Ask Amy: The sincerest form of flattery gets annoying

May 11

DEAR AMY: I work at a large high-tech firm in Silicon Valley. My co-workers and I are all in our 30s. I enjoy shopping and put a lot of effort into finding clothes and accessories that are affordable, fun and unique.

Every time I wear something new into the office, my co-worker “Bob” asks me where I bought it. A few days later, Bob comes to the office wearing the identical shirt, pants, jacket, shoes, socks, watch, sunglasses, electronic gadget, workout bag, etc.

I resent that I spend hours looking for the perfect item, only to have Bob race to the store and purchase the same thing. I now flinch every time he asks where I bought something. While I recognize that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, this is beginning to feel stalker-ish.

Should I just chalk this up as a weird compliment, or should I start saying new purchases were gifts and I don’t know the source? He is rather persistent. -- John

DEAR JOHN: Thank you for the reminder that even high-tech workers in Silicon Valley have very human dilemmas, i.e.: “Stop copying me!”

You should respond to “Bob” with equal doses of good humor and inscrutability. Tell him, “I’m flattered that you’re jumping onto my style, but I’ve decided that my look is part of my personal brand and so, well — you’re on your own.”

The fact is, it is very easy to find just about anything online (or 3-D print it, as your colleague knows), so he really doesn’t need you to lead him by the hand or “run out to a store” in order to copy you.

DEAR AMY: I have been married for four years, and my husband and I live in another country (an eight-hour flight from our families). We see my family about once a year, either at their home or ours for a few days, and this is fun and relaxing for everyone.

My husband’s parents want to see us constantly. They have flexible schedules and are wealthy, so there are no constraints on their visiting us whenever they want to, regardless of our objections. My husband agrees that their visits are too frequent, but it is hard for him to enforce boundaries, as they are very aggressive.

My mother-in-law has already planned three trips to see us this year, even though we have also planned two trips to visit them for family occasions. Last year she visited despite my husband’s clear and repeated statements that we were unavailable at the time.

She bought a ticket anyway and stayed elsewhere. We refused to see her. She berated my husband with nasty messages and also misrepresented the circumstances to the rest of his family.

I don’t want to go through this again but she has just picked dates and bought tickets again for an upcoming visit without consulting us. She said she has reserved a place to stay elsewhere, but she also assumes we will make time for her.

How shall we proceed? I want to support my husband being close with his family, but this puts a lot of stress on our relationship. -- Vexed

DEAR VEXED: If your mother-in-law doesn’t stay with you when she visits, then there is no reason for her to clear her plans with you far in advance, certainly when she doesn’t respect your schedule, anyway.

You should behave as if she lived 10 minutes away. If you can get together, then do. If you can’t (or don’t want to), then don’t. It sounds like your husband is capable of building a boundary and if this results in his being trashed by his mother to other family members, then he is probably not going to want to spend much time with her. He should tell her so.

If you feel better about the boundaries you can establish, you will feel more tolerant toward her. This is a relationship you will be in for a long time. Your in-laws might even buy a condo in your home country, all the better to be near you.

DEAR READERS: Don’t forget to hug a mom today. We literally would not be here without them.

Amy’s column appears seven days a week at www.washingtonpost.com/advice. Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2014 by the Chicago Tribune

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