I am engaged to Van. My problem is Van’s stepfather, George, who will soon become my step-father-in-law. I am uncomfortable around George for a variety of reasons, such as: he whispers things to me like, “Van sure has a good eye,” or “If I were a few years younger I’d give Van a run for his money;” I catch him staring at my chest; his greeting hugs are too tight and go on for too long; he has this habit of sneaking up behind me, grabbing me in a bear hug, and saying, “Gotcha!”
Added to this, George’s wife, Ginny – who is Van’s mother and soon-to-be my mother-in-law – seems cold to me and gives me the fisheye.
I told Van about my discomfort around George. He said George likes me and is just being affectionate and that I am overreacting. I am very close to my parents, but I hesitate to tell them about my feelings because they are no-nonsense people and I worry about some kind of an incident over this, such as my father calling George and giving him a good what for.
I don’t know what to do.
Several words come to mind to describe George’s behavior toward you, but let’s go with creepy. Creepy behavior in this context is sexual innuendos or intentions of one person that most people would deem to be inappropriate. To be clear: George is not being innocently affectionate toward you – his behavior towards you makes you feel uncomfortable, perhaps even unsafe.
What he does is creepy, at best, and perhaps even pre-predatory.
George probably knows he is being inappropriate, but he is hoping – maybe even counting on – that what he is doing passes for being playful and harmless. His behavior is neither.
I want to begin my advice for you with a comment about Van’s reaction when you told him George’s behavior made you uncomfortable. Although I can understand that Van may not want to deal with the unpleasantness and conflict that could result if he takes seriously what you told him about George, his response is disappointing. It implies that you are misperceiving things and what you are feeling about George’s behavior is off base. It calls into question your ability to assess your own experiences and to process them accurately. In effect, he is suggesting you are mistaken; he is asking you to deny your feelings.
You need your feelings accepted and validated.
My first suggestion is that you immediately talk with your parents. They will, no doubt, want to know how they can help, and what you want them to do – for example, you want them to listen to you, empathize with you, give you advice, get involved, or a combination of these. I daresay, talking with your parents about your experiences with George and your feelings about him will give you a huge sense of relief by knowing you are no longer alone in dealing with this situation.
I know your parents will have some suggestions for how to deal with George when he behaves inappropriately, but I, too, have some I would like to offer.
Predators count on their victims’ silence
Many people like George, who indulge in creepy behavior, count on their victims not wanting to draw attention to themselves, so I suggest you become very loud and public when George is out of line. If his greeting hug is too intimate or too long, you make a show of disengaging by crisscrossing your arms in front of you and moving away from him while saying, “Please George, you’re suffocating me.” If he is staring at your chest, you say loudly and with disbelief in your voice, “It looks like you’re staring at my chest, George. Are you?” Expect George to deny he is doing so, but that’s okay: you have put him on notice, as well as alert others around you of your discomfort.
The next time he sneaks up behind you and grabs you, you react by swinging your arms and pushing him away, while saying in a loud voice, “What do you think you’re doing, George?” He will probably act surprised and hurt and say something like, “I was just giving you a big bear hug.” You respond along these lines: “I don’t like bear hugs and I don’t want you to ever do that to me again.”
If he sidles up and whispers something for your ears only, you repeat what he has said to you in a loud voice: “George, did you just say that you wonder if Van is enough man for someone like me? Did you really say that?”
I think you get the idea of what I am suggesting. You need to be loud and public.
Expose George’s inappropriate behavior real time when it happens.
Expect him to react in ways to try and make it seem that he’s just a nice friendly guy. His wife Ginny may well be aware of his improper tendencies and the fisheye you see is really directed at George and not at you. I suggest you continue to be polite to her, and remember that George is Ginny’s problem, not yours.
One final suggestion:
You never want to be alone with George.
– especially once you’ve loudly and publicly exposed his inappropriate behavior.
I will close by suggesting that after your conversation with your parents about George’s behavior, you let Van know you have talked with them. Knowing your parents are in the loop may help him realize that he was remiss in not taking seriously your concerns.
If Van continues to think you’re just overreacting and misinterpreting George’s intentions, and/or he requests that you drop the matter, you and Van might benefit from talking with a couples counselor to help you look at the viability and sustainability of a long-term relationship together. You need Van to be fully committed to helping you protect yourself from people like George. If that reassurance is not forthcoming, you perhaps will want to reevaluate your engagement.
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
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