The Washington Post Sunday
How to let others know that you’re the good Samaritan, not the gatekeeper
Dear Carolyn: I am directly responsible for three at-risk family members: my husband, a 90year-old aunt who does not live with us and a nearby cousin. For the past year I’ve been the outside person who accompanied them to medical appointments, went shopping for them, etc. We’ve all been very careful and fortunately no one has gotten sick.
But now I have family members asking when “I will allow them to visit” all three. The aunt has told me she wants no visitors until everyone is vaccinated. The cousin also wants no visitors yet and my husband agrees. But somehow, I’ve been cast as the gatekeeper. Any snappy replies? I have said, “It is up to X,” or, “Please ask X,” but no one is listening. — Gatekeeper Gatekeeper: “It’s up to X.” Perfect answer.
If they keep not listening, then for their stubbornness they will be rewarded with yours: “It’s up to X” — unsnappily stated and restated, verbatim, for all eternity. Or until they figure it out, whichever comes first.
If that’s unbearable, then add, once, “Please stop asking,” and don’t answer anymore after that.
Yay for you for holding everything together for your highrisk group. I suspect we won’t ever fully grasp the volume of heroics and micro-heroics pushing us through this crisis, but I’m grateful to learn of yours.
Dear Carolyn: My significant other and I are recently engaged (woohoo!) and starting our wedding plans. Eloping is an option, but we would love an excuse to bring together everyone we love and haven’t seen for so long once this is all over — spring or summer 2022, fingers crossed.
But, I’m a recovering peoplepleaser, and all the opinions and requests about our wedding from people who are not us are already wearing on me. My future in-laws in particular have a history of seemingly expecting everyone to fall into what they want and not really understanding how others might have different, valid values and desires.
My fiance is comfortable standing up for himself and us and doesn’t really care what his parents want, though he’d be happier if they were happy. But he and I are pretty go-with-the-flow so we don’t have a lot of experience drawing those boundaries, and just hearing all their opinions that I take as judgment makes me unhappy and anxious.
Any advice? Is this just a me problem? — Wedding Stakeholders Wedding Stakeholders: Decidedly not. Others are responsible for “all of the opinions and requests about our wedding,” which sure look excessive from here.
But as the sole — to borrow your word — “stakeholder” in your own feelings, it’s up to you to find a sustainable way to deal internally with external pressure. Because even if you skip the wedding, the pushy in-law or the boundary-challenged whoever stands ready to have many, many
thoughts about whatever you do next. (Have kids? Batten down those hatches.)
The dynamics are neatly contained, actually, in your own phrasing: “hearing all their opinions that I take as judgment.” What they say is on them; how you hear it is on you.
You can certainly advocate for yourself to influence their part, and say you’re overwhelmed with well-meaning suggestions. Honesty is a gift.
But they can also ignore you and keep piling on. That’s why the kindest thing you can do for yourself is work on your ability to retain your own shape under pressure.
The first part is the hard part: accepting that you’re still lovable and worthy even when you do X with full awareness his parents want you to do Y. That you’re still lovable and worthy even when you disappoint people. That you’re still lovable and worthy even when you’re the only one who believes in what you’re doing.
That you’re still lovable and worthy even when it turns out everyone was right all along, and you messed up.
Give yourself grace where before you gave yourself rules to follow, expectations to meet, approval to seek.
Displeasing will probably always stir up some vestigial guilt. Okay then. You can see that coming and remind yourself it’s just there and you don’t have to obey it.
You can even co-opt it as your reminder to give others the same grace. They’re flummoxed by boundaries, too, just from the other side. So make it easy for them. “This is what works for us. I hope you can join us, but if not, I understand.” Then don’t discuss it further. Because it’s your wedding/marriage/home/child/ life, not theirs. Knowing yourself helps others, too. It shows where you stand.
That brings us to the second part: preparing answers to pushy people so you don’t lose your nerve in the wording.
“We’re all set, but thank you.” Done. “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind,” or, “Interesting,” when a hard “no” just gets them started. “Look at the time! We’ll be in touch.”
Then watch your world not crumble when you stand up for yourself. Some relationships might, yes — but only the ones based on pretending you’re not yourself.