The Pool's agony aunt, Viv Groskop, is on hand


Dear Viv: my sister's boyfriend is taking her over

In this week's episode of Waving, Not Drowning, Viv discusses a sister's nightmare boyfriend, pet wars, slacker colleagues, antenatal groups and a racist grandmother

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Dear Viv,

I'm really worried about my sister. She was single for ages after she split up with her longterm boyfriend, but about six months ago she met someone through friends. He seemed all right at first. He moved in pretty quickly and seems to do nothing much except sit around watching TV. He doesn't have any money because he's a musician and, even though he's been offered jobs, he doesn't take them because they'd get in the way of his music. But it's not as if he ever plays any. That's not the real problem though – it's the way she's changed: her musical taste, her clothes, her hair, the books she reads, even her friends. I went to the pub for Sunday lunch with them last week and they obviously had a row while I was in the loo. She looked like she'd been crying and the look on his face really chilled me. But when he realised I was watching, his face completely changed – suddenly all charming, as if I'd imagined it. I'm worried for her, but when I tried to talk to her about it she shrugged me off, and didn't return my texts for a few days.

Ooh, dramarama. I’m immediately going to say to you what I say to a lot of people who write in with letters complaining about someone else’s behaviour – over which they have, basically, no control – and that is this and it’s a bit harsh: beware of being a compulsive helper and beware of being caught up in a drama of your own making. The truth is, unless your sister confides in you, you don’t really know the reality of her situation; you only know what you’re reading into it –and that may or may not be accurate. Things seem this way to you, but you may not have the full picture. You should also be aware that you are in danger of casting yourself as the “hero” of this scenario – the one person who can see what’s going on, the one person who’s in the right. So, is this really about your sister or is it about you?

I only raise this because I think there are other interpretations of this situation. Your sister may have desperately wanted to change. Maybe she and her boyfriend have a relatively fiery relationship, but they both quite like it that way and that’s none of your business. It’s also entirely possible that the look on his face that you mistook for deceit bordering on, “OMG he’s a total psychopath” (see what I mean about dramarama) was actually a look that said, “Oh, it’s so embarrassing that my girlfriend’s sister has realised that we were having a row – I could just die right now.” Similarly, your sister might have been too embarrassed to respond directly to your messages. We all hate being caught rowing with someone, especially if the person who has caught us already seems a bit disapproving of the relationship.

I think if you really care and you really want to look out for your sister, find other ways to show her that you’re there for you. Take her out and do nice things together (shopping is always good here, but maybe that’s just me) -- do things that have nothing to do with her boyfriend and where you don’t raise the issue at all. Just be there for her. If something is going on that she wants to talk about, it will come out and she may ask for your help and you will be ready. But it has to come from her, I’m afraid. It can’t come from you. Sorry to destroy your rescue fantasies – but it’s not up to any of us to fix someone else’s life, especially when they didn’t ask for it and they might be perfectly happy with the way things are.

Dear Viv,

My mother-in-law wants to buy my son a dog – at five years old, he’s far too young to take care of it properly, so it would inevitably be me cleaning up its shit and walking it in the pouring rain. My husband thinks it’s a great plan, as he loved having pets when he was growing up, and his parents think it’s sad that he doesn’t have any siblings – I get lots of snide comments about this decision. I just don’t want an effing dog!

Goodness me, you are quite decided on this, aren’t you? We get it. You don’t like dogs. That’s good. You know your own mind. It’s good to have boundaries and know how strongly you feel about something. And you really don’t like dogs.

But what else is going on here? Rather a lot. There’s the mention of “he doesn’t have any siblings” and all the judgement that implies. Have your parents-in-law actually said that? Or it is just an imagined slight? How do you feel about the fact that your son doesn’t have any siblings? You say it’s a “decision” you’ve taken. If you’re happy with that decision, you don’t have to explain or justify or excuse it in any way. Stick to your guns.

You don’t have to justify why you don’t want a pet. Equally you don’t have to justify why you don’t want another baby. You are entitled to live your life the way you want. The difficulty here is that your husband disagrees. But there is some wiggle room here. Does he really want a pet or does he think a pet is “a great plan”? These are two different things. One is a situation where he is pushing for this himself and the other is a situation where he’s just going along with what his mother is proposing. Does he know how strongly you feel and that you really don’t want to change your mind, especially as you know you will be the one looking after this dog? Let your husband relive the joy of his pet-owning childhood via the magic of photographs. They will make a lot less mess.

I don’t think, by the way, that having a pet is remotely some kind of effective sibling substitute. So if anyone is suggesting this is a a solution – "Don’t have a baby, get a puppy instead!" – then really they need to take a long hard look at themselves. Perhaps don’t say that to your mother-in-law in quite those words. But I’m on your side here. Say no to the effing dog.

You can hear the answers to these and the following questions on Viv’s podcast, Waving, Not Drowning, above.

Dear Viv,

One of my colleagues is a total slacker and really just crap. We all work overtime every day to get all the jobs done. Recently, though, she’s started logging her overtime and she’s the only one that does this. But this means that she is owed time, so she gets days off. We’re shortstaffed and those of us who are working have to stay late. If we all logged our overtime, we’d all start having days off in lieu and the rest of us would just have to work longer, so it’s a vicious cycle. And actually, if none of us did, and all just worked our normal hours, we would be able to get all the jobs done in time. It’s only because she’s started taking back her overtime that the rest of us are having to work harder. It’s massively frustrating because we need her to stop doing it, but at the same time I know she’s too selfish to do that. Help!

Dear Viv,

I kind of hate everyone at my antenatal group. They all act like having a baby makes them the most special person in the universe, like no one else has ever had a baby before. There’s also a lot of one-upmanship about prams and maternitywear and birth plans and God knows what else. How do I avoid becoming "one of them" (ie smug mum?)

Dear Viv,

I’m getting married in summer and recently met my fiancé’s grandma for the first time. She was nice enough, but kept making ignorant, casually racist comments, which she clearly expects everyone to laugh at. My boyfriend had warned me about this, but I feel really uncomfortable about having her at my wedding now – especially considering that a large chunk of my relatives who we’ve invited are from other countries. Can I uninvite her?

Got a question for Viv? Email her at The Dear Viv podcast airs on The Pool at 5pm on Tuesdays. All letters will be edited for length. Unfortunately Viv cannot reply to your emails personally. 

The Pool's agony aunt, Viv Groskop, is on hand
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