I Refused to Invite My Sister to My Wedding

Growing up, I didn’t have any sisters. I was born smack dab in the middle of two brothers, and while I loved hanging around with the guys, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally yearn for another girl in the family. Someone who could dance around the room with me, burrow through my mom’s makeup stash with me and, yes, gossip about boys with me.

So when my mom introduced my brothers and my 12-year-old self to the man she was dating — who happened to have two daughters who were 5 and 9 years old — I was stoked. I had hit the jackpot. I wasn’t getting just one girl to hang out with, but two. I even remember meeting them for the first time. We went to see Monsters, Inc. in theaters, and as we walked across the street to McDonald’s for vanilla ice cream afterward, we all linked arms and told each other, “I wish you were my sister.”

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Less than a year later, that wish came true. My mom married my now step-dad, and all of us kids bonded as well as any combined family could. We went on family vacations together, played sports together, and held concerts in our bedrooms — makeshift microphones (hairbrushes) and strobe lights (flashlights) included.

I wish I could say that family dynamic lasted. As we got older, we started to drift apart. Not in a serious way at first, just in a “we’re all in different life stages” kind of way. But then hostility started to creep in — my youngest step-sister began saying negative things about my mom, her three kids (myself included), and my step-dad. Her mother fueled the fire, telling lies about their divorce and manipulating stories so they would play out in her favor. But the lies were so absurdly off-base that it was difficult to believe anyone — especially her own daughter — would believe them. It constantly felt like his ex-wife was trying to “win the divorce,” regardless of how it affected his future relationship with his daughters.

As the years passed, I hoped things would settle down and the situation would resolve itself. I told myself it was just her teenage angst — a phase she had to go through, but would eventually get over. After all, my other step-sister had gone through something similar — less extreme, but similar — and she grew up, learned how to tell the difference between fact and her mother’s fiction, and reconciled her relationship with her dad. But my youngest sister just developed more anger toward our family. And when hard drugs and alcohol entered the picture, things got even worse.

When it came time to plan my wedding, I knew she wouldn’t be on the guest list.

By the time Father’s Day 2012 rolled around, the final line was crossed. She called my step-dad up right after he finished walking for 24 hours to raise money for the American Cancer Society in their annual Relay for Life. I remember seeing him, the mix of exhaustion and joy coursing through him, as he picked up the phone — and the immediate look of pain that crossed his face as he listened to the teenager on the other end. She didn’t call to wish him a Happy Father’s Day, or even to see how his fundraiser went. She called, instead, to tell him that he was a terrible father and was never there for her, despite his constant child support payments, attendance at soccer games, and phone calls to try and bridge the gap between them. I didn’t learn of what had been said until later that day, but I’ll never forget the crestfallen look on his face as she spoke to this good, kind, respectable man. It was the physical manifestation of a man’s — no, a father’s — heart breaking into a million pieces. And it was then that I knew I wouldn’t be giving my step-sister any more chances.

That was five years ago, and I haven’t spoken with her since. So when it came time to plan my wedding to a man who hadn’t even met this sister, I knew she wouldn’t be on the guest list. All of my other siblings were included, of course, and my other step-sister, an artist, even partnered with my step-dad, a woodworker, to create beautiful signage and various pieces of artwork to be on display throughout my ceremony and reception.

But as I got ready for a private, first-look moment with my step-dad, a small twinge of sadness hit me when I spotted my other step-sister walking across the grass to her seat. It was very brief, but for a moment I wondered what things could have been like if any one of the scenarios of our past had played out differently. Would both of my sisters be there? Would they be my bridesmaids? Would we dance the night away, sneaking outside to talk about how we couldn’t believe this day was actually here?

As idealistic as that sounds, I realized a long time ago that you can’t press pause on your life in the hopes that someone will change. That’s why I gave myself permission to let go of that hostile relationship without regret. It may sound harsh, given that she is my step-sister, but I’m OK with choosing sides. I’m OK with standing up for my step-dad, letting him know that he didn’t deserve to be the target of such hate. And during various moments of my wedding — during that first look, as he helped give me away, and while we waltzed to “A Song for My Daughter” — I simply wanted him to know how much love I have for him, and how wonderful of a father, man, and role model he truly is.

As for my step-sister, I’ve kept tabs on her life — my other step-sister gives me updates here and there — and it seems like, despite many more cycles of drugs, jail time, and rehab, she may finally be on the upswing toward turning her life around. I hope that she is. We may not ever be close, singing into hairbrushes or talking about boys again, but I would never wish her any ill will. And while I don’t regret refusing to invite her to my wedding, I’ll always hope for a healthier, more positive outcome for her future.

*Names have been changed for privacy.

How Can I Make My Husband Like My Mom?

Relationships are weird, don’t you agree? Other people are unpredictable, and the endless combination of human interactions leads to some pretty frustrating encounters. In Nicole Knows, Nicole Cliffe helps us navigate all the ridiculousness relationships come with. If you have a question for Nicole, email [email protected]

Dear Nicole,

My mom and my husband really do not like each other. I basically can’t talk to either one of them about the other without, at the very least, getting some sort of snide comment in response, so I just try to avoid bringing them up. It is particularly difficult not to be able to vent about my mom, who is a crazy person, to my husband. I want to be able to tell him about the crazy without him adding extraneous negativity. For example, I told Husband that Mom started a new therapy program and that I’m proud of her taking a step in the right direction. Husband’s response is, “I doubt this will change anything. She always says she’s going to change and then doesn’t.” How do I get him to be more tolerant of her? Is there a way I can convince him that there’s some good?

Ah, the eternal struggle: in-laws, boundaries, difficult personalities, venting versus asking for solutions, mothers. Before we get into it, I’m going to assume that by “crazy” you mean “irrational and difficult and a huge pain” as opposed to “has a diagnosed mental illness with particular symptoms that result in her being tough to interact with.” My advice, in this situation, would be similar for either definition, but if you do mean the latter, you’ll want to seek out additional external resources for you and your husband that are above my paygrade. Okay!

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What I’m noticing right off the bat is that both of your specific goals—getting your husband to be more tolerant of your mother, convincing him that there’s some good in her—involve him adjusting his thinking to your own. This is, generally speaking, not ideal, nor is it really that feasible. (I sympathize completely, however, as if everyone came around to my way of thinking, we would truly live in a land of milk and honey.) Blessedly, it’s also not necessary for resolving your situation.

A better question, I think, might be “how can I arrive at a place where I can have brief, supportive conversations with my husband about my feelings for my mother?” We can work with that!

What many people discover, when they really begin scratching beneath the surface of “why do you hate my mom,” is that it’s a partner problem and not a mom problem. I mean this very gently! If your mom is a huge pain and your attitude towards it is like “God, mom is a huge pain, thanks for powering through Thanksgiving dinner, Husband, I can’t believe she took a literal shit in the punchbowl, I’m going to pour you a glass of wine,” you often don’t have a problem at all, you have an amusing story.

Instead, what often happens is a slow accumulation of incidents and moments where a partner perceives that you are not drawing or maintaining appropriate boundaries with your mom, resulting in a sense that you’re not on the same team. If she keeps taking shits in the punchbowl and you keep assigning her the job of making the punch for family gatherings, you have a problem.

This is a good time to think about what your ideal amount of interaction with your mother as she currently is looks like, as well as how much interaction you expect your husband to have with her. (It sounds as though they do not hang out a lot, and your problem is more that you want to be able to talk honestly about your complex Mom Feels with the man you love, which is a much easier situation to work through than trying to play referee over terrible disastrous evenings together.)

It sounds to an outside observer as though your husband has reached BEC status with your mom. If you spend less time on Relationship Internet than I do, this may be a new acronym for you: it stands for “bitch eating crackers.” This is, regrettably, usually a permanent transition from “mild dislike/irritation” to “literally everything this person does now makes me furious,” as in “look at that bitch sitting there, eating crackers.” It’s hard to come back from that place, once you arrive there, which is why I want you to uncouple your hopes from the idea that your husband might come around on the general concept of your mother. You love your mom, but he loves you. If he’s watched your mom drive you nuts and manipulate you and borrow money and mess with your head for several years, without the lifelong scaffolding of love and responsibility and frustration and hope that you probably feel for her, he may just be done with her. That’s okay. They don’t have to have a relationship.

If you can distill your husband’s obligations towards your mother down to “occasionally listen to me talk about my feelings towards her,” I think you have a real path forward. That may involve discarding everything outside that job description. If she visits, she stays in a hotel and you go meet her for dinner at a restaurant. If you’re at a gathering that involves her and she says something snide to your husband, you leave. I think it’s reasonable for you to want to be able to talk about your mother with the man you love, and it’s reasonable to expect him to put on a listening face and power through for ten minutes once a week without saying “your mom is terrible, why are you still talking to her.” That’s marriage. Your mom is not your frenemy from college that you really need to stop getting coffee with because you secretly hate her. It sounds like you are planning on having your mom in your life for the long haul. I get it. Relationships are complex, families are intricate.

I recommend sitting down with your husband and saying “if you literally never have to interact with my mother again, apart from eventually attending her funeral or occasionally seeing her at the next table at a family wedding, and I support you in this, can you, in turn, give me the gift of listening to me complain about/express tentative hope about her no more than once a week?” I think that’s a good ask. I think a reasonable person should say yes to that, especially when you trot out the bog standard “I’m not looking for advice, I just want to vent,” which after nineteen pop-psych books about marriage and how women are from Klepton IV there’s really no excuse for not being able to grasp as a concept.

I hope that your mother grabs her new therapy program by the balls and gives it her all and makes wonderful changes in her life, and I hope that your husband is able to be happy for you when things are looking up, and warmly sympathetic when they are not. Don’t let anyone shit in your punchbowl. Best of luck.

How to Get People to Stop Asking If You Want Kids

Dear E. Jean: I’m a married 38-year-old woman who does not want children. My husband, parents, and dearest friends have always supported this decision. I’m a devoted aunt to my nieces and nephews and have tons of respect for parents. I just don’t want to be one.

However, everyone seems to be pressuring me to have kids! People I don’t even know well—friends of friends, random taxi drivers—constantly comment: “Why don’t you have kids yet?” or “You should have kids before it’s too late!”

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Can you please help me find a polite, nonaggressive way to shut down these conversations without sounding like a kid hater? —So Ova It!

Ova, My Orchid: When people ask, “Why don’t you have kids yet?,” smile, open your arms wide, and cry out: “Eeeeeegads! Am I not enough for you?

And then keep smiling, because the question will never, never, never cease. When you turn 50, people will ask: “Are you considering adoption?” (Answer: “Yes. Elton John and his husband, David Furnish, are considering adopting me.”) When you turn 60, the question will be: “Why didn’t you have kids?” (Answer: “Because I saw how your parents’ kids turned out.”) When you turn 70, the question will be: “Do you regret not having kids?” (Answer: “Are you kidding? I still get up every morning and thank God I don’t have children!”) When you turn 80, the question will be: “Do you wish you had kids to help you with the house?” (Answer: “I wish I had rich kids—can you lend me $1,700?”) When you turn 90, the question will be: “Who will be at your deathbed, since you don’t have kids?” (Answer: “My husband, my dog, and my seven lovers.”) And when you die serenely at 103, the first question the obit writer from the New York Times will ask your niece: “Why didn’t your aunt have kids?”

Naked and Unafraid and Totally In Public

The snip-snip sound of the camera and the occasional directive from the person holding it. The continual vigilance of the light. A measured urgency to capture something magical and true. I became someone else during these shoots. It was like acting but without the pressure of memorizing lines.

My friends said they would be terrified to take their clothes off in public, to have their nude bodies documented, then studied and critiqued in a class. But I relished it. I grew up with sisters and among friends for whom nudity was the norm. We shared dressing rooms and bathrooms, we witnessed the removal of tampons, discussed what we liked about our breasts, made jokes about our poop. Our bodies were our bodies were our bodies. We didn’t hate them, as it seemed like so many teenagers in movies and on TV did; we didn’t take them too seriously, either. The summer after my freshman year of college, my childhood friends and I snapped a lot of topless photos of each other. The images weren’t meant to be sexy, or not only. They were a record of that time—youth, boredom, and bikini lines.

My junior year, I stood beneath the bleachers of the school stadium, wearing nothing but a football helmet. Next to me, my roommate Anna, also a photographer, donned a cheerleading uniform and a bored expression as Ryan’s camera clicked away. When athletes, real ones, saw us, they waved and snickered. I still remember the thrill. Occasionally, I would wave back.

As silly as that shoot was, the final images were discomfiting. My female body, wearing such a masculine accoutrement, momentarily upended any definition of manhood, any sanction of testosterone-addled aggression. It was at once comedic and upsetting. I was proud.

After college, I stopped rooming with photographers. I stopped modeling. I was writing a lot, and trying to make enough money to pay my rent and still write. I went to graduate school. I got married. I had a child, and then another.

One day I found myself writing about a young female artist named Esther who decides to become her own mother for an art project. She will not only dress and act like her mother, she will binge drink like her, and draw as if her mother is holding the pencil, and she will forge new relationships as if she is someone else. In her mind, it’s a Sophie Calle kind of art project, or it’s Cindy Sherman on steroids. As you might guess, this doesn’t go well for anyone involved, especially not for her.

Imagining this project, however, and writing about it, was a total delight. I loved coming up with Esther’s ideas, and as I wrote about her process, how her mind discarded certain plans and then embraced others, I felt like I was in college again. I was with Ryan, laughing about how crazy and brilliant Joel-Peter Witkin’s photos of corpses were. Or I was hanging Anna’s huge photograph of a wintry drive-in above my bed. Or I was standing naked somewhere unexpected—a racquetball court, for instance—posing for the camera. Suddenly, Esther’s life and mine didn’t feel all that different.

Writing about Esther made me want to see Ryan’s old photo, the one from the football stadium. At the back of a filing cabinet in my garage I found a ratty white folder labeled with my messy handwriting: WEDDING GUEST ADDRESSES + NAKED FOOTBALL PIC. Sure enough, inside the folder lay that bygone wedding-planning artifact, covered in scribbles about who could and couldn’t attend. And the photo.

Was I really ever that small? My collarbones and hipbones are visible, as are a couple of my ribs.

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I stand in profile. Anna, in her cheerleading uniform, faces the camera head-on, but her face is partially obscured by shadows. The angled wall of the bleachers practically bisects the shot in two, so that it’s dark where Anna stands, and brighter where I am—the sky behind me is blank and white, with only a few spidery trees in the distance. The helmet dwarfs my very thin frame. Was I really ever that small? My collarbones and hipbones are visible, as are a couple of my ribs. My tiny breasts are barely discernible. My ass, though—man, what an ass! It rises high from the small of my back. If you look closely, you can make out the fuzz of hair at my crotch.

The photo makes me blush, and yet, here I am describing it to you in great detail. I haven’t returned it to the back of the garage either, because as soon as I saw it again, I knew I wanted to have it framed. I would display it in my house. It will be proof of something: my carefree college days, perhaps, and my talented friends. How much fun I had, being photographed without my clothes on. But also, let’s face it, I want everyone to see my pre-motherhood boobs and my bodacious booty.

A few days after I discovered that old photo, I found myself in front of my bedroom mirror, lamenting various body parts. My hips, they were so wide! My nipples, they were so long! I stood in profile, mimicking my pose in the photograph, taxonomizing the differences between the body I had then and the body I have now. They are two different bodies, and though that was obvious the moment I saw the picture, I was surprised by how bad I felt about it. I realized that the 19-year-old version of me has been my point of origin; however far I might stray, I assumed I would eventually return to that self, that body. All this time, I’d thought that was the real me.

If that were the case, I lost myself somewhere around age 27.

Now I’m 36, and the only time I’m photographed by a professional is for book publicity. I must play myself, or a version of myself, and I hate it. “Relax your mouth,” the photographer usually instructs, and all I can imagine are my thin, stingy lips. In the final photos, I look either uptight or too perky, like some white lady trying to sell you Ziplock bags for your kid’s lunches. That’s not me, I think. And, yet, if I’m not that woman, if I’m not what everyone sees, and if I’m not the girl in Ryan’s old photo, then who am I? I’ve been betrayed by my physical self.

I sometimes imagine what it would feel like to be photographed once again, for art. To take my clothes off for a camera, and to make my body into a character, a person who is not me, but has my breasts and my stomach, my legs. I imagine the thrill of it, how I could screw with a viewer’s perceptions. I would no longer be that cute little co-ed, but maybe I could be a tired mother with a baby suckling her breast. Maybe I could be inspecting my wrinkles in a bathroom mirror, or trying to pee while my older child screams at me for attention, or signing escrow documents in nothing but my underwear.

Or, I could pose as myself—no role to play, only the body I have now. Could I do it?

If only I could be photographed with a sea of other naked people, as I was all those years ago. I can see it: a cold day, hurrying to pull off our clothes before the police come, the paper lanterns above us swinging in the breeze. I stand next to someone who resembles my younger self.

Nice butt, I think.

Edan Lepucki is the author of the forthcoming novel Woman No. 17.

Should I Have Sex Before I Get Married?

Dear E. Jean: I’m curious: Should I have sex before marriage? —XX Metta

Miss Metta: Before I respond, please answer two questions for me: (1) How old are you? (2) Are you in love? —Ravishing Regards, E. Jean

Auntie Eeeee: I’m 22. Just graduating college. An old soul. As for being in love, every day is like Hozier’s song—I fall in love with someone new. Keeping this in mind, I’ve been in love countless times, but I’ve never been in a relationship with a significant other. —XX Metta

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Miss Metta: Well, then, to answer your question: Do whatever you like before marriage—let the chaps pursue you the way every woman wants to be pursued, or move to a hut in the wilderness—it’s after marriage when you must get down to business and “have sex” as often as possible, because if you don’t, you won’t be having much sex at all during your divorce.

Get Heidi Klum’s Voluminous, Easy Waves in Just 5 Steps

Intent on making 2017 your Best Year Ever? We can help with that, thanks to our 2017 Coach of the Month series. For May, Heidi Klum and her beauty team break down how to get some of her most memorable hair and makeup looks—with minimal effort, to boot.

For a look versatile enough to fit in at a beachside cabana or backstage at your favorite band’s next concert, go with waves so voluminous and easy that even Klum’s mastered the photo-ready look herself. Here, her hairstylist Wendy Iles explains how she gets the look.

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Step 1

I start with damp, shampooed and conditioned hair, then I apply my Iles Formula finishing serum section by section all throughout. This serum is great: It has added heat protection to keep her hair from damage from heated tools and also protects against humidity—not to mention that silky lustrous texture it delivers. I just love that on Heidi’s hair.

Step 2

Using a medium size round brush I start blow-drying at the nape, moving upwards to the top sections. I like ionic brushes that prevent static and I use a Dyson hairdryer.

Step 3

I use a Babyliss hot curling tong—it’s ionic to prevent static. I roll the hair from the front with vertical sections toward the back; about five sections on each side from center front to center back. I keep the sections big as I don’t want curl, just slight movement. And I keep the sections clipped until the hair has cooled back down.

Step 4

Once the hair has cooled, I drop down the hair from clips without combing or brushing. For now, I allow the hair to organically fall into place while her makeup is being done.

Step 5

Taking a comb—never a brush, and actually mostly my fingers—I shake Heidi’s silky locks into place. With a small amount of Iles Formula finishing serum in the palms of my hands, I wipe over the outer surface of Heidi’s hair to settle down any “fluffies.” Boom. Her hair is instantly camera-ready.