Princeton, N.J.: My uncle recently announced he will be divorcing his fourth wife, whom he married a year and a half ago. They made it a year longer than we all had predicted. He is family, yes, but this man can be very unpleasant, particularly when stressed (like getting divorced around the holidays), and likes to put his overly critical two cents in where it doesn't belong. For some reason, I, as the grown daughter of his older sister (I have a younger brother who is 19), usually spend the entire holiday receiving backhanded comments and having absurd orders barked at me that I often politely (or not so politely) refuse. The rest of the family is treated to his loud, "hilarious" stories and often doesn't know what has been going on all day until after he has left and I make them aware of it. I'm told to just ignore him, but it gets harder every holiday, and I know this particular one will be brutal. Any advice?
Emily Yoffe: Apparently you haven't heard that every family is required to have at least one crazy uncle. Yours sounds like he's doing a good job covering the crazy uncle bases: multiple marriages; loud, insulting behavior; monopolizing the gathering with "hilarious" stories. Relatives such as this were invented to make us all happy to get back to the office. And when you go back, at lunch you can tell your colleagues your own hilarious story about your uncle.
Seattle: Since I've moved out of my parents' house for college, for the most part, my relationship with them has improved. The problem is, though, I have no desire to be home for the holidays. My younger brother is entering his teen years and always comes up with ways to be rude, which my parents just laugh off. We always celebrate on Christmas Eve and my mom wanted everyone to be a part of the celebration. Unfortunately, everyone includes a couple of cousins I had problems with as a kid. Even though I told my mom about their inappropriate behavior when I was younger, she said they were still family and she still wanted a relationship with them. I'd honestly rather be getting ahead in my readings for next quarter than putting up with my brother and these other family members just for the sake of tradition. My boyfriend and I even talked about doing something special with just the two of us for Christmas Eve, but his parents said they really wanted him home during that time. So now I'm stuck in my hometown with people I don't want a relationship with on what's supposed to be a happy occasion. What can I do to fix it?
Emily Yoffe: I hope you keep a journal. Please put this letter in there and take a look at it in about 25 years when you are dealing with your own obnoxious teenagers. It's one thing to find you have to stay away from your family because they were abusive and are psychologically destructive to you. However, if relatives being hard to take were enough to get us to abandon our families, we would not have survived as a species. Your parents sound as if they have a good, humorous attitude about the vicissitudes of family life. So spend the holidays with them—eventually you will appreciate their wisdom.
Baltimore: A friend is getting married in the summer of 2010. I have planned a small gathering of her friends, but that's all—it's not intended to be a shower, just a "girls" get-together. My friend and her fiance are both 40ish and have their own homes with all they need—I am loath to host a shower since they don't need anything. Should I say something explicit about not having a shower so she won't expect it? I don't think our mutual friends will want to throw a shower either.
Emily Yoffe: This is something you should discuss with the bride. If she's expecting a shower, she'll be rather baffled to show up and find there are no presents. It's one thing for older people who are getting married and have everything they need to demand cash from their friends and loved ones. But when two people are getting married, friends and loved ones do have a natural impulse to want to buy something to celebrate. Perhaps you can make it a "wine" shower and tell the guests that since the couple have all their household goods, you would like to put together a case or two of wine to celebrate their nuptials.
Washington, D.C.: Because of the big snowstorm over the weekend, I have today off from school. Since I am an only child and my friends are busy, I thought I could have fun with my mom, who works at home. Instead, she told me that she has to spend all day working. This always happens to me! Whenever I have time off from school, my mom says, "Lets do something fun together." And then she ends up spending all day on her computer! What should I do to get her to spend a little time with me?
Stuck in the attic
Emily Yoffe: Dear Stuck in the Attic: Number one, come down from the attic and let Sasha out because she's about to pee on the bathmat again.
Number two, you're right, we need to have more fun together! Let's go downtown after the chat. Want to get a burger at Five Guys?