breath in and out in a locale other than the train station where her son was. Love the irony of you being “forgiven” by such a snowflake…who might be so special that she’s delusional.

  • Anonymous June 27, 2014, 6:06 am

    I just had another idea–if the OP’s family were to call Aunt out on her behaviour, intervention-style, they could all wear the “polite spine” T-shirts for the occasion.

  • Anonymous June 27, 2014, 7:02 pm

    Oh, I have another idea–what about “Anatomy of an E-Hellion” T-shirts, that show “Polite spine, good head on shoulders, willing to put foot down,” etc.? They could come in male or female, and different choices of hair colours, and they’d just be stick figures, so there wouldn’t be much need for differentiation beyond hair colours.

  • crebj June 28, 2014, 8:08 am

    Her problem. Move along.