Photo Etiquette and the Modern Family

by A Lady

1. I need some honest, impartial advice here. From you, from other Hairpinners, from anyone really.

My boyfriend and I have been together for five and a half years. That is a pretty long time, especially considering we’re both 23. We love each other very much, have very similar goals, values, senses of humor, etc. We are in the same work field but with different focuses, so we help each other creatively and work together well. Basically, it’s all good. Marriage is forecasted at some point, but right now we are very new to the “real world” and thus have no money and no real clue where our lives are taking us. This is just fine, no big deal.

The problem is … he’s depressed. Like serious, long-term depression. It comes and goes somewhat, but it has basically been a factor for the whole of our time together. It used to be a few good months/a couple bad months pattern, but lately that has changed to weeks, rather than months. Regardless of the time, it’s hard on us. He basically flat out refuses to get help of any kind. I try my best to be there for him, to listen/help/encourage, but it feels sort of fruitless. And, after years of this, repetitive.

At this point you’re probably just like “break up!” right? I worry that’s what anyone I talk to about this would say. But we love each other. Breaking up with him because he has depression feels the same to me as if I broke up with him because he had … like … kidney disease or something. I don’t want to ditch someone I love just because they aren’t perfect. But it would feel much more hopeful if he were getting help for it. And I don’t know how to “make” him do that. Because you can’t really make someone do something they don’t want to.

Ugh. Sorry this is a novel. I’ll stop and see what you and the others have to say!

Oh man, I’m sorry. This sounds really difficult. No, I don’t think you should break up, but I do wonder why he refuses to get help. Regardless, he should be able see what it’s doing to your relationship. Because at this point it’s not just about him — his refusing to get help of some kind is affecting you, too, and the thing you’ve created together. Is there a gentle way to tell him that if he doesn’t get help, at least as a favor to you, that it might be good to spend some time apart to recalibrate? See what it’s like to be alone?

Again, I’m sorry, and I realize that this is definitely easier said than done. Good luck, and I’m sorry if this answer isn’t good enough.

I’ll add that since you’re only 23, and have spent so many of your formative young-adult years together, maybe it would be valuable for both of you — not specifically to address depression, but just for stuff in general — to do more things independently. Do you think that being so together for so long might be draining either of you of anything? There was that article about the value of surprise that seemed interesting. And I don’t mean to sound cold, but is it also possible he’s unhappy in the relationship but too cowardly to end it, and is behaving this way to force your hand?

2. I have an awesome lady friend (the best kind!) who has perhaps gained some weight lately. I don’t know for sure, I haven’t really noticed a big difference, but it doesn’t seem impossible. I think she continues to be an awesome, foxy lady (and from what I can tell, her boyfriend agrees). She’s constantly making comments, though. Every time I see her she says she’s so fat, she’s so out of shape, she needs to go on a diet, etc. (and from what I can tell, her mom agrees). It’s always the same, and I’m sick of hearing about it.

Sometimes I say “What? But you’re super-foxy!” (which she just brushes off), sometimes I awkwardly say nothing. It probably doesn’t help that I lost about 25 lbs during the first half of this year through, yep, good old-fashioned healthier eating and exercise, which she of course noticed and which seemed to bum her out a little, so for a while I would SOMETIMES respond to her comments with, “Do you want me to let you know the next time I’m going to the gym so we can go together?” but that never got anywhere and just made me feel like a jerk after, so I gave it a rest.

She’s complained about herself since before I lost the weight, anyway. My dream response is to yell at the top of my lungs that I think she is an awesome lady and I’m sick of hearing her complain about her body, and that she needs to either do something about it or figure out a way to like herself the way she is and shut the @#&! up about it once and for all, but that doesn’t really seem tenable. So my question for you, A Lady, is what DO I say? What does she get out of all this complaining? Is it worth saying anything at all? Do I just throw my invisible earmuffs on and start humming my favorite song instead?

But that’s exactly what you should say. Seriously, why not. If it’s driving you crazy, next time she does it, yell that you think she’s an awesome lady and that you’re sick of hearing her complain about her body. Maybe skip the “do something” part, though. And you probably don’t even need to yell.

Or just respond with some non sequitur anytime she mentions weight. “Have you heard about the dog that built its own fax machine?” “Did you know they banned wallpaper in Missouri?”

And I’m not proud of this, but I used to complain about a particular physical feature when I was among a certain group of women, one of whom also had a similar variation of this feature (sorry to be vague). But this other woman never complained. She was just supremely chill and never mentioned it, and after a while I realized she didn’t care, which somehow made what I didn’t like about myself invisible on her. Because if she didn’t care, why should I?

Also pointing out things you don’t like about yourself can sometimes backfire if it’s stuff the other person hadn’t noticed or cared about, because they might subsequently care or subconsciously think they should, because you do. (And, I guess this response is now directed at your friend, so maybe it’s pointless.) But then there’s also the flip side, where people increase intimacy by nurturing one another through their insecurities, although I guess I’m not the Lady to talk to about that.

3. Basically the story is this: My parents (finally!) split up last year, and my dad is marrying (today, in fact), a woman who’s six months older than me (26) and a year younger than my sister (28). My parents divorced because of my dad’s long-term infidelities with a multitude of other ladies. Basically, he sucks. My mom and my sister all live in the same metropolitan area as the new couple, and so they see each other often enough for a little drama, but in a large enough city so that not everyone in town knows their business. My little brother just returned home from a mission for his church overseas, and has not been involved in the whole thing, but is coming home to a very different family than the one he left. Oh, I should maybe add that my dad dated his new bride for precisely one week before asking her to marry him.

I haven’t had to interact with the whole situation very much, because I’m in grad school at a state very far away. The far-away-ness has been a blessing and a curse, because I haven’t been as capable of supporting my sister or my mom (or little brother) throughout the whole deal. But at the same time, I’m removed enough from the situation to have a degree of sanity and the capacity to work on my degree. I have been honest with my dad about my feelings and thoughts, from the time he cheated on my mom until today, when he’s marrying this new girl. It doesn’t seem to matter, and I’m just barely starting to allow the possibility that I don’t matter as much to my dad as I thought I did. Pretty rough.

Honestly, the dad and new-mom thing basically just creeps me out. She is like, the younger, hotter, skinnier, more submissive, more subservient, Latina version of my mom. We are basically Modern Family.

So the holidays are coming up, and I really would like to spend time with my siblings, my mom, and our extended family. We have all designated that we would like to spend Christmas in the same place, and so I am anticipating a lot of time with my “new mom” and my dad. Basically, I want advice on how to be normal with them when I feel like the whole situation is gross and weird, while also asserting that I matter to our family. Is it possible? Do I have to hang out with her? Do I have to like her? Do I have to be their impending future kids’ big sister???

And what about my dad? How can I be friends with him again? Do I need to be? We had a really great relationship while I was growing up, and I feel terrible about the way things have gone over the last few years. I would hate to just let my relationship with him die. Is it possible to be normal again???

Well, there’s no such thing as normal, so — yes and no. And she’s not your new mom, and thinking of her as “the new girl” is understandable but also not totally fair.

I’m also curious why you think you “don’t matter,” or what exactly you asked for or hoped your dad would do while you were being so “honest” with your “feelings and thoughts.” Not marry someone because you asked him to? Fix things with your mom? Neither is very realistic, although I sympathize with your frustration and the suddenness of it all, and how jarring it must be that your father is romantically involved with someone who’s basically your age. But why not accept that certain things are out of your control, and apply your energy to things you can control? Like, being friendly with everyone, trying to be the best version of yourself, and approaching things with a sense of humor.

You say you had a great relationship with your dad growing up, and I see no reason why you can’t now. It’s natural to be mad at him, but maybe you can let go of your anger when you get more familiar with the situation. And no, you don’t have to like his new wife, but you do have to treat her with respect and give her a chance. And I know I’m not you, but I would give anything to be someone’s big sister, at any opportunity.

4. My question concerns family photo etiquette. This Christmas we will all be together for the first time in several years. “We” comprises my parents, all of my siblings with their spouses and children, me, and my boyfriend. My mom wants to take the opportunity to have a family photo taken. But what to do about the boyfriend? The photo is being taken in the house, and he’ll be present. I’m pretty sure that my mom won’t want him to be in the photo because he’s not officially in the family. And I agree with her, I guess — “Here’s a picture of our family and my boyfriend” seems weird. But there’s also something weird about making him invisible. I mean, if he ends up officially part of the family someday, then it’ll seem weird and maybe awful that he was there in 2012, when, instead of the Mayan Apocalypse, the rare family photo happened, but there’s no record of it because he didn’t “count” that year. He does count, and I want him to feel included and counted and warm and Christmas-y.

I suppose an important question here is “Is he going to be officially in the family someday?” But I don’t have an answer! We’ve been together for five years and I often think he’s going to be a permanent part of my life. He certainly thinks so, and talks about marriage. But I’m an indecisive 30-year-old, so I don’t know.

What is the best thing to do here? I worry that if I ask my mom what she would prefer, she will assume I want him included, and do so begrudgingly, unhappily. Or flat-out refuse and then feel cranky? I worry that if I ask for some photos to include him, the fact that she will likely order the photos without him will hurt his feelings. (This kind of covering-all-the-details worry is why I’m indecisive.)

Just … take two group photos? Your boyfriend should insist on being in the background for a few pics, beaming at you all looking so festive, and then your family/mom/whomever should cajole him into joining you for another. And then who cares which ones your mom picks. If it really does come down to one option, though, I’d err on the side of including him. “Oh that was the guy I was dating that year” seems about the worst-case scenario. I mean, I guess it could be accompanied by heartbreak, but that can happen with married people, too, or so I hear.

Wait. I just reread your question. Do you not like your boyfriend? Oh my god, I think you want to break up with your boyfriend!

“I worry that if I ask my mom what she would prefer, she will assume I want him included.”

*Giving you a VERY pointed look*

Previously: “How Can I Tell If I’m Boring?”

A Lady is one of several rotating ladies. Do you have any questions for her?

Photo by Ina Schoenrock, via Shutterstock