Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on manners and morals.
Dec. 13 2001 2:54 PM

Sibling Rivalry

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,

My husband and I have been married for four years and spend every Christmas fighting about whose house we go to. I feel like the holidays are a time to spend with the people most important to you ... not going to visit one of his siblings whom we dislike and eating his bad-as-I-am-chef-I-will-show-you-peasants-how-to-eat cuisine and having to get presents we can't afford for 10-plus people. (They refuse to draw names.) I wish to spend Christmas relaxing, enjoying an enormous dinner with good conversation, and not being expected to buy presents for anyone other than my three sisters. I feel that, instead, we should just invite his parents and his other brothers and their girlfriends (whom we like) over sometime prior to Christmas and exchange cookies. Then we would really enjoy the holidays and not end up fighting and in tears on Christmas Day. What is your opinion?

—Sick of the Knockdown Drag-Out Christmas in Dallas

Dear Sic,

Prudie agrees with you, but she also understands the pressure some people feel to conform. If your husband agrees with you about whom you both do and do not like, perhaps you can sell him on the idea of being a little more honest and a little less hidebound. Your pre-Christmas approach is a good one; maybe you can make this your own tradition, even including the brother who's been commandeering Christmas Day. Suggest that this Christmas you vary your pattern as an experiment. Whether it's with your family with the three sisters, or even friends, at the very least, your husband should be willing to alternate the Christmas Day festivities.

—Prudie, equally

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Dear Prudence,

I write to you regarding a touchy ('natch) family matter. I have several siblings. Upon the day of their weddings, my father presented a gift of $5,000 to each of them. On the eve of my wedding, however, he called me over to inform me that he would only be giving me $1,000. What could I say? I gratefully accepted the check. I should add that at the time of my wedding, my parents were going through a bitter and costly divorce. Last summer when the last sibling got married, however, the gift was—you guessed it—$5,000. Am I petty to be resentful and sore? I've considered bringing the matter up with my father but fear creating a rift. Still, I can't help feeling singled out and slighted. Suggestions?

—Shorted Four Grand

Dear Short,

The costly divorce you speak of may, indeed, have been responsible for your wedding check being less than all your sibs', but Prudie is getting the vibe that—filthy lucre aside—you feel your father's attachment to you is the weakest. If your dad had financially recovered enough to give the "traditional" $5,000 to the sibling who married after you, he certainly could have backtracked and made your gift equal to the others. Prudie, herself, believes in equitable treatment for children, barring unusual circumstances. If you are the least favored child, it must be painful to deal with. And this particular issue is quite hard to talk about. If you were to go to him and say you are saddened by his absence of feeling, he would either deny it or perhaps feel properly guilty that you've perceived the slight. This is a tough emotional issue, and you may find it helpful to talk to a professional about all the feelings it engenders. Sometimes things can seem enormously unfair, but there's a certain knack to picking yourself up and getting on with it. Things are the way they are ... we can't make people feel the way we want them to ... and the gift of acceptance can be a great blessing.

—Prudie, parentally

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Dear Prudence,

Last year I discovered that my wife of more than a dozen years had been cheating on me with two different men: one for more than five years, the other for a little over a year. Both affairs, which overlapped, had recently ended when I made my discovery, and through a very intense period of talking and crying and reconnecting, we have repaired the damage between us and made the marriage much stronger. There is still considerable pain, yes, but in many ways we're happier now. Here's my question: How can I satisfy my overwhelming urge to punish the two men who saw fit to invade my marriage? Both initiated the affairs, and both pretended to supply the intimacy that my wife craved as a transparent means of getting laid a lot. Believe me, I know my wife was as much to blame, but that doesn't let these guys off the hook. (One is married, with kids; the other is divorced.) I went from hurt to blind rage to a kind of seething resentment, which is where I've pretty much been for the last year. And it ain't getting any better. I'm not a violent guy. What I want is a creative way to make them wish they'd never come anywhere near my wife or family. Please don't tell me I need counseling, whether or not I do. I just want to exact some price from those who did me wrong. Any ideas?

—Seeking Payback

Dear Seek,

Prudie is not unsympathetic to your wish to punish these two cads. (Prudie is from Chicago, after all, where the city motto is thought by some to be, "Don't get mad; get even.") The problem is that there's not much you can do to hurt these players and thereby gain satisfaction. If you were to pass on your information to the wife of the married one, you might make some trouble for him—but you would also be causing pain to his blameless wife. In short, there's not much to be done to, or about, a guy who's into seducing other men's wives. If your real objective is to let these two Lotharios know that you know, a good guess is that they already do ... and they also know you're still married. Assuming there were a freebie for, say, arson—WHICH THERE IS NOT—you still wouldn't feel any better. To get down to tacks of brass, these men mean nothing to you. It's your wife's infidelity (twice, yet) that has caused the hurt. So the most useful suggestion I can offer is that you take the advice of Stella Adler, the great acting coach: "Don't go back ... go on."

—Prudie, forwardly

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Dear Prudence,

My boyfriend of several years has been going to porn sites on the Internet. I have caught him several times and asked him to stop, yet he continues to view very obscene materials at night while I am in bed. These are highly offensive sites with pictures of women who look nothing like me, women with animals, and some that are called "teens." I have two children with this man and do not wish to end our relationship, but short of disconnecting the computer, what can I do?

—Upset in Iowa

Dear Up,

Prudie does not think you have a realistic chance of telling this boyfriend-and-father what he may or may not look at on the Internet. You may, however, want to evaluate how you feel about someone who is into the kind of entertainment you describe. Perhaps you might try to shame him into changing his ways by asking if he would like for you to replace him with a donkey. If you are clear that you do not want to end the relationship, go to www.netaddiction.com for help with living with his Internet porn habit.

—Prudie, supportively