I am married to Shmuel, who is one of four brothers. He is number three. The oldest brother is married and living a very pious life in Israel with his wife and six children. The next brother, Yank, is married with three children and lives in the neighborhood. And the youngest brother is still single.
Yank is a real macher. I don’t even know exactly what he does for a living, something to do with businesses. He’s always coming, going, doing, traveling. All I know is that he is successful. His wife, Beverly, doesn’t work. She lives a wonderful lifestyle of shopping, lunching, and entertaining, and, I have to admit, she does her share of charitable work. But from what I can see, it’s a life that many women only dream of.
My husband is a CPA. He makes a nice living, but we require some supplemental income, and I work three days a week to help us make ends meet and have a little left over for enjoying life.
Enter my mother-in-law. She is probably what Beverly will be in 30 years. She is stunning, has impeccable taste, also loves to shop, lunch, entertain, and, yes, do some charity work. Beverly and my mother-in-law are thick as thieves. They adore each other. It’s obvious to everyone. I think Beverly is the daughter that my mother-in-law never had. They have so much in common and love to hang out together. They go out to lunch together all the time. They shop together. They share private jokes with one another that no one in the family seems to get.
When the family gets together for a Shabbos or yom tov meal or at a simcha, my mother-in-law inevitably gushes over Beverly, telling her how gorgeous she looks. Her dress, her hair, everything about her gets nonstop compliments. Then my mother-in-law will turn toward me and smile and tell me I look very nice. I feel like the poor relative who just showed up and gets a pity compliment. I’m no Beverly—I’ll tell you that. I don’t have the time, money, or, frankly, desire to look as though I just walked out of a fashion magazine. But it still hurts.
Maybe it’s important to say that Beverly’s mother lives in Toronto and she doesn’t see her regularly. My mother lives in Brooklyn and we see a lot of each other. But my mother, who is a wonderful woman, looks and acts as though she could be my mother-in-law’s mother. She’s older and more serious—and, though kind and terrific, not fun at all.
I want to be part of their club—the cool club! I want to go to lunch with them. I want to shop with them. I want to feel as though I am a meaningful member of their family. And I don’t feel any of that.
They probably see me as a career woman who doesn’t have time for the things that they have time for. While that is true, I still do have two days a week when I am available. I could certainly go out for a lunch with them. I may not have as large a pocketbook for spending, but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t enjoy going along with them to shop and enjoy the experience of looking at all the beautiful things.
I guess I sound jealous. I am a bit sour, but I don’t want to be. I just want to be included, to feel I belong—that I’m one of them.
I’ve tried discussing my sadness over this situation with Shmuel numerous times. He just doesn’t get it. He can’t seem to understand why I feel so hurt. Shmuel is a really nice guy and usually very sensitive, but when it comes to this particular situation, he’s kind of clueless.
What is your advice? Is there any hope of wiggling my way into that exclusive club?
By Esther Mann, LCSW
Dear Left Out,
Your husband may not get it, but I’m sure every woman reading this column can understand why you feel excluded. We all want to feel appreciated and desired. We all want to belong, and we certainly want to be part of the “happening” crowd, especially when it’s family.
You’ve revealed several interesting reasons why your mother-in-law and Beverly may not believe it’s necessary or even warranted to include you in their frequent outings. They probably think that you have your hands full with your job and no time for the kind of frivolous activities that fill up their days. Perhaps they think that your mother takes center stage in your life and if you have some free time, you’d much rather be spending it with her, since she doesn’t live that far away from you.
Furthermore, and this is definitely a stretch, it’s even possible that they may look up to you as the accomplished career woman who manages so much so well and suspect that you look down on their lifestyles and consider them somehow beneath you. You never know.
I know that you’ve turned to Shmuel for support and advice, but maybe you need to go straight to the source. You haven’t mentioned that you’ve approached either Beverly or your mother-in-law with your feelings of being left out and wishing you too could be included in some of their together time. I wonder why not.
My simple and obvious advice is that you tell them that you’d love to join them for lunch or be included in their shopping outings. I wouldn’t go into the full-out pity party of how you’ve been feeling so left out. But I would explain to them that although you work, you still can occasionally find the time to spend with them and since you enjoy their company so much, it would be a real treat.
If there is something deeper and darker going on here, my plan will be a disaster. But I’m giving them both the benefit of the doubt and assuming that this is just a result of assumptions made on all sides. Hopefully, by merely putting forth what you really want, you will open the door to receiving just that.
So give it a shot. Sometimes it’s as easy as asking for what we want rather than looking into situations too deeply. If you go this route and they still leave you out in the cold, they may actually be mean girls. I hope that’s not the case, but if it is, write to me again and we’ll go to Plan B!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.