Dear Prudence

Help! I Dread My Family’s Boring Holiday Gatherings. Is It Wrong to Prefer Going to My Partner’s?

Her relatives are lively and warm. Mine don’t seem to even like each other.

A family sit together a Christmas time while looking at their phones.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Prudence,

How do I go about establishing boundaries about holiday visits with my mom? I’m 23 and living with my partner in a town about an hour away from each of our families. Where my family is quiet and uptight, hers is vibrant, chatty, and loving. They have welcomed me in, and I love to spend time with them. I recently told my mom that I had plans to spend Thanksgiving with my partner’s family. She seemed deeply uncomfortable but eventually conceded with the caveat that “Christmases are for YOUR family.” My family’s Christmases mostly consist of sitting quietly in a room together, either on our phones or making broken attempts at conversation with my extended relatives.

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Due to this being the first holiday season where we’re all vaccinated and have the freedom to be with one another, I had every intention of going home for Christmas, but I already dread the thought of future arguments. Is it so wrong to want to spend time with people who actually seem to enjoy each other’s company?

— Away for the Holidays

Dear Away for the Holidays,

Nobody can stop you from spending your holidays wherever you want. That’s especially important to note, because your mom has made it seem like there’s a rule that keeps you from spending Christmas elsewhere. There’s not.

That said, I do think it’s worth giving some thought to what your parents and relatives mean to you, and what kind of relationship you hope to have with them. Because if family is just a random group of people who we can ditch for a livelier group whenever the opportunity presents itself, it really doesn’t mean anything. I can’t tell you how to feel, but a couple of things are worth thinking about.

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1) Your parents aren’t going to be here forever, which is something that’s probably going to start to feel a lot more real to you in the next 10 years or so. That doesn’t mean you have to always do whatever they want, but it does mean it might be time to start being intentional about the kinds of experiences and memories you hope to have with them, and how you can set yourself up to feel good about your choices and the memories you made with them.

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2) You’re an adult now, and you can take some responsibility for the way holiday celebrations go. If you really want things to be different, don’t feel like you have to just sit in the corner and observe things like you did as a teenager. Ask questions. Tell stories. Put on some music. Bring out a board game. Sometimes it only takes one person’s energy to change the way an event feels, and maybe that person can be you.

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Give it a try this year, and you never know—you could even decide that this is something in which you’d like to include your partner and partner’s family in the future.

Dear Prudence,

​​I have a wonderful life with my beautiful partner of 2.5 years. We live together, have pets, plans to marry, and I couldn’t be happier with him. He’s thoughtful, hilarious, and super smart (and sexy!). We communicate well and are always striving to improve our relationship. I’ve been mentally ill since I was a young child (depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, the list goes on). This and other factors—COVID, grief, not working—caused me to be an absolute shit show prior to getting on the right medications.

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I would get suicidal and abusive towards my partner around once a month. It took a year of therapy, trial and error with meds, and major boundary setting for me to get better. The abusiveness towards my partner was awful, and it’s taken a lot to forgive myself. Setting limits and boundaries is crucial to my healing process. A specific one has caused a rift between me and a friend: My partner and I will 100 percent break up if I refuse to take/skip my meds or decide to go off of them without approval from my doctor (which is likely to never happen).

Leah (the friend) also struggles with myriad mental illnesses and takes medication.
I mentioned that my partner and I will break up if I go off my meds, and she blew her top. Apparently, it’s manipulative of him to agree with that because it puts too much pressure on a sick person to take care of themselves just to please another. She said he’s being controlling if he doesn’t recognize that as an able-bodied person, it’s not his place to dictate how someone should take care of themselves. What hurt me a lot is she said he clearly doesn’t love the real me if he’ll only be with the medicated version of me. That made me feel sick, and I’ve been avoiding her since. She and I have been close for years and shared a lot together, so this just plain sucks!

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I don’t think I deserve a free pass to fuck with my medication as I please just because I have issues. Adam deserves to be in a healthy and safe relationship—we simply can’t have that if I’m not on my meds. At least that’s where I stand! Plus, I recognize that first and foremost I’m taking care of myself when I take my meds, not just Adam. But now I’m a little lost. Is this an okay boundary to have? Are we not leaving room for me to make mistakes or be who I “really” am? Is this too much pressure to put on a mentally ill person?

— Medicated Madness

Dear Medicated Madness,

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Ignore Leah. The agreement you’ve made with Adam makes sense to you (and, for what it’s worth, to me), and her opinion doesn’t hold any weight. “Is this too much pressure to put on a mentally ill person?” is a question that you should actually be asking about her giving you unsolicited advice—not about your partner who has set a completely reasonable boundary with your consent.

Dear Prudence,

How do you evict someone living rent free in your head?

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A couple months ago, I stopped talking to Adam, a former close friend of a couple years. This was because without warning, I became his favorite emotional punching bag. We would play games as a group, and once the game finished, he would make sure to note “well, at least I did better than her.” At group events, Adam would snobbily and loudly note that my contribution to the potluck wasn’t homemade. I don’t have the capacity to make soda at home, so that comment was especially galling.

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Still, he would message me to apologize, and I forgave him since the pandemic has been rough on everyone. The final straw came when it came out at a mutual friend’s birthday party that he was unvaccinated by choice, despite the vaccine being widely available at that point for months. I’m high risk for COVID complications, and he had joined my pandemic bubble with the promise we would all get a vaccine ASAP.

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I blocked him from all forms of communication and social media. The thing is, we still share a lot of friends, so that hasn’t been the end of it. I still get furious every time I see him on a group invite. It’s frustrating that a lot of my friends witnessed how he treated me, yet still treat him as a great plus one. I know he won’t vanish off the planet, but I can’t stop wishing for it.

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— Dreaming of a Meteor

Dear Dreaming,

I wish you’d provided a few more examples, because I’m struggling to see how mild gloating after a game and a remark about your soda (obviously) not being homemade were enough to end a close friendship. To me, these sound like examples of Adam missing the mark in terms of teasing rather than treating you as an emotional punching bag. And as far as his vaccine choice, it was a bad one, but it’s not as if he got unvaccinated at you.

So I guess my answer to how to get him to stop living rent-free in your head is to do your best not to take any of this personally. You two apparently weren’t compatible as friends and you parted ways. But, aside from potential COVID exposure concerns, I don’t think he did anything that would suggest to your friends that he should be excommunicated or that they would need to choose between the two of you. He can come off as a jerk and he’s not being conscientious about the pandemic, sure. But wishing for him to vanish off the planet and expecting your friends to feel the same seems like an overreaction. I wonder if you would consider branching out a bit and trying to socialize with some new people, so his role in your life is watered down and easier to put into perspective.

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Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From How to Do It

I am 74; my wife is 18 months younger than me. We have always had a sex life that can only be described as transcendent. We’ve both always been fully satisfied with an afterglow that lasts into the next day. But my wife has been hit with anxiety and depression because of the pandemic. And we spent the summer looking after grandkids, which pretty much suspended our usual date nights. So now she reports no particular desire to resume what we had, although she is amenable to helping satisfy me when requested. I miss our old sex life. Is that now gone forever?

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