Sex Ed in Higher Ed

College instructor teaching human sexuality rants about the dumbing down of America, the lost art of manners, grammar and (the perfect combination of both) the thank you note. Also includes random rants about life, pet peeves, and sometimes raves about favorite things.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Better late? Or never?

What do you do when someone consistently and almost regularly is crazy-off-the-charts rude to your spouse? Except, unlike in “normal” situations, you can’t write that person off or refuse to see him or her or chalk up the whole thing to having bad taste in friends and just move on? Because the person who (with unbelievable consistency) treats your spouse as though they have absolutely no regard for his time or feelings is . . . his family?

Mr. J. has an . . . unusual family, to say the least. He has been a part of this unusual family for 37 years, so he is used to their, um, behavior. I have only been around for about 4 and a half years, so I am still shocked (although I should know better now) when they don’t show him the courtesy I show my dog groomer. Or my nail technician. Or the lady who waxes my eyebrows. You get the idea.

One family member, in particular, seems to have failed to ever grasp the time-space continuum. Or the concept of cell phones. Or manners. Mr. J.’s sister, Helena, is just a few months older than me. She is 36. She has a 15 year old daughter, Lena. She dropped out of high school and got her GED in her late 20s (I think) due in large part to the constant proddings of Mr. J. (Believe me. That one I get. There’s not a lot I won’t do to get that man off my case when he’s on a mission.) I write these facts not to make Helena out to be some ill-educated criminal, but to illustrate the fact that she has, perhaps in many ways, taken the “road less traveled.” She works at a gas station. This is fine with her. Sometimes I wish I could find her level of career satisfaction. There's something almost zen about it.

A few weeks ago, Mr. J. invited Helena to come out and see our finally finished place. Then he planned to take us all out to dinner to celebrate Helena’s birthday. She and Lena have never been here and we’ve lived here for well over a year. They live about 45 minutes away. Mr. J. always takes Helena and Lena out to lunch or dinner for their birthdays (Lena’s was last month.) Sometimes H. & L. remember to call Mr. J. on his birthday – sometimes they don’t. They can always find our phone number, however, when they need someone to come over and fix their 700-year-old computer. No charge for parts or labor, ever.

So, today is the birthday dinner. Mr. J.’s niece and sister were supposed to be here at 5:00 p.m. It is now 6:31 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. They are officially late. A phone call? No. Why would that be necessary? This is standard behavior. Since I met Mr. J., I have seen Helena not show up for Christmas Eve dinner (after we all waited an hour for her, we finally gave up and started eating), birthday gatherings, (hers and other people’s), etc., etc., etc., The list is long. The problem is, this behavior infuriates me. Because guess what happens? Do you think for one minute that anyone ever picks up the phone and reads Helena the riot act for being amazingly rude and inconsiderate? Nope. Because when she does this, she obviously on some level knows she’s done something wrong (much like my students who know when they’ve missed a critical part of an assignment, but they’re not sure which part) and subsequently does not answer her phone for months at a time. Until everyone clearly has forgotten (or at least forgiven) her blatant rudeness. And then we all move on like nothing happened.

Except. I was not born into this family and I. am. not. used. to. it. I don't find this acceptable. I don't find the words, "That's just Helena. What can you expect?" to be soothing balm. I do not like seeing my husband treated with less courtesy than one treats the maitre’ d. at a really nice restaurant. I mean, when I’ve had reservations at nice restaurants and for some reason can’t make it, I call to cancel.

Mr. J. claims this doesn’t bother him, and doesn’t understand why it bothers me. “I fail to see how this affects you,” he says. Well, gosh. I can think of a dozen ways it affects me. Maybe on some very selfish level, for me it’s the unfairness of the thing. If I treated people like that consistently, I don’t think I’d have anyone left in my life. I know for a fact that I couldn’t get away with treating Mr. J. like that for five minutes (not that I’d want to, but you see where I’m going with this . . .) And from Helena, there is never any embarrassment. There are never any apologies, never any shame or feelings of guilt for blowing off her brother yet again.

And we all know that we (or you or me) can rage on about our families ad nauseum, but heaven help the innocent bystander who finally dares to agree with us. You just don’t go messing with people’s families. Even when their families are messing with yours. Because that's the thing nobody else seems to get. Helena isn't just jerking her brother around with her rudeness. She is now treating my husband like a piece of crap. And while that may be okay with her (and even okay with aforementioned brother - i.e., Mr. J.) it is not okay with me. If she were some random woman in a store or club, I'd probably get all sassy and in her face and say, "Listen, bee-yotch, ain't nobody treating MY MAN that way!" And instead? I'm just supposed to shake my head and smile in amusement. Throw up my hands and say, "That's Helena. What are you gonna do?"


Blogger Veronica Mitchell said...

Yep, that's infuriating. I have never understood why consistently bad behavior is more acceptable than rare bad behavior. If my brother is a drunk (he's not) and pukes in my living room, I don't say, "Oh, that's all right. He pukes in someone's living room every weekend."

June 25, 2006 8:06 PM  
Blogger liberalbanana said...

Yeah, I hate when people are excused for doing "bad" things if that's the norm for them. I just don't understand people who don't call when they're going to be late or don't apologize when they've done something rude. Someone needs to tell this girl that her behavior is unacceptable...

(Kind of off subject, but it reminds me of when my brother would get rewarded for bringing his D grade up to a B and I'm like "HELLO!? I've been getting A's all along! Whatthefuck?!?")

June 26, 2006 10:22 AM  
Blogger Sue said...

I'm with you. I have family who is late like that, but we no longer wait. We have even gone so far as to tell her that the party starts an hour or two before when it actually does. (And those two times, she was on-time...worked like a charm.)

But yeah, it is particularly rude.

June 26, 2006 12:18 PM  
Blogger Teacher lady said...

That might work with severely chronically late people Sue (as it did with your family member), but Helena never showed yesterday. That's right. Never showed. Not so much as a voicemail. As Mr. J. said this morning, she and Lena both love to text message. How hard is it to send a three word text message: "Can't make it"? I guess it's pretty difficult.

June 26, 2006 12:44 PM  
Blogger Glamorous Redneck said...

Yes there is a lot of that in my husband's family too. I don't know what the answer is, especially when it doesn't bother hubby. WTF? How can it NOT drive you insane?

June 26, 2006 12:49 PM  
Anonymous Julie said...

Ugh, ugh, ugh!

My husband's family is late for everything, always, but they are so extremely kind and considerate in every other way that the lateness isn't quite so bad. Though I still maintain that "I lost track of the time" is NOT a good excuse for being late. Even if it's true, please, honey, tell me you were caught in traffic.

June 26, 2006 2:21 PM  
Blogger ColoradoCastaway said...

It is my opinion that anyone who disrespects my spouse is disrespecting me, we come as a set. If you don't like one of us then you don't like us both.

June 26, 2006 2:22 PM  
Blogger Fraulein N said...

Um. Wow. I totally get where you're coming from, but if Mr. J isn't bothered by it (or is pretending not to be bothered for the sake of "keeping the peace"), unfortunately there isn't much you can do.

I hate to say this, but the best way to handle a situation like this might be to get passive-aggressive on her ass. Since you can't get all up her in face like you would with a stranger, it's really the only way to go, no? Don't wait for her to show up. Tell her the event's starting an hour earlier than it really is. Stuff like that. And then when she gets affronted (and people like that always do), pull one of her numbers: act utterly entitled and unapologetic. Maybe eventually she'll get the point; if not, at least you'll feel a bit better. (I know, I know, I'm horribly petty.)

Off the top of my head, I don't know what you could do if she's so rude as to just NOT SHOW UP, but you're a clever lady. I'm sure you'll think of something.

June 26, 2006 3:22 PM  
Blogger Lundie said...

In my book, spouse ALWAYS trumps sibling... Other than that, I feel for ya!

June 26, 2006 10:25 PM  
Blogger Mrs. T said...

Hate the family politics. My husbands family can't commit to any kind of gathering- like a holiday or birthday. Someone ALWAYS cancels or doesn't show up. Bugs the crap out of me. My husband is more of the "Family: can't live with'em, can't kill'em" variety. Personally, I'd like to try the killing 'em.... (Kidding, of course.)

June 26, 2006 10:41 PM  
Blogger Schietto Sister said...

I would make other plans next time Helena is asked to dinner. Obviously, she isn't going to change and I think Mr. J. must feel that it isn't worth getting angry over (he is angry and his sister is still rude.) Perhaps you could not be a part of plans when they involve her?

June 27, 2006 3:06 PM  
Blogger Angel said...

Oh man, just reading this post brought the blood boiling up to my skin. The family of my spouse pulls stuff like this, and I (self appointed only sane female in the bunch) just can't handle it. I can deal with them insulting me (albeit badly), but when they insult my husband? I want to yell, "OH NO YOU DIH-INT!"

It used to drive me insane that he (seemingly) was unphased by it all, and I'd mumble about the various ways monkeys behaved better. And now that he finally speaks up about it? I grin with glee.

August 17, 2006 10:00 PM  

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