Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. An edited transcript of this week's chat is below. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)
Emily Yoffe writes: Good afternoon. I hope your holiday travels go smoothly and that you enjoy the deep-tissue massage courtesy of the TSA.
Q. Ungrateful at Thanksgiving: I am a single, 52-year-old woman with no children, and most of my family is estranged, so I do not spend holidays with any of them and it has been that way for many, many years (and it is OK). Every year around holiday time, I get an invitation to Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner from people who "figure" that I may be alone for the holidays. That is a kind gesture, but I never hear from them for the rest of the year ... ever. I don't want to sound ungrateful, but I am offended and feel like a charity case when I get these invites. If they really cared about me or considered me a friend, wouldn't they want to know how I am the rest of the year? I graciously turn them down, but I always feel that it is more for them than me because people like to feel like they are helping the "needy" and they feel warm a fuzzy this time of year. Am I looking at this wrong?
A: Your letter may hold a clue as to why you are estranged from your family. Sure, they may be horrible people, but maybe you've picked up your social graces from them. A generous invitation from friends to include you in their festivities is not an insult. It is not an attempt to make you feel pathetic. As for the rest of the year—are you incapable of inviting people over and being a hostess yourself? You say you don't want to be thought of as a holiday charity case, but it sounds as if you would prefer to be thought of as a year-round basket case. If you want invitations, the easiest route is to reach out to others, then they will reciprocate, and your social calendar won't be so empty.
Dear Prudence: Meddlesome Matchmakers
Q. Thanksgiving: Last Thanksgiving, with five days' notice, I whipped together a homemade meal for my husband's extended family—adult siblings, their visiting friends, mother-in-law, etc. At the time, my son was 9 months old, and this involved shuffling my family's schedule and getting up at 4 a.m., but I was happy to do it. The result? They complained about everything while in my house. Some food was too dry, other food was too salted, and why did I serve X side dish instead of Y? Our choice of TV programming was awful, the size of our TV garish, yadda yadda yadda. Lesson learned. And now here it is again, just days before Turkey Day one year later, and suddenly I am being asked if I would host since we are the only siblings with a house large enough. My answer? No. Husband supports me in this. So, are we being rude? The in-laws are acting as though I'm Yoko Ono and just broke up the Beatles.
A: Maybe for Christmas this year you could give your husband's family calendars to which you attach some sticky notes at the beginning of November which say, "Time to start planning for Thanksgiving!" What did these people do for the holiday before you came along? You are not being rude—if these folks want a turkey dinner, suggest they buy some Swanson's. OK, don't do that, but stand firm that you're unable to play host again this year (or any other).
Q. Intelligence and Relationship Future: I'm in a very happy relationship with my girlfriend of about six months. I'm studying in law school right now. I come from a very well-educated family and consider myself to be pretty bright. I've had a really tough time admitting this to myself, but my girlfriend—whom I love very much—is honestly just really simple-minded. On pretty much every other front, she seems perfect to me: We get along really well, we have a great time together almost always, and she has a really laid-back, happy-go-lucky, stable personality. In this sense, she's almost a perfect counterweight to my own neurotic, introspective, and quasi-OCD tendencies.
Friends and family members have expressed their surprise that I'm with someone who seems so different from me in intelligence. My question is, will this difference eventually cause serious problems in our relationship? Am I setting myself (and her) up for some problems later on just by continuing to ignore this intellectual mismatch that exists between us?
A: I'd say there's already a problem if you describe the woman you love as "simple-minded." Obviously she doesn't have your academic ambition or analytic skills. But it's telling that you don't say you admire her insight into people, or her leadership skills, for example. From your description, it sounds as if you enjoy her role as an emotional nurse for you, but I wonder if you see her as a complete, valuable person even if she can't discuss what you're learning in civil procedure.
It would be nice to hear that you find the comments of your friends and family members offensive because they are missing something about your girlfriend. But apparently you agree with them. The only answer to whether this makes your relationship unsustainable is to see how you both continue to feel about each other. Perhaps, if she picks up a sense of contempt from you, she'll be smart enough to get out first.
Q. Sister-in-Law and Her "Friend": We always spend the holidays at my wife's parents' house, which in years past has not really been a big deal, however, one of my wife's sisters recently divorced her husband and moved in with a friend who was also recently divorced. My wife and I are assuming (I know, I know ...) that my SIL and her friend are now a lesbian couple. I have made it very clear that IF that is the case, then I will not attend the holidays, nor will I allow my children to attend. My standpoint is that homosexuality is morally, ethically, and spiritually wrong. My MIL and FIL say that I am overreacting,
A: My standpoint is that anyone who would take such a standpoint is morally, ethically, and spiritually wrong and should spend Thanksgiving in the broom closet gnawing on a turkey carcass. Whether your sister-in-law is living with her friend out of convenience or love is none of your business. If you want to stay home, do so, but have the decency to let your children enjoy the holiday with the rest of the family.
Q. Help! Advice on Gift-Giving: I am a knitter who is knitting socks for my son's preschool class. I intend to give these socks as Christmas gifts this year. I am keeping them a secret as I would like them to be surprises. The only one who knows is the teacher as I needed her help getting the kids' feet sizes. My question revolves around the note I am going to include with the socks. Of course it will include washing and drying instructions (cold water and low heat); however, I am stumped about how to ask for the socks back if the kids don't like them, so they can be redistributed. Now, I don't really want the socks back for my own son; I would like the socks to go to someone who'd actually wear them. What would you do in this instance?
A: In this instance, I would stop with the socks and knit a sweater for my own child. While many people enjoy handmade scarves, there's a reason people stopped wearing lumpy, itchy, droopy handmade socks as soon as industrial looms were invented. It's sweet of you to want to make gifts for the entire class, but you're investing way too much time in a gift that won't be appreciated. If you want to do something handmade, maybe you should bake some treats. Or you could offer to come in and do a knitting lesson for the kids. Unless you're making socks they can hang by the fireplace for Christmas, no one wants handmade socks in their Christmas stocking.
Q. Game-Show Winnings: I was lucky enough to become a contestant on a game show and ended up walking away with some money. Now that my family has seen the show, they are bombarding me with requests for money or gifts, saying that I owe them for what was provided for me while I was growing up! Don't get me wrong, I appreciate and love my family. I did not become a millionaire or win enough to really affect my lifestyle. I had planned on trying to take a dent out of my college loans with the money I won. How can I tell my family that they are appreciated without paying them with my winnings?