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Our daughter “Amanda” lives in another state and has been married to “Jacob” for several years. Theirs is an open relationship, and I have always known that. My husband, however has kept his head in the sand regarding this. My daughter has a boyfriend, “Tom,” whom Jacob knows about and has a great friendship with. They are all planning to come to our home this Christmas, but my husband insists that Tom (who has visited us previously) is not welcome. Do I tell our daughter, son-in-law, and daughter’s boyfriend to make other holiday plans? My opinion is that they are all consenting adults, there are no children involved, and always behave appropriately in public.
—Stuck in the Middle With Him
Perhaps a generation from now many families will be having a very polyamorous Christmas. But we aren’t there yet. I support your conclusion that your daughter and the men in her life are consenting adults and as long as they behave with decorum, what they do in private is none of your business. But they are also open about their open relationship, so I can understand your husband’s point of view that he attended Amanda’s wedding to Jacob, where she vowed to forsake all others, including every Tom, Dick, and Harry. Before you call your daughter, talk to your husband about the possibility of indulging in some denial and just treating Tom as a friend of the couple who has nowhere else to go for the holiday. If that doesn’t work, and your husband has no interest in getting presents for this trio (a boxed set of Peter, Paul, and Mary?), then contact your daughter and explain your dilemma. Do not open with a suggestion that she go elsewhere for Christmas. Tell her that her father is not yet ready to accept her unconventional approach to marriage, but that alienating herself from him won’t help the process. Suggest this year she come only with Jacob. Surely she knows there are simply occasions when she must make a choice about which man to bring.
Dear Prudence: Hairy Loan Situation
I received an invitation to attend a Christmas party from an old college friend. He sent the invitation via social media, the guest list was open, and I accepted via social media. Attending the party will be a few old friends I hardly ever see and my wife and I are looking forward to it. After I accepted I received the following message via social media from an old acquaintance: “Hey I’m wondering if you could not go to the party so that I can attend. I kind of dislike you that much. Much appreciated.” It’s hard for me to imagine what his problem is regarding me. I know he went on one reportedly terrible date with my sister. I also dimly recall that years ago he wanted to be friends, but I wasn’t interested and declined his invitations. We obviously don’t care for each other, but I could certainly chat amiably with him at a party. I’m still planning to attend, and I have been struggling with the appropriate response to his message. Should I call him for a heart to heart? Suggest to him someone hacked his email? Tell him I’m going? Another friend thinks if I don’t respond it indicates acquiescence to his request. Suggestions?
Thank goodness your frenemy is not a billionaire power broker like Rupert Murdoch. According to this report, Murdoch got Tony Blair’s invitation to one of those masters of the universe conferences rescinded when Murdoch discovered Blair had been keeping company with Murdoch’s now ex-wife. Your acquaintance simply sounds like a drip—no wonder your entire family declines to spend time with him. But what he lacks in charm, he makes up for in nerve. You do not have to respond to his offensive note, and refusing to acknowledge it does not imply he was successful in scaring you off from going to the party. But I do think you should give the host a heads up. Forward the note and say while you have absolutely no problem being in the room with this guy, he apparently has one with you. Say you don’t intend to reply, you still intend to come, and you wanted your host to be aware of this potential unpleasantness. Then if you and the jerk both attend, avoid standing by the eggnog bowl at the same time in case he tries to dunk your head in it.
I have worked for a small firm for many years. The company has had its ups and downs the past few years but overall seems to have done fairly well. Each year, we normally receive an annual and generous Christmas bonus. But recently our office manager said no bonuses would be given out this year. We’re disappointed, but glad we have jobs. Shortly afterward, the office manager sent out a memo requesting we all put in the normal $20 each to then be given to the two heads of the firm at the upcoming Christmas lunch. I told her I would prefer to just get them a card this year so I can save money for my own family’s holiday. I know it’s not a lot of money, but I’m a single mother. The woman I share an office with thinks we should just give the money. What should I do?
—Am I Being Cheap?
Thanks to the late, great Letitia Baldrige for this rule about office holiday presents: “You do not give your boss a gift.” I wish these words could arrive by special messenger to every manager in the land because this time of year I get a lot of questions from financially strapped employees being pressured to pay for elaborate meals or fancy gifts in honor of the head honchos. It’s absurd and unseemly for employees to return their hard-earned money to the people who control their salaries as if paying liege to a feudal lord. This pernicious practice should be stamped out, and if a company has an HR department, that office should put a stop to it. During the holidays it’s fine for people to bring in baked goods to work for everyone, or to give a small token gift to all colleagues, including the boss (a coffee mug, box of note paper, etc.). But no one should feel obligated to do this, nor does getting a gift require taking part in a potlatch exchange. Your office is being cheap with bonuses this year, perhaps necessarily, but that shouldn’t result in employees stiffing their own children to present a cash bounty to the bosses. Unfortunately, however, each person in each office has to weigh the consequences of not going along with this extortion. If in your office the contributions are truly considered optional and no ledger is kept so that punishments can be meted out later, then you should skip it. But if your co-worker is right in sensing that keeping your $20 will cost you dearly in the long run, then go ahead and pony up, as wrong as it is.
I’m a single, never-married 44-year-old woman. I love getting fold-out holiday cards that include multiple pictures of friends and family every year, because you can see how their kids are growing up. I don’t have any kids, so I borrowed my niece and nephew (and used some pictures of my dog) to put together my own holiday card. However, another single woman friend said I was wrong to use my niece and nephew because people only want to see your own kids. Am I out of line for taking holiday pictures with nieces and nephews? I’m not pretending they’re mine.
You seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of the holiday greeting card. It is not sent out as documentation of one’s fecundity. If you’ve already ordered up the card you describe, sure, go ahead and send it. But make sure you sign each one with something like, “Best wishes from Karen Keegan (and niece Isabelle and nephew Jake).” You do not want to give the impression to people who don’t closely keep up with you that you have somehow acquired an instant family. You also want to prevent confusion for people who are both on your list and that of the actual parents when they see the same children repurposed. But going forward, let go of the idea of borrowing children. If you want to do a photo, your dog in a Santa cap would suit the purpose. But just as pleasant would be the old-fashioned route of sending season’s greetings by way of a beautifully designed card that expresses your taste.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Am I Fit To Parent?: My fiancé and I both have mental illness. The last thing I want to do is make things hard on our future children.”
“Just Say No to Sexting: My 17-year-old daughter sent naked pictures of herself to boys. What do I say to her?”
“Betrayal From Beyond: I just found out my husband sought casual sex before he died. How do I mourn him now?”
“The Constant Mistress: I’ve been in five relationships with married men, but don’t feel guilty. Am I morally bankrupt, or is everyone else closed-minded?”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“What Is This, Ranch Dressing?: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose daughter might get kicked out of her playgroup for bringing store-bought snacks.”
“Not-So Buried Secret: In a live chat, Prudie advises a mother who gave the family dog away but told her son it died.”
“A Baby by Any Other Name: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman who wants to give her son the same name as her husband’s son from another marriage.”
“Not My Husband’s Baby: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose in-laws fawn over her son—not knowing he’s the product of an affair.”
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.