How do I pretend to be excited about an engagement I'm not excited about?
February 18, 2012 7:01 PM   Subscribe

Sister in law just got engaged. I'm not super excited. How do I fake it 'till I make it?

Short version: I feel like a jerk but my sister in law just got engaged and I am not enthusiastic about it. How do I feign enthusiasm for an entire engagement and wedding without showing my true colors to the wrong people, namely the future bride and groom?

Background: I love my sister in law, who I will call Z. While occasionally intense and princess-y, she’s sweet and generally awesome. The fiance, who I will call M, seems like a good guy. I haven’t gotten any red flags about him.

Maybe two years ago, Z was seeing another guy who she had been with for years. He was okay but generally an unstable ball of drama who broke her heart twice. Z met both her ex and M in college. She’s been friends with M since then. After the ex broke her heart the second time, she was alone for a little while, then started seeing M. Soon after, they moved in together. They’ve been seeing each other for <18 months.

M has a sister, J, who is about my age. Z really likes J who is married and just had a kid. Z and I have talked about how we don’t want to rush into having kids but while that’s what Z says, she’s acting super domestic. She bakes a ton and thinks she wants to start a business baking. She acts like she’s playing house. They just got a dog. I think it bothers me because I’m in no place to act domestic. It’s like she’s playing house. In some ways, I think it’s fake. Adults don’t play house. My husband (her brother) and I have been together for 8+ years and I don’t feel like being an adult is about playing house. Maybe I’m in a funk but that’s how I see it.

I also feel like things are always super easy for her. She’s kind of a princess. She’s working a job that her friend’s dad gave her. I don’t know how that fits in to anything but in some ways, I think the best relationships have been through several challenges. I don’t think her relationship has overcome anything. My mom died years before my husband and I got married. I think having had to deal with that made our relationship stronger. I know that’s not how things work for everyone but there’s that.

Anyway, they’ve been together for <18 months. My husband and I were together for 4+ years when we got engaged. My sister was with her husband for about 5 years before they got engaged. My brother and his girlfriend have been seeing each other for even longer and aren’t engaged. I know different strokes for different folks but yeah.

Part of me is definitely jealous of how it seems like everything comes easily to her but for all sorts of reasons, I am not super excited about them getting engaged. I know this isn’t a particularly unique problem and I know I need to just fake it ‘till I make it but do you have suggestions for dealing with that? My husband is a sweet chill guy and we can talk about stuff like this but how do I pretend to be excited about something that I’m just not that excited about?
posted by kat518 to Human Relations (43 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think this will be a lot easier if you stop making excuses that try to rationalize your negative feelings towards your sister-in-law ("Adults dont play house." "I know different strokes for different folks but yeah." "I don’t know how that fits in to anything but in some ways, I think the best relationships have been through several challenges.") You're jealous that she hasn't had to deal with the challenges you have in life, full stop. This is about you. This is not about her.
posted by telegraph at 7:05 PM on February 18, 2012 [44 favorites]

I think you're in a funk like you said. You're comparing yourself to these people a LOT. You should see a therapist.

Also, you don't have to pretend anything, you just have to be polite.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:06 PM on February 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

How much pretending are we talking about? You wish the happy couple congratulations via phone, Facebook, whatever, what else is there? Are you being asked to be in the bridal party? Is there an engagement party? Even if the last two things are true, I've found you really don't have to go crazy over somebody else's wedding. Just be polite.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:08 PM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: @ThePinkSuperhero, she was in my bridal party. If she has a bridal party, I am guessing that she will ask me to be in it. I feel really close with my in-laws so I don't usually have to be polite, I can just be myself.
posted by kat518 at 7:14 PM on February 18, 2012

Best answer: You haven't said a single thing about them being incompatible with each other or that they're ever even unkind or anything less than good to each other. You have said a great deal about your feelings about your perception of the relative ease of her life.

First, you don't know how much she's suffered in her life; none of us ever really ever knows another's troubles. Second, she's family: If her life has been charmed and happy and free from complication, you should be happy for her.

Don't fake it: Change how you look at it. Realize we only ever a few short years with the wonderful people in our lives, and there are very few times when we have the privilege of knowing, in advance, that a lifetime memory is about to be made. Do justice to that knowledge, and to your live for your family, by being more invested in the succeeds of the marriage, meaning both the day and the lifetime.
posted by anildash at 7:25 PM on February 18, 2012 [34 favorites]

When faking it till one makes it, it helps to remind yourself that you feel uncomfortable about yourself and your own issues, not because of anything Z has done. That's what I do anyway, and it helps. So what if she likes to bake? So what if she's playing house? So what if she found a guy she likes who treats her well? She's not hurting herself or anyone else, right? You can't judge someone for not having a drama-riffic relationship or not doing the same things that you do.

That being said, if you're jealous that your own life doesn't seem to stack up against all the fun she seems to be having, it's better to spend your mental energy building yourself up instead of pulling other people down. This is advice from someone who knows how you feel.
posted by bleep at 7:27 PM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't really get how baking and having a pet is 'playing house'. I bake cakes because I frigging love sweets and I've been wanting a dog for the past year, does that make me a princess playing grown ups? Why? She may have had it easier than you but I don't see what you can do about that, other than be polite and just avoid spending too much time with her after the wedding.
posted by everydayanewday at 7:28 PM on February 18, 2012 [12 favorites]

It seems like you are either in a funk, or some resentment you carry towards her is coming to a head. You are comparing yourself to her quite a bit. It's her life; although you may not see the value in "being domestic" it is not your place to judge her engagement, relationship, or values.
In terms of practical advice, it seems like you place a lot of importance in overcoming obstacles. Remember that everyone is fighting a private battle. although she may appear to be a princess, or entitled, no one can really know what she has dealt with in the past, or is dealing with inside her own head.
posted by pintapicasso at 7:31 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

You'll never have an easy time in life until you can feel genuinely happy for people who do.

Being happy is actually a skill. Sure some people just "get it," but you CAN learn to do it, too.
posted by jbenben at 7:31 PM on February 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Just wanted to say that this is helpful so if there is more advice out there, I'm open to it. They're not incompatible. As far as I know, they're perfectly compatible. He seems like a good guy and he makes her happy and she absolutely deserves to be happy. The BS reason I give myself for thinking that this could at all not be a great idea is that it seems like they're rushing for no reason but I know I shouldn't judge when or why. "Why rush?" Then again, why wait?
posted by kat518 at 7:34 PM on February 18, 2012

Best answer: How to fake it? Maybe you can temper your resentment of what you consider to be her easy circumstances by thinking about how lucky you are to have nice in-laws. You're a little envious, that's all; no big deal. We're all envious of people we think have it easier than us; and the closer they are the more of our brain space they occupy, so the easier it is to feel that way. You just need to concentrate on the fact that you love her - you're so lucky to be able to say this about a sister in law! Have you read some of the drama people post here about their inlaws?
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:38 PM on February 18, 2012

Also, maybe if you have a good talk with her about it (without being judgy at all) your opinion might change. Sometimes keeping a situation at arm's length is counterintuitive because you can pass all the judgement you want in your own personal bubble.
ps - The happiest couple I know got married 2 weeks after meeting. My fiancé and I were thiiis close to eloping on our third date; instead we waited 18 months. You just never know.
posted by pintapicasso at 7:43 PM on February 18, 2012

Best answer: I hope this doesn't sound mean, but it sounds like she works full-time and went to college for at least some amount of time, if not graduated with a degree? She's not playing at being a grown-up; she IS a grown-up. A year is plenty of time to know that you feel seriously about someone and want to marry them.

I think it bothers me because I’m in no place to act domestic.
Hmmm, why is that? I think that's the crux of your problem. You're married, presumably you and your husband live somewhere together, right? Why can't you act domestic? Are you sad about that?

Plus, it sounds like this wedding is bringing up sadnesses for you about a BUNCH of stuff in your own life- I would not want to be hearing from my mother-in-law about all the wonderful stuff she is going to do for her daughter's wedding if my own mom had passed away before seeing my wedding. I totally feel you on that. And it seems like people in your family value a long courtship, so you were okay when you had a long courtship with your husband- but now his sister had a short courtship, so maybe in the back of your head you're thinking, "Huh, why didn't he want to marry me after a year, huh??"

Basically, I think you should work on the stuff that doesn't satisfy you in your own life as much as you can, and remind yourself that your sister-in-law can't do things the way you do them because she isn't you and they wouldn't work for her. Think of it this way: Fly away from danger is great advice if you're a bird; not so much if you're a frog. You're a bird, she's a frog. That's all.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:46 PM on February 18, 2012 [19 favorites]

Response by poster: @Snarl Furillo, that's not mean - that's fair. She's a lot closer with her family than I am so I think of that as part of her "playing an adult" rather than being an adult. That said, she is physically closer to her family than I am to mine so that's certainly part of it. And I know I'm super judgmental.

Hope I'm not thread-sitting too much. Appreciate all the feedback.
posted by kat518 at 7:52 PM on February 18, 2012

Best answer: She's a lot closer with her family than I am so I think of that as part of her "playing an adult" rather than being an adult. That said, she is physically closer to her family than I am to mine so that's certainly part of it.

You know, it really sounds to me like it's not that you aren't excited about Z's engagement; it's that Z's engagement is bringing up a lot of stuff that makes you genuinely sad, and that's legitimate. You're right that you aren't going to get much sympathy on the, "JFC, they got a DOG?" front, but I think you should talk to your husband and just ask for some support to the effect of, "You know, I was really surprised about this, but thinking about Z's engagement actually kind of bums me out. I guess I'm just thinking about how nice it would have been to have my mom at our wedding and have my sister close by and my whole family helping out. Can I have a hug?"

Just acknowledge it, it's completely okay. (I probably wouldn't bring it up to Z herself, though.) But I think just admitting it's there and eating at you might help A LOT in terms of gradually getting excited about the whole thing further down the line.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 8:04 PM on February 18, 2012 [37 favorites]

Best answer: To paraphrase an XKCD comic, the great thing about being a grown up is that you get to decide what that means. If I had a friend who baked continuously, got a '50s tv-handsome dog, vacummed in pearls and khakis and got matching monogrammed his'n'her robes I'd probably roll my eyes behind their back but I'd also salute them for making their home how they see fit.

There really isn't a timeline for these things. As you said, no real flags. I'm also sure you don't want to see it end badly, and aren't actively barracking for a 'see, I told you so' situation. I discover more and more that marriage means different things to different people. Without knowing what it means to her and her partner, you can't really adjudicate if they're 'doing it wrong.'

Find an over the top cake stand, wrap it up and stick on a bow, and go and see if she's got anything tasty coming out of the oven.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 8:05 PM on February 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It almost sounds like you thought she was an ally and fellow traveler who shared your life plan and goals and now you feel betrayed that she's using a different script. You keep saying, "I KNOW everyone is different, but why is SHE being different from me?"

That can totally throw you, when someone close to you on the same life plan suddenly detours. I know the feeling myself. But -- her choices aren't a commentary on the validity of your choices (indeed, probably seeing her brother and you in a strong and happy marriage makes her feel confident in entering her own) and they aren't a rejection of your love. Let yourself feel grouchy and explore your reactions for a couple days, and then make an honest effort to let the frustration go.

And many adults totally play house. :) Especially when cohabiting or getting married. It's a little silly but it doesn't hurt anyone and it helps them transition to their new roles. Plus, more pie for you.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:12 PM on February 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's not a competition. You'll be happier if you can find a way to stop keeping score in your relationships with others. She's happy. If nothing else, can't you muster up the ability to be happy that another human being is happy? That's Empathy 101.
posted by cecic at 8:15 PM on February 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: You're probably right that things are coming easily for her compared to you, but like you said the best relationships are those that have been through challenges. It seems like she is the type of person who likes to outwardly broadcast what she is doing while perhaps you don't feel the need to do such things. Is having things come easily necessarily better? Is there a part of you that feels grateful for overcoming the challenges you have overcome? Perhaps you have more spiritual depth than this person, a quality which doesn't outwardly make a big impression on most people but which is, in the long run, much more valuable than appearing domestic and making all the right moves at the right time. Basically I guess you need to work on dealing with jealousy. I would suggest trying to achieve mindfulness through meditation. It will allow you to achieve some equanimity when these feelings arise so it will be easier to refrain from acting upon them. It will also help you examine your pain and attempt to discover why this situation has you saddled with feelings of jealousy and inadequacy.
posted by costanza at 8:19 PM on February 18, 2012

Best answer: > I also feel like things are always super easy for her.

I have a friend who I felt that way about for almost two decades. Then I found out that actually things were pretty fucked up for her, but she just hid it really well.

As another Mefite once told me during a spell of envy, "Don't compare your insides to other people's outsides."
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:22 PM on February 18, 2012 [43 favorites]

Best answer: Well, they are engaged, and there's nothing you can really do about it except try to get over the feelings getting in the way of your relationship to SIL. So step 1 is to stop dwelling on whether or not she is sufficiently adult-like, whether or not her life is easy, whether or not she is jumping into marriage too fast. I know this is easier said than done, because I too sometimes have these feelings about others, but you need to work on recognizing the thought patterns and stopping them in their tracks. Every time you catch yourself comparing her life and decisions to yours, stop yourself and ask yourself why it's really bothering you. This is something you can work on by yourself, but if you feel like you need it, it's also something you can work on in therapy.

It's helpful to keep in mind that you don't know everything about their relationship or about her relationship with her parents. Some people hide their struggles and make everything look very easy. What does she know of your struggles, after all? Would she consider anything in your life as coming to you easily? Maybe she is envious of how you pull off being so mature and put-together, perhaps? Maybe she thinks your career looks effortless?

Step 2 is at least being polite about it until they're married. She might ask you to be in her bridal party, but she might not. If she does, you are free to say no if you feel you can't be "festive" enough. It's okay; you are not obligated to be in her bridal party! If you want to give it a shot, just be happy to see her and have fun with her--try to push away the negative thoughts. Reframe it as planning a fantastic party or whatever it is she would like you to do as a bridesmaid, rather than counseling her on marriage.
posted by asciident at 8:27 PM on February 18, 2012

The only thing that springs to mind reading your post is that you only "play house" when you're a kid, and all of the things you do as a kid when you are playing house are the types of things that real adults do. If she loves to bake, and want to have a dog, and have fancy tea sets and tea parties and stuff like that, than she is just acting like a lot of other adults who do the same thing.

I don't think you need to be excited for the whole engagement thing, but you should be happy that someone you know and care for is in a happy place with their life.
posted by markblasco at 9:03 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I think you should do something for her that involves you channeling good feelings for her into the work. You could make her a mixed CD of sincerely awesome and appreciative songs reflective of how you care for her. You could look around and see if there were any really useful pieces of advice/books/resources someone gave you when you first got married, and pass them on to her. Just so it's something that forces you to remind YOURSELF that you LOVE this person who's going through a MAJOR life transition, and that you wish her only the best.

The thing is, everything that you've named as a reason to be less than excited is your issue. What you gotta do to hide that you're not thrilled is either consciously remind yourself using kindness and compassion that you care for her, or settle into the kind of bitchy faux-politeness that destroys relationships, but keeps the shell intact.
posted by spunweb at 9:07 PM on February 18, 2012

You feel jealous because it seems from where you're sitting like things come easily to this woman. That's understandable. I've recently felt similar pangs of jealousy, insecurity, and even slight anger because of an almost identical situation, so I get you. But still. These emotions are yours and have nothing to do with whether she should get married or not.

Honestly, I think what you should do is own these emotions, maybe talk about them with someone who isn't involved, and then let it be. By the time the wedding itself rolls around, you'll probably be over it.

If your feelings are so strong that this is still stuck in your craw if/when she asks you to be in her bridal party, come up with a tasteful reason to decline.
posted by Sara C. at 9:11 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Basically, I think you need to devote just as much energy to consciously wishing her well as you have to thinking she's princess-y and intense. You don't build this edifice of judgement in one day, and you don't dismantle it super fast either.
posted by spunweb at 9:22 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

My husband and I met in June, were engaged the next February (GASP! ONLY 8 MONTHS), and were married a year later in March. And you know what? It WAS easy for us. We fell for each other head-over-heels early on, and it was established, like, 5 months in that we were getting married. It also helped that my husband's family adores me and I adore them and they basically made our wedding the easiest thing to plan by letting us do whatever we wanted (and we wanted the same things, amazingly) whilst paying for it almost entirely.

It's really not hard to imagine. Different people move at different paces. If you felt that you were dating for a too-long time before getting engaged, well, that just a case of you not standing up for what you wanted in the relationship, honestly.

As for the "playing house" stuff. That does't even make sense, first of all. I'm assuming that these people are actually adults who have houses that need taking care of. It's not pretending when you actually need to do these things. If they are 11 years old, 1) they should not be marrying, OBVIOUSLY, and 2) yes, they are actually playing house.

Secondly, I bake stuff all the time because I LOVE FOOD. Like scones. Scones are fucking triangular and delicious. We also have a dog because dogs are THE BOMB. Seriously, it's a friggin' ANIMAL that lives with you and can follow commands and wants to destroy all of the bubble wrap and humps other animals OUT OF SPITE. Why WOULDN'T you want a dog? My husband and I have no plans for children, so I can say with relative confidence that baking things and dog ownership =/= planning for children.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:23 PM on February 18, 2012 [15 favorites]

Well, she doesn't have everything. For example, she'd probably like to have a sister in law who isn't jealous of her and honestly glad of her good fortune. She doesn't. She's got you.

There are a lot of people, and I mean a lot, who have wonderful lives, that they might describe as 'charmed' and you'd describe as 'easy'. You apparently have something that's going on that is triggering you about people who haven't 'earned' happiness. I think this happens to everyone at some point, and it helps to see this person less as a thorn in your side and more of a message to yourself, and try to internally thank her for it, even as you grit your teeth. I mean, feel what you're going to feel, and appreciate that you can spend your energy graring at her because she has what you want, or you can redouble your efforts towards your own goals (dogs, kids, houses, etc.). You can also have moments of gratitude for what you do have, which sounds like a lot. I know people who have sister in laws who have the type of problems that drag the whole family down. You have one that is probably one day going to invite you to her house, introduce you to your niece/nephew, and let you play with her dog. That's actually pretty sweet.

I don't think you 'fake it'. I don't think that most healthy people are particularly good at faking goodwill or joy in long stretches without something catty falling out of their mouths. It's tiring. Instead, I think you get pretty clear about how you feel, see if you can find some appreciation or happiness for her, and channel that into whenever you interact with her. Limit your interaction with her as much as possible, and be good to yourself - give yourself breaks, don't volunteer to do stuff you don't want, give yourself your version of treats, and accept that your feeling towards her isn't a feeling towards her, it's a message to yourself. And then take that moment to:

1. remind yourself of what you yourself have (and I don't mean something in relation to her, like "I'm resilient, and she's not", I mean something like, "I have a pretty sweet husband. Nice!), or

2. take that moment you feel resentful - say during the rehearsal dinner - as another message to yourself, about what is meaningful to you, and mentally note, or jot down in a small notebook what you've just become aware of or are stuck on, Or

3. take the moment you feel resentful - say during the rehearsal dinner - to mentally plan, or jot down in a small notebook one thing that you are going to do that would make your life feel meaningful or charmed.

I think those are the healthiest ways to navigate what you're experiencing.

Good luck whatever you do - it's hard to strongly feel something you wish you didn't feel at all.
posted by anitanita at 9:40 PM on February 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry, I don't mean this to be harsh because seriously, everyone has done this kind of projection about something in their lives, but as far as I can tell this issue it is all about you, and has very little to do with her.

Presumably you made your choices to stay engaged for awhile before getting married for some sort of mutual reason. What does this have to do with her relationship? I dunno, did you want to get engaged earlier than you did?

She's at least post-college, so it's not weirdly inappropriate to move in with a SO. She's in the initial mad crush phase of her new baking hobby and she got a dog. Okay, what does that have to do with babies, and how is it not properly authentic? And a year and a half of serious dating is pretty traditional for engagement, actually, and certainly not alarm-bells-fast. (Not that this is for everyone, including me, my SO and I are happily unmarried partners for nearly 10 years now.)

She's working in a job that her friend's dad got her, okay, that's networking. She's still going to have to succeed on her own there or she'll get fired, no?

But somehow, she hasn't paid her dues in life, though you obviously don't actually wish misfortune on her.

My diagnosis is that her engagement has somehow dredged up some of your own bitterness that you didn't realize was quite so unresolved.
posted by desuetude at 10:05 PM on February 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree with Snarl Furillo (and others above) that acknowledging your feelings and expressing them (at appropriate times) will help. I came to see what all the answers were to your question, because I feel exactly the same way you do. The things I am jealous of are things I usually have, but now I am bitter that others got those things earlier or more easily or whatever than I did.

I find that milestone events like this are what really bring out the worst of it. This is probably because there is so much expectation and precasting of how people are *supposed* to feel and act and be and do for such milestones. In line with Snarl Furillo's suggestion, I have found that being able to vent these 'wrong' feelings allows me to move past it into a space where I can actually express happiness etc. I am lucky to have a husband who shares some of these feelings with me and doesn't argue with me about their 'wrongness'. He also is just by nature a less jealous person so his thoughts often help steer me too.... So by the time we get to the 'unfair' wedding or christening or housewarming party, I can concentrate on enjoying the food, etc.

Which leads me to my next suggestion which is to contemplate *why* you feel this way. Not why you feel jealous about this particular situation, but why you feel jealous at all. Because plenty of people don't feel any twinge at all and may be wondering why you are 'wasting your time feeling jealous.' Of course YMMV, but I like to think that my jealousy stems from the really rigid sense of fairness I have and what I hope are my analytical abilities (that I use to determine what's 'fair'). I quickly judge all these sorts of situations as to whether or not they are 'fair,' with consideration of the age of the person, how hard they seem to have had to work, etc..... These qualities of mine are things that are helpful in other situations, and so being aware that this is part of why I feel feelings that I don't like helps me to embrace it a little, and not just be miserable so much about it.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 10:07 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I am happy that someone I love is at a good place in her life - that's why I'm asking this question. I want to feel happier for her. I want to give her all of the love and support that she needs and I'm concerned that I can't right now. I'm sure I will be able to in the near future but I need to talk out all of the feelings I have, including the negative ones.

Looking at this, it seems that a lot of my negative feelings amount to me feeling sorry for myself. When I feel sorry for myself, I try to think about how I can stop feeling sorry for myself, like by working out or helping other people. So I'm going to think about that.

I've always been the jealous sort, even as a little kid, so I think the best I can do is try to contain or minimize it. Writing this also reminds me how much I feel like everything is *work* - feeling happy for people, making simple decisions, etc. I am being treated for depression but I think that feeling of everything-is-work is a hallmark of depression. I have been thinking about doing talk therapy. I guess this is another reminder to talk to someone. It's exhausting feeling like everything is work.
posted by kat518 at 10:14 PM on February 18, 2012 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Kat518, you are doing fine, really. You are already admitting (and have started to in the OP) that this is all you. I do this, too. I'm a 27-year-old part-time undergrad student at an ivy-league university; I get what you are feeling. There are people who have it easier than we do, and it really sucks. The biggest, most important step is self-realization. After that, it's just working it all out.
posted by two lights above the sea at 10:48 PM on February 18, 2012

Best answer: It's clear to me at least that you do generally like your SIL and want to have a good relationship. Why ask this question otherwise? I think everyone can here can see you're not being malicious about this.

It's good that you can see that this isn't really about her, and that you're able to pinpoint what's really driving this this envy. I encourage you to find a therapist. Not only so you can feel happy for your SIL, but for yourself, too. You deserve to feel like life isn't just one big pile of work.
posted by asciident at 10:51 PM on February 18, 2012

OK! I get it. I've brought up this trick here on AskMe before, but first....

"Looking at this, it seems that a lot of my negative feelings amount to me feeling sorry for myself. When I feel sorry for myself, I try to think about how I can stop feeling sorry for myself, like by working out or helping other people. So I'm going to think about that. "

Here's my GO TO when I am getting off-track in ANY manner. I start saying "YES" to any and all opportunities to do good for others while expecting NOTHING in return. I don't need a thank you. I stop keeping score if I ever was...

A stranger on the street needs help with a flat tire? Check! I have AAA. A friend needs a ride to the airport? I offer without asking. I smile at people and look them in the eye during all those boring everyday exchanges we all have instead of texting or being on my cell phone. I let cars merge in traffic. I work in the food industry, so I gift delicacies to customers and neighbors. I listen and stop talking. If I have expertise in a strange arena (usually cooking or landlord/tenant issues) I put in the work like it's my paid job.

I've committed to longer term projects in my community that ended successfully, too. Just because they were the types of things folks want, but no one wanted to put the work in. I put in the work, then recede gracefully when it's over.

It takes a "light touch" to be of service, yet not insinuate yourself. Just do it RIGHT.

I don't give money or anything weird that would put my own family at a disadvantage, but I do put in effort.

It's a practice, like yoga or meditation. It reminds you that you're part of a larger community. And you must do it without expecting anything in return. It's a pretty simple thing. I don't know why exactly going in this direction grounds you and makes everything OK, but it does.

It's simple. Just go about your business and be open to being kind and helpful whenever. That's it. Then, do so.

The famous story I tell here is that I committed to do this one year a little while ago with no idea or agenda about where it was heading. It was just an experiment that popped into my head. Wouldn't you know? By the end of that year I married my wonderful now-husband after knowing him for 2 months, and only dating for 2 weeks. it's been 3 years. Our son is now 10 months old. We're doing well. And whenever I start to feel shitty and act in ways I am not impressed with, I go back to being as generous as possible and not giving a shit about that effort. I mean, what else am I doing that is meaningful with all of those in between moments most of us never make the most of? Nothing is the answer. So, I may as well devote that time to being a positive force as long as Husband and Son are fully supported.

I don't do it for results. I do it because whenever I don't do it, Life now feels weird because I know better.

BTW, I have been estranged from my extended family for seemingly forever, except it doesn't feel like that because I'm so blessed. Those people had/have nothing to do with me. I can't believe I waited so long to start truly living my life.

Make of all that what you will:)
posted by jbenben at 11:10 PM on February 18, 2012 [14 favorites]

Best answer: I've spent an hour looking for a quote that has come to me in times like this, and dammit since it's been so important to me, you'd think that I'd be able to find it to quote verbatim. Grr. ... I think it was Vera Brittain who said that despite all the suffering of her youth, she was in a way grateful that her greatest suffering had happened when she was young.

When I have your feelings, I stop and think about how much I have overcome and what it has given me. Most of the time, my early suffering in life has equipped me with generosity, kindness, attunement to others who suffer. But I have wobbles, just like you are having now. Often over things like your current experience. One person's narrative and being seems to activate my pain. It is partially simple envy but it is also about grief and loss about the struggles you've had growing up. Things have been tough for you and it looks to you like Ms Perfect has swanned through life making cakes, getting engaged, playing with her new dog. It's only part of her story, but we're talking about more archaic triggers to your feelings. I think you need to stop and pat yourself on the back for recognising your complex emotions right now. Really. Some people can't do it at all.

To the question of how to cope. Every time you do something strong and giving of yourself in this current situation, no matter how small, give yourself props for doing it. It might be sending a congratulations card or buying an engagement gift - take time to recognise that for you this has been a hard thing. For me, I was originally ashamed about seeing a therapist, but recently I've started to cheer myself on in the endeavour because it is not easy. In fact it's a big commitment and I am brave for doing it. I've made a pact with myself to acknowledge and celebrate my commitment to improving my psychological condition. It might be buying myself a magazine, or sitting with a cup of coffee in a beachside cafe, or it might be a browse in an antiques store. Something which takes an hour of quiet me time, and time for which I am not responsible for others' needs.

I think you've done a good thing writing this question. You're not alone in having complex responses to things like this.
posted by honey-barbara at 11:16 PM on February 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: To build on honey-barbara's search for a quote, via a great friend who is a TRUE mentor to me...

"Happy people don't do bad things."

So since you are worrying about your behavior, focus on being happier. I suggest my silly GO TO technique, but do whatever works for you!

Happy people don't do bad things.

Attain happy and you'll be fine through this experience.
posted by jbenben at 11:57 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: anildash said:

First, you don't know how much she's suffered in her life

This is so true, I'm taking the trouble to second it and expand on it. Every single time that I'm met someone that seemed like they'd had it easy, when I got to know then deeper it turned out they'd had plenty of trouble and suffering in their life.

The difference is that some people are just more smiley by nature, or they're better at putting on a happy face when they're not feeling so great, or maybe even they are actually better at putting the bad stuff behind them and not letting it affect them permanently.

An important thing to know about people is that for the most part the less well you know them, and the less safe they feel revealing their innermost self to you, the more they're going to put on their "everything is just fine" act around you.

it seems like they're rushing for no reason

Oftentimes when it clicks it just does, and things happen very fast. I know a fair number of people that had a number of long relationships without getting to the point of being ready to commit to them, but then when they met the person they finally married, it all happened in a few months.
posted by philipy at 5:29 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wow -- I just wrote a long response and then tacked the following on the end. Since lots of people have covered a lot of options about how to fake it and about jealousy, I'll just say this:

Just cop to it. "Sis, I'm not feeling very enthusiastic about your wedding and I feel pretty shitty that I'm not very enthusiastic. I've just come to realize how jealous I am of you, how unhappy I am in general, and I don't know what to do about it. I don't want to rain on your parade. I'm really sorry."

Saying it out loud immediately changes things -- sometimes for the better! (Usually for the better!) And in surprising ways. It's a bit like jumping off the edge of the universe and trusting that there's a safety net. It's brave, courageous, and actually takes a lot less energy than faking it for weeks and weeks and weeks.
posted by vitabellosi at 6:26 AM on February 19, 2012

Best answer: First of all, you sound like a great person who genuinely cares about her sister in law.

I noticed one thing in your post: Z and I have talked about how we don’t want to rush into having kids but while that’s what Z says, she’s acting super domestic. Is this a sensitive area for you? Are you going to feel left behind if Z has kids before you?

I know that when I was first starting to think about having kids, before I had discussed it with my husband, I would feel irrationally unhappy whenever someone close to me got pregnant. It wasn't until I acknowledged that I wanted a baby myself that I could see why that was. (And then of course it got worse once we started trying to get pregnant and struggled with infertility...but at least I could understand my feelings then!)

Anyway I could be way off base, I just wanted to bring it up. I think you have a great attitude about trying to get to the root of the problem to genuinely feel happy for Z.
posted by barney_sap at 8:49 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

This sounds a lot like the jealousy I used to have about other people's families when I was a kid. I was being raised by a single grandparent in a series of apartments, and everyone I knew had a mom and a dad and siblings and a house and a dog and a yard and all the Leave It To Beaver trappings. I wanted all of those trapping so very, very badly, and I was deeply, bitterly jealous of my friends because it seemed like their lives were so easy and perfect. Then I started finding out how untrue that was -- everyone's parents fought, many of them got divorced, one family fell completely apart due to a father's hidden sex addiction (he was away on business a lot, was indiscriminate in his dalliances, and ended up giving his wife gonorrhea)... basically, what I'm getting at is that that idyllic picture I had in my head of other people having perfect little lives and perfect little families was totally, completely wrong. Even if I'm not privy to it, even if it seems like they're smiley and happy and nothing goes wrong for them, everyone I know has something going on in their lives that hurts them, makes them sad, causes them pain.

(Also, I certainly don't share everything in my life with everyone I know... to assume that I know every intimate detail of everyone else's life and then to judge them based on those assumptions would be a little silly, wouldn't it? I mean, they can't accurately judge my life, can they?)

Talk therapy helped a ton. I would very much recommend that you get into therapy -- you mention that you're being treated for depression now, but it sounds like you've got some pretty significant cognitive distortions that medication aren't going to fix. You need an impartial, professional third party to help teach you new ways of thinking and of looking at the world. Please believe me, life does not have to be this exhausting for you.
posted by palomar at 8:56 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Look, just because someone is doing things in a different way than you or your sister does not mean it's wrong. You seem to have ideas about how things should be - date for a long time before getting married, be a strong independent woman who doesn't show her domestic tendencies, etc...well that's not how it is for a lot of people. It's not your way or the highway, every person and every relationship is different.

I got engaged within about 18 months of starting to date my husband. We moved in together maybe 8 months after we started dating. We knew each other for maybe six months before we started dating (and it sounds like your SIL has actually known her fiancé for years before dating - so it's not like she's rushing into marriage with someone she barely knows).

You also don't say how old you and Z are - In my circle of friends (mid 30s - mid 40s), it would be very unusual for a couple to be still just dating after five years.

You really just need to get over this, you are clearly jealous or upset that someone's life is not following the pattern that you set, but realize that not everything is done the way YOU want it to be done. It's not your life, it's hers. You should find a therapist to talk to figure out these issues so that you can genuinely be happy for her otherwise you will ruin what sounds like is a very good relationship.
posted by echo0720 at 9:13 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: >I feel really close with my in-laws so I don't usually have to be polite, I can just be myself.

I've been reading this over and over, and wondering what you were thinking when you wrote it. Isn't "yourself" a polite person? It's perfectly fine for you to raise these questions/ponder these feelings on MeFi. But maybe thinking of "yourself" as a polite, generous person who's happy for others will help you be happier yourself. Good luck.
posted by cyndigo at 11:30 AM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I used to get these feelings about my friends' lives whenever I was deeply unhappy about the way something was going in my own. It's natural that others' milestone events, like marriage, babies, etc. will prompt us to stop and take stock of how our own lives are stacking up or falling short (of our own goals or society's expectations). What helped me was working out what precisely I was unhappy about in my own life, acknowledging it, and understanding that it was about me and not my friend.

It also helped to remind myself that I had plenty to be grateful for, that I didn't have it so bad and a lot of people would feel the same way about my life as I felt about my friend's life of ease. It's all relative. I must admit, for a while I wasn't too good at putting myself in another person's shoes. What snapped me out of it was realizing that a good friend of mine was becoming very jealous of my life, and how crappy that felt. I noted that her resentment towards me was based on a whole lot of assumptions - assumptions about my finances, about how hard I'd worked toward my goals, about my relationship with my guy, etc. - that were really ridiculously wrong. That caused me to examine my own assumptions about my friend whose life I envied, and how unfair they were. And even if I was right that my friend had it easy in a lot of ways, how did that take anything away from me? It didn't, and my friend actually paid her luck forward in many ways. For example, my friend had a lot of free time to bake, like your SIL does. My friend brought me delicious cookies and scones all the time.

This is just a shot in the dark, but did you have parents who disciplined you very harshly based on whims and mood swings? I think for me, growing up under a system of reward and punishment that had no rhyme or reason caused me to become overly conscious of FAIRNESS. It became such a huge and important thing to me. Thus, I was resentful of people who seemed to live charmed lives and didn't "deserve" it in my mind. Deep down, I think a lot of that resentment was displaced feelings toward my own parents, who I felt had made my childhood unnecessarily painful. Once I forgave my parents, my inclination to karma-police mostly went away.
posted by keep it under cover at 12:19 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

The answer to your question has little to do with the background info you've given. If you're unenthusiastic about a friend or relative's wedding plans, you don't have to fake it all that much. You can say "I'm happy for you" and "It seems like you're really enjoying baking" and "Hows your dog doing?" Affianced women (and many men) often talk way too much about wedding stuff, but you don't have to act like you're excited. Ask a couple of questions, and let that be it.

Try to find things to do that really interest and involve you. It'll help you not care so much about what other people are doing, and also give you something to think about when the wedding talk gets too detailed and irritating. When you catch yourself being critical, remind yourself that it really doesn't have anything to do with you.

And I agree that you should be ready with a plausible answer in case you're asked to be in the bridal party.
posted by wryly at 4:23 PM on February 19, 2012

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