Dear Margo: Nutty, Insecure Wedding-Goer

My step-mother-in-law made a fuss at our wedding over a picture; was I in the wrong? Margo Howard’s advice

Nutty, Insecure Wedding-Goer

Dear Margo: This past March I was married in a destination wedding. My husband’s parents divorced four years ago, and his dad remarried last year. Anyway, during our reception this past June, while taking wedding pictures with the family and bridal party, my father-in-law’s new wife, “Nancy,” became incredibly upset and started yelling “this is bulls**t” (mind you, there are little kids around) and throwing a fit because my husband wanted a picture of the two of us, his parents (not standing next to each other) and his two brothers — basically, his family. She said we were disrespecting her for taking that photo.

We talked with our photographer about all of the photos we wanted taken before the wedding date, and we also consulted etiquette websites for guidance and found that what we wanted was legit. My father-in-law and Nancy were in other pictures, though neither of them smiled in any of them.

During the reception, Nancy voiced her not-so-nice opinion about me. My husband and I wrote a letter to his father and Nancy explaining how hurt we were with their actions at our wedding. My f-i-l called and apologized, while Nancy stated that we were the ones who were wrong and sent word that she would not apologize or even talk to us, for that matter. My f-i-l told us Nancy has been yelling at him constantly since the wedding because “he allowed us to take the picture she didn’t want taken.”

My husband is sad because his relationship with his dad has been compromised. I can see that Nancy has self-esteem and jealousy issues, but I am shocked at her behavior. I guess I am asking: Did we do something wrong? — Shocked in Green Bay

Dear Shocked: What can I say? The woman has no manners, no sense and a whopping case of insecurity. If she weren’t in any pictures, she might have something to complain about, but this was not the case. Consider it a gift from the gods that Nancy will not talk to you. And I have a hunch that your husband and his father will be just fine … when Nancy is not around. Also, if her behavior continues like this, Nancy may not be around. — Margo, forwardly

What, Exactly, Constitutes a Good Time?

Dear Margo: I am approaching my 21st birthday. While this is a milestone for many people, I find this birthday filling me with dread. Unlike the majority of my friends, I do not drink alcohol. Several things influenced this decision, including my work teaching teens the risks and consequences of underage substance use. It was also painful during my childhood to watch my father battle alcoholism and, eventually, rehab. And I have an addictive personality and try to avoid anything I feel could be trouble.

This decision has been a struggle because the social scene of my university consists largely of drinking. Until this point, I have always had a bunch of excuses, one of them being, “Sorry, but I don’t want to drink until I’m 21.” However, my roommate recently informed me that she and some friends are planning a 21st birthday bash for me at which I’m expected to get quite intoxicated. While I appreciate their “good intentions,” the thought of this get-together fills me with dread.

I have no problem with others consuming alcohol, but it’s not something I want to do. Is there a polite way to inform these people that they are welcome to get drunk at my party, but it’s not what I choose to do? I also do not choose to spend my birthday in an alcohol-induced haze. — Haley

Dear Hale: You do not owe your pals a night of being blotto just because that’s their idea of a good time. I would plainly say, should anyone inquire, that you don’t care for the taste of alcohol and have decided to be an abstainer. If anyone is gauche enough to push you as to why — or why not — simply repeat that you choose not to drink. You can do a “bottoms up” or make a toast just as easily with water, soda or juice.

Peer pressure to drink is just an unfortunate exemplar of herd mentality, and I’ve never figured out why non-drinkers are a “challenge” to those who do. Oh, well. Props to you for your decision — and happy birthday! — Margo, individually

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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110 Responses so far.

  1. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW#1: Be happy “Nancy” is on the outs with you, and hope it stays that way. You don’t want her in your life, and it’s likely your FIL will soon feel that way about her, too.

    W#2: Stick to your guns, enjoy your birthday. aAnd watch out for any of these so-called pals who try to spike your drinks.  

    • avatar P S says:

      I agree LW1 needs to see the fact that Nancy Shrew wants nothing to do with her as a hidden blessing. Life and civilization would improve greatly if everyone adopted a “no drama, no ‘tudes” philosophy.

  2. avatar snowwhite4577 says:

    LW#1- We live in such a “it’s all about me” society. Why Nancy did not shut her mouth because….wait…it was not HER wedding is beyond me.  I don’t understand why people get attitudes and get angry when they cannot get what they want …..on a day that is supposed to be a celebration for others.  She apparently forgot whose wedding it was and why she was invited.  F-I-L should remind her.  And I have to agree with Margo…if Nancy does not get her act together, Nancy may be an ex too.

    LW#2- I agree with Margo.  Don’t compromise yourself and what you believe because your friends cannot have a good time without drinking.  I did not have my first drink until 21, either.  I never understood why my friends would walk into a party and would hit the keg asap.  You should be able to have a good time without alcohol and your true friends will respect your decision. 

    • avatar chuck alien says:

      “I never understood why my friends would walk into a party and would hit the keg asap.”

      really? nothing about that makes sense on any level to you?

      1) kegs go empty. so earlier = better on getting beer.

      2) drinking earlier in evening is better than drinking later… more control, less driving, etc.

      3) often a line at a keg. getting in line early makes sense if you have to wait anyway.

      4) what you rather they do first? eat snacks? hit the bathroom? what is the right answer?

      so… can you understand any of those? anything getting through?

      • avatar Ghostwheel says:

        Maybe snowwhite like to say hello to the hosts first, or talk with people, or see what is going on. For some people, the booze is not the attraction at a party, so running for the keg line makes no sense whatsoever. They are there to hang with their friends, play cards, watch TV. None of that probably makes sense to someone who is just there to drink and get drunk, or who needs a drink to loosen up, but would make sense to someone who just likes the taste of beer and drinks it like a soda.

        Going to the keg asap only make sense if you GOTTA HAVE THAT BEER!!!!. If you don’t care one way or the other about alcohol or getting drunk, it doesn’t make any sense.

      • avatar Lym BO says:

        Not thinking this is sarcasm.

        I’m with you.

  3. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:    I would simply ignore Nancy’s attitude.  You didn’t do anything wrong and really,this is an issue between your husband and his father and stepmother (although I agree she owed you an apology for raising cain at your wedding…that is not going to be forthcoming so consider her the source and forget about ever getting one and move on).  Don’t do anything that would compromise your husband’s relationship with his father (like saying:  your dad can come but she cannot) and let Nancy get over her snit fit (or not).  Don’t let her do any damage to your relationship with your husband by buying into her drama.  If there is drama to be had,  let her be the source of it and not you and support your husband’s wishes on how to handle this situation in the future.   As for her negative comments about you…it is unlikely that anyone who has had significant contact with this woman will buy into anything she says.  She probably senses that trashing your husband might be being  a biotch too far even for her very patient  husband so instead she is focusing her venom on you.  As evil as that is…try to ignore it as it sounds like sshe is looking for reasons to cut you and your husband from his father’s life.  Don’t give her one.

    LW#2:  I applaud you for standing up to peer pressure.  If you don’t want to drink…don’t.  You really don’t owe anyone an explanation for why you choose to abstain…but saying *I don’t like the taste…or *I don’t like the way it makes me feel* are two possible replies.   If a tendency toward alcoholism is in fact, genetic, you are wise to avoid it all together but that is no one’s business but your own.  As long as you are not going about like Carrie Nation destroying bars and bottles in your wake, it really is no one’s business that you choose not to drink…anymore than it would be their business if you choose not to smoke cigarettes.  Good luck and Happy Birthday! 

    • avatar luna midden says:

      The main problem LW2 has is she kept saying she was waiting for her 21st birthday to drink-so her roomie and other friends probably figured if this was her (or his) first night out drinking, they would make it a BIG EVENT. She should have let her REAL FEELINGS out about drinking right away-‘I do not drink’ should have been enough-but she made EXCUSES! She needs to come clean with her roomie about the drinking-and tell that ‘no drinking’ is a personal choice for HER, BUT she is not judging others that do drink (responsibly). Maybe the LW can suggest going out to dinner at a place like TGIF-has a bar for those who do want to drink… and if they still want to drink, they can do so after the lw retires to her room.

  4. avatar Lila says:

    For the 21-year-old: I am also a lifelong non-drinker and know EXACTLY what you mean. Unfortunately, I have no magic bullet to get these sots off your case. I really do not like the taste of alcohol and ALWAYS know when it is in a drink. It’s unpleasant; why pay a premium for something I don’t enjoy? But don’t expect logic to work on their mentality.

    Sorry to tell you this, but your 21st birthday is only the beginning of this stupid phenomenon. The drinky crowd is rude, and just can’t let it go: “Oh, try this, try that, you won’t even taste the alcohol! You’ll like this one! You’ll get used to it! Lighten up! Don’t you want to have fun? You have to get drunk at least once in your life!” Pffft. Who says?

    The pressure was pretty intense well past my mid-20s. Later, by my mid-30s, it declined to a sort of surprise, which still comes up in my… um… current decade: “You don’t drink at all, REALLY? Are you sure?” Uh, yes, pretty sure. “Well, uh, OK. That’s cool.” Still, there’s this awkwardness about it. I try not to be a complete ass about it… unless pressured by asses who don’t know when to quit… So, over the years I have had the occasional flute of champagne to toast a wedding or the New Year, but then it’s back to my standard drink: Coke on the rocks with a twist of lime (humor helps, too).

    Also consider: my generation had it EASY. We didn’t have cell phone cameras or Facebook. There are certain advantages to remaining sober.

    • avatar John Lee says:

      What you said is very true Lila.  For some reason, 90% of the drinking crowd are rude and idiotic when it comes to non-drinkers.  I used to be complete non-drinker and Margo doesn’t seem to understand the lengths these idiots will go through to try to get a non-drinker to drink.  Years later, I’m a big drinker and I still get SO mad when my drinking friends try to pressure my non-drinking friends to drink.  1)  I remember vividly how much I used to hate being pressured when I was younger and 2) why are these idiots trying to force expensive alcohol on people who clearly hates it when I can be drinking it!

      Anyhow, there is no polite way to tell 20 year olds at a 21st birthday party that you will not drink.  I guarantee you that if you are nice, they will try harder, get more people to pressure you and then attempt subterfuge to get alcohol into your system.  You can try to be polite about it the first time you are asked, but you will be asked again, again, and again. I would be polite the first time, but then go immediately to the “My dad was an alcoholic and nearly destroyed my family so I will NOT drink” card.  Even that may not deter the most persistent, in those cases, it’s up to you if you want to endure the constant harrassment or leave the party.

      • avatar Lila says:

        John… I must confess that I can get sorta temperamental especially when I make my wishes known but jerks don’t back off. I would always start of with a smile and “no, thanks,” but… your observations about 20-somethings who like to drink is accurate. More than once, especially when in my 20s, the card I ended up playing was, “I said NO, dammit, what the f*** is your problem??” (Hmm, this was also a repeat of my adolescent years when everyone wanted me to smoke).

        This tends to dampen the mood and make one unpopular. But in those moments, I did not care, and looking back on it, I don’t see how else I could have handled it. My experience of these parties was basically a solid hour or two of group pressure to get me to drink, and nothing else. No other conversation, no snacks, no mingling, no letting me drink my Coke in peace. Just a constant, “Oh, come on… here… you GOTTA…” with a bunch of drinks waving around in front of me. Naturally, when one has had enough of that and explodes in everyone’s face, they are hurt and mystified.

        If anyone out there has an effective way to kindly convince drunk 20-somethings to drop it, I would be interested in hearing it. I am clueless. Exploding Lila was the only truly effective treatment.

        • avatar Sadie BB says:

          Lila – there is a way. Wait 5 years for them to grow up!
          At that point they will probably have experienced a problem drinker who put them in harms way. Or matured somewhat.
          On the other side of the coin I have in my younger years been that pushy person. I didn’t even realize I was doing it, I just thought I was encouraging a college friend to step out of the shadow of her repressive upbringing.She gave me a hurt look and asked ‘why are you pressuring me to do this?’ which shocked me out of the behavior for good.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            Sadly, Sadie BB and Lila, giving them five years won’t always work. As a long-time (26 years) recovered alcoholic and addict, it is amazing how even drinking friends in their forties…and older…will try to push the point. Saying, “No thanks” doesn’t work, and often neither does, “I can’t and won’t, I’m an alcoholic”, because then you get, “Well, after all this time just ONE won’t hurt”, even if they have no idea how long it’s been. I’ve also heard “Can’t you control yourself?”. Yes, I can…that’s why I don’t drink, moron.

            As for LW2, I’m not surprised by, nor am I going to hold it against a young person to have said to her party-hearty friends that she was waiting until she turned twenty-one to give alcohol a try in order to back them off while she frantically seeks a way not to seem like a freak (college kids seem to have the mental maturity of kindergartners of late) and be ostracized, while maintaining her integrity. In those days when the Dead Sea was still merely sick (yeah, I stole that, but I love it) when I was in college (my extremely small college town has 28 bars), everybody drank and smoked dope…but it Was. Not. Like. It. Is. Now. No massive parties with hundreds of students spilling into town streets so drunk they’re toxic and in need of hospitalization. No pressure to binge drink (WTH…only moronic Frat Boys did that…and only with beer…and only in their frat houses). Just not the same quantity of student corpses lying around parties, dead from alcohol toxicity, while their oblivious, spoiled peers party on. Or screw their dead bodies (yes, this has happened). I can see how LW2 might be experiencing a serious degree of pressure, especially if she has a room mate who is into the drinking scene.

            So, LW2 needs to tell her friends the truth. No blow-out 21st birthday party with alcohol. And “No” means “No”. Period. End of story. Explain that she doesn’t drink. Doesn’t want to, doesn’t consider it safe, has alcoholism in her family and that she is NOT going there. Forget the “make sure no one is spiking her drinks”, and refusing to be friends with anyone who does it. Ever have a drink (or a joint) spiked with something that shouldn’t be in there? I have…and the last thing you may be worrying about is un-friending whoever did it. You can end up raped, multiple times (yep), with a disease you can’t ever get rid of, or even less-than-cheerfully dead of an overdose, or much, much worse.

            No need to put herself into the situation, What everyone is missing is that there is no need, even at 21, for her to accept her friends’ idea to have a drunken bash. No party. A night out doing something else, sans any chance of spiked drinks or mistakes. If her friends are her friends…they will accept her terms. If not…their loss…though it may feel like hers to her for a while.

            But darlin’, college is a lot like high school. This too shall pass, trust me. To some people, their heyday was high school (which really ought to tell you something…if being the high school varsity quarterback or head cheerleader was the high point of your life at, o, say, 50…maybe evolution wasn’t a big part of your life process. O, ditto college for most), for others, college. But you’ve got a whole life ahead of you, and this will be your first big stand in a world full of people who may not be willing to “Get It”. Starting now, insure that they do, and your life will begin to open up in unexpected ways.

            BTW, I’m no AA, 12-step graduate, and I’ve never been to rehab. I had to straighten out my addictions on my own. DT’s, withdrawal from opiates, alcohol poisoning and all. Don’t do this to yourself. I have no moral or religious stance…if you know you’re vulnerable, stick to your guns even if it’s hard, and your life will be so much better for it.

            Peace and strength


  5. avatar Dan Bingham says:

    LW #2 – It’s time to find a new social scene. Believe it or not, there is tons of stuff to do with other students, even on a weekend, that doesn’t involve alcohol. Look into some clubs that have interests that you share (hiking, dancing, vintage-movie-watching, video games, whatever) and see if they have weekend events that don’t center around alcohol.
    As for Margo’s wonderment about drinkers finding non-drinkers a ‘challenge’, from what I’ve observed, the ones who get offended are usually the ones who drink too much and know they drink too much, but as long as everyone else around them is soused, too, they can pretend it’s OK.

    • avatar Obediah Fults says:

      That’s exactly what I was thinking, Dan. Haley needs to find some new friends!

    • avatar John Lee says:

      That’s more of a long term solution.  She’s concerned about her 21st birthday party in college.  Unless her friends are all in the teetotalers club, 99% of 21st birthday parties will involve drinking and the pressure to do so.

      My advice to LW#2 is to say that your father was an alcoholic who nearly destroyed the family and that you will never drink.  Either that or skip the party.

      After the 21st birthday, LW’s friends will likely back off since they didn’t bother her previously when she used the under 21 reason.

  6. avatar Mo Mo says:

    For LW #2: I too am a life long non-drinker, and I’ve found it best to just offer to be the designated driver for all involved, and make jokes about ‘Someone’s got to post this on Facebook when ya’ll start being stupid’. If the ones I’m with are close friends, I do tell them that it’s because I had an uncle spend 40 years in a wheel chair from drinking and driving.

    But the main thing is I’ve never hung out with the drinking crowd – my friends go to the bar sometimes, or they’ll have wine for a particularly trying subject, but mostly we have other interests that don’t involve drinking. As others have said and will say: find others that share your interests, and leave behind the drinkers. Just because you share a room with your roommate doesn’t mean you guys have to run in the same circles!

    • avatar Mo Mo says:

      *they’ll have wine for a particularly trying subject

      Should be ‘subject study session’…

  7. avatar B.eadle says:

    By telling your friends – “Sorry, but I don’t want to drink until I’m 21.” – you kind of led them into thinking that a party on your 21st birthday that would include alcohol would be okay. Of course getting ~mind numbing I can’t remember what I did last night where am I~ drunk is WAY over the line.

    You’ve just got to man up and tell them that although you said you were waiting until you were 21, that now that that day is nearly here, you just aren’t into it. Welcome them to have the party themselves and to give you a toast but that you’ll stick to the soda and, while thanking them profusely for their time and effort in putting together the party, make a quick exit.

  8. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: You didn’t do anything wrong. Period. For “Nancy” to be so insecure and stupid as to throw a fit that your husband would want his biological parents to pose in a photo with you as a couple and his brothers, AND mom/dad are standing far apart … she’s completely out of line. It’s telling that you say “Nancy” and your f-i-l aren’t smiling in the photos taken of them. I’ll bet they’re often not smiling — wherever they are. “Nancy” knew your f-i-l had sons before marrying him; obviously those sons have a mother! It’s a real pity “Nancy” chose to attack you; that’s yet another indication of her pathetic character. I’d keep quiet and leave the matter alone if I were you. Let husband and f-i-l find (or re-find) their interrelated level. Absolutely do NOT approach “Nancy” in any manner; she’ll either take the pleasure of cruelly rejecting any overtures of friendliness or she’ll self-righteously view it as your “admitting” having wronged her. Just leave this matter alone.

    L #2: Sometimes saying nothing is the best course of action. I mean that literally. Any explanations or protestations will only fuel their desire to “convince” you — or encourage hassling you about it. And besides, it’s your body. I’ve had 2 hangovers in my life; 1 was enough. And if you do buckle under the social pressure…please do NOT drink and drive. If you do go ahead and party that night, get a DESIGNATED DRIVER. I’ve read/heard too many “celebrating 21st birthday” headlines of crashes and deaths. One such young man spent his 22nd birthday in prison; that was in 1996, and I am certain he is STILL in prison.

  9. avatar Elizabeth L says:

    Haley , I want to let you know my daughter who is 28 this month had the same problem when she was 21 but she made it clear to her friends if they wanted to stay friends they had to accept she did not drink. They were friends so they accepted her on her terms which is what you need to get across to your friends if they can’t time for some new friends.
    Happy Birthday ! and enjoy it on your terms.

  10. avatar Lisa Cornell says:

    Re Letter #1
    The situation described in the letter is eerily similar to what happened in our family. I am the wicked step-mother. What happened recently was at the engagement party, not the wedding of my step-daughter and there were no invective-laced comments by me at the party or elsewhere, but other than that, it is almost identical. My husband, her father and I have been together/married for eight years. His first marriage had been very unhappy for years and they had a very acrimonious divorce. To this day, he despises his ex and they have not spoken in years.

    When his daughter announced her engagement, my husband felt that there were a number of issues that needed being discussed. He would certainly prefer to never be anywhere near his ex, but he wanted to ensure that he would have limited contact with her. There were also other issues regarding the presence of an adopted son he has absolutely nothing to do with on account of the fact the son is seriously mentally ill and dangerous. As usual, my husband let it go and avoided discussing his feelings. I had advised him that he needed to be forthright with his daughter early on and not spring anything on her at the last minute, but he chose not to be proactive and the ensuing mess is, I believe, a direct result of this. I already knew that I would be relegated to the role of plus one as his daughter had always been polite but distant with me. For me, I was going to do whatever I needed, to support my husband.

    At the engagement party, it was nice to see my husband’s family and despite the uneasiness of the situation, we actually managed to have a good time. I spent the couple of hours chatting away with his family and our table was at the opposite end of the room from her mother, so all was well. We had posed for a group photo of my husband’s side of the family and there were candid shots as well. Shortly before the party was ending, I excused myself to use the restroom and one of my SILs accompanied me. She wanted to talk about an uncomfortable problem she was having. We were gone from the party about ten minutes. When we returned, my husband greeted me with “you’ll never guess what happened”. He proceeded to tell me that immediately after I left, his daughter called him up for another photo. He obliged and the next thing he knew, he was in a photo that had the bride and groom, the grandparents (including a step), and the groom’s parents and his ex. His ex was posed next to him with her arm around him. He said no, he wouldn’t do it and his daughter insisted. He jokingly said he would be in serious trouble if he did. He was trying to diffuse the situation with humor and of course what he did was make me look like an insecure control freak who would pitch a fit if he had posed for the photo. Instead of telling her that he was not going to pose for a staged photo which was designed to look like a happy family tableau, he shifted it onto me. So, what happened next, I suppose was an inevitable consequence of this situation. When I returned and my husband recounted what happened, minus his comment about being in trouble, my comment to him was that it was his fault for not sitting down with her in the first place and hammering out an agreement that would have avoided such