Q. Sick of Guests: My husband comes from a culture where hospitality is a deeply ingrained value. As a result we've frequently hosted relatives, friends, friends of friends, and even strangers from his home country. Some of them have even stayed for months at a time, and it is unthinkable to ask for money. The issue is that I am getting tired of endlessly hosting. I want privacy and quiet in my own home, and we've had some bad experiences with house guests in the past. My husband insists he will get a permanently bad reputation if we turn away guests, and since we've been saying yes, it will be even more insulting to start saying no. I want to be culturally sensitive since this is something that is very important to him, but this is driving me insane.
A: Oh, bring on the bad reputation. It's going to be the only way to save your sanity. Whatever the culture of his country, you're not in it, and you've got your own culture ("get out of my house!") to preserve. I sometimes think that one of the great engines of migration is people fleeing from societies with too much hospitality. Being on permanent hostess duty sounds like hell. Particularly since you married someone who has many family members, friends, and acquaintances apparently without jobs or homes who feel free to crash at your place for months (!) at a time. Tell him that this is a new year with new rules. Visits have to be approved in advance and lengths of stays will be severely curtailed. Explain that most of the time, your house will be free of guests. Tell him if it's not, it will be free of you.
Q. Re: About not reading your novel-in-progress: I'm a published novelist. My spouse reads my books once they are in print, never before. Not sure our marriage would have survived otherwise. If the budding writer needs a reader, she should find a critique group.
A: Thank you, J.K. Rowling, for weighing in! For some writers their spouse is their most important editor. For others, having the spouse stay away from the manuscript is essential to preserving the marriage. But no one benefits from a reluctant reader.
Q. Wanting a Simple Wedding: Ten years ago, I was engaged and planned a wedding, but we called it off at the last minute. At the time, my fiancé and I wanted to have a simple engagement and ceremony with very little traditional pomp. Under pressure from family and friends, we eventually caved and accepted engagement parties, registries, showers, etc. While some of it was fun, I regret not standing up to my family more. I'm now engaged again, and I personally would like to take this opportunity to have the simple engagement and wedding I always wanted. My fiancé, however, has never been engaged before. While obviously we've discussed some of our expectations, I'm worried that my position comes off as insensitive: I want to avoid all of the things I've already done. How do I make my stance clear to my fiancé and our families without seeming like a hypocrite?
A: If this were a coronation it would be hard to say, "I hate all this pomp and ceremony. Please just FedEx the crown to me." How you do your wedding is up to the two of you. This is probably the biggest joint enterprise you and your fiancé have undertaken to date, so that makes it a good way for you two to negotiate your preferences and learn to compromise. You don't even say that your fiancé has explained he wants to max out the celebration. If you're old enough to have broken off an engagement 10 years ago, then you certainly should have sufficient life skills to be able to make your desires known to your nearest and dearest with both sensitivity and certainty.
Q. Gifts and Holidays: I have been with my SO for three years. He is an amazing partner and I couldn't ask for a better match. The only time we run into some tensions is around the holiday/birthday time of year (our birthdays are just three days apart). I love presents and holidays and everything that goes along with them. I spend months planning and brainstorming the perfect gift. My SO on the other hand is a last-minute shopper. This would be fine, except for the fact that for a week or so leading up to said holiday, all I hear is "What do you want for X holiday?" I drop hints constantly. But I don't feel like I should have to pick out my own presents. He has wonderful taste and always gets me something great, but the bickering was almost intolerable this Christmas. Should I just throw in the towel and tell him what to get me? I enjoy the surprise and the excitement of a present and I feel like my SO is copping out.
A: For some people gifts are an essential part of expressing love. (This is laid out in the best-seller The Five Love Languages, which I acknowledge I haven't read.) But some people are not gift people and your SO is one. That doesn't mean he gets a pass and gets to stiff you. But you have to accept he will simply never share the pleasure you get in months of stalking the perfect gift. I think there's a compromise position for you to take. Guide him to what you want, but let him make the final decision. As your birthday or Christmas approaches, show him four or five things you would really like, and ask him to choose. I know this lacks the thrill of your knowing he's deeply thought about this, but your gift to him will be accepting that you are willing to compromise when it comes to exchanging presents.
Q. Re: Old girlfriend pictures: I ceremoniously ripped up photos of my one and only ex once we broke up because I couldn't stand looking at his face and had no good memories of our time together. When my husband and I moved in together, I found photos of his exes and asked why he was keeping them. He didn't have any bad times with his girlfriends, so he'd never had a reason to dispose of the photos. For him, they were just reminders of his past. I still thought he should get rid of the pictures, but he asked me one simple question that shut me up for good on the subject: "Who won?" I had won. These women were just pictures. I was the real thing.
A: Good for him and good for you!
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