Dear Prudence

You’re a Judgmental One, Mr. Grinch

Are those endlessly bragging, mass-mailed Christmas letters rude?

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Dear Prudence,

Now that it’s behind us, could you please give the authoritative position on the McChristmas card? You know—those mass mailings of Christmas letters with the picture of the kids and the glowing account of the whole family’s goings-on? Is it courteous to spread good tidings by photocopy, or should you personalize your Christmas cheer? I have always thought that if you don’t care enough to write personalized letters in your own handwriting, then you shouldn’t be writing at all. There is something insulting about receiving a letter that was sent to you and a hundred others. Have you noticed, by the way, that all the news is good news in those letters? That little Jimmy is always the best in soccer, little Janie is the top of her class, and husband Bob is making tons of money? It seems to me that the stock and trade of the McChristmas card is shameless self-promotion. Am I being too judgmental?

—Seeking Mannerly Wisdom

Dear Seek,

Prudie’s opinion on this matter would in no way be authoritative, but she finds these missives very funny. As for the duplicative nature of “Christmas letters,” it really could be no other way. Who in their right mind, or even their left, would write out these things dozens of times? And yes, Prudie has noticed that all the news is of good fortune and accomplishment, though she is waiting for the family newsletter that tells of Dad going away for 2-7 due to creativity on his tax return and reports of both kids holding up well in rehab. It is the thinly veiled bragging that seems more objectionable to Prudie than the mass production, so perhaps we are both judgmental.

—Prudie, disparagingly

Dear Prudence,

I desperately need your advice! I have a wonderful fiance. The problem is my future mother-in-law, “Claire.” When my fiance and I started dating almost three years ago, Claire was still upset over the breakup of her own marriage four years earlier. My fiance’s father left her and shortly thereafter remarried. Claire would talk to me about her former husband and cry about what had happened. At first I thought I was helping her by listening, but the longer I hung out with her I realized she wasn’t doing anything to move past it, so I decided not to see her as much. Once my fiance and I announced our engagement, relations between Claire and me became more strained. Because I’d heard about all the stress of my fiance’s brother’s wedding due to Claire inviting all of her co-workers, grad-school classmates and five friends of someone’s sister—and because my fiance and I want a small wedding—I was firm from the beginning that we were only going to invite OUR close friends and family, not everyone that we (and she) knew. From the beginning, she tried to choose the dates of our wedding and the bridesmaids’ luncheon, pitched a fit when we told her we weren’t going to invite a friend of her daughter’s (whom we don’t really know), and suggested we use her church instead of the ones we were looking at because hers was bigger. She still gets upset any time her sons and daughter see her ex, and she lets me and my future sister-in-law know that they are her sons first before they are our husbands. Because I’m horrified by all of the above, I have no desire to be close friends with my future mother-in-law. I have agreed to be cordial when I see her, but I’m trying to keep my distance. My fiance thinks I have a grudge against her and is upset that I am reluctant to see her. The fights that we are having about this are beginning to wear on me! What should I do?

—Fed Up but Hopeful You Can Help!

Dear Fed,

Forgive the oxymoron, but good grief! This woman is a mess, and if her son doesn’t see it, you are in for a rough ride. She is unhappy, bossy, meddlesome, and possessive. Moreover, the whole package has apron strings around it. This is perhaps not what you wanted to hear, but an old rule of human behavior is that if things are hairy before the wedding, just wait till after. If your young man can’t interpret his mother’s behavior, you will have your hands full. It may sound drastic, but Prudie suggests that you both go—now—to a couples’ counselor to establish some ground rules and also to improve the putative groom’s understanding of what’s going on with his mother. He seems not to have a clue. Good luck.

—Prudie, autonomously

Dear Prudie,

My boyfriend and I are planning to get married once I graduate from college next year. The question I have for you is this: He wants to invite one of his ex-girlfriends. He and this girl were good friends before they dated, and they still are. The problem I have with her being there is that they slept together when they were dating. I don’t feel I would be comfortable having her presence reminding me of that. (I’m saving myself till marriage.) I would prefer that she not come, but on the other hand, I don’t want to hurt my boyfriend’s feelings or have him not want me to invite any of my male friends (none of whom I dated, but some I did have crushes on). How should I bring up the subject that I would not feel comfortable with this girl at my wedding?

—Blushing Bride-To-Be

Dear Blush,

Prudie hopes you will reconsider and not make a fuss about this. Their ongoing friendship should trump the fact that they were at one time intimate. Prudie understands the emotional aspect of your wish, but it is always useful to strive for maturity and perspective … which, in this case, would be to let the past stay the past. It is admirable that you will be a virgin when you marry, but realism demands that you factor in the many people of marriageable age who are not. In your case, the invitations are not out yet; in fact, it doesn’t sound like they’re even printed. So try to psyche yourself up to feel generous and self-confident instead of jealous and insecure for the time when you do make out the guest list. You will feel the better for it.

—Prudie, sagaciously

Dear Prudie,

I have started using Internet dating services to try to find someone with whom I could meet, date, and who knows? My question has to do with my having had a good start with some women, who, without any notice just stop the correspondence. Conceivably, I may have said something that turned them off, and they decided not to write any more. So it goes, but shouldn’t they say something rather than just quitting writing? I think I would rather have a “You are doing nothing for me” or “You went too far with a description of yourself/job/dreams.” What do you think? Does etiquette require some announcement that the getting-to-know-you is over?

—Just Wondering

Dear Just,

Internet dating is not the first thing that comes to mind when mentioning the word “etiquette.” The very nature of cyber-talking with faceless, anonymous people lends itself to thoughtlessness, rudeness, and, alas, callousness. Prudie guesses that the women who’ve pressed the delete button on you are chicken about saying they’re no longer interested. Being direct is not necessarily an attribute of strangers—or sometimes even friends.

—Prudie, namelessly