As soon as I read this email, I knew I would be using it in the column. I contacted the emailer right away. This email is me and I am this email. The same thing happened to me, sort of.
It may seem like a crazy issue or an issue that really isn’t an issue, but it’s something I am having trouble with. I’m close to getting engaged to my boyfriend. In short, his sister is someone whom I knew back in grade school. She’s a year older than me, but we knew each other. I’m not going to say that she was a “bully,” because that word carries a lot of weight now. So, let’s say that she made my life uncomfortable at times, especially on the school bus. When she graduated, I never saw her again.
Everyone says they aren’t the same person they were when they were younger. I’m 28. How can I be the same 10-year-old version of me? I matured, developed a personality, found my place in social circles, my career, etc. I knew when I was redt to my boyfriend that he was her brother, but yeshivah was 20 years ago. I agreed to go out. If the shidduch worked out, I figured she may remember me, but not in grave detail. We’re grown-ups. I have met his family a few times, including his sister. She remembered me very well and started telling stories from our past that embarrassed me. Everyone laughed. I laughed at them but cringed also. After the second story, I asked her not to talk about things from back then, “when you had a habit of making my life miserable.” Her reaction? She laughed and told me to get over it, “no big deal.”
But it is a big deal. I am not joking when I say that I forgot one story she told about what she did to me and how I reacted. I forgot about it for good reason; it was very embarrassing! It all came back to me. I may be grown up, but why is she living in the past? I asked again not to share her memories since I’m the star attraction and I come out looking like a loser and I’ve put it behind me a long time ago. I also would prefer to forget about those times. I’m not saying her stories trigger something in me, but my whole mood changes when she starts. I also would rather my soon-to-be chasan not to know that side of my life, or at least not yet. I would share it, but when I want to. I’m forced to listen to them now. It’s like if I was a fat child and someone made me feel bad about my weight every day was sharing stories. They aren’t good memories for me. I asked her to stop, but she hasn’t. What more can I do? This really bothers me.
Malka, thank you for your email.
I can definitely relate. Without knowing it, you nailed my adolescence. I was heavy-set and I have some very hurtful memories that still play in my mind every so often. Showtime usually begins when I am reminded of it by “a friend,” or run into the person who made my life hell back then. You are in your right to be angry that she is sharing your history, the part that doesn’t paint you in the best light with your soon-to-be chasan and in-law family. Personally, I think these are your stories to share, if you want to. This girl may consider them part of her life, but then what does that say about her? You didn’t want to call her a “bully,” and you didn’t provide any examples of what she did to you back in yeshivah, which is fine, but the stories probably don’t paint her in a good light. She thinks she is sharing stories that involve her younger self, but it was a mean younger person.
Let’s switch the narrative here, and I mean that literally. Your soon-to-be sister-in-law may love telling the story and being the center of attention, but if she made you feel bad in those instances, wouldn’t she be the “bad guy” in these stories? Since asking and telling her to stop got you nowhere, why not see if she enjoys being portrayed in a bad light. One can argue that it’s petty to do that, not right, childish. Say what you will, but I’m not above fighting words with words. What if you add, “…and I felt horrible after that and cried into my pillow.” You may get some sympathy, or not, but start speaking in a way she understands.
Case in point: One summer when I was ten, two of my “friends” asked me to do something to prove my friendship to them. Me, being the people-pleaser I was back then, and wanting them to be my friends, readily agreed to what they asked of me. In all honesty, I forgot all about this memory. It’s embarrassing and hurts me that I was treated like that by friends; and I was so desperate for friends, I did what was asked. But a few years ago, I met one of those “friends,” and while reminiscing about the good times we had together, she brought up that incident. “Remember when…” and now with a few other ladies! It all came rushing back to me. Like a wind, WHOOOOSH! I was in that place doing that thing. Everyone laughed. I laughed, too. Then I told her she was such a nasty kid for playing with my emotions that way, knowing my need for friends back then – especially when she had no intention of making me her bff whether or not if I did what she said. She did it for fun. A ten-year-old knows the difference between right and wrong and I don’t care how old you are, what she asked me to do is not acceptable at any age. And why did she do it? I now had the opportunity to ask her what the purpose of it all was. She laughed and said, “I just wanted to see what you’d do.” One of the others who heard the story told her she was a horrible disgusting child and wonders how she even had friends if this is how she treated others. I’m not lying! This other person helped me turn the tables on my one-time “friend,” who I truly believe brought up the memory just for kicks. Why else? We were in a group of women who we didn’t know back then. Why share a memory that involves only one person in your group and an embarrassing one at that.
Malka, ask your soon-to-be sister-in-law why she felt the need to constantly bully you, a younger child, and why she feels compelled to tell everyone and make you relive those moments all over again. Ask her why she found joy from making you miserable back then. I’m not saying to be confrontational. But if this “grown-up” begins sharing childhood memories where you are the star, stop her. Turn the tables.
Children begin to learn the difference between right and wrong, nice and bad, at young ages. Granted some lines can be blurry, but if she really made you feel miserable and she is older than you, then chances are she knew what she was doing was wrong; if not, she would have shared these stories with her family a long time ago: “You know what I did today? I...” But if this is their first time hearing it, why keep it a secret?
Usually, when welcoming a new member in the family, you do all you can to make him or her feel welcomed and comfortable. She is not rolling out the welcome mat, even if she thinks she is by reestablishing this “connection” she had with you. She may think she is, reliving the good ole days. But they weren’t good for you. And if your sister-in-law still doesn’t understand what the “big deal” is about, then you may just have to ask your bf, her brother, to step in, which may get ugly and complicated. But if he knew how upset she was making you, I’m sure he’d put an end to it.
Hatzlachah to you all.