I know that my Mom especially wants her family to be close, but this once a year deal won't do it with second and third cousins. And I'd much rather avoid the stress (for her and me) by enjoying a nice meal at home—or in MY home.
I visit regularly but that isn't enough ... already the not so subtle hints are parading down the phone lines. Sigh. What to say, what to do?
Emily Yoffe: So you would prefer to see your extended family ... never? Yes, the drive is long, but hey, a cabin in the woods, a groaning table, and everyone who's related to you getting together once a year sounds like a pretty fun event. You're an adult so no one can force you to go. And if you decide not to, forget the hints and just tell your mother how you feel. But I suggest you get a good book on tape and make the trip.
What about Charlie?: Just a question—his family sounds toxic. Are you really doing Charlie any favors by encouraging them to contact him? I'm curious as to where you stand on this.
Emily Yoffe: As awful as this family sounds, it's terrible to be completely estranged from all your relatives because of what happened on your wedding day. Sure, it's good to be armed with the knowledge that you come from a wacked-out family. But it's also better to make a reasoned decision that one's only choice is no contact, rather than have the breach come in such a sudden, explosive way.
In-law hell, Va.: Hope you can help me with this one. My oldest child has a severe dog allergy (to the point of needing medical attention), and my ILs have a dog. After several unpleasant incidents, we decided that she can't go to their house again until she is old enough to start having allergy shots. We socialize with them at our house, restaurants, etc. The problem is that my MIL is insisting on hosting holiday dinners at her house because "she is the granny," even though she knows this means our child can't attend. When we've suggested having things at our place (which is fine with everyone else in the extended family), she sulks, cries, and has tantrums. Her solution at Thanksgiving was that my husband should go to dinner at her house with our younger children, and leave the oldest at home with me.
What am I supposed to do about this? She doesn't understand why putting the dog in another room isn't a solution. My SIL is particularly miserable because her kids won't be able to spend holidays with their cousins (my kids). She wants to confront her mother on this issue and tell her that we have to have this stuff at our house now, but I'm leery of having my MIL spending the holidays whining, sulking, and giving everyone the silent treatment, which is annoying to me and my husband and very upsetting to my kids.
I see only two solutions: Split the extended family on holidays, or force the issue and have things here even though my MIL will be a PITA about it. Am I missing another option?
Emily Yoffe: This is time for an executive family decision. Since everyone's agreed they would like dinner at your house, your husband and his sister need to explain to Granny that it just doesn't work to split up the family on Thanksgiving and you're all agreed that for medical reasons it can't be at Granny's house, but will be at your house. Then do not let a whining, sulking Granny ruin the day for everyone. Maintain your happy demeanor and ignore any of her outbursts—which will be a good lesson for the kids in how to deal with such people in the future.
Salt Lake City, Utah: Dear Prudence, I am a 40 y.o. married male and I have a couple of very close friends who happen to be women. These are purely platonic relationships, but we often "text" each other and sometimes we discuss personal issues. My wife thinks texting other women is inappropriate and wants me to stop, or she wants me to give her my phone periodically so she can read the messages. I have refused to do either because its personal (and sometimes we talk about her). Who is being unreasonable here?
Emily Yoffe: Ah, you both are. It's wonderful to have friendships with people of the opposite sex. But it's creepy to tell your wife one of the benefits of these friendships is that you talk to them about her. As for your wife, she should know that acting like a proctor for the SATs doesn't increase the trust or closeness of your marriage. You need to tell your wife you understand her concerns about your friendships because you realize you may sometimes be crossing the privacy line with your friends. Tell her that her concerns are fair, and that you're going to act on them. Then explain that even so, married people are entitled to privacy, and you are not going to hand over your phone to Ma Bell.
East Coast: Had a great first date last week. However after hours of great and very personal conversation, my date did mention an ex, and even asked if I knew her because we live in the same neighborhood. I laughed it off when he said it and told him of course I didn't know her. Obviously this is a red flag, but is it a "don't ever call me again" sort of offense? Thanks.
Emily Yoffe: It may be a red flag to your date that you are rather tightly wound. You live in the same neighborhood as his ex, so it's a perfectly reasonable question to ask if you know her. If he then said, "Can you kneecap her for me?" then yes, I'd say that's a "don't ever call me again" kind of offense. Otherwise, what are you complaining about?
San Diego area, Calif.: My fiance who was deployed to Afghanistan was killed as a result of an IED a month ago today (Monday). I have since gone back to school, sorted out things in our home (kind of), and am trying to make it through the semester as I know he would want me to do. One of the things I'm having the hardest time with at this point is the looks I receive from people. I realize people don't know what to say, and therefore give me the look of pity. I am trying so hard to deal with this and smile again and do normal things like grocery shop and such. But it's when I'm actually having a normal moment, that people see me and give me the look. Most of the time it's from people I don't even know, whether it is other students at school, or neighbors from the new neighborhood we moved to just before my fiance deployed, who have all heard about his death via the news, newspapers, internet, etc. When people give me the look, I myself don't know what to do or say in response. How do I handle this?
Emily Yoffe: I'm so sorry for your loss. But you may be reading knowledge into the looks on the faces of strangers that just isn't there. And for people who do know what happened and feel terrible for you so looks of sadness cross their faces—just accept that people are hurting for you and hope you're doing all right. You do not have to acknowledge a silent look, so just keep going about your business and rebuilding your life. You might also want to find a support group of people who've lost loved ones in the military so you can talk out what's happened with people who really know what you're going through.
San Francisco: I grew up in a family full of ancient and not-so-ancient rifts. As a result, I never had a chance to develop relationships with (or even meet, in some cases) those who had been incommunicado since before my birth. It's quite possible I would have found them not to my liking, but I've always regretted not being given the chance to decide for myself. And let me tell you, several decades removed from some of these slights, they rarely seem to warrant the cessation of contact that ensued.