Playing Favorites With the Fam

Playing Favorites With the Fam

Playing Favorites With the Fam

Advice on manners and morals.
Sept. 6 2001 11:30 PM

Playing Favorites With the Fam

Get "Dear Prudence" delivered to your inbox each week; click hereto sign up.Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

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Dear Prudence,
I have been married for the past nine years. We have not had any major problems with our marriage except for one: his parents. My husband and his sister are twins and are the only children of my in-laws. My in-laws have always shown favoritism to his sister. For example, when they turned 16, they bought her a new car and covered her expenses. My husband had to work for his first vehicle, pay his own insurance, and if he didn't have enough money for fuel, he just didn't go anywhere. The same thing went for their college. I wish that I could say that this is our problem, but it isn't. In fact, my husband and I agree that this gave him a great work ethic and a real appreciation for what he has. What I am having a hard time with is the favoritism my in-laws show with our children. When we married, I had a young daughter from a previous marriage. My husband has embraced the idea of a daughter, but my in-laws can't stand the fact that their only son would accept a child that is not his! Since we've married, we've had a son. They show obvious favoritism to our son and hardly speak to our daughter, who is now in grade school. They won't attend any of her school functions or compliment her for making the honor roll and have made their feelings quite obvious. My husband says I just have to get used to it because that is the way that they are.

—Fed Up

Dear Fed,
Prudie begs to differ. Your husband's folks may be "the way they are," but the two of you do not have to sanction it. From a disinterested outsider's point of view, by the way, they sound perfectly awful. It is admirable that your husband has found the silver lining in his upbringing, vis-à-vis his twin sister, but when people start acting out against children, all bets are off. Prudie would hope that you think seriously about severing the relationship with this humanity-free twosome. Should they react like normal people, for once, and ask why the cold shoulder, by all means tell them that their behavior doesn't measure up, and you are tired of their petty and punitive behavior.

—Prudie, disgustedly

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Dear Prudie,
I work in an office building that requires a security code to open the door—visitors have to use the call box to get buzzed in. This morning a man tried to follow me inside the building. I stopped him and apologetically explained that he would have to use the call box to be allowed in. He said he knew only the suite number, not the name of the company, and the call box only listed company names. I again said I was sorry, but he would have to contact the company and get the information; I couldn't let him in. During our exchange, a delivery person came to the door, and I believe she heard a good part of what was said. He seemed irritated, but allowed me to close the door, and I went to wait for the elevator. The delivery person immediately entered her code and let him in with her! So, soon I am riding the elevator with the delivery person and this man, who starts berating me for not letting him in. After explaining to the delivery person that she was not allowed to let people in our building and that I would be calling her supervisor (my admonition was met with only a blank stare), I told the guy that it wasn't personal; I was just following building policy. He continued to become more irate, daring me to call the police and being generally obnoxious while I did my best to ignore him. Finally my floor arrived, and I was able to escape. He didn't look like a criminal, but how do I know what a criminal looks like? Is it bad form to refuse entry like I did? What do you think, Prudence?

—Ms. M

Dear Ms.,
Prudie is with you—and, in fact, has lived through the same drama. Just tell yourself that whoever it is trying to skate in with you is an unknown quantity and the situation is not about being "polite"; it is about rules and safety. And do not allow anyone to make you feel like an officious goody-two-shoes. Things are such, in case the bleeding hearts haven't noticed, that restrooms on office floors now require a key to get in. This is because criminals and head cases started using them as a staging area. It takes guts to hold your ground in the situation you describe. (And Prudie hopes you did call the girl's supervisor.)

—Prudie, affirmingly

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Dear Prudie,
I've been going with "Rick" for almost three years. We get on wonderfully well as friends and lovers. He feels the time has come to get married and build a life together. My family is all in favor of this, as are my girlfriends. The only thing stopping me from saying "yes" is that, after four years of college and three years at my job, I'm afraid that I might miss some FANTASTIC guy down the line. I mean, I haven't met him yet or anything, but if I get married, then the game is o-v-e-r. What am I missing here?

—Afraid To Close Doors

Dear Af,
Here's what you need to remember: You can't be everywhere, married to everybody. Your thinking has a soupçon of immaturity and indecision to it. Prudie, herself, lives by the maxim that "life is choices." And you may be interested in the Little Black Dress theory as well. It is that when you find a tangible thing or a situation that is exactly what you had in mind—or a person who is just what you wanted—there is no percentage in continuing to shop on the off chance you might find something better. Many a perfect little black dress/man/house/job has been bypassed using your thinking. So, cupcake, if this guy rings your bell on his merits, consider the search over.

—Prudie, finally

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Dear Pru,
Do I owe George W. Bush a personal thank you note for the "tax relief" gift I was graciously sent recently? Not all chief executives have sent me gifts like this. What is the proper response?

—Quizzically Relieved

Dear Quiz,
Your mother raised you well, at least as regards the Thank You Note Instinct. Actually, Prudie just made a new etiquette rule: no notes required when the same gift is sent to many millions of people. The real reason, though, that you need not write a note is that you were sent your own money.

—Prudie, factually