Monday, June 29, 2009

Can't have your hot dog and eat it too....

Although I get that this guest is upset about not getting to eat (I would be hungry and quite possibly cranky as well), I can't quite figure out how he or she has rationalized it so the hosts are at fault:

DEAR ABBY: I was recently invited to a friend's home for dinner. When I arrived just a few minutes past the time I was told the meal would be served, I found that everyone had finished eating. I was asked if I'd like something to eat and offered a plate, but refused because I would have felt uncomfortable eating alone while everyone else stood around visiting. I stayed about an hour and left.

[There are two more paragraphs here, but I've omitted them--they're about how the guest brought it up with the hosts the next day and much less interesting, except for a key quote: "They felt that because everyone else had arrived earlier in the day and the food was ready, that it was OK. They also said I shouldn't have gotten so upset about it."]


In her response, Abby makes a distinction between two kinds of parties:

If the invitation read, "Come between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m." and you were the last to arrive "a few minutes past the time the meal was to be served," then I can understand why the other guests started without you. However, if you were told that dinner was scheduled for 6 o'clock and when you arrived you were offered their leftovers, then your feelings are understandable.

What stands out to me is that this person doesn't seem to know which kind of party it is (an open house, or a sit-down dinner party)...and in fact didn't behave appropriately for either type of party.

That everyone else arrived earlier "in the day" (not 20 minutes ago) suggests that it was, well, an all-day event. In these types of situations hosts may not often take a careful accounting of their guests because people come and go, and sometimes don't even show--which they may have assumed was the case with this guest. The meal tends to be less formal, and the eating distributed and wandering. If that's the type of event it was, the guest's refusal to eat when offered (almost out of spite it seems) was his/her own fault.

If, on the other hand, it was a formal dinner where everyone was seated at a communal table, yes, it would have been odd for the guest to discover the meal over, done, and cleared when he or she arrived "a few minutes" late. However, it also would have been odd for the guest to expect them to hold the meal for his/her tardy arrival. Would the other guests be sitting around the table, pounding their silverware? Did this guest just want to make an entrance? I haven't been to many formal dinner parties, but if the meal was to be served at 6, I'd probably plan to arrive between 5:30 and 5:45 to greet folks, hang up my coat, and eat a cracker or two before we all sat down.

There are many factors that could impact the rudeness (or not) of all this: how many people were there (10 or 100)? Was it inside or outside (hot dish or hot dogs)? When dinner was served, did the guests all sit at one table, then get up when the meal was finished, or were people carrying their plates around with them, sitting, standing, and mingling (dinner party, or just party)? Had the guest let the hosts know he or she would be arriving later?

Also have to say, if everyone was there all day and only this guest showed up later--not even at the appointed time, but after it--it really comes across as though he or she was just in it for the free meal, which makes me less inclined to be sympathetic.

What do you think? Does it sound like the guest was out of line, or like the hosts played a bait-n-switch and screwed him/her out of dinner?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Isn't it Ironic?

A week or two ago, we met a woman who was enraged at receiving "18 bottles of booze, a clock and a set of towels" for a housewarming party where she had told her guests gifts were not expected. (She was enraged not because gifts really weren't expected, but because she was hoping her guests would spontaneously refurnish her home, and felt she got a low ROI on the $$ she spent on the party. Yes, really.)

Last Friday in Carolyn's live chat, the same question surfaced:

Housewarming parties?: I bought my first house in December. At the time, my coworkers were bugging me for a housewarming party, but I didn't have one then because the house was NOT in order. Now, it's mostly organized and clean, and it's barbecue weather. I'm thinking of having a belated housewarming party in August.

Now, housewarming parties are completely new territory for me, so what's the deal with these things? Is eight months later too late for one? What kind of food/drinks do I serve (I'm still low on funds from buying the house)? I do NOT need gifts--still got a garage full of stuff to sort through from the move--but a couple of coworkers mentioned registering somewhere (I thought that was just for babies and marriages?). Should I, just in case? Augh! Help me, I'm clueless!

Carolyn Hax: Have a party, and don't call it a housewarming. Ta da.

Housewarming parties: LOL, ok, fair enough. :-) But I really am curious about the etiquette for these things, since I expect a lot of my friends (20-somethings) will be having them in the next few years. I'd probably bring a bottle of booze as a present. Good?

Am I right that registering for a housewarming party is tacky? Just curious about that one. I promise not to be rude if anyone I know develops a housewarming registry.

Carolyn Hax: Good, if it's a booze you know they like.

Registries are a convenient evil that solve the very narrow problem of helping guests from afar buy appropriate gifts to acknowledge major milestone events to which they're invited. Extending the definition beyond this narrow one is among many culprits in the commercialization of feelings, and presumably you're not inviting your Aunt Whosie to come from the opposite coast to celebrate your housewarming, so I would say yes, ixnay on the housewarming registry, thanks.

The echoed phrase "bottle of booze" almost makes me think these two are connected--like the chatter read the column or something. Especially because I'm used to the idea of bringing a bottle of wine, but I don't know that I'd call that "booze." I'm less used to people showing up with a fifth of bourbon (or something), but maybe that's what's done for homes (as opposed to dinner parties?).

Advice columnists in general tend to be very skeptical of the registry. Like Carolyn, they often suggest it's only barely tolerable if you're having a large event where many people who don't know you well are expected to present you with gifts. And in general, they follow that up with something about how forcing strangers to give you gifts is in bad taste anyway. However, I think it's fair (and not an excuse) to note that they're also useful for allowing guests to coordinate...eliminating lots of duplicates for events where a similar "type" of gift is common, and also allowing guests to purchase a small part of a larger set (silverware, dishes), or even get a sense of your style and preferences in order to choose something on their own.

That being said, I think the registry HAS gotten way out of control, especially for baby stuff and just plain old parties--little kids' birthdays, etc.--where neither the stranger factor nor the matched set factor apply.

Maybe I'm just not familiar with housewarmings, but it seems strange to me to expect all your friends to give you stuff for your new house. Foolishly spoke the recently showered bride. Old traditions die hard, I guess. So I will rationalize: it seems to me in very poor taste to expect people to do this for you more than once in your lifetime (e.g. a wedding and five years later a housewarming...or a wedding and five years later another wedding).

But on the other hand, if you choose not to marry (or are prevented from marrying by law), shouldn't you also get YOUR big celebration (ala Sex and the City and the shoe registry)? I think so. And in that situation, the milestone of a new homestead (which, to be fair, was probably equated with a wedding in days of yore) seems as good an opportunity as any to celebrate. But it still goes both ways: a big lavish housewarming where the gifts equate to wedding gifts shouldn't be followed by a traditional wedding registry down the road, if that time comes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Every Party Needs a Pooper....

DEAR ABBY: Our family, consisting of our three children, their spouses, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, have occasional gatherings to celebrate special events. My husband's 90th birthday is this summer, and the immediate family will come here, some from faraway locations.

My daughter-in-law, "Janie," who lives 2,000 miles away, has felt for years that her children from previous marriages (who don't know us) should be included at these events. They live within 100 miles of our home and could attend if invited. Our relationship with Janie has been generally cordial and affectionate. She will be visiting her children at their homes the week of the birthday. If we exclude her kids from our celebration, she will feel insulted and resentful.

How obligated should we feel to bow to Janie's demands and include four additional adults and a young child to our party? My husband becomes upset and confused by large groups and noisy children. -- CORNERED ON THE EASTERN SHORE

DEAR CORNERED: Your husband's comfort and sense of well-being must come first. If he becomes agitated by large groups and noisy children, you must explain to Janie that no "strangers" can be introduced into the mix and why. Do not allow anyone to lay a guilt trip on you for advocating for him. When Janie sees your husband, I am sure she will understand.

Hm. I agree with Abby that the birthday boy's "comfort and sense of well-being must come first." But I have my doubts about the hostess' motives. If her husband "becomes upset and confused by large groups and noisy children," why in God's name would they choose to celebrate HIS birthday with "three children, their spouses, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren," each generation presumably larger than the one before it (3 children, 9 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren, etc.)?

To me it seems thoughtless, and it also shows that this woman is less interested in her husband's comfort than she is in explicitly EXCLUDING some folks she doesn't care to invite. Or it just hasn't occurred to her (but should) that "family" still counts as "people." When my grandpa was in his later years, ONE small child, or several adults, was more than enough: he was happy to see everyone, but an afternoon of visiting was way too much for him. Reason enough not to invite 5 strangers? Yes. But also reason enough not to have a "party" at all. The hostess seems oblivious to her husband's comfort, except when it is convenient for her.

When the party is likely 20+, it seems really petty to look for reasons NOT to include an additional 5, especially since most likely they'd keep to themselves and spend time with their mom.

If the party is lavish enough that adding 4.5 heads would really be a hardship, then I think the whole idea is ill-conceived. If it's an informal gathering I can't see how it would possibly make any difference. Unless everyone at the party is going to sit in a circle around great-grandpa and have him count heads over and over, the persnickety hostess is the only one who's even going to notice the extra guests--except for their mom, who probably sees her kids once a year (or less), and will be thrilled. I say let 'em come on over. But only after seriously re-thinking the entire party.

As a postscript, I think it's kind of lame that "for years" their daughter-in-law, with whom they have a "cordial and affectionate relationship" has wanted to invite her children, who live nearby, to these events, and yet still they "do not know any of us." Why does this woman need advice when clearly she's been adept at keeping these people out of her parties for years? If they'd been warmer and more welcoming to their STEP-GRANDCHILDREN in the past, this party wouldn't even be an issue--they'd be family.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Culture Clash Pt. II

Two posts on Euro-American culture clashes in one day! In this one, it's the American on foreign soil:

Dear Margo: I live with my boyfriend in a small studio apartment in Switzerland. We have a happy life together; he studies at the university and I just landed my first real job. My boyfriend is Swiss and has parents who are very involved in his life. This is fine with me, except when they want to come visit. They always insist on staying with us in our 400 square foot apartment, claiming it's cheaper for them. I find this ridiculous, as they are both retired teachers, and in Switzerland that means you are financially quite stable. Am I being unreasonable? How do I politely tell them that I don't want them cramming on top of me every time they want to visit their son? Keep in mind, this has to be translated to German. — Cramped in Zurich

Margo says:

Dear Cramp: I don't think you even have to worry about translating your request into Deutschen because I don't think you should be making the request. Your freund should be the one to step up to the plate and tell his parents that it's really not comfortable — for anyone — to have four adults living like sardines, or sardinen, in their language. You don't sound unreasonable to me. In fact, I'm trying to visualize four people, one bathroom, a tiny kitchen and what? Two air mattresses on the floor? With luck, you can find an inexpensive bed and breakfast or a small hotel not too far from you. — Margo, sensibly

This is a tough one, because while this would also drive me crazy (how often do the parents visit, and how long do they stay? She doesn't say....) this writer and I are out of our element here. "Cramped" in American terms (which I would describe as, "we don't have a spare bedroom for you) is not the same as "cramped" in European terms (which is defined, as I understand it, as "we literally cannot fit you through the door"). Europeans just live in smaller spaces than Americans do, and are more comfortable with close quarters than those of us who grew up with a "personal space bubble."

And even though I myself have such a bubble, I feel inclined to be a bit less sympathetic to this writer than I ordinarily would, just because whle she makes it sound like these parents are up in her space all the time, I'm not convinced this has yet actually happened. She doesn't say how often the parents come or how long they stay. And she assumes they speak only German....while I would in fact be very surprised if middle aged Swiss school teachers spoke NO English.

And I was going to berate Margo for making up the word "sardinen," then I Googled it and it actually is German for sardine. So.....Margo gets a pass, this time.

Amy on Cultural Copycatting

You see so few 2nd generation Irish immigrants among the kids these days.....

Dear Amy: Both of my parents are Irish immigrants, so I've been raised saying things like "me coat" and calling my mother "Mum."

I also spell words with the Irish spelling rather than the American way.

I am 15 years old, and my friends have started catching on, spelling things the same way and using the same phrases and language.

At first, I didn't really mind, but now it's becoming annoying.

I feel as if they are trying to take away my culture, especially now that one of my friends, "Janet," is using random Gaelic phrases.

I know these phrases because my parents are fluent in Gaelic.

I don't know how to get my friends to stop attempting to take over my culture. What's your advice? — Ireland Forever

[Turns out I didn't make the text of this letter green on purpose. But it's staying all right!]

Dear Forever: Using the Irish vernacular doesn't mean your friends are taking your parents' native culture any more than dancing to the soundtrack of "Slumdog Millionaire" makes any of us a Bollywood star — but we're all allowed our cross-cultural fantasies, right? Ideally, you'd be flattered by this sort of appropriation, but I can understand how listening to your friends say "me Mum" would get old.

I admit to being one of those individuals who instantly appropriates the language and accent of the person I'm speaking with, until a friend warned that my flat Eastern accent didn't lend itself well to "kvelling" and "kvetching." So I stopped.

Your friends are fascinated by your culture. We Americans tend to believe that our own culture is boring and flavorless.

But — as we are fond of reminding anyone still listening — it's a free country, and your friends have the right to be annoying.

Your best defense is to laugh when your friend Janet gets your Irish up.

"What's so funny, pal-o-mine?" she'll ask.

"You're as Irish as Jennifer Lopez, but, hey — good try!"

Oh Amy. So corny. But probably effective enough.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

No More Mr. Nice Guy....(please, spare us all)

The advice column world has always been dominated by women....most of the popular, syndicated columnists are female and I'd wager that most of the writer-inners are as well (though maybe only by a small margin). But there's one demographic of men that never seems out of reach (or out of touch): the bitter Nice Guy. They're always lurking, complaining to the columnists about all the wonderful, giving things that they do for women and how they're walked all over in return.

They typically describe all women as shallow, dishonest and ungrateful (for the presence of the nice guys in their lives), which makes me wonder why they're complaining about not being able to get any women at all.

There are a few consistent characteristics I've noticed that may help us (and them) distinguish between kind men of integrity and character and walked-upon nice-guys ever bitter about "finishing last."

1) Their chivalry is generic and directionless: seeing a woman? Better bring a bouquet of roses and open her car door. Then if you don't go on a second date you'll have evidence that it wasn't your fault, because you clearly did everything you could.

2) They're convinced that they'd be better off as a "bad boy," because the women who come crying to them for support and help Monday are apparently all in the sack with bikers and pirates from Friday through Sunday. They generally write, with bitter half-sarcasm, that they're thinking of taking up smoking/drinking/swearing/tattoos/verbal abuse to attract women. In short, they want to be with women who constantly need a shoulder to cry on and, worse, are drawn to being treated badly.....?

3) Related to, but slightly distinct from number 1--their "niceness" knows no bounds. But not in a good way. Most of these men make no distinction in their relationships (or lack of relationships) and the actions that they deem "nice" are often totally inappropriate for the "level" that they're at with someone. For example, moving to a different city to make dating more convenient for a woman they've dated casually for a few months (no, really, this happens). This gives the impression that the guy has no life of his own to which he is anchored, and that he'd do this kind of thing for any old stranger on the street, which doesn't exactly make a girl feel special. Then, when things don't work out, it's all, "You're so ungrateful and evil, after all I've done for you!" when was his own decision to make too big a sacrifice for an untested relationship.

What would be a giving act of love in a serious, long term relationship is alarming and vaguely creepy with an acquaintance. And what would be a romantic, thoughtful gesture from a boyfriend is pushy and over the top from a first date. And it conveniently leaves the guy always three steps ahead of the woman--anything she does (besides fawn) will be construed as ungrateful, because he's already gone ahead and done more than she asked for or wanted.

It's often bewildering to these "nice guys" that women are drawn to men who ignore them, but at the other end of the spectrum, there's no compliment in being chosen by a guy who's not at all choosy. Like a university, you have to reject a certain number of applicants, not only to make sure those who get in meet your standards, but because they, too, are making an investment and deserve some sort of assurance about what quality of experience they can expect. No one who thinks they can get into Harvard is going to be satisfied with the community college.

Also, there is value in valuing relationships differently, and you can do this without abandoning social graces: hold the door for and say please and thank you to strangers. Call people you've been on a date with and would like to see again. Make your time and emotions available to those who mean something to you--don't force false intimacy by sharing secrets and confidences with people you don't know at all. Drastically change your life situation only for someone you love, and who loves you. And know how to recognize the difference. These guys tend to lay everything on the line for a virtual stranger. They do this repeatedly with everyone they meet. Why, then, are they surprised when it backfires?

And now, the letter that brought on this rant: today, the advice goddess gets to the heart of the nice guy issue:

Can you help a nice guy become a bad boy? Being nice is a curse, and not just with women. I do volunteer work, and always hear stuff like "You're the only one we can trust, so stay and guard the door while we're at a party with people we don't trust. Clean up for us, too, because we won't want to when we return tired and drunk." I know a cooperative spirit can be mistaken for weakness, but I feel like Cinderfella. Still, I don't want to stop being the guy my ex called "the brick" (because I'm always propping somebody or something up). I just want people to think I'm bad so they won't try to get away with so much. When I've tried acting like a bad boy, I'm told I come off angry or antisocial. Maybe I should start smoking or get a motorcycle...maybe a tattoo? — 55 Years Of Too Nice

Sure, all you need to change everybody's opinion of you is a smoking habit and big scary tattoo — and since you're always mopping up after people, perhaps a skull crossed with a couple of Swiffers?

You call yourself a nice guy, but you're really a "nice guy," an approval-seeking, conflict-avoiding suckup. In "No More Mr. Nice Guy," Dr. Robert Glover clarifies the difference. The "nice guy" might seem generous, but he actually isn't; he gives to get. He thinks he just has to hide how flawed he is and become what others want him to be, and he'll be loved, get his needs met, and have a problem-free life. This is unlikely to happen, as he's passive-aggressive, chronically dishonest, and brimming with "toxic shame." Thanks to a lifetime repressing his feelings and denying his needs, he's filled with rage, especially at women. Women, on the other hand, do love this guy — to wash and wax their cars while they're on dates with guys they are sleeping with. And whaddya know, all it takes is calling him "the brick" instead of "a tool."

Yes, the bad boy does have allure. He's masculinity on steroids: arrogantly confident, aggressive in bed and out, unpredictable and untamed. He's fast cars, alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. And he's sometimes in jail for using the latter to hold up the 7-Eleven.

Many women are drawn to him, but those who have it the least bit together hold out for a guy they can get conjugal with without first being cavity-searched by the guards.

You're right to want to change, but the answer isn't trading in your wallet for one you chain to your pants and slouching in a doorway with a cigarette hanging out of your mouth. People will warm to the real you or they won't, but they're unlikely to be fooled by the fake you, "nice" or "bad." After 55 years of people-pleasing, don't be surprised if you need to mount an archeological dig to figure out who you really are — what you like, want, need, and actually care about (even stuff that seems not so nice to care about). After you do, work on accepting yourself, faults included. Glover's book should help. Finally, be who you are, and have the guts and the self-respect to expect a thing or two from people — beyond what time they'll return from the party so you can stop staring at the door.

This guy is a textbook case. And it's not because I derived my "textbook" definition from this letter alone (I didn't). Guys who think that going slightly criminal will work better for them than being "nice" probably have a lot more issues than they even realize. People don't try to get away with less because they think you're "bad." And being "nice" doesn't mean doing everything people ask of you. The way to get people to stop taking advantage is not to scare them away from asking, but simply by not agreeing to DO every degrading task they ask of you.

Carolyn Hax mentioned a few weeks ago that people who enumerate their strengths (from "I'm an excellent judge of character" to "I'm a nice guy") are usually ones who seek out these strengths to cover up real or perceived weaknesses--in themselves, or ones they fear in others. She added that a real strength should come so naturally you take it for granted. That is, a REAL nice guy--an honest, kind, respectful and reliable person of integrity--won't talk about being one, because he won't be doing it on purpose. He'll just be being himself.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Goodness Gracious Gifts pt. II

Last time we met a woman who was very uncomfortable with being treated to meals an accommodations on vacation with a friend and the friend's parents. Today we have someone with the opposite problem: she's asking Amy why she didn't receive the presents she expected.

Dear Amy: My husband and I finally bought a new home after 20 years of marriage. All of the items I'd received from my bridal shower 20 years ago were either worn out or broken.
We put most of our money into purchasing the house and can't afford new things, so we hosted a housewarming party for ourselves.

[Generally a no-no to host your own "shower...." And more to the point...just because the gifts you recieved years ago have worn out doesn't mean you're somehow owed new ones.]
When people called to R.S.V.P. and asked me what I needed, I politely told them that gifts were not expected. [But...she just said that they had the party SPECIFICALLY to get the new things they couldn't afford for themselves?] If pressured, I said that most of our possessions were worn out [Really? Most of their possessions? I mean, yes, 20 years is a long time, but I find it hard to believe there's nary a functional appliance or stain-free towel in the house. And bowls and vases and such don't just disintegrate. They didn't replace things as they broke over the years, but waited for a chance to be given new ones?].
We invited 20 couples to the party. In return, we received 18 bottles of booze, a clock and a set of towels. [In return? In RETURN?]
My husband didn't mind receiving the booze, but the clock and towels were the only things I could use! Now we don't have much to show for the money we spent. [sputter....sputter...sputter. She makes it sound like they bet on a horse and it didn't pay off...]
I don't want to complain, but I don't think liquor is an appropriate housewarming gift. [sputter...sputter...sputter...] I think it's a husband-warming gift, and the wife is left out in the cold! [Um, offensive to both men and women! Men have no use for towels, only "booze"? And women um, aren't? 18 bottles of liquor clearly wasn't what they were expecting, but it's also nothing to sneeze at simply because she's a woman. Drink up!]
What do you think is appropriate? — Worn and Torn

Dear Worn: You threw a party for yourselves that was intended as an opportunity to furnish your new home, but then you refused to give people a clear directive concerning your expectations.
If you wanted to receive specific items, you should have told your prospective guests when they inquired, "We have registered at 'Smith Hardware' store and would love to receive any of the items on our list — or anything else for the kitchen or bathrooms." When you denied that you expected gifts, you weren't being polite, you were being obscure.

fo shizzle.

This woman was basically being really presumptuous, then trying to hide the fact that she was being presumptuous, then mad when her friends took her at her word.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A little bit of give, and a little bit of take....

It seems like the art of generous giving and gracious accepting--and reciprocation--is one that's being quickly lost in favor of careful bookkeeping and Dutch-going. Here's what I mean:

DEAR ABBY: I am a 43-year-old professional woman with a good job. I was recently invited by a friend to join her and her parents on a four-day mini-vacation trip. I accepted with the understanding that I would share food and hotel expenses.

Her father insisted on paying for every meal and excursion, and refused my offers to pay for anything. This made me very uncomfortable, since I was not expecting a free ride. I gave my friend some money and asked her to repay her father after I had left, but I still feel awkward about the whole thing.

Abby, what is the proper etiquette for such situations? -- CAN PAY MY WAY IN TENNESSEE

DEAR CAN PAY: Your friend's father is obviously a man of means, who could afford to treat you and did not feel comfortable allowing you to pay for the meals and hotel expenses. It is possible that he comes from the "men pay for everything" generation. While you may be too young to remember, it's the one that grew into adulthood before the women's rights movement.

Rather than having given your friend money to pass along to her dad, a better solution would have been to send her parents a lovely gift with a letter included, thanking them for their generosity.

Of course this woman didn't EXPECT her expenses to be covered, but if her hosts insisted, it seems to me that the thing to do would be to thank them profusely (but not excessively!), enjoy herself, and afterward send them a letter and gift, as Abby suggests. It would have been ideal if she could have treated for a special meal out or something, but it sounds like her friend's parents would have made this impossible.

I understand why this would have made her uncomfortable, but how much MORE uncomfortable is it to tussle over the check (I think anything more than just two volleys of "no, I insist" counts as a "tussle"), ending every meal in awkward debate between people who don't know each other well, and excessive reflection on the cost, rather than the experience?

I think it's weird that the writer was defensive about the fact that she "can pay [her] way," and that even Abby attributed the host's generosity to, basically, chauvinism. More likely it's less about women not being able to pay than about his being a father treating his daughter and daughter's friend to a trip.

I think it's too bad that someone being magnanimous and generous seems commonly to lead to feelings of guilt, awkwardness, and a desire to mathematically even the playing field as soon as possible--thus, cash surreptitiously stuck into pockets, rather than a letter, gift or invitation to dinner in the coming weeks. Trying to "pay someone back" for an invitation or gift seems almost more offensive than not thanking them at all.

Ok, that's not true. Very little would be more offensive than not thanking them at all. But still.

The exception would be, I guess, if you know the hosts can't afford it, and so their insisting on picking up the tab ruins everyone's fun--I actually was just speaking to a family friend who has this problem with her father.

Of course we should be mindful and thankful when others go out of their way for us. It's a gift and a privilege to be treated or hosted on occasion, and one we should recognize, honor, and reciprocate (however we can). But refusing to accept it--in other words, rejecting the other person's generosity--takes away from the joy of giving all together.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Good Advice: Don't Date Jerks

Amy Alkon gives it to us straight:

I'm a 39-year-old woman, dating a guy 10 years younger for about a year. He swears he's in love, can't live without me, says I'm the best woman he's ever been with, and makes me feel great when he's with me. However, he rarely answers the phone when I call and has stood me up numerous times. Whenever I get mad about being stood up, he'll call after a couple of days and either say he was in the hospital or someone died. Should I move on, or is it possible that he does care but needs to grow up? I would like to add that our sex life is out of this world. The truth is, I am turning 40 soon, and I guess he makes me feel young. — Confused Or Stupid?

Okay, so your sex life is out of this world. And don't tell me, when you call the guy, his message says, "If I'm not here, I'm probably on the mothership..."
Actually, he has so little respect for you that he can't be bothered to come up with original (let alone plausible) excuses, or call you in a timely manner to deliver them. In fact, he's got you trained to call him and wait a couple days to hear which of his two excuses it'll be. What? Somebody died? People die every second — almost all of them strangers to a guy who isn't exactly living out his final days at Whispering Pines nursing home. Oh, wait — was he in the hospital again? Perhaps insurance companies are finally recognizing being a complete jerk as a legitimate medical condition — or did he just sprain an ankle walking all over you?
Sure, mistakes happen. Like, once. A good guy works 16 hours, lies down for a five-minute nap, and wakes up five hours after he was supposed to pick you up for your date. He'll be mortified, call you pronto to tell you how sorry he is, and clean out the corner florist to say it again. Should a date who's a no-show fail to call right away, or claim he was held hostage by bank robbers, the reality is almost certainly one of two things: He isn't a good guy or he isn't a good guy. Do feel free to believe otherwise — the moment you turn on the local news and see a familiar face bound and gagged on the floor of the bank.
Since anybody with an I.Q. over freezing is too smart to put up with the excuses you do, it's got to be a profound lack of self-respect that keeps you coming back for that 26th helping of crushing humiliation (or, as you prefer to call it, "out of this world sex"). Of course, you have your reasons, like how young he makes you feel — but do you really need to relive that time you waited alone in the rain when your mom forgot to pick you up from ballet? You have to be blocking out your true feelings, and reality, too, probably out of desperation to be loved — which is about the best guarantee you won't find anything remotely resembling love. You'll only be ready for a relationship when you can take or leave being in one. Go work on yourself until you don't need to hear how wonderful you are from somebody else — that is, just as soon as he comes out of this week's coma, and the waitress in the nurse outfit releases him.

I don't really have much to add. It makes me sad to see people consistently being treated poorly by those they care about. The good news is, that it's never too late to say, "Hey, wait, you're not nice to me. Goodbye."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hot Dog, Hold the Dog

A bewildered woman wonders what's up with the bizarr-o eating habits of her boyfriend's teenage daughter:

Dear Prudie,
Last week, my boyfriend and I took his teenage daughter to a major league baseball game with seats in a corporate suite. As with most suites, the food and drink were complimentary. We arrived before the game and were able to enjoy several different types of ballpark food—nachos, hamburgers, hot dogs, etc. My boyfriend's daughter helped herself to a few things, one of which was a hot dog roll—just the roll, no hot dog. While I thought this odd, it was no big deal. About 20 minutes after that, she went back to the buffet and took two more rolls and ate them both! After the game, I mentioned to my boyfriend that I thought this was inappropriate, given that the rolls were there to accompany the hot dogs and that most of the other suite guests had not arrived yet and therefore had not had a chance to get food. He felt that as a guest in the suite, she was entitled to whatever she wanted and however much she wanted. And he said that there was no formal etiquette rule to address this. What do you think?

—Ms. Everything in Moderation

Oh boy, does this take me back to junior high and the early days of high school....those days when half of my friends dabbled in vegetarianism, and the rest were old enough to wonder about what was in hot dogs, but too young to come to terms with their concern.

Please be clear: I'm not belittling vegetarianism as a lifestyle choice--just laughing a little as I recall the legions of girls I knew (I may have been one of them) who adopted it for a week or two, and whose vegetarian diets consisted of tater tots, Skittles, and Big Macs without the burger. (Only years later did I learn from my brother's committed vegetarian friend that, of course, thanks to animal-based gelatin, Skittles aren't vegetarian at all!)

In those days, the sophisticated way to respond to ballpark food was "Ew, gross, I would NEVER eat that," while creating some modified version that in fact was much grosser and much worse for you (spreading nacho cheese on hot dog buns, for example...)

For me and my friends, it wasn't even really about trying to lose weight or be skinny (though I'm sure it is for many young women). It was more about pressure to conform: if one person said "hot dogs are so gross, what is even in there?" we all said, "Oh, totally," and began sneering at hot dogs. I mean, what could you do, pick up a dog and eat it? Of course not! (Six years later we are pretty much all avid hot dog eaters).

Prudie responded that she thought the girl was just really into carbs. I think, rather, she probably thought she was being "healthy" by loading up on the plain buns rather than the mystery tube steak that's supposed to accompany it.

The bewildered woman thought the girl was being rude by taking all the buns ("that CAVIAR is a GARNISH!"), but in a corporate suite like that, especially one that's all you can eat, I think they'd be refilling the food as it runs out. I have heard the legends about all-you-can-eat baseball boxes from SK and his friends. A teenage girl picking at hot dog buns is not even a blip on the radar of "all you can eat" when a group of men in their 20s are in the room.

There are many young women dealing with severe eating disorders, but this doesn't sound like one of them. (If it were, she'd probably know exactly how many calories were in the bun!). Sounds to me like someone who is trying to figure out how and what she wants to eat, now that she's old enough to have the freedom to choose. Food is an easy rebellion, and inevitably there will be some strange patches. Like the time my mom asked me how I wanted my sandwich sliced, and I said I didn't want it sliced at all. She sliced it anyway, and as an act of defiance I held the two pieces together as I ate them.

Teenagers are weird. They mostly get over it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Double Your Flavor, Double your Fun

It's a great day when the same question shows up in two different columns, I can remember the first when reading the second, and I can find both!

Printed by Carolyn (April 22) and Annie's Mailbox (June 3), the question is:

Dear Annie: Recently, an e-mail correspondence between my mother and sister somehow ended up in my inbox. I can only assume it got there by mistake because it was full of criticism and hurtful comments about my family. The saddest part is that I had no idea either of them had issues with my wife or the way we raise our kids. My wife has been the only saving grace. She was able to calm me down and help me deal with the pain. She read the e-mail, deleted it and made sure I said nothing about it to my mother or sister to avoid damaging the relationship permanently.

We are supposed to celebrate July 4th with my extended family. [Carolyn's column printed"We are supposed to see these family members soon" instead] I'd like to go and enjoy the day, but fear I might slip and say something about the e-mail or engage in a conversation that might not be appropriate for a family gathering. What should I do? — Stressed-Out Son

Kathy and Marcie's brief, pragmatic response:

Dear Stressed: It is not unusual for family members to criticize each other, especially in-laws, in private. (You and your wife have probably done the same.) No one is looking for trouble, which is why Mom and Sis would never dream of saying these things to your face. We know your wife was trying to spare you, but it might be better to discuss this openly. Tell your mother and sister that you saw the e-mail and are disappointed they harbor such negative feelings, but you hope you can all get past it. In order to salvage the relationship, you must find a way to forgive them.

And Carolyn's longer, more pondering one:

You're right; your wife made an elegant save. Unleashing the raw emotions of your discovery would likely have made things worse.

Now that you've had time to collect yourself, though, you can figure out your next move by gauging whether you'll be able to get past this. No doubt you are hurt; that's a given. The question is whether this pain is out of proportion to your other feelings about your sister and mom.

One way to approach it is to consider things you've said to your mom about your sister, to your sister about your mom, and to your wife about both of them. Imagine what would happen if these conversations ever fell into the wrong hands.

In other words, if you've had conversations similar to the one you intercepted, and you've just never been busted, then I would use that to remind yourself that exchanges intended to be in confidence aren't always pretty. As long as they aren't motivated by spite, they can help friends and family understand each other, work through grievances, and even warn each other when something is amiss. If the e-mail could be considered well-meaning, by even the most elastic of stretches, then you have grounds for a conscious decision to let go.

If, on the other hand, there's no room to interpret the message as anything but mean-spirited, then you might reasonably expect the injuries won't heal on their own. If so, you owe it to yourself to say, calmly, to your mom (or sister, if you're closer to her) that you received the e-mail. Let her know, and then let her speak her piece.

That represents your best chance at eliciting context and remorse, the two most healing quantities they can supply at this point. You obviously aren't planning to estrange yourself from the family, so that leaves you with two plain if difficult choices: Make peace with them, or with yourself.

Arrrrgh, the only thing worse than accidentally sending an email specifically to the very person you didn't want it to go to is being the person who receives it (discussion for another time: the merits and challenges of the emergency follow up email featuring "PLEASE DELETE EARLIER MESSAGE IT WAS NOT MEANT FOR YOU" in the subject line).

Carolyn, as usual, advocated taking a long look at oneself, and making a fair effort to understand the other person's perspective before acting--she's often more reflective than Annie's Mailbox. But, even after all that reflection (which I'm not trying to devalue) her advice was, in the end, virtually the same as theirs.

And I pretty much agree with it, too. It's too bad the first double printed letter I've found since I've been actively paying attention wasn't a more controversial one!

Also: it makes me giggle that Carolyn's editors replaced "the 4th of July" with "soon." At the time that this guy wrote to Carolyn, his bile was rising even as he looked toward an event 3 months (possibly more) in the future, with no intention of seeking any resolution in the interim.

Given that, and given that he clearly wrote to multiple columnists, I think Carolyn at least (maybe too late for Kathy and Marcie) could have just told him to drop the issue for a week or two or even more, and carry on with life as usual. If it's still eating at him, and the deleted words are still burned on his brain, and he can't communicate normally with mother and sister, THEN follow through on clearing the air with them.

Also, it seems impossible that the sister/mother didn't put 2 and 2 together and realize their mistake. They, too, are probably just waiting for the storm.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Secrets to Keep in the Dark

Facts of life NOT to share with your child--during a traumatic time, or any time.

DEAR ABBY: I am 45 and currently going through a divorce. My soon-to-be ex-wife and I have a 14-year-old daughter, "Gina," and I have custody.

Fourteen years ago, when my wife became pregnant with Gina, we had talked about abortion. We even had an appointment scheduled, but on the day of the appointment we decided not to go through with it. I thank God that we did have our child.

Gina knows nothing about any of this, but my future ex has threatened to tell her. My daughter is mature for her age and intelligent, but I feel the time is not right for her to know. Given the situation, I feel she should hear it from me because of the close relationship we have.

Do you agree that the news should wait until the divorce is final and the dust settles, or should I tell her now? -- DADDY WHO CARES

DEAR DADDY: I see no reason your daughter should ever be told that she wasn't planned for and wanted. I cannot think of one single positive thing that being given such news -- by either you or your soon-to-be ex -- would accomplish.

Your wife may be so filled with anger that she is not in her right mind right now. And if she does pour that poison in your daughter's ear, the antidote is to tell Gina that you thank God for her every day and cannot imagine life without her.

Abby and I are in complete agreement on this one. There is no reason to inflict this kind of pain on any child, least of all your OWN, when she's already no doubt suffering in the crossfire of this nasty divorce. This father obviously loves his daughter and wants to protect her, but has gotten so caught up in the details of WHEN and WHOM that he's forgetting the more important question of IF.

I wonder if, unlike "Daddy," Mommy DOES regret her choice to go through with the pregnancy she (they?) didn't want, and resents the life she's tried to live, and the people who have required her to conform to it. If this is the case, her anger and the dissolving marriage are not much of a surprise (wonder who took care of Gina those first 14 years?)...and it's sad that doing what she must have perceived as "the right thing" and living the way she wanted to wound up being so far apart from each other.

But that doesn't make it OK to tell ANYONE, EVER, "You weren't wanted on this earth and your life makes mine miserable." Even if it's true. Not all truths need to come out.

Monday, June 1, 2009

On the Lighter Side....

The blog has been a bit marriage-and-family heavy these days, so maybe it's time for a breath of fresh air from Prudence. Remember, no issue is too small or strange to require the services of a professional advice columnist!

Dear Prudence,
A few months before my husband and I got married, I found out by accident that he wears a toupee. As we lay in bed one night, I noticed what looked like hairspray or gel buildup on his hairline. He was fast asleep, so I went to scratch it off, and what I thought was gel turned out to be the tape of his toupee! Here he had been wearing a toupee all this time, and I never had the faintest idea. I'm sure he's painfully embarrassed about it, as he's very particular about his appearance, but I'm his wife and hate knowing he's keeping this from me. Do I somehow gently confront him about this? I'm nervous to do so, because I think he would be extremely embarrassed. In the end, I want him to know that I love him no matter what he looks like, and he shouldn't feel like he has to wear a hairpiece.

—Bald Is Beautiful

Dear Bald,
There's better, there's worse, then there's Hair Club for Men—which may be worse than worse. If you scroll around the Web for Hair Club counter-testimonials, you'll find the most astounding thing about your story is that when your courtship began, you didn't immediately suspect that your future husband had a muskrat pelt attached to his scalp. A standard toupee is supposed to be removed nightly, but customers of the Hair Club, or an equivalent, have the wig taped and glued on for weeks at a time. (Though your husband's hair follicles appear to be dead, let's not think about the life forms that must be breeding under the rug.) When he disappears without explanation, he isn't cheating on you; he's at the club getting his muskrat adjusted. We live in a glorious time for male pattern baldness, a time when even men who still have hair flaunt fully shaved heads. What a service it would be if you could release your husband from the tyranny of the toupee so that his scalp can breathe free. But he sounds like a delicate vessel, so handle him gingerly. Tell him the truth—that one night as he slept you noticed a buildup of glue on his scalp and realized he was wearing a toupee. Say you know that he takes great pride in his appearance, but you're sure he would look just as handsome—probably more so—if he went natural. It will probably take time for this advice to gel, but maybe one day he will be willing to flip his wig.


In this day and age, I can hardly imagine a guy even wearing a hairpiece. Like Prudence, I find it even harder to believe that this woman never got close enough to notice until her husband was asleep. In the time they've been together, she's never touched his hair? Or at least wondered why he recoils and pushes her away when she tries to?

I hope this guy comes around and decides to ditch the hairpiece, but since his wife apparently couldn't tell that his hair was fake, well, why should he? She seems to hope he'll realize that she loves him enough that he doesn't have to wear fake hair. (But not enough to notice that he is, in fact, doing so??). Yeah, I think she should try to bring it up with him, and for the rest of the world it would be great if he went free. But I suspect that the fact that the woman who shares her life and bed with this guy couldn't tell his hair was false will only serve to support his belief that the thing is working.

P.S.: Check out the hairclub "non-surgical bio-matrix system" and an an educational countertestimonial.