Thursday, February 21, 2013

Am I Being Unreasonable?

In which a married woman urgently seeks counsel:

I am married to a man who is the first son of seven. I am older than all his siblings. One of his sisters was a frequent visitor to our home. I feel I did my best to make her feel at home.

For instance I never asked her to do any house work to help me because I feel it is my home and I would do my house work anyway even if she was not around. I allowed her complete freedom in the kitchen to dish her own food and eat whatever she wanted.

Three years ago when she came on vacation she stole some of my gold jewelry. When I saw it with her she denied that it was not mine. Later she insisted that I must have forgotten it in her parent’s house the last time we came on vacation which I know fully well was not true as the gold disappeared from underneath my bed.

Last year again she came to visit and some more jewelry disappeared. We were moving house at the time and in all the confusion she packed quite a substantial number. [I sell gold].

I went to their house to confront her about it and we started to exchange words. I called her a thief. Her mother (my mother-in-law) asked her to deal with me and she slapped me twice. I did not retaliate.

During the peace making process, I gave a condition for which I would forgive. I said she would not call me by my first name any longer. I am seven years older than her. My mother in law jumped up, shouting and saying I had no right to demand that. They are Igbo. The girl is the first daughter of the family.

Well since then if the girl calls me by my first name I do not answer her. If her mother is there at the time, a quarrel ensures as she will accuse me of keeping malice. Now people are advising me to let go and accept this girl calling me by my first name for the sake of peace.

Am I being unreasonable?

First, I want to thank you for your question. I hope that you are still married to your husband, and that despite the misunderstandings you might have with your sister-in-law or your mother-in-law, you have continued to live peacefully with your husband.

If this is the case, have you discussed this situation with him? Have you tried to make him understand how sticky-fingered his younger sister appears to be? If you have not, is there a reason why you’ve not yet discussed his sister’s petty theft or his mother’s apparent unhelpfulness to the situation? If you have not, please do so. Rather than continue to stomach the indignities and the insults that might possibly be heaped on you by a girl that is 7 years younger than you are, please let her older brother (your husband) realize the gravity of the situation. If he loves you, and is moreover mature enough as to want the happiness of his own home first, he’ll have a talk with his younger sister and with his mother if the need arises. You are better off if he steps in and makes it abundantly clear to all and sundry that it is your word and your wishes that take precedence in every matter regarding his matrimonial home. If the situation deteriorates to the worst, it would be better for you and for all if he is the one that makes the decision of forbidding his sticky-fingered sister from ever paying you folks a visit.

At any rate, let us say that you and your sister-in-law are now interested in making peace. She is the first daughter of the family like you say, and it would be splendid if you two could have a very rich and amicable relationship. Is it unreasonable then to demand that your only condition for peace would be for her never to call you by your first name?

Well, the answer is a mixed bag—it is partly reasonable and partly unreasonable.

I do not know what Nigerian ethnic group you come from, but from your piece, it seems evident that while your husband and his family are Igbo, you are not. It may be that in your indigenous culture it is considered highly disrespectful for people to address their elders by their actual names. From your upbringing then, you’ve been taught to address people older than you by some term of respect e.g. Ma, Sir, Auntie, Uncle, Brother, Sister etc. Therefore, it is not altogether unreasonable to request such courtesy in not being addressed or called by your actual first name from a girl who is younger than you by as much as seven years. I would think, given the relative seriousness of your previous clashes with her, that such a modest request on your part would have been easily and willingly accepted. Alas this turns out not to be case. So what then should you do as far as the matter is concerned?

On the other hand, you need to realize that your sister-in-law’s upbringing probably did not involve such supposedly respectful conventions. She was probably raised to call the people of her generation by their first names, and to reserve such supposedly respectful or polite terms for her own parents only or at most people old enough to be her parents. She might even call her older brother (your husband) by his first name and your husband being used to that most likely does not care. Now given the drama you two have had to endure, surely the fact that she calls you by your first name is not so grave an error, is it? Remember that you never mentioned the name she was supposed to call you to make you reply her. But even beyond that, what difference really does the name she call you make if there is mutual peace and understanding between you two? Will you suddenly and dramatically be anything less than what you currently are if she calls you by your name? The answer is no. For the interest of peace, I think you may need to change your mind on this one.

Just think about it—I would have thought that with kleptomania being the name of your sister-in-law’s game, you would be calling for her to never visit you at all any longer since things mysteriously go missing whenever she comes to town. I would have thought that a serious discussion between your mother and your mother-in-law would have been more prominent on your peace solution. I honestly thought that in the interest of peace you might have already sent in your husband to have a frank talk with his meddlesome younger sister. Doing some of these things which I have wondered about would be widely perceived as rational.  However anyone might wonder why you would allow something as seemingly insignificant as a younger person calling you by your real name to become a perpetual rock of offence.

So in the interest of peace I say, inform your husband promptly about the sour state of your relationship with his sister. Then if other genuine efforts are being made by your sister-in-law to restore the peace, you shouldn’t turn your back on such efforts simply because she has elected to call you by your first name. Things could be much worse, and for that, you ought to be abundantly grateful.   

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  1. If its just about the Gold, I bet there are safer means of keeping what you sell than just dumping them under the pillow/bed. She was silent on a lot of things. Does she have kids with the husband? Was she the preferred "wife" for the husband by her family? What role has the husband played on the case or is he not aware of what is happening?