This is Etiquette Monster, Jezebel’s new advice column where senior writer Madeleine Davies gets worked up and starts screaming about manners. Have a question about etiquette? Email Madeleine at your own risk.
Hello and welcome! In this column, I’ll be offering my best advice on all matters of etiquette and politeness. Did you know that I’m obsessed with manners? Probably not, because—RUDELY—you have never taken the time to ask. That’s okay, though! I—politely—forgive you.
Every day, I struggle to contain my rage when I see people ignore the basic courtesies that are put in place for us to better function as a society. Watching people act like monsters makes me feel like a monster, but now I’m channeling that anger into something constructive. Whatever you need, Etiquette Monster is here to help.
In our inaugural column, we’re talking about wedding guests and lunch.
Am I a MONSTER for kicking my cousin out of my wedding?
In February, I got engaged. Woo! My fiancee (let’s call him Jack) is amazing, but about 18 months ago, we were having some financial issues due to him losing his job and being unable to find a new one. Rather than tell him how I felt being the sole breadwinner, I chose to let it fester and ended up breaking things off with him right before I moved to another area of the state for a better job.
Our break up only lasted two weeks, however, when we reconciled everything and made plans for Jack to move to where I was around September and start graduate school in January. Since then, everything has been great. He contributes financially and takes care of the house while I work 60 plus hours a week and help him with school work. This story, however, is not about him and me. It’s about my cousin, to whom I was formerly very, very close.
When I made the decision to get back together with Jack, my cousin stopped communicating with me, but never said why. I really didn’t notice, I was so wrapped up in my new job and making our new home. In February, with Jack and my three year anniversary approaching and a beach trip planned, I get a call from this cousin. We make small talk for about 10 minutes before she gets to the point of the call. It turns out, she is disappointed in me for getting back together with Jack and continuing our relationship, which she thought was toxic and saw him as a leech. She supremely disapproves of my relationship. I can’t remember now what I said, but there was a lot of yelling and trying to explain why she was wrong. End conversation.
Three days later, Jack romantically proposes on the beach, at sunset, with a gorgeous morganite and rose gold ring. Crying and champagne and phone calls to parents commence. I send an obligatory text to many of the cousins I grew up with, including the one who disapproves of my relationship. Since then, she has acted nothing but ecstatic about the wedding, sending me dress ideas, wanting to help with planning, and assuming she’s in the bridal party. My fiancee knows about the conversation I had with her before our engagement and doesn’t want her involved in the wedding at all. Or really in our lives. Though he puts on a good face when he’s around her, bless him.
Should I feel obligated to include her in the wedding party or wedding details? Especially if my fiancee has said he’d rather she not be involved? Would I be better off ending most contact with her in our regular, non wedding related, lives?
So if there’s one thing that I’ve learned in all my time of giving advice (about 10 minutes now), it’s that weighing in on arguments when you have only one person’s account of what went down is dicey territory. Maybe you’re 100% right and your cousin is the one who’s a fucking monster. Or maybe your cousin—not a monster—was onto something when she called your fiancé toxic and a leech. (Have you checked to see if that gorgeous morganite and rose gold ring is real yet? Try unwrapping it! It might be made of balled up foil!)
Chances are that the heart of the situation is actually a mix of both. (How does the saying go? There are three sides of every story—your side, their side, and the truth?) But what seems clear to me is that your cousin has accepted your decision to love and marry your fiancé and is trying to put your disagreement behind her and support you the best that she can. That doesn’t mean that you have to forgive her or let go of the hurtful things that she said, but—credit where credit’s due—it really does seem like she wants to make amends and do right by you.
That being said, it sounds like you continue to feel wounded by her unwelcome hot take on your relationship. Letting that fester won’t do you, or anyone else, any good. If you care about making amends, it’s time to stop being passive, grow some ovaries of steel, and try talking to your cousin about what happened. Be understanding yet firm. Recognize that she was only trying to help, tell her you appreciate her willingness to move past everything, but be very clear about what you need in order to let this go. An apology to your fiancé? A promise that she won’t talk shit in the future? A request that she trusts your judgment from now on?
Give her room to be equally honest, as chances are that her initial complaints came from a place of genuine concern. Maybe she’s not up for or unwilling to do whatever it is that you’re asking for. If that’s the case, you two might need a little bit of distance for awhile. That’s fine.
As for the wedding—bitch, this is your party, do whatever you want. You mention your cousin’s desire to be in the bridal party and your fiancé’s desire to keep her out of it, but you never say how your desire factors into it. If it’s important for you to have your cousin as bridesmaid, make it clear to your fiancé that, even though you do not like the way she talked about him, her involvement in the wedding is something that remains very important to you. If you’d rather your cousin sat this one out, tell her that A.S.A.P. You can tell her that you still want her at the bachelorette party, bridal shower, and wedding, but you don’t feel comfortable with her being in the bridal party considering what she said about the groom.
You’re in a shitty position in that either outcome will leave someone feeling hurt and dejected, so you might as well go with the option that leaves you—not anyone else—feeling the most content. If your fiancé and cousin have one thing in common, it’s their love for you. They ought to understand or at the very least accept the decision that you make.
Who’s the real MONSTER? Me or my interrupt-y coworkers?
Maybe it’s because I grew up in a family of 6 that always ate dinner together and had to speak over one another, but I fucking hate being interrupted. I always gently call people out for interrupting me, especially men, because they’re proven to be more likely to interrupt women than they are to interrupt other men.
I work in a male-dominated office at a prominent government agency in Washington, DC. Every time two men ask, “Hey you want to go for coffee/lunch?” I just tell them I’m busy or that I’ve already eaten because it seems that every time I’m with two men—doesn’t matter who they are or how well I know them or how progressive they may seem to be—I never get a chance to talk. Either I’m constantly interrupted, or they only talk about things they have in common and of which I know very little. Every single time I’ve gone to lunch with two men, I’ve been completely and utterly excluded from the conversation. My office sits between two men’s offices. They’re funny and kind and very good at their jobs, but every time they’ve invited me to lunch, I’ve gone the entire hour without peeping one word. Nobody notices.
I’m an extrovert. I like to talk, I’m very well-liked in my office and people tell me that often. I love people, so it’s not like I’m so shy that I can’t veer conversations in a direction where all parties can participate. I’m an includer! But every time I go to lunch with two men, they exclude me! Like it’s nothing!
To me, this is supremely impolite and even socially bone-headed. You know what? It is a microaggression. There. And it’s a hilarious reflection of male dominance in every sphere of society that needs to be turned around. It’s so hilariously stupid.
It’s so absurd that I’ve casually pointed it out once or twice to the men in my office, but they just shrug and act as if they have no control over the situation. I still maintain healthy and friendly professional relationships with them, but I don’t eat lunch with them. And in that stupid ‘don’t pursue people if you want them to like you’ middle school way, I get invited to lunch all the time.
This is a really small, stupid office-culture thing. But it happens with 100% frequency and it’s really frustrating that nobody else notices it.
Alright, Lunch Monster, maybe chill out a bit? People like you and are eager to include you. It seems like they respect the work that you do and want to hang out even though they’re under no real obligation to do so. That’s a very good thing! Enjoy it a little! Or not! No one is saying that you have to accept their lunch invites, but nothing you’ve said leads me to believe that your male coworkers are trying to be rude or condescending to you. Quite the opposite (though, as you’ve noted, they’re being pretty bone-headed.)
As for being constantly interrupted, that fucking sucks. It’s annoying and, yes, rude as hell. It’s also, unfortunately, how people who are comfortable together tend to interact and my solution is one that you might not feel comfortable with. Rather than gently calling out your coworkers, try aggressively calling out your coworkers. Shame, I find does wonders, especially if you can deliver it in a way that’s level-headed and assertive. For example:
You: I am introducing a topic that we all can relate to because I am a respectful and courteous human be—
Male Coworker #1: Hey, I am obliviously interrupting now to talk about something you can’t relate to because I have been socially conditioned to think that my opinion is more important than yours.
Male Coworker #2: I will add onto what Male Co-Worker #1 has said, because my privilege has made me blind to the proper ins-and-outs of social interaction and—
You (cool as a cucumber, maybe even amused): Excuse me, idiots. You just interrupted me. As I was saying—
Male Coworker #1: Well, I didn’t mean—
You: You just did it again. Anyway...
To provide an example from real life: I was recently in a meeting with a male co-worker who I consider to be progressive and feminist and a friend. I was making a point when he—as an ALLY no less—interrupted me like a total fucking know-it-all and went onto to explain to me the very point that I was initially trying to make. When he was finished rambling (safe to say, I would have been more succinct), I called him out on what he’d just done in front of the entire room. “Thank you SO MUCH for taking over what I was trying to say,” I joked. “I probably couldn’t have explained it so well because I’m a lady.” Everyone then laughed at my coworker, he felt properly ashamed of himself, and I continued to look awesome. That, my friend, is how you lean the fuck in.
But say you just don’t want to bother anymore (it shouldn’t be your job to correct anyone’s bad behavior), but you still want to be involved in your work culture. Have you considered just asking people out to a one-on-one lunch? It will be much easier for you to build relationships with people when you’re not having to compete with someone else who might have a bigger pre-established common ground with your lunch mate. Besides, the more you build a friendship with your coworker, the more likely it is for you to have your own inside jokes and fall-back things you like to talk about. That way, when you do go out to lunch with multiple coworkers and they start quoting Old School at each other (or whatever it is that men bond over), you can counter with your own shared interests.
If that’s not worth your time, then fuck ‘em. Continue to be your likable, professional self around the office and find other (less male, less monstrous) companions for lunch.
Have a question for Etiquette Monster? Email me!
Illustration by Tara Jacoby