Welcome to Tough Love. Every other week, we’re answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My sister-in-law is getting married next weekend and asked to hold the ceremony and party behind my house since my partner and I have several acres beside a lake. It makes sense to hold the event here, and we were happy to help, but she seems to be assuming that we’ll be her built-in labor. She wants the grass mowed and bushes cut back and just assumed that we’d be able to provide electricity (which she never mentioned paying us back for, by the way, and we’re not charging her anything to hold the party here). We love our land, and I like that the bushes are a little wild and the grass is long, because it feels natural to me, so I don’t want to cut them back to get a more “manicured” look. That makes our wild home feel like a generic golf course. Also, this is a lot of work, and we both have full-time jobs. I feel like every day I get home from work and finally sit down and next thing I know she’s driving up with new instructions and things to worry about. I really value my quiet time, and it doesn’t help that I haven’t had any lately and that no matter what we try to do, she still seems crabby about it. She is honestly like a caricature of Bridezilla. We are happy to help her, but we are not a professional wedding venue, and we’re not paid to deal with emotional breakdowns. Sometimes I just want to scream at her. How do I tell her this isn’t working for me?
That sounds incredibly frustrating, and I don’t blame you for wanting to scream. But you know what else? It’s time to suck it up, cupcake. Your sister-in-law is planning and executing a massive event under communal scrutiny while at the same time preparing for a major life change. It’s not her fault that she’s a wreck, and it doesn’t define her personality. The “bridezilla” stereotype is a cultural self-fulfilling prophecy: The more we scrutinize brides, the more pressure they feel to make everything perfect. And since you haven’t mentioned her fiance, it seems fair to assume that she’s taking the lead here.
You’re not paid to deal with emotional breakdowns because you’re a family member—which means you get to deal with them for free. At this point, the best thing you can do for everyone is go along for the ride. Your real gift to your sister-in-law isn’t the use of your land (which sounds beautiful, by the way); it’s absorbing her stress. Short of making irreversible changes like cutting down trees, you should let her prepare your property as she sees fit. She wants the grass short? Mow the grass. It will grow back. She wants a petting zoo with a baby llama and a disco ball? Start Googling llama handlers. She’s terrified that something will go wrong? Sit her down, make her a cold drink, and let her vent about the caterer—then reassure her that everything’s going to be perfect. You’re sure of it. After all, these are the worries she can control—unlike the fact that her father has a new girlfriend, her mother keeps making passive-aggressive comments about her weight, she missed her last period, and she may well be judged on the execution of this one particular party for the rest of her life. Just, you know, for example.
If the cost of electricity on the day of the wedding is a financial burden for you, then you should bring that up with her gently. Otherwise, there is no benefit to confronting her, and you’d risk hurting your relationship for good. In a week, the wedding will be over. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime event—and if she ever does have another wedding, she won’t want to hold it in the same place. You never have to host a wedding—or an anniversary, or a barbecue, whatever—again. In fact, let this be a lesson for you to say no to similar requests in the future.
Your best bet is to spend the next week focused on harm reduction. Right now, your home is a wedding venue first and a home second. It does not currently belong to you. If you need quiet time, find it elsewhere. Go hiking after work, or camp out on the other side of the lake, or just read a book in the local library. You might also consider getting a hotel room or staying at a friend’s house for the weekend of the wedding. That way you’ll be able to sneak out and take a breather, even during the heart of the festivities. Odds are that your sister-in-law won’t even notice. She’ll be too busy getting married—and then, whether or not the party was perfect, it’ll be over.