My stepson is getting married this year. His father and I embrace our future daughter-in-law and looked forward to meeting her family. I began corresponding with her mother and expressed our interest in flying out to meet them. My stepson discouraged this; he said they would be visiting our area soon. But we weren’t introduced to them when they came. Later, I received a call from his fiancée’s mother, who clearly mistook me for my husband’s ex-wife. She said she loved meeting me and referred to “the new wife” — me! — as “not blood.” At Thanksgiving, my stepson and his mother flew to visit his fiancée’s family and made lots of wedding plans, including for a rehearsal dinner for which we will pay half. How can we get past all these hurtful exclusions, some affecting our pocketbook? (I note: My husband’s relationship with his ex-wife is frosty.)
I totally understand your bruised feelings. That phone call on which you were mistaken for your husband’s ex-wife sounds awful! I suspect the explanation lies largely in that “frosty” relationship between your husband and his former wife. Visits seem to have been organized to keep them apart and to prioritize your stepson’s mother. (I get that: I happen to be a mama’s boy myself.)
Now, your stepson certainly could have handled introductions more deftly. But ceremonial occasions — like “meet the parents” — can be tough for children of divorce if their parents are antagonistic. So, unless I am misreading this situation, try to forgive your stepson and take the long view: Life won’t end at the wedding! Getting to know your stepson’s in-laws may simply take longer than you expected.
As for splitting the costs of the rehearsal dinner — which I assume was acceptable until you were treated unkindly — I would stick with that plan. If my assumption is wrong or if the price exceeds your budget, speak up. But don’t make a fuss on principle. Letting the small stuff slide in favor of building better relationships is often a wise strategy. I hope it works for you and your husband.
When the Snipes Are About More Than Mess
My wife is an admitted neat freak. Our children and I try our best to keep things tidy to her standards, but inevitably we fall short. She reacts by saying: “Why doesn’t anyone care?” But we absolutely care! And her remarks are hurtful as she rarely acknowledges a job well done. How can I help her understand how hard we’re all trying and how upsetting her statement is?
I’m glad you wrote. This problem seems potentially serious to me. A mother (or spouse) who only knocks family members down, and rarely lifts them up, can really clobber their self-esteem. I interpret the meaning of “Why doesn’t anyone care?” as a shorthand for “Why doesn’t anyone care about me?” — a harsh rebuke by a mother to her child.
Have a serious conversation with your wife, alone, about her expectations and her hurtful behavior. If she refuses to work on this (alone or with a counselor), you need to explore ways to protect your children’s emotional well-being.
Friendship at Fish Prices? A Steal!
My husband, son and I moved to a new community where we don’t know many people. Recently, we invited a new co-worker to our home for dinner with his wife and their child. It was a casual invitation: “Do you want to come over for takeout?” When they accepted, we sent them a menu. They made their selections (including an expensive seafood dish). We called it in, picked it up and paid for it. A fun time was had by all! But when they left, they didn’t offer to contribute to the large dinner bill, nor did they mention reciprocating. I find this baffling and rude. My husband wants to give them another chance. What say you?
You seem to have buried the lead: Congratulations on making new friends in your new town! That’s the significant takeaway (for me). And it would be a shame to spoil that for the price of a seafood dish.
Over the years, I have heard from many readers who split the cost of takeout on the spot, as well as from many others who take turns paying in their homes. It doesn’t sound as if you mentioned payment, so your guests may have thought they were following your lead. Why not give them some time to reciprocate? You can even be cheeky with your new pals: “So, when is takeout night at your place?”
An Overstep Made to Be Stepped On
I live in a so-so rental building. Some of the neighbors on my floor have ratty doormats. So, to make things nicer, I went out and bought new, matching doormats for everyone — at my own expense. After I put them down, one of my neighbors threw the new mat away and put her old one back! How should I handle this?
Start with an apology to your neighbors for your domineering behavior. You may have meant well, but to them your actions could be read as entitled and disrespectful of their property. Decisions about common spaces are best made communally.
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.