THE BLOG

ADVICE 31: My Aunt's Going To Ruin My Wedding

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Photo Credit: Brent Stoller

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One of my aunts has a hard time respecting my boundaries, which makes me very uncomfortable. This aunt calls me her "favorite niece" and has been fixated on my since I was a child, even though I only saw her once a year. She has no children and is single.

Ten years ago, I moved to go to grad school, which is less than an hour away from my aunt. Since the day I got here, she's been very intrusive. She continually asks highly personal questions (I don't answer), she snoops through my home if I let her in (I've learned not to), and she tries to engage me in cruel gossip about my mother and sister (I will not).

Since she refuses to respect my boundaries, I have greatly reduced the time I spend with her. This has sent her into a spiral. She has left me voicemails and sent me emails -- some saying how "special" I am, some saying how "disappointing" I am. I have told her I refuse to engage her when she does this, but after after a month or so, she starts up again.

I am getting married soon, and without my knowledge, she began planning a bridal shower. She used my fiance's mom to help her. To save my aunt from embarrassment -- and to shield my lovely future mother-in-law from this craziness -- I agreed to go ahead with the shower.

Recently, my aunt has been leaving even more desperate messages while also complaining to my extended family that she is being left out my wedding planning. It's nothing but lies and manipulations.

I am quite concerned about what I'm going to do with her at the wedding. My parents and sister have agreed to take turns watching her during the ceremony, but I'm not sure what else I can do.

I am planning to cease all contact with my aunt after the wedding. My fiance knows what she is like, but we haven't told his parents yet. I know we will do it sometime before we have children.

Help, please! What do you do with a relative like this? Do I out her to my in-laws and extended family? Or do I merely burn all my possessions, declare myself lost at sea and start over with my fiance in Tahiti?
--Not Estelle Havisham!; Portland, OR

And I thought my mom hocking me about cutting my front yard was inconvenient.

What you're describing is straight out of a Hollywood writers' room; all that's missing is Michael Douglas and a bunny.

Sad as it may be, your long-term goal, like you said, should probably be to cut your aunt out of your life. But with your wedding on the horizon, you have to consider the short-term, as well.

Which is why I'd separate your strategy into two phases:

(Pre-)Wedding

From now until "I do," it's all about survival. Do whatever's necessary to get you down the aisle and through your first dance with minimal damage.

As tempting as it has to be to uninvite your aunt from the wedding -- and lord knows she's earned the revocation -- it's clear that would do more harm than good. She's proved she has no problem doing anything and everything to get what she wants.

And what she wants is to feel involved, to feel important. So like you did with the shower she threw you, why not embrace the madness?

In the Seinfeld episode, "The Reverse Peephole," Jerry, George, Elaine and Puddy attend a house-warming party thrown by their friend, Joe Mayo. For every get-together he hosts, Joe Mayo assigns each guest a task: You keep an eye on my sound system to make sure nobody puts their drink on it; you answer the phone in case someone's calling for directions.

At an earlier party, Jerry was charged with music selection, and expected to be again at this one. Instead, Joe Mayo asked that he guard the aquarium to prevent anyone from tapping on the glass.

This, we learn later, was no accident. It turns out that Joe Mayo had been dissatisfied with Jerry's previous DJ'ing performance, and thus invented an alternate role in order to keep him away from the stereo. It was a genius move that solved the problem indiscreetly yet directly, while also empowering its target with a (meaningless) responsibility.

That's what I'd do with your aunt. Come up with some small, insignificant task she can do for the wedding, like making sure the cake doesn't fall over. (Don't laugh...this happened to one of my friends. If only Joe Mayo had been the wedding coordinator.)

She obviously doesn't deserve this, but remember, it's about the big picture. Yes, you'll have to feign appreciation, and yes, it'll be enraging to involve her in anything, even the make-believe. But it's a means to an end. And more importantly, it's only temporary.

Post-Wedding

This is when you do what needs to be done.

To this point, it sounds like you've been doing everything right. You've put up boundaries, you've reinforced those boundaries repeatedly and you've done it all in a respectful manner.

Yet none of it has worked, so it's time to seek alternate solutions.

I'm curious...of your parents, whose sibling is she? Could either your mom or dad step in and take control of the situation? Could they provide protection for you while getting your aunt the help she needs? Just because her fixation is on you doesn't mean you should have to go it alone.

Beyond that, I'd make it as clear as possible to your aunt that, unless she seeks professional help, she can no longer be in your life. And because she's shown no capacity for listening, I'd do this via letter/email. Be kind and be compassionate, but leave no doubt -- then stick to your guns by refusing to acknowledge anything she does thereafter. One slip-up and you'll be right back where you started.

As for outing her outrageous behavior to your current and soon-to-be relatives, I think you have to ask yourself: Is it worth it? As far as I can tell, you've gotten this far without her gossip harming you, so why bring it up now?

On the other hand, there's a case to be made for standing up for yourself. If she's spreading lies about you -- and it's likely it'll get worse once you cut ties -- you have to consider righting those wrongs. Chances are people know she's not of sound mind, but when your name's on the line, you can't take that for granted.

Of course, should you choose that route, I'd also start checking on flights to Tahiti.

COMING FRIDAY: Summer Lovin'(?)

Need more ADVICE? Check out the most recent installments:

ADVICE 30: The Debate Over Premarital Sex

ADVICE 29: My Jealous Boyfriend

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ADVICE 27: Should I Tell My Crush How I Feel?

ADVICE 26: Surviving a Long-Distance Relationship

ADVICE 25: I'm Dating a Married Man

To send in a question, please complete this short Google form. All submissions are anonymous, even to the author.