DEAR AMY: After a recent family gathering, I received a series of disturbing emails through Messenger on Facebook from my brother-in-law of 19 years. First, he stated that he would like to “talk apart from family gatherings” because he wanted to “get more of a feel for who you are as a person.” At first I thought that was nice, but he then went on to state that there is more to life than “constant surveillance, restriction, etc.,” noting that “everyone needs a safety valve sometimes.” He later noted, “I have carte blanche from my wife to do whatever I want, as long as I don’t bring home any surprises.” Even though he implored me not to “blab it around town,” I’ve shared this with two women friends and my husband. They all think, as do I, that it’s a pick-up, and very odd and strangely aggressive. I, for one, am trying to figure out how I led him to think this would be OK with me. His wife (my sister-in-law) is an angel, but is fiercely protective of him. I think she would just be mad at me and my husband (her brother) if I told her. I have not responded at all to these messages. However, there will be family gatherings this fall and now I don’t know how to behave. Can you make any suggestions? Perhaps I’m reading this incorrectly?
DEAR BEWILDERED: You should make two assumptions: That this is a come-on, and that you have not done anything to lead this man on. Predatory pick-up artists don’t need any encouragement to make contact.
Your brother-in-law is being rude, ridiculous and disrespectful.
You should respond to him (not his wife), saying, “I find these messages very unwelcome and would appreciate it if you would direct your attention away from me. I see you as a family member, along with your wife, and I don’t wish to communicate privately with you.”
If he continues (other than to acknowledge receiving your message), and certainly if he ramps up his aggression, you should screenshot his communication and forward it to his wife.
DEAR AMY: My grandchildren have a fraternal extended family. These family members do not bring Christmas or birthday gifts to the children. Instead they request that the children come to their house to get their gifts and open them at their house — where the gifts must stay. The children are not allowed to bring the gifts home. My family believes in delivering the gifts to the children on Christmas Eve to ensure that they have the gift under their Christmas tree. We do the same for birthdays — bringing the gifts to the kids. These children are 2 and 4 years old. How do we explain to the children that they have gifts that they are not allowed to bring home?
DEAR CONFUSED: You don’t need to explain anything to these children regarding the behavior of family members on the “other” side of their family.
The family members insisting on this ungenerous gift-giving practice are the ones who should bear the burden of explaining to these very young children why they can receive and open gifts but not keep them.
The kids’ parents will then face the uncomfortable burden of coping with the confusion and fallout.
DEAR AMY: I wrote to you about my relationship with a man who was very jealous and had set up secret social media accounts to monitor my friendships. I signed my letter “Heartsick in PA.” Amy, I was overwhelmed with the attention my letter got. So many thoughtful responses. Many of them were right on target. The relationship became exhausting and it was headed down a path that was unhealthy for me. This relationship is now over. It was very hard to walk away, but I have been spending this time focusing on myself and my kids. Thanks to all those who took the time to pass along encouraging words to a complete stranger.
Not Heartsick Anymore
DEAR NOT HEARTSICK: In your original question, you wondered how you could “fix” this relationship. I advised you not to fix it and to protect your children from it. Other responders urged you to run, not walk, away.
I don’t often hear back from readers whose questions have been published in this column. It is a joy to receive this very positive update, and I’m sure I speak for scores of supportive readers who congratulate you for leaving this relationship.