Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Real Talk With Rachel: Manipulative D-I-L; Ditching Old Jobs

by Rachel Kurzius

I’ve gotten some interesting feedback from last week’s queries. Regarding the writer stuck in a boring job, dreaming of a more romantic writerly existence, one reader recommended the writer join an online freelance community to get assignments. While I had mentioned the writer should spend time writing for pleasure after work, a reader noted that someone could set aside moments in the morning as well, to get creative writing done “before tackling daily boredom.” I confess, I am biased against early mornings, so I am glad someone else brought it up.

The letter-writer asking about how to introduce a son who used to be a daughter got some responses as well. One reader took offense to my use of the word “kid,” another suggested that I use the pronoun “hu,” a
third-person singular gender-neutral pronoun. The website describing the uses of “hu” is I have also heard of a gender neutral pronoun called “ze.” Slate suggested that people use the word “they” in a timely piece.

Thanks to readers who took the time to respond, and especially to those who have submitted queries. It has been so fun to engage with you.

Rachel Kurzius
advice [at]


Dear Rachel,

I have three adult children and we have all been pretty close as a family. My eldest son got married a few years ago to a woman that has, to say the least, caused a great deal of tension amongst the family. She is extremely manipulative and has influenced my son’s behavior, which has hurt all of us. It has created distance between us.

What do you think?  Should I talk to him and let him know or just keep my mouth shut? I don’t want to lose my son but I don’t want to add additional stress to his life as he under a great deal already with two little ones and a demanding wife.

Devil in Law

Dear Devil in Law,

Isn’t it strange that our loved ones can fall for people who seem so wrong for them? I try to refrain from judging relationships I’m not in, despite temptation, because it’s hard to know what people seek in their significant others. You don’t mention whether he seems happy in the relationship or whether he senses the growing tension between his wife and the rest of his family.

I also wonder what kind of manipulation is going on here. Does she try to play other members of your family off one another? Is she getting in the way of you seeing your son and grandchildren?

You talk like she is your son’s puppet master. Give him a little more credit here. She might be his wife, but your son is still capable of independent thought. Make sure you’re not blaming your daughter-in-law for everything you find distasteful in your son.

If she really does sow seeds of discord at family affairs, just try your best to ignore her drama. Make sure you are not easy to manipulate -- don’t tell her highly personal things and don’t listen to her offhand remarks.

It’s not ideal to have to deal with that at family gatherings, but it seems tough to sit down your son and tell him, “Listen, your wife is a manipulator and everyone really can’t stand her.” He’ll get defensive and the conversation won’t end well.

After all, your son has made a commitment to this so-called manipulative woman -- they married and started a family together. Even if they do divorce, she is the mother of your grandchildren. Just be there for your son. When he needs someone to talk to, about his relationship or otherwise, be an open and non-judgmental ear. Sometimes, I find that asking questions in conversation can make someone think more critically about his or her relationship than putting them on the spot with a list of complaints.

All the best,


Dear Rachel,

I am a college junior. I’ve worked at a local summer program every summer break for the past three years. I had a conversation with the program directors this March about continuing my job there. A week ago, I got a different offer. I would be making more money and getting a new and more interesting experience somewhere else.  But I feel bad about leaving my old bosses in the lurch so close before summer, especially because I’d like to use them as references in the future. What should I do?

Stuck Between a Job and a Hard Place

Dear Stuck Between a Job and a Hard Place,

You got a different offer, huh? Is that a euphemism, or did someone really offer you an alternate opportunity? I’m not trying to give you a hard time; I just think it could make a difference in how you approach the situation.

Here is why: If someone popped up with a job offer, you weren’t sniffing around for a new gig after already accepting another. It’ll make your old employers feel less like they were jerked around by you, preserving a good recommendation for the future.

Say something along the lines of, “I’ve had three great summers working with you, but I was offered a great opportunity that would allow me to save more money. I know I’ve made a commitment to you and I would like to help honor it.” If you have friends you think would do a great job, let them know you can give them recommendations for replacements. Offer to train whoever would take your position, if you really feel like it.

After working together for three years, hopefully they will be happy for you. Should these program directors turn out to be vindictive, then you wouldn’t want them writing you recommendations anyway. Also, I doubt they’ll have much difficulty finding a qualified candidate, considering the job market.

If you think you can find a more interesting experience that pays better, go for it. And feel fortunate that you’re stuck between a job and another job.

All the best,


Rachel Kurzius revels in giving advice, and has provided counsel both as a columnist and a friend. She lives in Washington DC, where she works as a reporter at a financial trade publication. Real Talk with Rachel is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv, on Wednesdays. Need advice? You can write to Rachel at advice @

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