Life Advice



Ask Amy: Anti-social son-in-law taxes family’s patience

Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Amy: I have a thoughtful, successful 38-year-old stepdaughter. We have a good relationship and enjoy each other’s company. I live abroad, so I only see her and her family once or twice a year.

The issue I am having is with her husband, my son-in-law.

He is completely anti-social and barely acknowledges my presence.

He has never initiated a conversation, and during family events he either absents himself or is present but playing video games on his phone.

I have learned not to take this personally because he treats everyone, including his own family, the same way.

Family members and friends have tried to understand his behavior: Is he “on the spectrum,” is it a cultural issue, (he is from a different country), or is he just rude?

A few friends and family members have discussed this with my stepdaughter, and she says, “It is just the way he is.”

I will be visiting them later this year and am already apprehensive.

While I am visiting, I find his behavior so unpleasant that I find excuses to retire early.

Is there another way for me to understand his behavior and make peace with it?

– Curious

Dear Curious: I don’t think it is necessary for you (or me) to try to diagnose or assign a category to your son-in-law’s behavior in order to make peace with it. “Peace” (or acceptance) is a choice. You say you aren’t taking his behavior personally, but you seem to be doing just that.

It might help if you saw him as perhaps a shy or introverted person who doesn’t initiate or actively participate in conversations, but is possibly listening or witnessing the family dynamic in his own way when he is present.

You say that others have broached this issue with your stepdaughter, but it might be helpful if you spoke with her – or him – in order to make sure he is comfortable with you being a guest in their home. Ask for any suggestions for ways you might connect with him.

“Difficult” people lay down a challenge and test your tolerance, but also present an opportunity for you to grow. And if you can’t grow, you can at least tell yourself that in order to stay connected with your stepdaughter, you will need to detach from his behavior.

Dear Amy: About 20 years ago, I was at a dental appointment in a medical arts building.

My dentist, (like me, a female), asked if I had ever experienced sexual abuse during an exam from a doctor.

I said, "Yes, and it happened in this building.”

She asked if it was “Dr. So and So,” and I said yes.

She told me she’d had a similar experience with this doctor.

Amy, this happened in the 1970's, when we were about 20.

Last year he died. When I read the obituary the memories came back, including the plaid knit slacks that he was wearing when he abused me.


I know other women my age who had similar experiences with doctors when they were young.

Thanks for letting me share this. This will help me to forget.

– Survivor

Dear Survivor: This is horrific. I’m so sorry this happened to you.

I think it is extremely important that you have told your story, but I wonder if this really will help you to forget.

I highly recommend that you speak to a counselor about this. I think it might also be a good idea to talk more with your dentist about your experiences.

You could also contact the state medical licensing board to report this abuse.

You can assume this doctor victimized other patients, and it might help you – and others – if you report this crime, even after the perpetrator’s death.

Seeking justice could inspire other survivors to come forward.

Dear Amy: “Passively Helpful Guy” wondered about offering to help people.

Your suggestion of, "Can I give you a hand with that?" is the perfect response.

It lets the person know you're available and willing, without pouncing.

I have a visible physical atypicality (I avoid the word disabled) and well-meaning people often jump in to "help" me with things I manage fine, but differently.

It doesn't occur to them that they're stealing bits of my hard-won autonomy, or are looking for a pat-on-the-back experience to brighten their day.

Always ask before helping anyone, unless they're bleeding or lying on the sidewalk, babbling and/or unconscious!

– No Thanks, I’ve Got It

Dear I’ve Got It: Sage advice. Thank you.


(You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

©2024 Amy Dickinson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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