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My future brother-in-law keeps asking for an unreasonable favour. What should I do?

The question

My sister's fiancé asked me to retrieve a sweater that he forgot at my parents' house and return it. I declined because it would've taken more than an hour, it wasn't convenient and it wasn't urgent. He badgered me every day, citing favours he's done in the past. He even offered to pay me, which I found insulting. He has a personal assistant but insisted that she was "too busy" with his other errands. The final straw came when he sent me a text message of an image of my Facebook page, where I responded to a comment, along with this: "See, what grinds my gears is … I open Facebook only to notice you have time to comment but not to get my sweater." Should I have done the favour, or was I within my rights to decline?

The answer

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Wow. How insufferably annoying. I often wish, answering people's questions, I had more details. Because, depending on which saying you've heard, either God or the devil resides in them; and I could give a much more informed answer.

In this case I absolutely feel like I'm missing some key piece of information, e.g. is your future brother-in-law a diagnosed agoraphobic who experiences vertigo and panic attacks whenever he leaves his house?

Or he's on the run from the law and police have surrounded your parents' house with orders to shoot him on sight? Sewn into the sweater is money they need to make a new life in Mexico?

In other words, why can't he do this pain-in-the-ass errand himself? Why can't your sister?

Let's leave the specifics behind for a second and proceed to the general, which is: The requesting and performing of favours is actually a more fraught, friction-filled transaction than it seems at first blush.

Of course being Canadian, aka "nice," we want to help people out whenever asked. But doing the wrong favour at the wrong time can be a horrible mistake and light a fuse leading to the implosion of a relationship. I see it all the time. I can think of dozens of examples from my circle of acquaintance, but instead of dredging any of those up, let me pose a quasi-hypothetical/composite example:

You lend a friend your car. It comes back all messed up, making a weird grinding noise when you turn it on, and it reeks from what you discover is a rotting sushi platter in the glove compartment. You take it to the mechanic, who comes out from under on his little trolley and, with an expression of sorrow and compassion on his grease-stained face, tells you the weird grinding noise is … $7,500. Your friend refuses to compensate you. Words are exchanged, now you don't speak to one another.

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Moral of the (hypothetical) story? Choose which favours you do wisely, based on the nature of the favour and the character of the recipient.

In this case – well, first of all, your brother-in-law has violated the Three Golden Rules of Favour Requests, which I humbly submit are: 1) The benefit to you should vastly outweigh the inconvenience to me. 2) Only ask if you can't do it yourself. 3) If refused, accept with grace: It's a favour, not an obligation! Also, he has really tipped his hand regarding his future ingratitude once this favour is executed. What's the good of doing it now? To see his annoying, tight-lipped "about time" smile and hear his sarcastic "thanks"?

Plus: Is his plan to badger you every time you seem to have free time, and ask why you don't use that time to do his favour?

No: You need to draw a line in the sand with this churlish character before he becomes your in-law. Doing him this favour now will only show him you are a wimp who will succumb to bullying and badgering and you do not need a lifetime of that.

I suppose you should be polite about it. But firm. It may be you showed a little weakness and hesitation, and bullies (which is clearly what he is) love weakness and hesitation. Something to the effect of "Sorry, but I don't have time for that right now" should suffice, I think.

At that point, one hopes, in the spirit of good relations with his future family, he'll see the error of his ways and back off. If not, well, you and he and your sister may have a bit of a bumpy future on your hands.

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P.S. My in-laws mail stuff back that people forget at their house. Don't forget Canada Post, folks! It's still out there! Maybe suggest he contact your parents and ask them to mail him his turdaceous sweater.

What am I supposed to do now?

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