Our resident agony aunt Rhona McAuliffe offers advice to a reader who fears something more sinister is going on between her husband and her new au pair.
Myself and my husband run a very stressful business together and for a long time tried to tag-team minding our two small kids with little support. The business has grown a lot in the last 18 months and we recently agreed that we needed help with the kids.
We found a 25-year-old au pair who’s been with us about six weeks now and the kids love her. I can’t deny that she’s been a huge help but I have a creeping and uneasy feeling when I see my husband with her. The idea was that we would be able to work similar hours and stop tag-teaming. This hasn’t happened and it’s apparent from the times that we are all at home at the same time that boundaries have been crossed.
For example, they were sharing a bottle of wine together, after the kids were in bed, one evening I came home early; another evening they were watching a movie together side by side on the couch; another day she was having a shower with the bathroom door open while the kids ran in and out. She acts differently when I’m there, I believe and defers to my husband for instructions or approval for something. I feel like she doesn’t respect me at all.
She is young and beautiful and makes me feel very old and irrelevant. Especially in the mornings when she’s in the kitchen in a string top and little shorts. My husband denies being attracted to her but their intimate chats and jokes make me feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to overreact when there may not be a problem though. Should I let her stay in our house and just get over my petty jealousy? Or do something?
Thank you. Juggling Act, Cork.
Who has a shower with the bathroom door open? I mean, I do because it’s the only shower in the house and it’s also where the kids keep their toothbrushes. If they decide they want to brush their teeth during the exact seven minute window that I shower – which is almost always the case – leaving the door ajar is both numb acquiescence to a new reality and a demonstration of keen foresight. Even if I have to talk to most of my family while I’m shaving my pits, I never have to puddle across cold tiles to let someone in; the win is simply an unbroken stint leaning into the scald.
It’s the lesser of two evils, I guess. And although, leaving the bathroom door open could say: I give up; it might also say: this is family, a revolving portal of shared and exposed intimacies, a symbiotic flow of human existence.
And that’s where there seems to be boundary confusion, in your case. Although you want this young au pair to be ‘part of your family,’ as is the common sell, the line between familiarity and employee is blurred. An au pair or live?in nanny is witness to your odd habits and behaviours, your fights, frustrations and middle of the night toilet runs. On the one hand, she is a valued, cherished member of the household, entrusted with the care of your precious babies. On the other, she’s a paid employee, a stranger whose devotion, loyalty and discretion you essentially buy.
It’s a very tricky line to tread and one working relationship that would hugely benefit from a list of guidelines and expectations from day one, on both sides. But all parties
need to be in agreement and it sounds like your husband’s gone a bit renegade on the ‘how to’s.’
Is he attracted to the au pair? Probably. We all know – I can share one study of 12,500 Finnish men if you need proof – that men of all ages tend to be universally sexually attracted to women in their mid-twenties, women who show cues of peak fertility, traditionally aligned with youth, beauty and symmetry. The theory predates to the Neanderthals and is founded on the tribes that didn’t survive because they were attracted to older, non?fertile women. True Story.
The question is, is your husband going to act on that attraction? So far, he hasn’t violated any major marital codes, we think and may well feel like he’s just accommodating the new ‘family member.’ Whether he’s fooling himself or you might not be immediately clear. He is obviously enjoying the au pair’s company and may have unwittingly thrown himself into the task of Official Welcomer. The benefit of the doubt here rests on him having the emotional sensitivity of a crocodile.
Before you publicly reclaim your territory, you need to have a candid chat with your husband on what you feel is appropriate and not. You feeling like an outsider in your own home is not appropriate. Is sharing a bottle of wine off limits? Should they be spending evenings together when you’re at work? Should you ever reference your sex life, backed?up bowels, personal disagreements or your recurrent UTI? FYI, to keep things 100% profesh, the ideal is that you steer clear of anything deemed TMI.
This shouldn’t be about policing your husband’s behaviour (yet), but being honest about what makes you feel uncomfortable and finding a solid middle ground in terms of what is the acceptable boss/ employee etiquette. Talk it out and agree on boundaries that you will both engender moving forward. This might also be a good time to talk about getting away together for a few days. Life and business has been very stressful for you both and having a young, fun woman in the house might just have highlighted how pressurised your dynamic is.
Draw up your new rules and talk them through with your au pair. As a nation that is obsessed with being ‘sound,’ we are rarely comfortable laying down a set of rigid expectations. This reluctance to stand by our convictions doesn’t benefit anyone and leads only to disappointment and warped levels of passive aggression. So, I say to you: own it. Be fair, be honest and tell her how it is. It’s up to her to roll with it or roll right out of your house after that.
If your husband doesn’t entertain your concerns or ridicules your ‘paranoia,’ watch out. This, unfortunately, places you in the secret?cam zone (as not recommended by me for its illegality in the fridge?stealing?flatmate HMU) to uncover what’s actually going on. By discounting your discomfort, your husband is essentially batting you off and not taking you seriously. This may indicate that he is either a) hiding something or b) does not care how you feel.
As well as remembering that women do not come with an expiration date, that you are in no way lesser because you are older, also know that 75% of relationships born of an affair do not last.
Still, you might consider a male au pair next time?