Dear Amy: My stepmother is one of the sweetest and most generous people I’ve ever met.
She has allowed me and my brother into her home to live with her and my dad during the pandemic, as finances got a little tough. Even though I have overstayed at this point, she has welcomed me with an open heart.
She and Dad have been married for over six years.
Here’s the issue. She was married before, and her previous husband passed away over 10 years ago.
My father and his kids are living in her big house — gratefully so. Yet, she has pictures of her previous husband in every single room.
I know I have no right to complain or be ungrateful, because this is her home, but I feel like it is really unfair to my dad.
He is very nice and says it doesn’t bother him, and I’m sure he’s convinced himself of that after living in the house for so long.
I could understand my stepmother having her late husband’s pictures in one room or in an album. But pictures in every room seems unconsciously selfish, and like a constant reminder to my Dad, “If he were still here, you wouldn’t be around.”
Do these pictures everywhere mean that she has not let her late husband and that relationship go, and that she’s not living in the present with my father?
I’d really appreciate your thoughts!
Not My Place
Dear Not My Place: There seems to be a heightened awareness that the house you live in is your stepmother’s house, and that you are there only through her generosity.
But at some point, because your father is married to her, this house should also become their shared home, regardless of who owns the property.
When your father reaches the point where he truly feels at home, he may express a preference regarding these photos. But he is an adult, and he has the right to express, or suppress, whatever preferences he might have.
Dear Amy: Regarding the issue of keeping photos of prior spouses, my stepmom put a picture of our mother (who was deceased) in my dad’s dressing room.
That gesture made an impression on me and made it easier to love her when I realized how much she loved my father.
Dear Grateful: This was a thoughtful and loving gesture.
Dear Amy: I am a very active woman. I go to the gym and do cardio and weightlifting four to five times per week. I have done this since my late teens.
Recently a man at the gym has begun making small talk. He tells me his age, kids, marital status, etc., and has begun asking me questions and commenting on my beauty and body.
I am not interested in him, but don’t want to be rude.
I enjoy the peace my workout brings to me. For this reason, I wear earbuds to keep from being disturbed, but this has not deterred him.
He is getting worse and is constantly invading my space.
Is there a nice way to get this pest to leave me alone?
Dear Working Out: The way you have phrased your dilemma is the stereotypical way that women often respond to encroachment: “How can I respond to this without being rude?” “Is there a nice way to get this pest to leave me alone?”
Some people respond to non-verbal cues (leaving in your earbuds, conveying through your body language that you are not interested in conversing, etc.).
Others (such as this guy) interpret your niceness, your polite social cues, etc., as an invitation to encroach further.
Small talk might be a minor annoyance, but comments about your beauty and your body are completely inappropriate, and he needs to be shut down.
Because you say you want to be “nice,” the next time this man invades your space at the gym, you should give him the full benefit of a neutrally worded and clear response, using both your words and body language.
Stop what you are doing. Hold up your hand as a “stop sign.” Say, “I’m here to work. I’m asking you not to approach me or try to converse with me, and I appreciate you respecting that. Thank you for understanding!”
Then you plug in your earbuds and resume your workout.
This man gets one polite notification from you. If he resumes — at all — you should take it to the manager, if necessary stating your case in writing, in case you need a record of your concerns.
You can email Amy Dickinson at email@example.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.