Monday, February 12, 2018

The Case of the Busybody Aunt

Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax got involved in an online conversation with a busybody aunt. The aunt’s letter explains the situation clearly:

I have a niece in her 20s. She’s been living on her own for years, far from me and her parents.

She’s become engaged to a man her parents have met briefly. I have not met him. Her parents are very hostile to their wedding plans. I’d like to reach out to my niece in support, but I’m not sure how to go about it.

She moved recently and I don’t have her address. If I ask her parents for her address it will raise a red flag, but I do want her to hear at least one positive voice over her engagement. If I contact her, I also risk her telling her parents, who will be mad at me. Looking for a safe road through the minefield.

As Hax astutely points, it’s none of her business. She does not seem to know anything about the prospective groom, so why is she butting in. The letter writer is displaying a breathtaking level of social incompetence.

Hax is right, but only up to a point:

If you’re not close enough to know how to get in touch with her, then I’m not sure you’re close enough to her to be a significant source of support for her right now.

Plus, countering her parents’ message is your only motive; you know nothing of this guy; and your niece might use your support as leverage against her parents, right? Thus the “red flag” of just getting contact information? Scenes like this usually involve caution tape.

You can, of course, always, get in touch with your niece just to say hi and congratulations, assuming you can restrain yourself enough to stay in a listening role. For this, you can request your niece’s contact info without guilt or ulterior motive.

After telling the aunt that she should not get in touch with her niece and should not butt it, Hax adds, as an afterthought,  in the last paragraph, that she can get in touch with the niece to say congratulations. And how, pray tell, would congratulations not be seen as a gesture of support. 

I will note in passing that this aunt seems to know nothing about computer searches and so does not know how to find anyone’s contact information online. But, if she asks the parents she will be alerting them to the fact that she wants to butt in.

If I may, might it not be a good idea for the aunt to ask her relatives why they are so hostile to the marriage. Assuming that she does not know already and is not simply hiding the information from Hax. If she does, we and Hax do not. She ought to understand that loyalty to the parents, one of whom must be a sibling, is more important than butting into a situation where she is not directly involved. She should not contact her niece, unless, of course, she wants to take the parents' side and discourage the upcoming union.


whitney said...

Seems to be more about the aunt's relationship with her brother or sister.
The niece is very far away and doesn't contact anyone.Hmm.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Indeed, the aunt is almost surely covering up something or other... the niece is clearly alienated from much of her family. I suspect that if we knew about the pending marriage we would not look so kindly on it either.

Jack Fisher said...

There's not enough info to judge the kid. Twenty years old is, in almost all ways, still the Age of the Stupid, especially if she is in kollege and rebelling against everything (meaning parents). Aunt is a busybody, but totally understandable, who wouldn't want to watch a train wreck?

Christopher B said...

I'm not entirely sure it's fair to say the young woman is alienated from everybody merely because the aunt reports that she lives far away and her parents have expressed to the aunt or others some misgivings at her impending marriage. The young woman has enough contact with her parents that they know about the wedding, have met her prospective groom, and the aunt is concerned that contact with her would be reported to them by their daughter. They appear to have the contact information the aunt lacks so the person the woman is avoiding, if anyone, is most likely the aunt. We also don't know what, if any, reservations the parents have expressed to the daughter. It might be that they have only expressed these privately to the aunt or other people, and are being publicly supportive of her plans. If I was to guess, the offer of support is only a smokescreen to tell the daughter that her parents disapprove of the marriage. I would even be willing to bet that such situations have happened in the past, or otherwise the aunt would not be concerned that her contact with the daughter would be discussed with her parents.

Sam L. said...

One might presume that the niece will send her aunt a wedding announcement/invitation. If not, no present!

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Perhaps Ares Olympus will chime in with his omniscient wisdom, claiming both sides have a point.