ask polly

My In-Laws Are Careless About My Deadly Food Allergy!

Photo: Yuri Figuenick/Getty Images

Dear Polly,

I have a very severe allergy to mushrooms. I carry an EpiPen, and I have been hospitalized multiple times because of exposure to this food. One time, I began convulsing in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. My husband politely explained this to his parents when we started dating, and I was invited to family meals.

Since then, most meals we have shared at my in-laws’ house have had very limited options for me. Somehow, they manage to find a way to add mushrooms to almost everything. One time, they made a point to make a special plate of mushrooms and pass it around. My mother-in-law said, very rudely, “I would’ve liked to add mushrooms directly to the salad, but SOMEBODY has problems with it!” They even added mushroom powder to the mashed potatoes at one holiday dinner. My mother-in-law claimed it was a new recipe she’d found.

I literally held my breath as the mushrooms passed in front of me at the table that day. That was extremely dangerous for me. That food could kill me. What’s worse is my husband told me that mushrooms were not a common dish served by his parents before he started dating me.

When I was pregnant, my husband told them we would not take part in any family meals if they didn’t promise to keep the meals allergy-free. His dad said, “We can’t promise that. Everyone except your wife likes mushrooms, and we’re not changing what we eat for one person.”

My husband’s sister even called me up, angry about the fact we would not be attending a party at her parents’ house. Yelling that I was overreacting and that mushrooms are “not a poison.”

This has caused a huge wedge between my husband’s family and us. We no longer spend holidays with them and rarely speak. They don’t get to see their grandkids, even though they live very close by. His sister stopped talking to us. He has a brother who still reaches out and is kind to us, but he acts as though his parents are just set in their ways and we should forgive them and move on.

Short of taking them a doctor’s note, telling them my allergy is real, I’m not sure what to do.

My husband supports me 100 percent, and he is very angry and hurt by their actions. But at times I feel terrible that I am the cause of this rift, and I just want a happy family.

HELP!

Disrespected Daughter-in-Law
 
Dear DDIL,

You’re not the cause of this rift. The cause of this rift is TRULY TERRIBLE HUMAN BEINGS. Your letter is a pitch for a dark comedy on premium cable. I wish I could follow these people around with cameras all day long. I want to know everything about them. I want to know what they do every day, how they talk to each other, how they spend their free time, where they vacation. I want to know what kinds of human beings are comfortable behaving this monstrously. Do they look like monsters? It’s hard not to picture them as monsters.

Your in-laws are next-level, off-the-charts batshit.

Every now and then, a group of people assumes the traits and behaviors of sociopaths. Maybe one person in the group completely and permanently lost their doughnuts several decades prior, and slowly, each member of the group learns that playing along with this singular menace is the only way to survive. Eventually, the members of the group are so utterly confused and gaslit by each other that they enforce the will of the group and nod along with bizarre opinions until they can’t even remember what it means to think logically or have free will or behave like other regular human beings on the face of the planet.

Because these people are confused and weak and angry — and because they’re rendered increasingly more confused, weak, and angry by their exposure to each other — they tend to have less and less contact with those outside the group. And when they do encounter someone who’s not in the fold, they recoil and attack. Anyone who questions the group is attacked with words and actions. Anyone who questions the group is bad, and the group is good.

But who even cares? The important thing to know about your in-laws is that they’re literally trying to kill you. I mean, mushroom powder? Who’s even heard of such a thing? How is it possible that they’re all engaged in this charade of loving the ever-living hell out of mushrooms out of nowhere, in spite of the fact that they know you could die if you eat one? What on God’s green Earth is going on with these people?

I don’t think I’ve ever felt more shocked by the awfulness of anyone described in an “Ask Polly” letter before. I guess I should’ve felt more intensely disgusted, considering the vast range of atrocities described to me. But there’s something so malevolent about your in-laws’ behavior. The fact that they’re not just making an occasional mistake but embracing the one food that can kill you, over and over again; the fact that they’re not just embracing this food but insulting you for having an interest in avoiding death; the fact that they’re disgusted with your husband’s insistence that they figure out how NOT to serve mushrooms; the fact that they treat your husband like he’s betraying them by refusing to show up and watch them openly threaten your life repeatedly? It all adds up to the ugliest portrait of in-law behavior I’ve ever encountered.

And you feel guilty about all of it? Listen to me: Believing that you caused this rift is like believing that you formed the Grand Canyon using only your mind. It’s not possible. This rift has nothing to do with you. You could be the purest, most perfect, most lovable human alive, and these resoundingly toxic humans would find a reason to take issue with you. They are unwell, full stop.

So what should you do about it? I guess you could get a doctor to write a letter explaining that mushrooms have almost killed you a few times already. Maybe the doctor could describe in graphic detail exactly what would happen to your body if you were to eat mushrooms by accident. And if the doctor would also explain, in no uncertain terms, exactly what kinds of deeply ignorant, wildly passive-aggressive human beings would repeatedly attempt to present a known allergen to someone who should not come anywhere near said allergen, that would at least be gratifying and maybe even a little entertaining.

But have these humans ever indicated that they’re open to new information (let alone new people)? Have they ever shown the slightest bit of curiosity about you or your challenges? They can’t seem to do a simple Google search on “mushroom allergies,” so the mind naturally imagines the many, many other things they’re incapable of doing. Have you seen any signs that they’re heartbroken over this turn of events and they want to find a way to mend fences? If not, it’s hard to see why they’d suddenly wake up and look for understanding now.

Even so, I would get a doctor’s letter. I would send the letter. But I might also solicit a letter from a therapist, explaining that no matter what mitigating circumstances they might ascribe to their behavior, they’ve done a lot of damage to their relationship with their son and with you, and a large effort, either individually or as a group, will be necessary to fix that damage.

I guess that, personally, I’d want to be crystal clear with them before I disappeared for good. But honestly, that’s one of my flaws. Even when the writing’s on the wall, I want to explain everything. I want to believe that people can change. I want to believe that parents want, more than anything, to be in contact with their children, and children want to be close to their parents, and all of the confusion and bewilderment that stands in the way of those connections needs to be cleared away or at least tolerated, even when that takes a lot of hard work and a lot of forgiveness and a lot of deep breathing on everyone’s parts.

Your situation challenges this view. Your situation points to the fact that some people are at once so ignorant and so disordered that they cannot understand or navigate reality without hurting other people in the process. And even if they agreed, in clear terms, not to serve mushrooms … I’m sorry, but MUSHROOMS! THIS ISN’T ONIONS OR BUTTER WE’RE TALKING ABOUT! MUSHROOOOOOOMS! YOU HAVE TO GO OUT OF YOUR WAY FOR THIS! IT’S MADNESS I TELL YOU!

Okay, sorry about that. Ahem. Even if they agreed never to serve mushrooms or mushroom powder (Jesus almighty, MUSHROOM POWDER!), I would still be afraid to eat anything they served me. I would still stop at Burger Doodle on my way to Thanksgiving dinner, and bring my own bottle of wine to drink, and maybe even hire someone to test every food served to me for traces of mushroom. Because people who are unhinged enough to behave the way they’ve behaved are capable of anything. It’s not just that your in-laws have cultivated this deeply toxic suspicion of people whose needs don’t match their own. They also have a malevolent strain of suppressed anger that’s hard to measure or predict or trace back to its source. There is something very, very wrong with this picture.

Maybe I don’t say it enough in this column: Sometimes people are just unwell. There’s nothing you can do but pity them and keep your distance. It’s pretty awful when you’re related to them. But these motherfuckers are unrepentant. They’re angry, and they want to punish SOMEONE. God only knows what brought them to this, but your only recourse is to stay the fuck away.

I just want to recommend that you take caution. You are dealing with some next-level sociopaths. You need to protect yourself accordingly.

I don’t think I’ve ever written such a suspicious reply to a letter, but my God. Your in-laws win the Worst In-Laws Anywhere, Ever award, hands down. I hope they wake up some day — or at least the followers in the group do. And honestly, I’m sure that once you two are officially given up for dead, they’ll find another easy scapegoat and that member of the family will defect, too. That seems inevitable. That’s just what happens in the Upside Down.

It’s very sad. Mourn it. Go see a therapist and encourage your husband to see one, too. This is a hard thing to accept. It’s going to take time.

But don’t ever be tempted to believe that you’re doing something wrong here. This is not on you. This is their abject madness, and it’s up to them to grapple with it. It has nothing to do with you. Let go of this and move forward.

We don’t all get the families we want. Most families can be disappointing now and then. Most in-laws can be aggravating. Rest assured that you’ve done the whole world a service by describing to us one of the worst families, hands-down, anywhere, ever. If they were abusive or violent, it would be simpler. They’re the worst because they still get to think that this food allergy is just your little hang-up. They’re the worst because they think it’s completely normal to rage at you for having this condition, which clearly makes you anxious — and for good reason! They’re the worst because they get to walk around acting like they’re regular, good-hearted people most of the time.

They are the worst, the absolute worst. Send a doctor’s letter and tell your husband to write down his feelings in a letter to them, if it will bring you both closure. But after that, put them behind you and don’t look back.

Polly

Polly’s evil twin Molly has a newsletter; sign up here. Order Heather Havrilesky’s new book, What If This Were Enough?here. Her advice column will appear here every Wednesday.

All letters to askpolly@nymag.com become the property of Ask Polly and New York Media LLC and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.