I won't sit for a holiday photo with my in-laws.

I won't sit for a holiday photo with my in-laws.

I won't sit for a holiday photo with my in-laws.

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 19 2009 7:13 AM

Picture This!

I refuse to sit for a holiday portrait with my future in-laws. Isn't it time they let their kids grow up?

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Dear Prudence,
Every year my fiance's family takes a portrait together and mails it out as their holiday card. His parents included their new son-in-law when their daughter got married. This is the first holiday since my fiance and I got engaged, and they have already commented on needing a bigger lens to fit everyone in this year. However, I have no interest in being in their picture this year or any year. They sign the card "The Smiths," but I have no plans to change my name and don't feel this last name would be mine. I plan to decline to be in the photo since I have always looked forward to having my own family and sending our own pictures to family and friends. How can I gently say to my husband's family, "Time to cut the umbilical cord" and let your children start their own holiday family traditions? The thought of the upcoming family photo is making me sick and filling me with anger.

—Won't Say "Cheese"

Dear Won't,
It used to be said that when certain hunter-gatherer tribes were first exposed to photography, they believed that if a picture was taken of them, it would steal their soul. You're probably aware, however, that a photograph of you with your future in-laws will not forever capture your image and make it impossible for you to send a photograph of yourself for your own holiday card. Speaking of which, your fiance's family is going to conclude that you're quite the card when you tell them you're not going to be in their picture, you will never consider yourself to be part of the "Smith" family, and that you believe your future mother- and father-in-law are infantilizing their grown children. Everyone will be filled with seasonal joy that you'll be around for the holidays for the rest of their lives. There are two approaches you could take here. One would be to vent the rage you are feeling over your fiance's family wanting to include you in their tradition. That might solve everyone's long-term problem by making you a short-timer. (However, if your fiance hasn't figured out by now that you have some issues, he must have issues of his own.) Or you could spend some time figuring out why a gracious and inclusive gesture from your in-laws-to-be makes you act like a petulant baby and work on growing up yourself.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
After raising my children alone, I found Mr. Right and got remarried. A few months after we were married, I found pictures of his stepdaughter from a previous marriage on his computer. He had always spoken of her as his daughter and said she thought of him as her father. These were nude pictures. When I questioned him, he said he did not take nude pictures but only modified them—just to see what she looked like naked. He explained that he did take pictures of her in lingerie on her wedding day and Photoshopped them to reflect her naked. This has been eating at me ever since. The bond between a parent and child is sacred, and I cannot understand the sexual pictures. I am afraid to have him around my daughters or granddaughter. Am I being paranoid?

—Bewildered Wife and Mom

Dear Bewildered,
When a letter starts with a wife sitting at her husband's computer, it's an inevitable cue for the staccato string music of Psycho. (I suppose the good news is that this image of the daughter-in-law won't be the family Christmas card.) Your husband's stated explanation for the photos may be true. If so, that means he was photographing his stepdaughter in her lingerie on her wedding day! If that's the case, the photos you saw don't just reflect his own private perversion, but show that his relationship with his stepdaughter has crossed so many lines that the two of them are tangled in a spool of yellow crime-scene tape. It's also possible he's lying about Photoshopping and that he has a cache of actual naked photos of her. Whatever really happened between them, you have just gotten an ugly look into the psyche of the man you married. I don't think you're being paranoid to worry about the safety of your daughters and granddaughter around him. But once you feel that way, it doesn't seem possible, or desirable, to continue in this marriage. Yes, it's a heavy blow to think you have finally found love, and find these photos instead. But at least you haven't invested years in this relationship—and I hope you've kept your financial investments separate. Someone who is afraid of her husband and is being eaten away by her knowledge about him is someone who needs to see a matrimonial attorney, ASAP.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
I am a medical secretary at an oncology practice. Over the years, I have developed strong feelings for a patient who has terminal cancer. (He is unaware of my feelings.) He is truly an amazing person and has expressed to the social worker that he'd like to begin a social life again (he's divorced with children). Coincidentally, we are on the same dating Web site as well. Am I overstepping my boundaries if I strike up an e-mail conversation via the Web site? What would I say? I don't want to regret not trying to make a connection with him, but I also do not want to put him in an awkward situation when he comes in for his doctor visits. A co-worker told me not to even try because, eventually, he will lose his battle with cancer. But I want to try to be happy with someone, and he has every right to want the same, too.

—Undying Love

Dear Undying Love,
I was with you until I got to your signoff. You may admire this man and be attracted to him, but you cannot love him because you don't really know him. I am worried that you may have gotten carried away with the idea of a doomed love, and the last thing this patient needs is someone else's emotional drama. However, you also seem to understand the potential awkwardness of this situation and have kept your feelings to yourself all this time, which is a good sign. Since you and he are on the same dating Web site, that is an easy and fortuitous way for you to connect. However, before you do anything, you should discuss this with the office manager to make sure you are not violating any rules. Explain that you would send him an e-mail, then totally leave it up to him whether to pursue this. If you get the go-ahead, just write to him that you work for Dr. X, you recognize him as a patient, and you'd like to get to know him in a more pleasant setting. If he doesn't make the next move, then continue your admiration from afar, and give him a warm professional smile when he comes in for treatment.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudie,
My boyfriend and I have been together for more than two years. This year I thought it would be wonderful to host Thanksgiving dinner and have both our immediate families meet. I invited both his parents and siblings and mine. His father decided to invite his own brother (my boyfriend's uncle), who I had not planned on having. My boyfriend's uncle is fond of guns and likes to carry at least one everywhere he goes. This makes me extremely uncomfortable, and I don't even want to have this dinner party anymore. I asked my boyfriend to speak to his uncle and let him know that weapons of any kind will not be allowed into our home, but I don't think this man will listen. He displays antisocial behavior, and truthfully, he scares me. I hate the fact that he will be in my home, possibly interacting with my family. I only accepted that he was coming out of respect to my boyfriend and his father, otherwise this is not the type of individual I would ever want to have any contact with. What can I do?

—Extremely Concerned

Dear Extremely,
It always adds excitement to a Thanksgiving meal when, if the turkey is dry, the chef wonders whether the bird, or she, might end up pumped full of lead. I understand that under normal circumstances you don't want anything to do with Uncle, but these aren't normal circumstances; this is Thanksgiving. I'm assuming your boyfriend's father felt guilty about leaving his misfit brother alone for the holiday. A difference between a normal dinner party and Thanksgiving is that the latter is about an expansive welcome. Unless a family member has been demonstrated to be dangerous, even an odd, antisocial one should be included. However, what turns a simply antisocial relative into a potentially homicidal one is a deadly weapon, and you are completely within your rights to insist you don't allow firearms in your home. Your boyfriend has to make clear to his father that the two of them are responsible for making certain that Uncle is unarmed and also monitoring that his behavior is in check—and that if he starts acting up, they will take him home early. But as long as you know Uncle's not packing, you should graciously allow him to pass the stuffing.

—Prudie

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