Madame Ms. Meniscus,
I'm almost thirty and engaged to be married to a wonderful man who is there for me even when I'm feeling horrible from my rheumatoid arthritis. However, his mother came to see me and said I was selfish to marry her son with my being so sick. She even offered me $50,000 not to marry him. I told her to go away and leave me alone. My question, should I tell her son what she has done?
—Lisa in Love
Oh my dear Lisa-in-Love, what a quandary you have …a manipulative mother who‘s not yet an in-law. The more Madame thinks about it the more that woman is sounding like a modern (yet vulgar) version of Lady Catherine de Bourgh — Mr. Darcy’s famously haughty aunt of Pride and Prejudice who shows up one morning at Elizabeth Bennet’s door to demand a promise that Elizabeth not marry her nephew. If you’re not familiar with her Madame recommends the book, and if need be, the film, preferably an earlier version. However, what worked in the early 19th century English countryside (barely a word was spoken of the encounter) will certainly not suffice today. Just because someone has money to throw around doesn’t mean they garner respect or generate fear, neither of which worked on Elizabeth. Like her, you are being tested very early in the relationship and what happens now could set the tone for the rest of your marriage.
You should tell your fiancé about the encounter, but do so gently, gently gently. No raging at him, because you don’t want her tactics to be successful – and they have the potential to do some damage if the two of you end your talk in a heated battle where he insists “she didn’t mean it”, and you insist “ yes, she did”. You don’t want to lose the battle before you get to the front line. In fact you don’t want a battle at all. You want him to take this egregious behavior seriously and the only way to succeed is to tell him clearly and with a minimum of emotion (and Madame Meniscus understands the almost overwhelming desire to scream. Let her say it for you: how dare she bribe you.
In order to insure the happiness of your marriage, your future spouse must be willing to address the situation with his mother, again, as calmly and with as little drama as possible, but not before he hears how the attempted bribe made you feel and further, how it illustrates a lack of respect for the two of you. The clearer you are now about your personal and relationship boundaries, the better the relationship will fare. Be firm because there is a danger that he will continue to appease his mother, a scenario that Madame suspects may not be something new.
Let us hope that Mr. Wonderful phones up Mother dearest and asks: “Whatever were you thinking? I love Lisa. Your have hurt her and at the same time, you’ve hurt me.”
What we don’t want is for the “attempted bribe” to be down- played or dismissed as if mother was only joking.” What Ms. Meniscus senses is that Mr. Wonderful is a warm, caring individual and it may be a challenge to stand up to his mother. Perhaps, if he could reassure her that he will always love her dearly, and now, with you at his side, she will have another person loving her as well. Remember, you catch more flies with honey, and as awful as this must have been for you, she too must be feeling quite desperate at the thought of “losing” her son to another woman. Time will tell if she will become more accepting of your marriage, but time will never erase an act of kindness, or, of love. Stand firm, but kindly.
Madame Meniscus wishes you all good luck and she’d like to leave you with the hope that gentleness (yours and his) in the face of ugliness becomes transformative for all involved.
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