Way too nosy

Way too nosy

Dear Carolyn:

My 13-year-old niece is tiny and has a big nose. We live in a community where a lot of teenage girls have cosmetic surgery at 16. I suggested to my brother in private that his daughter may be a candidate for this procedure. (My 19-year-old stepdaughter and my wife have had nose jobs.) My brother was deeply offended and angry over my remark. We are not talking. Was I over the line in making this suggestion in a private setting?

— P.

Of course you were, and you know you were. You just called your niece so ugly she needs to be fixed, to her own father — and you presumed he needed you to say so. Insulting and self-important.

You sent a letter to me, too, so clearly you’re not some naif shaped solely by the values of your little button-nosed pond; you swim to some extent in the ocean of our culture. And while cosmetic surgery might be so common in our ocean by now that its bolder recipients laugh about it openly, it’s hardly the simple snip-and-go you make it out to be. There are legitimate matters of safety, body- and self-image, cultural identity and aesthetic value, just for starters, that are far from pat or settled — and that’s just in the collective view of society. Apply these matters to the life, confidence and physique of a barely pubescent girl, and you were into outrageous-overstepping territory pretty much when you opened your mouth.

All of the above makes your excuse — that many of the fish in your pond are surgically altered in youth — sound completely disingenuous, so you can add insulted intelligence to your brother’s list of valid grievances against you.

I’m saying all of this as someone who has no emotional ties to anyone involved, and who fully supports the right of any adult to take control of his or her appearance, your wife and stepdaughter and the rest of Stepford included.

When I mentally put people and faces I love into this equation, though, I want to roar. People tend not to grow fully into their bodies until well after age 16. A nose that looks disproportionately large on a teenager can be Modigliani-stunning on a 26-year-old whose face has caught up. And even when it doesn’t, the thought of some uncle privately advising a dad about his beloved child of any age, “Uh … that whole face thing isn’t goin’ so well, is it,” I need to bite down on a stick.

“In private,” by the way, just tells me you were fully aware this was touchy stuff.

So take the above as a rough estimate of the repairs you’re facing with your brother. I won’t defend his not speaking to you — all this should be coming from him, not me — but I also wouldn’t expect him to bounce right back if you merely toss off an “I’m sorry.”

This apology has to show your brother that you get it now, that you should have before, that your values need an overhaul and that you don’t expect him to trust you until you prove you’re worthy of that. In other words, apologize, make it good, and try some scrutiny — of yourself and of the moral dry rot in your community — while you wait.

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

(c) 2015, Washington Post Writers Group

Unwelcome surprise guest

Hi Carolyn:

I’ve upset my daughter-in-law deeply, but am not sure exactly why. She is a stay-at-home mom. She kindly offered to watch their 16-month-old son for the long weekend while my husband and son went on a special father-son hike for my husband’s birthday. I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity for just us girls to spend time together. I also don’t drive much and don’t love being home alone when my husband is gone.

For these reasons, I suggested that I also drive up with my husband (about eight hours) and help her out. In no uncertain terms, she said that would “not be the best thing” and gave a few reasons it probably wouldn’t work out. I considered them and thought I could deal with some of the things she pointed out.

Well, I surprised my son and daughter-in-law by coming up anyway. Much to my dismay, when my daughter-in-law saw me, she burst into tears and ran out of the room. My son wasn’t pleased with me nor was my husband, who “thought I had worked it all out.” My daughter-in-law ended up pulling it together and was cordial, but distant. I enjoyed seeing my grandson, but I left feeling very unwanted and unloved.

What exactly did I do that was so bad? How do I remedy a situation when I don’t know exactly what the issue is? I don’t want to be “that” mother-in-law.

— How to Be Close?

The issue is that you showed complete disregard for your daughter-in-law’s wishes because you wanted to visit.

She wanted to be alone with her child for the weekend, for countless possible reasons that may have had nothing to do with you. Maybe she just wanted to live by her own rhythms for a weekend. Maybe she had some girl time planned with friends. Maybe she and your son have been arguing, and she just wanted a few days to think.

Instead, she had to host you, and it’s tiring to host anyone, much less a “surprise” guest.

Yes, you thought the reasons she cited for saying no were fixable, but (a) they were her reasons, so it wasn’t up to you to work around them; and (b) maybe they were just polite, made-up reasons because she was being discreet; and (c) you didn’t even allow her any say in your Plan B!

Regardless of the specifics on her end, you decided that your wants and needs were paramount and just steamrolled her wants and needs completely. You still seem confused that she has needs.

And that is what you have to apologize for, fully, immediately and without defensiveness, which means no “but I thought … “ constructions.

In fact, I think you have to go beyond an apology and offer to make it up to her somehow: “I see now that I imposed myself on you unforgivably, so I’d like to give you a makeup weekend somehow — we’ll watch the baby while you and Son get away, or we’ll treat you to a weekend away for the three of you.” If you can’t manage the trip or afford the gift, then send a gift card to a restaurant they like. Something tangible, ASAP.

You say “tomato,” and I say “to-mah-toe”

Dear Carolyn:

My family is Irish and my brother and his wife named their baby daughter “Aisling,” a rather traditional name. The name is pronounced similar to “Ashley” traditionally, but they are pronouncing it “A-zling.” My father insists on using the traditional pronunciation, arguing that it’s important for a connection to the Old Country and family heritage. He says that when she grows up and has friends he will call her “A-zling” in front of them, but that it’s OK for our side of the family to call her “Ashley.”

I haven’t talked to my brother about this, and I know it’s their call, but my father has asked me whether he’s way out of line. I tried just telling him to work it out with his son, but he insists he wants my opinion, and I’m torn. Is this an “insist on not expressing an opinion” situation?

— Baby Name Clash

I wouldn’t call this a “clash” — your father is asking whether he’s out of line! If names are an EQ test, he’s at least in the upper quartile.

Because this isn’t a disaster by any stretch, I think it’s fine to give an opinion you’re being begged to give. For what it’s worth, what you have already told your father — that you see his working it out with his son as the highest priority, above any issues of heritage or pronunciation — is, in fact, an opinion. But you can certainly go beyond that and say what you think of his decision to act unilaterally as spokesman for the Old Country.

I do hope someone is speaking up for the child, since her opinion is the one that counts most here, and she will eventually be old enough to voice it.

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax[facebook.com] or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

(c) 2015, Washington Post Writers Group


Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

Syndicated Advice Columnist
Advice Columnist Carolyn Hax takes your questions and tackles your problems.

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