DEAR AMY: Our ostentatious friend is getting married (again) — for real, this time. His first wedding was an extravagant affair, complete with a destination bachelor party, a destination wedding at a fancy resort, expensive bottles — the works. We gave him a sizable gift on top of our over-the-top travel expenses. When the unhappy couple split up, after three tumultuous years, we discovered they were never married at all! These two successful lawyers took a look at their relationship and decided not to file the marriage license. They would say that they were procrastinating, hoping their relationship would improve to a point where marriage would become less risky, but it never got there. They certainly blew the 60-day window to file the license, but never returned any gifts. Now our friend is engaged to a new woman. In true fashion, his bachelor party and wedding will be in fabulous destinations and will demand great expense. We plan to give the couple a modest gift. We can't help but feel some injustice has been done, though we're not sure what. He never even sent us a gift for our wedding. Is it petty to consider this all in the past?
DEAR WITNESS: Your friend's sense of entitlement is ... impressive. However — if you don't like the way this wedding is structured, you don't have to participate in it. Being invited to an extravaganza does not obligate a person to attend.
I hope you spoke your mind (to him and his "bride") when you learned that his previous extravaganza was a scam, and I wonder if you like or respect him enough to continue to have a close relationship with him.
It must be tempting to punish him for his previous behavior, but it is important to remember that he isn't the only person participating in this wedding. His bride should be presumed innocent (until proven to be equally craven).
If you attend, a modest gift is called for. If you don't attend, you're off the hook.
DEAR AMY: My husband and I have been married for almost seven years. He has seven sisters (he is the only male in the family). He has one sister who always has to be the center of attention at family gatherings. It's so damn annoying! She always has to bring up the expensive family trips she has planned for the summer, and is always bragging about how good she has it, as if to say, "Don't you wish your husband was rich like mine?" She acts like a snotty, spoiled teenager. I would like to scream and tell her to shut up! If I sit down with one of his other sisters, she butts right into our conversation because she's "assuming" that I'm talking smack about her. I go to these gatherings for the sake of my husband and in order for our son to spend time with his cousins. Should I just sit in a corner and not talk to anyone, so I won't get bitten by the "poisonous serpent?"
DEAR CONFUSED: If your sister-in-law acts like a spoiled teenager, then perhaps you should treat her like one. My preferred technique is to remember that I am the grown-up. Sometimes — reacting at all is just feeding the serpent.
You should practice behaving in a way that comes off as mature, detached, and overall neutral. Be aware that your body language can betray tension, and so try not to clench when you encounter her.
In a family as large as this one, it should be fairly easy to avoid your sister-in-law. You should strive to engage in positive conversations with your other relatives at these gatherings. Never gossip about this in-law with her siblings — even if they invite you to trash her, the rules of sisterhood dictate that they can criticize her, but you cannot.
DEAR AMY: "Stepmom-to-be" shared her concerns that her future adolescent stepson didn't do some little things around the house, like "pushing in his chair after dinner." This made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Thank you for this line: "You should ask him to choose ways to contribute, go easy on him when he flakes out, and give him credit when he does well." I got a stepmom when I was his age, and I felt like she only noticed when I messed up!
DEAR STEPSON: The whole "step" relationship is a long game. Yes, positive reinforcement is vital.