Click here to read a transcript of Prudie’s live weekly chat with readers at Washingtonpost.com.
My sister is going to be visiting me and my family for the holidays, which is great. However, she recently reminded me that I’d have to ship all of her gifts to her home because she doesn’t check luggage. I was really looking forward to her arrival, but this seemingly small issue has me simmering with resentment. Sure, she’s my little sister, but she is now in her 30s! My husband and I are both professionals with demanding jobs and little free time. Her refusal to check baggage because she doesn’t want to be inconvenienced at the airport has me steaming. She says that it shouldn’t make any difference that she doesn’t want to take her gifts on the plane because if she weren’t coming, I would have to ship them anyway. Her sense of entitlement is making me feel bah humbug! Am I wrong?
—Waiting in the Cold
Take comfort that you will not be the only person who begins this week filled with anticipation for the arrival of a beloved sibling and ends it filled with anticipation for the departure of a beloved sibling. As I lay out here, these conflicting feelings may be particularly acute during the holidays, but they have existed for as long as there have been brothers and sisters. You say, “Sure, she’s my little sister,” which indicates she expects to be indulged and cared for by Big Sis. That may have made sense when she was a toddler, but you’re right, a woman in her 30s is probably capable of figuring out how to transport her own gifts. So explain that you know waiting for luggage can be a hassle, but that you’ve got such a heavy workload coming up that you won’t be able to ship gifts for her. Then you can lay out several alternatives. You can offer to loan Sis your car after Christmas so she can drive to the post office and mail the gifts to herself. Or you can suggest a nearby sporting-goods store where she can buy a duffle bag to carry her haul to the airport and check it. Or you can tell her that if she refuses to take care of her own gifts, you will have to put them aside until you find the time to mail them—and you hope to get to that sometime before her next Christmas visit.
Last month, I started seriously dating a woman I’ve known for many years. We live several hours apart, and this past weekend when I was visiting, we came home to find some presents at her door. As she was opening the gifts—lotion and perfume—she got a text, which made her laugh, from the man who had left them. I asked who he was, and she explained he was a friend from church. I asked whether he knew she and I were dating, and she said she didn’t know. Then she asked me not to mention the gifts to any of her friends, because this guy is married. I said I didn’t think it was a good idea that a married man was giving her perfume and lotion. She said it was OK because he “gives lots of money to the church.” I asked her to return the gifts to him, and she said that would be rude. Then I suggested she donate the gifts to charity. She said she’d give them to her sister. But I found out she kept the perfume and said I was just being too sensitive. So how do I prepare for next Christmas, when this will most likely happen again?
—Nix the Gift
Something smells here, and it’s not the Prince Matchabelli musk perfume. You’ve been dating this woman for only a month, and almost by definition a monthlong relationship is just not that serious yet. You also have an uncomfortably proprietary sense of what you can dictate to someone else. It’s understandable that you would express your concern at her receiving a romantic gift from a married man, but it’s not your place to tell her how to dispose of it. Forget about the perfume; what matters is whether you’re falling for a woman who’s also involved with a married man. You need to tell your girlfriend that you’ve been uneasy since she received the gift, and you would like to know just what the nature of her relationship with this man is. If she tells you it’s nothing, then you have to decide whether that sounds right or whether you think you’re being deceived. And given everything you’ve described, there’s a good chance it won’t matter to you what she gets next year from the married man, because your relationship with her will be through.
I recently got engaged to a wonderful woman, and we are looking forward to our life together, especially our first Christmas. We recently received a Christmas card from my fiancee’s aunt and her family. It stated, “Our Christmas Wish to You Is To Keep Health Care Privatized.” My fiancee and I are very upset about this. We don’t mind that they have different political beliefs, but the fact that they’ve put them in a Christmas card is a huge breach of etiquette. I can’t think of any way to politely broach this issue with them, and skipping Christmas would alienate my future in-laws. Is a political statement in a Christmas card as bad as I think it is, and is there any way I can address this issue? My fiancee and I are both very frustrated.
—Appropriate Christmas Cards Only, Please
The aunt’s card could revive the whole Christmas card industry! Just imagine a line of “Going Rogue” Christmas greetings. Or cards with tea bags stapled to them. Yes, the aunt’s card is tasteless, but your response is humorless. It’s probably for the best that you didn’t send her a card with the sentiment, “Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for Avoiding a Death Panel in the New Year!” But blowing off your fiancee’s family during your first Christmas together because an aunt sent a silly Christmas card would not enhance your standing as someone people looked forward to having around for the long haul. What you do is nothing. If the aunt asks whether you received the card, just smile and say yes. You can add that you bet her Valentine’s Day card is a doozy.
I have been prank wrapping gifts to my family for years. It’s nothing too serious (nesting boxes, duct tape wrapping, heavy lead weights on gift cards), and everyone seems to enjoy it. The only problem is that I have met that special someone, and while the rest of her family approves of our relationship, her mother does not. She has questioned my financial standing—which is excellent—even though she and my girlfriend’s father are flat broke. Mostly she refuses to talk to me at all. So I put her gift in a box that can’t be opened without the use of metal cutting tools. While I am happy with this (I consider it a masterpiece of gift wrapping), my girlfriend is ill-at-ease. She recognizes the tension between me and her mother, and understands that it may never be resolved, but thinks this might be going a little far. I am not sure that it is. Does this exceed the treatment I have received from her mother?
Reread the story of Pandora and the box that wasn’t supposed to be opened, and then contemplate whether you want to stage a modern version of releasing all sorts of calamities by presenting your future mother-in-law with your masterpiece. I’m not even sure what the message is you think you’re sending with the hermetically sealed gift, since you pull these kinds of pranks on people for whom you have nothing but affection. You say that relations between you and your girlfriend’s mother are tense-to-nonexistent. Your impossible-to-open gift may be a kind of Christmas performance art, but the end result will be that your girlfriend’s mother pulls her aside and says, “I told you there’s a reason I don’t like this guy.” So get your metal cutters, release the gift, and rewrap it with paper and Scotch tape. You may never win this woman over, but by being charming, straight-forward, and agreeable, you will make her objections seem irrational to everyone else.