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Graduating together, celebrating separately

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Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend of over a year and I are going to be graduating with an associate’s in a couple of weeks. Yeah, we’re still not done yet, but halfway through a bachelor’s!

I want to celebrate with both of our families. My boyfriend thinks this is a good idea, but his parents (well, more like his mom), not so much. They plan to exclude me and my family from their plans, even though I’ve told them how much I would like to celebrate this event together. They are inviting other people to their celebration who are not so close to my boyfriend. My boyfriend doesn’t want to make his mom unhappy.

This is causing a bit of a rift because I feel like he shouldn’t just do whatever makes his mom happy and do what makes him and me happy, especially since this is our graduation. We’ve had issues like this before, where his mom wants something, I want something different, and he won’t tell his mother to suck it up. How can I deal with this? — Second Fiddle

An associate’s tells me you’re somewhere around 20. Unless you left the nest and lived on your own before going to college, this graduation is a rite of passage for both parent and child. So, “Suck it up, Ma,” isn’t the tone you want to take.

I vote with your boyfriend on appeasing his mom, at least on the graduation. It would have been swell if Mama were a more-the-merrier type, but I can also see not wanting to share this rite with a girlfriend who history says will be an ex-girlfriend sooner rather than later. I’m sorry, fact of life. Most relationships end.

Your best move now is to be gracious. Say, “Go, enjoy this moment with your parents, I’ll do the same with mine, and we’ll meet up later.”

As for future instances where you and his mom get in each other’s way, yes, the apron strings might be knotted tightly. But I suggest you give each issue an overreach test before asserting girlfriend privilege: “If I were in the mom’s place, would I agree with her?” When you miss something once, it’s wise to look for it next time.

Plus, the more judicious you are in demanding your boyfriend’s loyalty, the more likely you are to get it.

* * *

Dear Carolyn: I come from a large family, and three of my brothers now live within 15 minutes of my 76-year-old mother. All are in their 40s and 50s and have children.

Mom, who is now divorced, recently confided to me that two of her daughters-in-law regularly neglect to include her in her grandchildren’s birthday parties and other family events, and she’s hurt by this. She otherwise has warm relationships with all of them.

Obviously she could take the matter up with my brothers, but she hasn’t. Should I delicately broach this subject with them and/or their wives — as in, “Mom tells me she loves seeing your family, and I know she would like to be included more often in family events” — or just butt out? — Worried About Mom

Right, blame the conniving tramps.

So are they responsible for inviting your mother because they’re women, and men are chromosomally incapable of issuing invitations? Or because an in-law is easier to vilify than a son/brother?

I realize your mom is the one making these charges, but it doesn’t sound as if you called her on them, and you passed them along here without apparent skepticism.

Before you utter a word, run your mother’s concerns through a fairness filter and recognize that if your mother is being excluded, then her sons are responsible.

Then, run your plans through the meddling filter: To what extent is this your business?

With immediate family, you do have slightly more say than with friends. Still, you have an option that keeps the chain of responsibility intact: Urge your mom just to say to her boys, “When I heard you held a birthday/family event without me, I felt hurt.”

If she won’t do that, and if you are on good terms with your brothers, then you can intercede ever so slightly by saying to them, “I don’t know if there’s any truth to this, and it’s not my business, but I thought you’d want to know that mom thinks you’re having family events without her.” After all, she might be wrong — and if you were in your brothers’ place, you’d presumably want the chance to clear this up.

If you’re still inclined to blame your sisters-in-law, consider: Is there any way these women could alienate you more effectively than by using secondhand information about you to draw unflattering conclusions, and then to use those conclusions as justification for stepping in and telling you (in heavily padded language) what to do?

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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