Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. A transcript of this week's chat is below. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)
Emily Yoffe: I hope everyone had a great Christmas. And if there are any New Year's dilemmas, I look forward to hearing them.
Portsmouth, N.H.: After losing my wife to cancer, I dated a woman for four and a half years before recently breaking up. Neither one of us was getting what we needed, and the breakup was amicable at first. I then started dating my ex's neighbor, and she has gone psycho on me. She is telling everyone how awful I am and assassinating my character. Oh yeah, my ex is 55 and in the financial services business, active on boards and in the community. She is now actively trying to maintain a relationship with my two sons, ages 20 and 22, including giving elaborate gifts (a car) for Christmas.
I have been only wishing her well in her future relationships but am concerned about her mental state around my kids. Any thoughts?
Emily Yoffe: Yes, your ex is acting unbalanced. But after almost five years with someone, you run the risk of her losing it when you let her know that what you weren't getting out of the relationship with her, you are getting from the woman on the other side of the driveway. Imagine if she'd broken up with you, and then every morning when you went to get the paper you ran into her coming out of your neighbor's house. I'm not excusing her, but you have committed a grave romantic zoning violation. But she's also violating your family by trying to buy off your kids. You've got to explain to them that she's in a bad way because of the break up, and they simply can't accept gifts from her. Then let her know, if necessary through a lawyer, that she has to take back the car, and the character assassination has to stop.
Annapolis, Md.: We received a very large and expensive painting from my husband's parents for Christmas. While we appreciate their generosity, the painting does not fit in with the decorating style we want in our home. We don't want to cause hurt feelings, but we also don't want to hang this painting. It's much too large to put up only when they come by. And considering they paid so much, I'd feel bad doing that anyway. Help!
Emily Yoffe: There was a movie called The Nightmare Before Christmas, but apparently the real nightmare comes after Christmas. There are certain things you don't give as gifts, such as pets or objects that take over the decoration of someone's home. Since the gift is from the in-laws, there's no way to quietly sell it, so you two simply have to have a discussion and explain that while the painting is magnificent, it just doesn't fit your decor. Slather on how much you appreciate it, and you're only bringing this up with them because such a special gift deserves the right home.
Philadelphia, Pa.: My cousin invited me months ago to spend New Year's Eve in Virginia with her, her hubby, and sister. Sounded relaxing. Just been told that her kids and grandkids (five of them, ages 9 to 1) are coming too. Not relaxing. Kids are loud, unruly, no boundaries, etc. They will be there four days, I can spend only one due to my work schedule. I want out! How to tactfully withdraw?
Emily Yoffe: Aren't New Year's celebrations supposed to be a little unruly? Couldn't you put up with the rumpus of your extended family for one day? If you can't, then just say that you've had a killer of a year and are facing another, and you realize you'll be lousy company for a big family celebration. Explain that you just need a quiet day before you get back to work. Then get out your calendar and invite your cousin up to see you.
To Portsmouth, N.H.: In addition to what Emily wrote, please watch that you are not assassinating her character as well—characterizing her as "psycho" is not likely to help matters.
Your kids are adults. If they want a relationship with her, that's their prerogative.
Emily Yoffe: Fair points. However, even though the kids aren't minors, I think it's a huge mistake for one of them to accept a CAR from the ex-girlfriend of their father.
Washington, D.C.: Thanks for having this chat. I wanted to get your thoughts on something:
Every year my family meets up with each other and with extended relatives out of state. We stay at my grandparents' house and attend my aunt and uncle's parties together, with my dad driving.
The problem used to be that my dad drank to excess. I always felt like I was going to die on the ride home. It isn't as much of a problem anymore, but he does eat a ton of food, and he falls asleep while he's driving on the ride home.