Dear Prudence

Euthanize Secret Santa?

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Dear Prudie,
I am a physician in a two-person group; we share call with two others and have done so for more than a decade. My partner and I have little to do with them outside of professional activities. The problem is the tradition of exchanging gifts at Christmas. We’ve been doing it since our practice began, yet the gifts are always perfunctory, usually exchanged or returned to the store, and almost never acknowledged. (I wrote thank-you notes for six or seven years, never received one, and finally stopped.) How can I break this cycle? Should I just stop giving gifts? We speak rarely and never have meetings. It would feel inappropriate approaching one of them and saying, “Why don’t we just stop giving gifts?” Do you think a charitable contribution made in their names is the answer? If I can’t stop giving meaningless, unwanted, and unacknowledged gifts, at least some good would come if we went the contribution route.

—Dr. J.

Dear Doc,
You have figured out the solution. A holiday charitable contribution lowers the bar for exchanging gifts. The organization will advise them of the contribution, and if you (again) receive no acknowledgment, next Christmas you can ease into no exchange at all. Prudie’s hobbyhorse, as you know, is no thank-you, no next time. And don’t beat yourself up about offending anyone. Chances are good that if you and your partner feel this way, the other guys probably do, too.

—Prudie, incrementally

Dear Prudence,
My husband of a year and a half has told me that unless I have a baby he wants a divorce. We have both been married before, and I already have an 8-year-old son—with whom my husband spends about five minutes a day. We discussed this situation in premarital counseling, postmarital counseling, and professional counseling, and it always ended up the same: I didn’t really want any more kids but would consider the idea after we’d been married for two years, and he agreed to quit badgering me for that period. But he’s putting the pressure on without respecting the agreed-upon timetable. Prudie, this guy is not good father material. He has a debilitating intestinal illness, is a complete couch potato, was raised by maids, and is a slob. He also never housetrained his dogs. Besides, who wants to have a child with someone who threatens divorce if you don’t? I love my child, but really am not a “kid oriented” person! Please give me a second opinion.

—Not the Nanny or the Maid

Dear Not,
Let us review. Your husband of less than two years is threatening you and badgering you to have a child. The one you already have receives five minutes a day from this person who fancies himself a father. Three different therapists have made no alteration of his behavior. Raised by maids, he hasn’t any model for being a parent, and his attachment seems to be to the couch. He never bestirred himself to even housebreak his dogs. To this unappealing résumé, add in the fact that you feel you lack maternal instinct and do not want more children. So … here’s your second opinion: A year and a half is not a terribly big investment. Do not consider his ultimatum of divorce a threat. Consider it a really good idea and tell him that you two have finally found something on which you can agree.

—Prudie, liberatedly

While I sympathize with “Loving Mother” about having a pregnant teen-age daughter with a loser adult boyfriend, I don’t think she should blame the Mormons in Utah for this predicament (as her letter implies). Instead, she should blame her parenting, her daughter’s lack of judgment, and the boyfriend. The lack of an adequate statutory rape law has nothing to do with Mormons, and in any case it would not have prevented the pregnancy, since it would only have put the boyfriend in jail after the fact. However, I believe you gave her (and the Utah Legislature) sound advice.

—Law Clerk

Dear Law,
Prudie thanks you for your observation that the Mormons, per se, are not responsible for the young lady’s predicament. Prudie appreciates, as well, your ratification of her advice to the Utah Legislature—though she imagines that august body could have lived without you or Prudie weighing in on this issue. In any case, it is always nice to have legal authorities giving two thumbs up.

—Prudie, statutorily

Hi, Prudence,
What do you advise a group of friends at the end of their ropes to do about a pal who is dating a JERK? Mr. Jerk has told her he is too busy for marriage—OK, so he’s honest! But she hates being alone so much that she’s letting him use her. (If you know what I mean.) Then she tells us all the gory details about how inconsiderate he is and asks what she should do. A couple of us have said straight out that he’s using her. We’ve even tried to introduce her to nice guys—whom she rejects. So, Pru, what should we do?

—Half-Dozen Friends

Dear Half,
You are kindhearted to want to save your friend from her jerk, but as you are probably figuring out, people are not terribly receptive to suggestions on this subject. (Prudie has a couple divorce decrees to prove her point.) Some of us … well, many of us are occasionally accident-prone when it comes to romance. If, as you say, she hates to be alone, she will most likely tolerate this slug until she either can’t stand it another minute, or he departs … whichever comes first. Prudie sees from your e-address that you are graduate students, so here’s another lesson: Life is one of the best teachers, and your friend may, down the line, see the light. You’ve let her know of your concerns, so now let things take their course. You may, however, politely decline to listen to any more agony recitals.  

—Prudie, fatefully