Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Ask Natalie: Husband’s adult children creating havoc in your life and financially draining you?

DEAR NATALIE: A few years ago, I hosted a birthday party for my husband at a nice restaurant and invited his four kids, their spouses, and their 9 grown grandchildren; all of whom are heavy drinkers and live out of town. When I was presented with the bill, I was surprised at how expensive it was and got up to question the waiter. As I did, my son-in-law approached me and asked, "How do you like the cost of the wine?" When I searched this charge on the bill, I saw that one bottle of wine cost $400. I'm sure that my face represented my shock and I said to him, "You knew I was paying and you never even offered me a glass of wine." My husband was finally offended last year when we took them to dinner and my 26-year-old step-grandson ordered four bourbons. When he mentioned it to his daughter, she brushed him off and said that he was under a lot of pressure to find a job. For me, the pandemic has been a welcome pause from these types of uncomfortable family visits. His daughter is now trying to set up a visit with us soon. As senior citizens, we have been vaccinated, but our daughter and some at-risk family members on my side have not been vaccinated yet. My husband has told them about our concern, but I am afraid that they will just show up on our doorstep. His kids have done this in the past, calling them “ambush visits.” Is there a way for my husband and I to politely decline to see them if they come to town?  Also, what is the proper way to prevent their exorbitant alcohol charges on the bills when I am paying?

—EMOTIONALLY SPENT

DEAR EMOTIONALLY SPENT: These people sound like vampires, sucking the life out of you both emotionally and financially. I cannot even fathom justifying a $400 bottle of wine, let alone expecting someone else to pay for it. To add insult to injury, the fact that you weren’t even offered a glass is beyond rude. It’s downright hostile. The “ambush visits” that you are concerned about concern me, as well. His family clearly has no sense of boundaries or manners, and I can understand why you would be worried for your physical as well as mental health around them. This comes down to standing your ground, creating boundaries and sticking to them. If you do not feel comfortable with his family visiting  -- and who could blame you considering we are still in a global pandemic -- then you need to assert yourself. Let his kids know that you will not be able to host them for the foreseeable future. If they wish to engage with you or your husband, Zoom will have to suffice for now as you are still wary about visits even after everyone is vaccinated. As far as the dinner bill is concerned, the next time that you have them for dinner, either take them to a restaurant where there aren’t expensive bottles on the menu or order takeout and eat at one of your family member’s homes. Another solution is to go to a restaurant that is BYOB so that they have to bring their own wine if they want to have it with dinner. It creeped me out that your son-in-law said what he said to you about the bottle of wine. It felt incredibly passive aggressive, like he wanted to punish both you and your husband. Unfortunately, we can’t choose our family, but we can limit the type and frequency of engagement. Luckily they live out of town, but if they are causing this much anxiety around even the possibility of a visit, it is time to lay down some boundaries and stick to them. 

DEAR NATALIE: My girlfriend and I moved in together due to COVID-19 and things seemed fine for a while. However, lately, she tells me that she wants to see other people. She still wants to live with me and date me -- I have been paying our rent -- but now she wants to date other guys, too. I don’t really want to have this arrangement, and I wonder if she isn’t already seeing someone else. What do I do? —GIRLFRIEND ISSUES

DEAR GIRLFRIEND ISSUES: Your instincts are most likely right on this one. She could definitely be seeing someone already and I would ask her about that directly. If you were interested in an open relationship, that would be one thing. But clearly, you aren’t. It sounds like she wants to continue having you pay her rent while she does whatever she feels like with whomever she wants. You have to make a decision here. Do you accept the terms laid out for you or do you move forward without her? Regardless of your decision, make sure that it factors your feelings into it, too, and not just hers.

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