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My large, extended family—including my 96-year-old grandmother and my ailing parents—is getting together for Thanksgiving at my sister's house. When we began planning dinner, I said that I would be inviting a gentleman I have been dating for about five months, as well as his daughter and granddaughter. This would be the first time most of my family will meet him. Recently my sister phoned me in tears, stating that the family is upset that my date would be bringing his family, and so the dinner is canceled. I encouraged her to continue with Thanksgiving plans and said I would join my date and his family for Thanksgiving elsewhere. That was not acceptable to her, because she wanted the family together on this day, and she said that I could come with only my date. Should I rescind the invitation to his family and have the two of us attend my family's dinner, even though he doesn't want to leave his daughter alone? Or should I skip my family's dinner and make other plans with my date?
Some families feel new faces liven up the Thanksgiving celebration, and some families have tighter entry requirements than a restricted country club. The biggest issue here is not whether you get to bring three guests or one, but that your sister would bizarrely consider canceling the entire event because of a conflict over your guest list. I understand you want to be with your new guy, but this is a recent romance, and a huge family celebration is not necessarily the best venue for introducing a potential but not-yet-established boyfriend and his family. It would be one thing for your sister to say there is simply no room for your party of four—which would be awkward—but I can't get over her threat to scrub the holiday. Maybe someone needs to slip a tranquilizer in her cranberry sauce. Your situation is designed for the drop-by. Given the age and precarious health of your relatives, you might want to explain to your beau that your family comes a little unglued when they get together, so you need to join them solo for the meal, but you would love it if he and his brood could come by for dessert. Alternately, you could explain to your sister that you're going to eat with your boyfriend, and then you alone (or your whole group, if it's all right) will come over once the meal is finished. Surely everyone will benefit from the fact that the Thanksgiving meal tends to put even the most volatile among us into a stupor.
Dear Prudence: Meddlesome Matchmakers
A little over three years ago, my dad passed away suddenly. My mother, younger brother, and I took it hard. I worried constantly about my mom. We spoke daily, and I did my best to make holidays and special occasions as fun as possible. About a year after my dad's death, she started dating a nice man. I was glad to see her happy and began to worry less about her. He began coming to our family events, which was fine at first. But soon he was coming to every single celebration we had as a family. I noticed we spoke less and less about my dad, mostly out of consideration for my mother's friend. When it seemed we no longer spoke about Dad at all due to this gentleman, I talked to my mom about it. She got extremely defensive. I felt as though she cared more about not hurting his feelings than about hurting mine. Our relationship is now very strained. I feel as though I have lost both parents, and I am dreading the upcoming holidays. What should I do?
I hope that not talking about your father for the sake of your mother's boyfriend was not done at her beau's request. Anyone dating a widow or widower, especially one with children, should expect, and want, the departed loved one to always be remembered. However, there is the kind of remembrance that is normal and natural: "Remember how Dad always claimed the turkey legs for himself?" And then there is turning family gatherings into a permanent memorial service. It's also to be expected that your mother's companion would be at your family gatherings. Resenting that they are now an established couple will add to the strain between you and your mother. It is simply the nature of moving on that as the years go by, the void left by the dead is filled with the chatter of the concerns of the living. If your mother has made talk of your father verboten because of her friend, then you need to explain to her that while you're not going to dwell on your father's death in their company, neither are you going to wipe him from your memory. Maybe your previous talk with your mother felt like an accusation to her, and it hit a nerve, because she may be simultaneously happy and guilty about finding a new love so soon after her husband's death. Don't dread the holidays. Have another conversation with your mother in which you explain that you're thrilled she's found someone wonderful, but if something reminds you of your father, you want to be able to mention it without self-consciousness. You have welcomed her companion into the family, so he should be grown-up enough to respect the memory of the man who came first.
I'm in my early 30s and have been dating the love of my life for three years. We moved in together a year ago. Before we began dating, I explained to my boyfriend that I was looking for marriage and children. I thought he wanted the same things. He says that he still does, but after a year of living together, we are not married and there is no engagement ring in sight. (Believe me, I know.) We have been invited to his cousin's house for Thanksgiving. He has a large family, and I am looking forward to going. However, my parents are the only family I have in town, and they were not invited. For the record, my parents have invited his over for parties, dinner, and holidays. I asked my boyfriend whether, if we were married, my parents would have been invited, and he said yes, which made me wish I hadn't asked. What should I do about all this?
—Not So Thankful
Your letter is a perfect example of how moving in together can get you further away from your life goals if a clear plan for achieving those goals is not part of the discussion you have before signing the lease. I actually don't understand why, after two years together, you would agree to an open-ended cohabitation. You want marriage and children, and you don't have lots of time to waste, but here you are, snooping in his sock drawer to see if there's a wedding ring hidden there, and waiting for your boyfriend to decide your fate. In the meantime, you're supposed to leave your parents alone on Thanksgiving because his family doesn't consider your family to be part of the family. I suggest you take more control of your life, and start with Thanksgiving. Tell your boyfriend either his family finds two more seats at the table, or you are going to have to decline their invitation and spend Thanksgiving with your parents. You could also tell him that the discouraging way this holiday is playing out is making you realize that after three years together, you two really need to talk turkey.
Ours is the home my family and my husband's family come to for holiday meals, and I am more than happy to play hostess. I have asked the smokers, who make up about half of the guest list, to smoke outside or in the garage. The problem is, I said my grandmother could smoke inside. She is 91 years old, and I would never ask her to stand outside in the cold. I also feel that at her age, she can do what she wants in my home. Now everyone else says they should be allowed to smoke inside if my grandmother is doing it. I have tried to explain that one smoker is different from 15 of them. Of course, the nonsmoking part of the family doesn't want any smoking in the house. Am I being unreasonable? Should I tell Grandma not to smoke, either?
Smoked turkey is a delicious dish. Less delicious is turkey that's been roasted in the oven, then imbued with the aroma of Marlboros. I don't suppose you could tell Granny you want her to quit her habit because you're worried it will shorten her life. But by allowing one person to smoke, you have arrived at the perfect solution to making everyone unhappy—except your grandmother. The rest of the smokers will resent being exiled. The nonsmokers will have to cough their way through the meal. It's your house and you make the rules, so of course you're free to tell everyone else to butt out. But since your grandmother sounds as if she's still moving under her own power, maybe you could set up the garage as a smoldering anteroom. Put in a heater and a comfortable chair, and let Grandma—and the rest of the addicted gang—puff away. Then the clean-living won't have to inhale cigarette fumes while they inhale their food.
More Dear Prudence Columns
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"Lunchroom Bandit: My co-worker is stealing everyone's food" Posted Dec. 3, 2009.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
"Callous Co-Workers Count My Calories: Prudie counsels an American whose European colleagues monitor her diet—and other advice seekers." Posted March 1, 2010.
"Help! I'm Too Hot for My Age: Prudie counsels a woman whose youthful looks bring her nothing but problems—and other advice seekers." Posted Feb. 8, 2010.
"The Pervy Principal: Prudie counsels a school worker whose boss trolls Internet porn on the job—and other advice seekers." Posted Feb. 1, 2010.
"Sticky Fingers Can't Stop Stealing: Prudie counsels a good Samaritan gone bad—and other advice seekers." Posted Jan. 25, 2010.