Carolyn Hax: What to do when the visiting brother brings his ‘total slob’ of a girlfriend

(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

Dear Carolyn:

My husband and I are expecting a visit from my brother “Allen” soon. He is on again with his on-again/off-again (mostly off) girlfriend “Mabel.” I consider Mabel one of my close friends, but I openly admit she is a total slob. My husband has said that if Allen brings Mabel when he visits, she is not welcome in our home. My husband likes Mabel, too, but he doesn’t want our house taken over by Mabel’s mess.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I am very nonconfrontational, and am already dreading telling my brother the news. Any suggestions?

Boot This Mess

Someone once saved me by noting that “writer’s block” really just means you don’t know yet what you’re trying to say.

What you appear to be suffering here isn’t so much a fear of confrontation, but instead “confrontation block”: It’s hard to deliver a difficult message when you don’t even know where you stand.

Do you want Mabel to stay with you? Are you okay with her mess, or at least willing to assume responsibility for keeping it out of your husband’s path? Do you find your husband’s edict extreme?

It is “our house,” not just his, so you have equal say in how you handle guests. You have every right to say you’re not comfortable barring the door to Mabel because she’s a close friend and because you believe that outweighs her mess.

You don’t get to overrule your husband here, of course, any more than your husband gets to turn Mabel away unilaterally. The decision is one you make together — after talking honestly about what matters to each of you and what each of you is willing to do to serve those priorities. “What matters” can include your own comfort, each other’s comfort, Mabel’s feelings, Allen’s feelings, your marriage, your sibling bond, your sense of boundaries, your sense of what constitutes being a good host.

When you identify what you stand for, actually standing for it becomes much less scary to do.

Dear Carolyn:

I’m 75 and from a bygone era. Recently my daughter and
14-year-old granddaughter were visiting. They visit once or twice a year. Granddaughter was
e-mailing/texting or whatever kids do these days. I thought it was rude, but didn’t say anything because her mother permits it and I didn’t want a “forced” conversation.

In my day, respect was the top priority around your elders. She is on her phone when I visit them, but it’s “their house, their rules,” so I say nothing. How do I not take this personally? I try to insert myself with comments like, “Tell me about . . .,” but it doesn’t make a dent. Help!

Frustrated Grandma

Please don’t write yourself off as a “bygone era” casualty. It’s not then (respect for elders) vs. now (no respect for elders) anyway; it’s then (societal expectations) vs. now (individual expectations).

That means scripts have been shredded and you all get to weigh in, for better or worse.

And that means you’d best just say to your granddaughter, “Your phone has you for 360 days, and I have you for five. Please put it away and let’s _______,” making _______ something you do together. Make dinner? Take a walk? Play Parcheesi? You have standing; it’s merely of a different kind. Don’t be too timid to use it.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at



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