Dear Prudence answers readers' questions live at Washingtonpost.com.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Dec. 7 2009 3:04 PM

Turkey Takes a Holiday

Prudie counsels a vegan whose family refuses to go meatless for Christmas—and other advice seekers.

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: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.

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Boston: My question is about how a vegan should host a holiday dinner for nonvegan guests.

My family recently decided to rotate holidays, and this is my first time hosting. I have been vegan since I was a child, and I am strongly against the killing of animals for food. It would be completely against my values to serve traditional, nonvegan food, but the rest of my family does not share these values and is extremely upset. I am excited to have my family over and cook for them, but they said they will not come if I refuse to compromise. I understand why they're upset about their favorite foods, but I also don't think it's fair for me to act against my morals to accommodate their taste for turkey. I'm getting married next year, and I'm already hearing from everyone how rude and selfish I am to be having a vegan wedding. Any dinner party I host, my family complains and decides they hate the food before they try it. What should I do about this perpetual vegan party problem?

Emily Yoffe: It's great that your family wants to rotate hosting duties, but it's not good that they want to rotate you on a spit because of your moral objections to eating animals. You should say you're delighted to host, but you can't compromise your principles. So they either agree to come or they agree that your house is not the proper venue for the holiday meal. If it's the latter, you could say you will contribute numerous salads and vegetable dishes to make up for the fact that you can't have the party at your house.

As for telling you you're rude and selfish to open your home and offer to feed them, or that you will have an unacceptable wedding because you won't serve meat—hmmm, I wonder who's being rude and selfish? Stop inviting them to dinner parties. But when they make nasty comments about the wedding, say you are sorry to hear they've decided they won't enjoy it. Explain you're excited about your wedding and hope it will be a joyous day for everyone no matter what the main course.

Baltimore, Md.: This past Father's Day, I gave my husband two tickets to see his favorite NFL team play against the local home team. I always assumed that we would go together, but recently I suggested that it might be nice of him to take our 12-year-old daughter, who is a big fan of the local home team. I even stated to him that I'd love to go but would forgo it if it meant she and her dad would have a special memory to cherish together. Well, yesterday he informed me that he invited his brother to the game. Then he proceeded to say that he had hoped that his brother would have to work but it didn't work out that way. I was taken so aback by this that I was at a loss for words. Honestly, I'm sincerely hurt. I also don't understand why he would invite him if he truly was hoping his brother wouldn't be able to make it. I just don't buy it. And to make matters worse, this game is occurring on my birthday weekend. I don't know if it is worth bringing up with him at this point because I realize the tickets were his to do with as he chose. Plus, he's already invited his brother, so it would be rude to uninvited him. I just find it to be such a slap in both my face and my daughter's to disregard us both like this. I'm only grateful that I hadn't mentioned to her my idea of her attending the game with her dad. Am I out of line for being so very disappointed over this, or should I confront him about how I feel?

Emily Yoffe: Maybe he told you, "I had hoped my brother couldn't go" once he saw the look on your face because he was hoping to avoid a long talk about how insensitive he was, how hurt you are, how crushed your daughter will be, etc. You gave your husband two tickets to the hockey game (great gift!) without the caveat that you would get to decide who used the second ticket. He wants to go with his brother! Unless your husband receives a puck to the head and doesn't return from the game, there will be other opportunities for father-daughter bonding. (Why not get another set of tickets and tell your husband they're for him and your daughter.) Please, let the guy enjoy his gift, and enjoy a rare evening out with his brother. And that night, instead of stewing, you should take the opportunity to do something fun with your daughter so the two of you have a special memory to cherish.

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NFL, NOT NHL: Re: the earlier post who gave her husband NFL tickets ... NFL stand for National FOOTBALL League. It would be extremely hard to get hit in the head by a puck at one of those games.

Emily Yoffe: Wait a minute, you don't play football with a hockey puck? No wonder I've been having trouble following the game all these years! Sorry, my bad. OK, dad won't get hit in the head with a puck. Is it also true he won't get hit in the head with a baseball at a football game? Let's just say he'll likely survive the football game with his brother, and the rest of my advice stands.

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Waseca, Minn.: My daughter and her fiance have a huge wedding dilemma. His parents went through a VERY messy divorce (and are still fighting after more than 15 years). Both parents have made it clear that they will not attend the wedding if the other one is there. Is there any way to convince two incredibly selfish, and volatile, people that they should put aside their differences for their son's big day?

Emily Yoffe: Why did they get divorced? Usually you end a rotten marriage so you can stop the misery. It sounds as if these two still enjoy going at it. What your future son-in-law should do is tell each of his parents that both of them are invited to his wedding—it being his WEDDING and all, it's customary to have one's parents there. Then they can decide if they want to be civil and show up. If they demand of him that he choose, he should say he can't and won't. He should tell them they either show or they don't, that's their choice. And if they both show, he should add that he hopes they can be civil to each other on this one day (alert other family members to be ready to keep the parents apart). This is important training for your son-in-law for when the children come and each of his parents threatens to divide the grandchildren in half in order to keep the ex from having more time with them.

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 (Nearly) free gifts: I didn't read the last chat until afterwards but thought I'd share what our family is doing this year for gifts. We have drawn names and are doing a "Make, Bake, Sew, or Grow" exchange among the adults. That could be a batch of favorite cookies, a knitted scarf, or a seedling grown from a plant in your yard—low to no cost, but involves some planning and thought about what the other person would like. I'm actually really looking forward to it, and I think it's a nice way to show thoughtfulness and still have something for everyone to open without unduly burdening anyone's budget.

Emily Yoffe: If this works for your family, great. However, if I got "sew," I'm not sure a loved one would really want me to darn their socks. And they would have a cold neck all winter if they were waiting for me to deliver a hand-knit scarf. If your family has decided that everyone should exchange gifts, surely for some people it's just going to be added pressure to have to make it rather than purchase it.

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Boulder, Colo.: As a 2009 graduate, I am grateful for finding a job! However, my company had expanded too fast for its office, and while we look for a larger one, I am working in the break room. I take many calls throughout the day, and they are constantly interrupted by people microwaving food and making other noise as I try to work. Many also feel the need to have small talk with me as they prepare food. How do I keep distractions at bay without being rude?

Emily Yoffe: You are confronting two primal human drives: the need to sate hunger and the need to be social. Both of these are keeping you from your need to do your work. Try to make your temporary office look as much like a work station as possible. Go ahead and position your computer so you have your back to people as they come in. Get a set of sound-blocking headphones, so the microwave whirring doesn't bother you. And when people try to make chit-chat, be briefly polite the first time, then cut them off by saying, "I don't mean to be rude, but this is my office for the time being, so I'm going to have to turn my back and get back to work. I'm sorry!"

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Madison, Wis.: My husband will be returning from a tour in Iraq soon. It's been a long year, and I'm excited to have him coming home soon. He recently mentioned that he would like to get his nephew, I'll call him "Joe," braces when he gets home. I will admit that Joe could use them, and it's an incredibly generous offer of him to make; however, I don't think it is our responsibility to give this incredibly expensive gift to Joe. His mom has multiple degrees and chooses to work a low-paying office job. My husband and I are young and are planning on purchasing a house on his return. Is it selfish of me to say no? And if I do, how do I let him down easily without offending anyone? I'd rather save the money and use it on our own children that, god willing, we will one day have. What are your thoughts?

Emily Yoffe: Since braces can cost many thousands of dollars, I agree this is the kind of gift that you two should decide on jointly, especially if it would have an impact on your ability to purchase or save for the things that mean the most to you. However, I can't help but be moved by your husband's generosity. It sounds as if his nephew doesn't have a father around, and the mother can't afford to straighten the boy's teeth—and even you acknowledge he needs it—so your husband feels a fatherly concern. There will be enough going on in your marriage with your husband returning from war without waging war over this issue when he returns. Put aside the discussion for a little while, and then be willing to be open to really hearing why this is so important to your husband. He may even convince you this is the right thing to do.

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Maryland: In the case of the vegan hosting holiday festivities for nonvegan family.

My family has a similar problem because there are several relatives who have dietary restrictions (celiac disease and vegetarian to name two). Here is what we do: The festivities are "pot-luck." The host can make the dishes that her convictions/dietary needs allow her to make, while coordinating with relatives to have them bring dishes to satisfy the rest of the company. This option allows everyone to eat what they like, while avoiding offending personal morals and/or allergic reactions.

Emily Yoffe: I agree this is a great solution, but it sounds as if "Vegan" does not want animal products served in her home. This complicates things, but if someone keeps kosher, for example, a guest can't bring a pork roast and expect her to serve it. So unless she is willing to serve a turkey someone else has prepared, she should not be expected to host if her restrictions incense the rest of the family.

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Severna Park, Md.: I'm in a weird situation. I work in a large office. One of the co-workers and I became very close, but there was nothing going on physically. It was one of those "it's there, but it ain't there" things. He is unhappily married and tells me things about his wife that are almost unbelievable. I know there are two sides to every marriage, but she appears to be quite unstable. That said, while he is extremely unhappy, he makes comments about their retiring to a large estate later on. Meanwhile, he was hanging around all the time; we have a great time together.

However, it became very painful for me because of my feelings for him, so I broke things off with us being together at work on some phony pretense. This has gone on for a few years now. He is hurt and confused, but then, we never discussed our feelings, we didn't need to, and we couldn't.

I feel terrible, but what would you do in this situation? I miss our friendship but don't miss the pain of not being able to be together. I'm not planning on trying to patch things up, but it's awkward.

Emily Yoffe: Good for you! Not crossing the line is the way people avoid being chased down the driveway with a golf-club-wielding spouse. It is awkward because nothing was actually said, but it's clear you were having an emotional relationship that was getting out of bounds. Obviously, on some level he knows why you're acting this way. But if he continues to moon around you and seem all confused, you could simply say, "Bill, I realized I was uncomfortable knowing so much about your personal life. It's better for both of us if we keep our discussions to work matters." Then don't let him draw you in about how he's been in agony since you changed on him, and he realizes what you mean to him. He's in a lousy marriage, and unless he leaves it, he's bad news for you.

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Root of all evil: Several months ago, my brother-in-law lost his job. Shortly afterward, we had a nice talk about finances and his job search plans. At the time, I wrote him a check and told him it was a gift to help him over the hump. I asked that he not tell anyone else about it. (I had my reasons.) Well, he's re-employed, but my sister (his wife) discovered the deposit and is now annoyed with me because I gave him, not her, the money and asked it be kept secret. She's also told the rest of the family, and they're annoyed (or asking for similar gifts/loans). Sigh. How can I get everybody back on track? Is what I did so bad?

Emily Yoffe: What you did was obviously generous, but I can understand your sister is mightily annoyed that this wasn't a gift to both of them. You say you had your reasons, but since you don't say here that your sister is a compulsive gambler or a shopaholic, we're just left knowing you set your brother-in-law up to keep a secret from his wife.
What happened is none of the rest of the family's business. But to get back on track, you should apologize to your sister (even if she is a spendthrift) and say you understand why she was offended by your gesture. As for the rest of the family, tell them the bank is closed.

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Vegan Dinner: Seriously, the LW's family can't spend one evening without eating meat? There are a lot of good vegan meal options out there that anyone with a willingness to try something new would like. But I guess that's the problem ... so much for "family."

Emily Yoffe: I agree to an extent. This family is incredibly boorish not to be willing to go over for a dinner party at her house. However, the holidays are different. They involve traditions, and salivating over the expectation of dishes you eat only once a year is one of them. Given that being with your family can be difficult, at least you can have the comfort of looking forward to a big plate of dark meat. Knowing that it's going to be a steaming slab of Tofurky instead could send some people over the edge.

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Arlington, Va.: I think you glossed over this line from the disgruntled wife who gave her husband football tickets with strings attached (some gift!): "[T]his game is occurring on my birthday weekend." This is a disturbing trend for anyone, but especially an adult. Since when do you need an entire weekend to celebrate your birthday? How self-centered is this woman?

Emily Yoffe: Yes, I was so hung up on the football players wearing skates that I forgot to comment on that line. You're right that she's now heading toward martyrville with the "birthday weekend" plaint. She knew exactly when the game was when she ordered the tickets. She should celebrate her birthday by enjoying a massage or pedicure while her husband is at the game, and forget about managing everyone's leisure time.

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Knoxville, Tenn.: With regards to the feuding future in-laws at the wedding, I was best man in a wedding many years ago where the parents had gone through a bitter divorce which had torn the family apart because of children taking different sides. In the beginning, the parents gave the "me or him/her" ultimatum until the marrying child of the couple basically told them to act like grown-ups and attend the wedding (including having the father respond "her mother and I" when asked who gives this bride) but also negotiated a unique compromise for the reception, which was held in a hotel. Each parent had his/her 30-minute block of time when he/she would attend the reception. When that time was about to end, the parent would be discreetly escorted from the reception by the best man to either a hotel suite or the hotel bar while the other parent got his/her 30 minutes. This quietly went on for three hours while the guests partied unaware of the conflict. One note: The bride's mother got the rehearsal dinner to herself, so she was made to feel like the winner, while the father went out with the groom and the groomsmen later for the requisite debauchery.

Emily Yoffe: I suppose that's a good solution to a pathetic problem. But divorced parents just need to learn to act like adults at these milestone events and not draw everyone else into their dreary, endless drama.

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Atlanta: It is cold and flu season, and the sniffling and sneezing is rampant in our small office. Being in the Bible Belt, each time I sneeze, my co-workers will say, "Bless you." I know that this is somewhat customary, and a polite thing to say, but I am not comfortable saying it myself. I am not Christian, nor am I a regular church attendee, and using the word bless just doesn't feel right.

I know that religious speech makes some uncomfortable, and I also have genuine ethical and moral objections about using religious expressions so superficially, but I feel like it is expected from my boss, who after not hearing a "bless you" after her sneezes will respond with an exaggerated, "BLESS ME!" I don't want to be rude by forgoing the blessings, but I also hate going against my principles just to make others happy.

I feel like it would be a terrible professional move to make my religious beliefs known, and I've tried saying "Gesundheit," but it feels just as phony as "bless you" because I'm not German. What should I do when others achoo?

Emily Yoffe: This is not about religion; it's about etiquette. Saying "Bless you" is simply a customary remark after a sneeze; it is not the equivalent of taking a communion wafer. Forget thinking you are being forced into religious speech or violating your ethical code by the silly, but expected, act of acknowledging someone else's sneeze.

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Silver Spring, Md.: My frustration with a group of good friends from high school is getting out of hand. I am constantly making the effort to keep in contact with them, whether it be phone calls or coffee dates. They tell me how much they miss hanging out, but somehow they are constantly busy and can't make time for me. I try to make plans with them months in advance, but it never fails that some other obligation gets in the way. These girls are very important to me, and I am worried that we will grow apart if our friendships aren't nurtured. But it seems like it might be one sided. Especially when they all keep in contact with each other, aside from me—at least that's the way it appears. I know that people who were once very close sometimes grow apart, but how do I know when to give up hope? Especially when their words express one thing but their actions don't translate. It's very frustrating to plan a holiday party with ample notice hoping that your close friends will be able to make it—this time—and have them RSVP "no," again.

Emily Yoffe: I don't know how long out of high school you are, but this situation sounds like the worst of high school in perpetuity. You are constantly making an effort to keep in touch with these people; they say, "Oh, we miss you, too!" then blow you off when it comes time to actually get together. And it appears they do socialize with each other, leaving you out. You could have a discussion in person—if you can actually get any of them to show up—with one or two saying that you know everyone's busy, but you feel your friendship is fading away, and you're going to leave it up to them now to stay in touch or get together, because your attempts just keep failing. Keep in mind that high school is over, and it would be best for you to make friendships with people who didn't snub you in glee club and with whom you have less history.

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No Libido, Va.: I'm a 50-ish divorced woman with no sex drive. I used to have a moderate sex drive, a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, but now it's about a 1. My doctor thinks the change is related to several medications I am taking for chronic health problems, which have sexual dysfunction as a side-effect. I finally realized that this is part of why my dating life was so disappointing, so I've stopped dating, and it has made me a much happier person. I have an active social life, mostly with women friends and group activities. I don't feel a need or desire for a relationship. The problem: What to do when men approach me and want to date me? I don't want to tell all of my business, but I don't want to be rude or hurtful, either. I've said that I don't date, but they want to know why. I've politely said I'm not interested, but they take it personally, and some even get hostile. I don't like to lie, but I have considered saying I'm involved with someone. How should I handle this?

Emily Yoffe: You're a 50-ish single woman and your problem is that too many men are asking you for dates?! The issue here is not how you get rid of them but what's your secret for attracting them. I look forward to reading your book, but until it comes out, just smile (alluringly, apparently) and say you're not available.

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Washington, DC: "But divorced parents just need to learn to act like adults at these milestone events, and not draw everyone else into their dreary, endless drama."

AMEN … but not just divorced parents. Just about everyone needs to take this advice. Weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduations, etc. ... PEOPLE, GROW UP!

Emily Yoffe: Yes, but it's against my own interest for everyone to be perfectly mature and reasonable, because then there wouldn't be that much to chat about here!

Thanks, everyone, talk to you next Monday.

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