Sunday, May 02, 2021

Ask Aunt Dorcas--The Pushy Woman

Dear Aunt Dorcas,

What advice would you give for this situation?

Recently we bought a home and my husband remodeled it. It’s a beautiful house, and we love to open our home to people. We are always hosting and we enjoy it very much.

However, there are certain people from our church that seem to want to be invited just to see the house so they can later talk about it. When we are around these people they talk a lot about how much people's cars or houses cost, and whether women are good housekeepers or not, and how they keep up the outside.

They have been finding excuses to stop by the house, so my husband goes out to the car to talk to them. But they are very pushy and they'll be in the house before we know it. I just don't know how long we can avoid them.

It’s mostly one woman I'll call Mary (a widow) and her son and two daughters who are in their 20s and living at home.

Soon after we moved here, we were driving home from a funeral and someone followed us all the way. We drove in our driveway and so did the car behind us. It turned out to be Mary. She wanted to see where we were living.

Since then she's been dropping off different items for my husband to fix. He does construction so she brings things like broken flower boxes or kitchen chairs. Or she says she wants advice for how to redo her kitchen or what kind of wood she needs for raised beds.

When my husband says he doesn't have time to repair stuff she pushes it on him anyway. She will call and ask, where are you? I need to bring you something. She even asked her son to call him on Christmas Eve asking if he could fix a crack in her enamel roaster!

I feel like she is controlling my husband. He has many times tried to politely decline but was pushed into it anyway. 

My husband knows how much I don't like it. We have talked a lot about it, but we don't know what to do about it. We have a very communicative relationship and happy marriage.

My husband has wondered if she was a burden we had to bear and we need to learn to be humble and kind to her. He is a very humble man and she knows it.

She has a number of grown children. The ones at home are just as nosy as she is but her son from out of the area told us one time he doesn’t want us to invite them in or do things for them. But she STILL pushed my husband into coming over and spraying out the ditches by their place last fall.

Sorry this is so long. I mainly wanted advice about having them in my home. I want to be loving, kind, and hospitable. Do I humble myself and invite them or do I protect myself and my home from more pain and gossip? 

How do I respond to nosy people when they ask to see my home? 



Dear Wendy—

I think this is essentially a boundary problem.

Some of us bristle at that word, assuming that setting boundaries is the same as fighting for our rights rather than being unselfish and giving. 

That’s not what it means, and I’ll try to explain. I was introduced to these ideas by Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s books. I’m sure I won’t explain their concepts adequately so I encourage you to read Boundaries for yourself.

When God made humans, it was important to Him that they make choices. He wanted us to freely choose to love and serve Him. He gave each of us jurisdiction over certain things. We own them, make decisions about them, and have responsibility for them.

These things include our:










And, most of all, our hearts. God wants our faith and love to be freely given. He does not force or coerce us.

Others are responsible for their own bodies, possessions, etc. They are not responsible for yours, nor you for theirs.

There are lines, or boundaries, around each of these things. Many of them are related to privacy and identity. You get to say yes or no in each of these areas.

If someone crosses a line without your permission, your feelings naturally range from annoyance to resentment to shock to utter devastation. 

If you feel that you don’t have the liberty to say “No,” then your “Yes,” will come with resentment. For example, we’ve all had the enthusiastic friend who talks us into teaching Vacation Bible School or baking 25 dozen cookies for the bake sale when we’re suffering from chronic fatigue and struggling to keep up at home.

So we take on the assignment out of guilt, but we resent every minute we spend on it. It was not a freely given Yes because we didn’t feel that saying No was an option. We unwisely let someone else decide how to spend our time and energy.

If we were sinned against and are struggling to forgive, and we admit this in a Bible study group, and then get pressured into saying we forgive them, our boundaries are trampled. God wants forgiveness to be freely given from your heart. It should be your decision, between you and God. Others can support you, but the forgiveness isn't their decision.

Did you ever invite a guest for a meal and then they wandered upstairs uninvited? It feels bad because they’re crossing privacy boundaries in your house. You might feel the same way if someone tells you that you shouldn’t feel what you’re feeling. You own those feelings, and it isn’t their responsibility to make you feel something different.

If you’ve ever had someone peeking in your windows at night or breaking into your house, you know the awful feeling of violation that comes with it. Your house is your safe, private place. Someone crossed those ownership lines without your permission.

Probably the most devastating example is when physical and sexual boundaries are violated, and someone exposes and uses your body by force or manipulation. Even “small” violations are shocking and horrible, like a strange man putting his arm around you and saying something sleazy.

In contrast, your husband was invited to be intimate with you because of his love and commitment. It was your choice to say Yes and share your body with him. If he puts his arm around you, it is a safe and positive experience. He belongs there.

The New Testament has lots of commands to be unselfish, sacrificial, and giving. It can feel like those commands take away our choices, and we are powerless against people taking advantage of us.

My impression is that your husband is in this category, a nice, humble Christian man who sees this situation as a burden to bear, giving him no real options.

I feel those commands, such as the one to also give up your cloak if your coat is taken, recognize that you have jurisdiction over your possessions. It matters to you because it was yours. It was wrong for the other person to take it.

However, if something is taken by force, maybe giving something extra actually returns some power to you. You are not a helpless victim. You can still make choices.

I don’t feel that these commands of Christ mean that no matter what anyone else tells you to do or give, you have to do it. 

Maybe you’re someone who feels that no matter what someone—especially family or church—tells you to do, that is the will of God for you. If so, you’re going to be yanked around like a ship on the high seas, driven of the wind and tossed, because you’re going to get conflicting and opposite instruction for just about every decision you ever make.

Many people don’t understand what is their business and what isn’t. It’s amazing how many people want to make decisions for you, even if you’re a functioning adult, and feel they have the right to dictate your life. You need to be clear before God about His calling to you. It probably won't look like other people think it should.

So many life lessons can be learned from Pride and Prejudice. Our example this time is that queen of boundary crossing, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She commands Lizzy to send word to her parents and stay for two more weeks, and then to be sure to take the Bromley post to get home. Lizzy, being wise and healthy, mostly ignores her. However, Lady Catherine also tells Maria Lucas the right and only way to pack gowns in a trunk, and Maria goes into a complete tizzy, repacking all her gowns before they leave in the morning. Lizzy whispers, “Lady Catherine will never know!” and poor Maria is all confused, feeling that whatever Lady Catherine says, you have to do, even if it’s none of her business.

Unfortunately, it's never easy to push back against these line-crossers. It's awkward, embarrassing, and difficult. Often, it's much easier in the short term to give in to the Lady Catherines, because they are so intimidating. Usually, they know very well how much you want to be nice, and they take advantage of that. Your energetic bake-saling friend knows very well how hard it is for you to say no. The neighbor making inappropriate jokes knows you hate to make a fuss. And Mary knows that stopping her will take more strength than you and your husband have had so far, plus probably a big scene besides, which you desperately want to avoid.

Ultimately, your decisions are God’s gift to you--your little kingdom, so to speak. Work, marriage, college, what to plant north of the house, and who should or shouldn't be a guest in your home. You can get insights, but God wants you to rule wisely in your little jurisdiction and learn from the consequences of your choices, because those are also yours to own.

You and your husband own money and possessions. God has given you the responsibility for what you own. You get to decide. God would like you to tithe, take care of your family, lend freely, help others in the church, help the poor, and so on, but He wants your decisions to come freely from a heart of faith, trust, and responsibility. No one else can tell you exactly how those numbers ought to come out. He doesn’t want your giving to be coerced.

That brings us, at last, back to your specific situation, Ms. Wendy.

The boundaries of your home are being violated, or you feel they soon will be. Your home should be your safe place, where you get to decide when to open the door, and to whom. You are quite sure that Mary and her family will find a way inside against your wishes. It brings you anxiety, dread, and a sense of violation.

Your husband should be protecting you, just as he should protect you from the violation of a neighbor peeking in your bedroom window or a stranger stroking your back and making sleazy comments. I would suggest discussing it with him in these terms, because the resulting emotions are similar to what you're feeling now.

You are also acutely aware that your husband is being pressured and guilted into helping this woman. She is deciding for him how he spends his time, and he continues to spray ditches even against the wishes of her one son. He will likely soon bring them into the house. He apparently doesn’t see that her behavior is completely bizarre, unhealthy, and creepy.

Here is the tough thing about boundaries: your husband has to decide for himself how he will spend his time and how much he will let these people dictate his choices.

You cannot decide for him. He is the only one with that power.

Thankfully, you are not powerless. You are able to communicate with your husband and explain how you feel. You can pray hard, as I’m sure you already have.

You can do the coat and cloak thing, if you wish, deciding to invite them in and not only serve them a meal but take them all around the house, opening closets and medicine cupboards.

You can set boundaries. If you don’t feel they should come into your home, then decide what will happen if they do. Explain this to your husband, so it’s clear.

And you can ask for help. I feel your marriage could use a good session with a counselor to explore why your husband prioritizes pacifying Mary over protecting you. Also, how he can get the support to say no to such inappropriate requests from such a pushy person. You also need to learn how to be united in addressing this problem. A counselor can help you see just how messed up the situation is. You are not imagining things or over-reacting.

The non-crazy son should be consulted, I think. Maybe he can push for a mental health evaluation. Mary's pastor, which is also yours, should be informed and asked for assistance. Consider talking to law enforcement. Getting a restraining order is completely outside the pale for Mennonites, but I feel this woman’s behavior is sliding toward criminal and/or insane if she is obsessed enough to follow people home from a funeral.

Even though I’m happy to dish out my perspective and advice, this is yours to live and deal with. You own it--an unwelcome gift I’m sure. If you do nothing, which may be easier in the moment, that is your decision, and there will be consequences. If you do something, which could become really ugly in the short term, there will also be consequences.

You have what it takes to figure it out, and I wish you much wisdom.

That’s what I think.

Aunt Dorcas

Aunt Dorcas enjoying an iced coffee in San Diego.


  1. Lots of good reminders here - thank you. The pull to please others is strong, making it easy to forget that setting healthy boundaries is best for everyone.

  2. Very wise words!It's so important to set healthy boundaries!

  3. This is good! Practical tip for hubby: next time she drops off something to fix uninvited, don't fix it. Let it sit. When she calls and asks if it's fixed yet, just say "No," since "No" is a complete sentence. Then invite her to pick it up anytime. A few episodes of this, and she may get the picture. You are not obligated to answer her calls, or to answer the door. People do these things for attention sometimes. Once the camel's head is in the tent, the rest soon follows...

  4. To Wendy, you are not over-reacting. This is serious stuff. Aunt Dorcas, you did well. As I was reading, I was thinking "you can get a restraining order". And look....right there you said it. :)

    It feels to me like this woman is majorly crossing boundaries. It is not overeacting to lock doors, get a restraining order, or call the cops if she doesnt follow boundaries. It is possible that she thinks your husband owes it to her because "she is a widow". But thats not true. He owes her nothing. If she cannot follow verbal boundaries, get the law involved. Her behavior is downright creepy.

    1. I feel like those of us further away from the situation can see it for what it is.

  5. I've always been curious to know what these unabashedly nosy people's thought processes are. I've never been close enough to one to know, but maybe someone reading this has!

    I'm a fairly untidy person, and I happened to have a "Mary" over at my place soon after I was married. She somehow got talking about our bedroom and suddenly decided she was going to go look at it and started off! I actually jogged after her and took hold of her wrist and clumsily tried to be gentle as I led her back to our living room! I just about died of shame but later when I could think more clearly I was glad I did that. I do not understand these people at all!!

    1. I am so proud of you for taking her wrist and hauling her back to the living room. SHE should have been the one dying of shame, but obviously didn't have the sense to see that.

  6. I can so identify with Wendy ! My first thought was let the widow in an satisfy her curiosity, lock any door you don’t want her long nose in . Surely the community knows who she is and won’t believe her . But then I thought of my situation, it’s easier said then done ! The thing that hurts the most is you desperately want your husband to protect you from what you feel is more then you can handle! My husband is also one of those peace makers who is friends with the friendless . I have been the troll in our case . And I resent it and feel guilty this helped me think maybe I’m not as evil as I thought . I put my foot down when the couple who didn’t know there boundaries wanted to move with us to our state (we were neighbors for many years ) this would have included helping them take care of there check book which he never listens to anyone and gets in trouble and basically be joined at the hip .At the time we were new too the community and not sure how we would make our own income. They were mad at us (me)for years . After awhile the husband started calling my husband again .SAME story ! He won’t listen to anyone and keeps sending part of his paycheck to one of those internet send me a bit more money then you’ll get millions back schemes ! Oh and there going to move to our state yet !My husband does not try to convince him otherwise about the money scheme because he says , he won’t listen but only gets angry (true) My thoughts are , so let him get angry truth is truth! Then maybe he won’t be so hard up to live with us .I would have no problem with them moving here and even being our neighbors IF my husband would set boundaries! So if this couple ever does move here (they would need our help to do it) I’ll be the troll again and set boundaries with my husband (agree on what we will allow and what we won’t )or it ain’t happening. I do admire my husband’s trait of befriending the friendless . I should add this couple is not vicious just really needy in there upper story .