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Dear Captain Awkward, 

Not wanting everyone all up in your business: a cultural history.

Seven weeks ago my husband of six years told me he wants a divorce.  There is no room for negotiation on his side.  We’ve been to a marriage counselor a few times since he told me, and have spent most of the sessions talking about how we’ll divide the assets, deal with the house, ect.  He’s not changing his mind ever.  I don’t want the divorce and don’t think our issues are anything that counseling could solve, but I obviously can’t make him stay married to me so we’re getting divorced.

I don’t know how to tell people.  
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Omar scared all the other Christmas ornaments away.

My small Christmas tree, with the Omar Little finger puppet of holiday ambivalence.

It’s Chrismukkah (insert your “We’re halfway out of the dark” holiday of choice here), the time of year where some of us take a few days off, eat and drink things with people we love, light sparkly lights, maybe exchange gifts. If this is a relaxing, special time of year for you that you love, I hope you enjoy it.

For some of us this time of year is one long slow-motion anxiety attack.  I must have “arrived” as an advice columnist in some way, as the letters about family holiday worry, financial stress, grief for dying relatives, the fear of facing abusers over Roast Beast started coming over a month ago. There are too many of them (and some of them cut too close to home) for me to answer in the way they deserve.

Here are some things I know, mostly on the subject of “don’t should all over yourself.”

1. Travel: You don’t have to go home (if you can’t afford it, if you dread it, if people will be mean to you). Perhaps you will “ruin” someone’s holiday if you don’t go. Perhaps you will “ruin” your own holiday if you do. If you choose to go, it gives you a little bit of armor for you to choose to enjoy what there is to be enjoyed and let the rest go. If you go because you “have to,” you’re sunk.

2. Presents: If you can afford to give presents and you want to give them, presents are delightful! If you can’t, don’t put yourself in a bad financial situation because you think you are “have to” give them. At this point some commenter is going to tell us about the awesome inexpensive Blah blah homemade blah blah crafty! blah blah thing they made, to which I say “Great! Please go share that on one of the 8 million sites about cool crafty stuff that is not here.” For some people making crafty stuff is fun and relaxing and exciting. For someone with limited resources (be it time, emotional energy, or money), the prospect of bedazzling a bunch of whatchamajiggits is filled with pressure and dread.

For the record, if someone gives you a present and you don’t have anything for them (because you can’t or because you didn’t know that y’all were gift-exchange-type-people), the correct answer is “Thank you! I love it!” and not a 15 minute Socially Awkward Penguin dance where you apologize for not having anything for them. Send them a nice thank you note. If they are the kind of person who keeps score and gets offended, this experience will teach them not to get you anything next time. Every kiss does NOT begin a diamond pendant shaped like buttocks.

3. Manners & boundaries.  Some families think that “We’re close, we don’t need to have manners! We can just say whatever pops into our heads! I’m not criticizing you, I’m just being honest! We don’t stand on formality around here! Wait, why are you crying?  God, why do you always have to be so sensitive?” The Venn Diagram of these families and those of the letter writers filling up my inbox are a series of concentric circles. Manners count. Kindness counts.

Simone at The Hairpin says the rest. I owe her some kind of nog or amateur craft project for knocking so many letters off of my to-answer list with one blow.

For those of you who live in Chicago and enjoy storytelling, I’ll be reading at an event called Women on Fire,  “an evening of true tales of women on the verge of freedom, destruction, and salvation,”  featuring stories by Kelly Anchors, Caryn Berman, Joan Lipschutz, Dana Norris (founder and host of Story Club), Anne Purkey, and me.  It starts at 7:30, in the upstairs room at Schubas, suggested donation $5.  My story is about secrets, lies, and sandwiches.

 

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