Short Answer Friday – Holiday Edition – 11/16/2018

Hello Awkward Friends!

Today I’m going to try to knock out as many short questions as I can about the holidays, celebrations, togetherness.

Readers can submit short questions at the designated thread on Patreon (advantage, more than 280 characters) or on Twitter (advantage, free for all!) before noon Chicago time today. Twitter folks, please use the hashtag #awkwardfriday so I can find it easily – my mentions can get overwhelming. I’ll answer as many as I can between noon and 3PM, comments will open when everything is posted.

Also, feel free to condense/recycle something if you’ve already sent it to the inbox, let’s get as much holiday discussion as we can out of our system today!

Some past holiday discussions of note:

Also, would you like some family photos? There is me, well-wrapped in blankets, some extremely asleep kittens (6 months old, more like cattens), Daniel cleaning poor Henrietta when she had to wear her cone, post-spaying, and Mr. Awkward at Uncle Julio’s, where, thanks to y’all, we took him and all the friends who visited him while he was in the hospital for dinner last week.

daniel licking hen Captain Awkward in blankets Daniel and Henrietta sleeping Jeremy at Uncle Julio's

Questions are in. Let’s begin.

Q1: Hi Captain,

I hate the holidays. My mom passed away close to Thanksgiving in 2015, her side of the family is very small (one grandmother and one aunt, that’s it); my dad, who I’m low contact with, has 24+ relatives in the “immediate” family. My fiancé has no blood family that he’s in contact with; his best friend’s family is his “second family” and I know I’m “welcome” but I’ve had some disagreements with the matriarch and oldest son so I don’t want to go there. All this leaves me feeling pretty isolated, and I just want to fast forward through all of it and come out in spring when I don’t feel like I’m drowning. What can I do to just get people to leave me alone until after the New Year, when my seasonal depression/grief/feeling of being completely isolated ends?

A1: Hi there! What if I told you that you’re allowed to hate the winter holiday season and you’re allowed to spend the next month or so however you want? What if I told you that it’s okay to be sad, to feel zero holiday cheer, and to participate in literally none of it?

With the caveat that you probably won’t get people to stop wishing you happy holidays or inviting you to their celebrations, (invitations are not commands and there’s no good way to pre-empt people out of doing something they think is nice), you can absolutely react to all greeting and invitations with “Thanks so much for thinking of me, but no thank you. I’m planning to keep things very quiet this year/I’m really looking forward to some quiet time. Let’s catch up in the New Year!” 

You don’t have to explain or elaborate (you can if you want to, “I’m still grieving for my mom and I just need to bow out of celebrating until I feel ready,” but you don’t have to). It’s okay to let your fiancé run interference with his family, too.

Be very gentle and nice to yourself.

Q2: Tips for being disabled during the holidays? Somedays I just can’t get in the spirit of things either because I’m too sad or because my pain is too bad to leave the house, and people get really weird about it.

A2: Look at your calendar, budget your energies according to what you know you can enthusiastically and realistically do, pace yourself, build in lots of downtime, be really kind and gentle to yourself.

Connect with the parts of it you really connect with. If you are religious, find a way to pray and observe seasonal rituals that you can do. If there are family members or friends you really want to celebrate with, save up your spoons to make visits with them count. If the best part is the music or the decorations or the food, find a way to treat yourself a little.

With people who want you to do more than you can take on, try scripts like “Thanks for thinking of me, but I won’t be able to make it” or “Cool, but I’m keeping things really quiet this year” or “I wish I could join you for that but my body has other plans” or “Yes, I’m sad I won’t make it, too!” and let people be weird if they’re gonna be weird. You didn’t cause the weirdness. This also seems to be a good time to revisit your family’s traditions and see if there are things that could make stuff more accessible to you, like:

  • “I know we always go to X on Christmas Eve, but could I persuade you to do Y instead? That’s so much easier for me to get to.”
  • “I want to come but I won’t be able to drive home afterwards, could I get a ride or is there an extra bed where I could stay?”
  • “I can’t come out, but I’d love it if you brought me a piece of pie afterward. Can you stop by?”

You can’t avoid sad feelings by planning for them ahead of time, but you can make peace with your own needs and boundaries and do your best to take care of yourself.

Q3: Ack, I’m pretty sure the answer to mine is in the comments section somewhere. . . I’m looking for chipper scripts to shut down/side-step family members’ feelings about me spending Thanksgiving and Christmas alone.

A3: Noticing a trend here! With repetition comes mastery, right?

I’ve spent Christmas alone (except for smol cat) more than once as an adult, and each time, not gonna lie, IT WAS GLORIOUS. I’ve been the only person besides the driver on a Brown Line CTA train. I’ve stopped for a drink at a country & western dive bar and listened to a Willie Nelson marathon on the jukebox. I’ve made myself a special meal, where everything on the plate is my favorite food and all the leftovers are miiiiiiiiiiine. I’ve gone to the movies by myself. I’ve caught up on laundry. I’ve re-read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (a personal Christmas Eve tradition going back to childhood). Especially during the bustle of a busy semester and when I lived with roommates, those quiet reflective days alone were like a balm to the soul.

Try “I’m really looking forward to a quiet celebration!” and let people’s feelings be whatever they are. Try “I’ll miss you and be thinking of you, of course, but I’m really looking forward to a quiet celebration.” Don’t explain or justify – if your relatives don’t understand the solitary joy of a quiet holiday, you don’t have to convince them or make them feel differently about it.

Q4: My aunt. MY AUNT. She has a long and ever-increasing history of making Islamophobic and racist remarks (but that kind of low-key racist that can be excused as ‘oh, just doesn’t know any better’, which is SUCH a nonsense excuse). My father just told me over lunch that he and my mother have invited her to Christmas dinner. On one hand: I understand that this is the only relative my mother talks to, and that she would otherwise spend Christmas alone, and that mom feels guilty. On the other hand, my mother has a great history of excusing problematic behavior in order to keep the peace and ‘not ruin dinner’, and I have zero intention of indulging racist commentary about headscarves, and significantly less than zero intention of letting my kids see me letting racist and Islamophobic commentary slide (it’s unacceptable AND a horrible example to set. 2 reasons!). What’s a good script for telling my mom in advance that I’m willing to behave if she’s civil, but that I’m 100% willing to engage in an argument, and am 100% willing to pack up the kids and go home if needed, in a way that’s not… quite… that confrontational?

A4: RACIST. COMMENTS. RUIN. DINNER. Not people pushing back against them.

What if you tried being pretty up front about it ahead of time? “Mom, Dad, I’m really looking forward to seeing you this year. I hope you’ll help me out and let Aunt know beforehand to keep her racist comments to herself, I’m in no mood to listen to it and I won’t have that kind of talk around my kids. I’d hate to have to go home.” 

“Oh, she just doesn’t know better”  – “Hrmmmm, well, it’s time she figured it out, and if you don’t talk to her about it before dinner, I’ma have to do it AT dinner, and that doesn’t sound fun for anyone.” 

You don’t have to go to this dinner, at all, and you can use that –“I don’t wanna fight with Aunt, but if it’s a choice between dreading/ white-knuckling through one of her outbursts and being treated like I’m the problem or staying home with the kids in our jammies, I guess we’ll just have to see…maybe it’s better if we just skip it this year and you an Aunt can catch up without worrying about us!”

Let’s be real: There’s no fixing Aunt, there’s no overnight fixing of a longstanding family dynamic, there is no escaping conflict, there is no amount of being reasonable and cool and diplomatic ahead of time that will stop this from becoming a train wreck, but you can be clear with your own boundaries and you can ask your Mom & Dad to be good hosts to you. Your mom has known her sister her whole life, she can make one phone call along the lines of  “Look, I’m really excited to see you Thursday, but just wanna remind you there’s no politics talk at my table – if you make ignorant remarks again and chase off the grandkids, I’m not gonna be pleased.” Aunt can feel any way she wants about it, she can grumble all she wants, as long as she behaves herself.

Q4a: Dear Captain,

I noticed that my dad, your stereotypical middle-aged, cis, straight white guy has a habit of reprimanding others in a patronizing and belittling way. For example, the other day during lunch with my grandma, she said something and he shut her down by gesturing towards his/her mouth and saying – as if she was 4 yo and misbehaving – that he’s “sure you remember it’s not polite to talk while you have food in your mouth”. (Btw, you could completely understand her. She had a little food in her mouth but pushed it to the side, as you do when talking before completely swallowing everything.) It’s less that he wants to be helpful and remind people of etiquette and more some kind of power-thing. He does similar things to me (and other women, but rarely any men, if at all). Any scripts for constructive ways of saying “Dude, we’re all adults, I’m sure you’re happy I’m visiting and want it to stay that way?”. I’m having a hard time coming up with any because it’s been like that since I was little when I used to freeze and later I just didn’t visit. If there’s a good resource/guide on how to deal with stuff like that, please let me know. Thanks!

A4a: Great question! I sorta covered this in the Buzzfeed post from a couple years back:

. “Is that what you’re wearing?”

After a grueling and expensive journey where your fellow airline passengers definitely probably created entire new strains of the flu as they coughed directly into your open mouth, you arrive at your ancestral home. Before you can even finish hugging everyone and pour a glass of eggnog, your ancestors descend to dissect your appearance and life choices: "I liked your old glasses better," or "That coat looks like you slept in it," or the always delightful "Would it kill you to shave/put some lipstick on/put on a hat/take off your hat?" Comments like this used to take me straight back to feeling (and acting) like a surly teenager. Once I realized that it was a ritual, like a pack of wolves welcoming a pack member back with butt-sniffing and a wrestling match, it got easier. It's never a fun ritual, but the comments didn't mean "you suck" so much as "you belong to us but you don't quite match what I remember" in the language of repressed New England people who are terrible at feelings.

After a grueling and expensive journey where your fellow airline passengers definitely probably created entire new strains of the flu as they coughed directly into your open mouth, you arrive at your ancestral home. Before you can even finish hugging everyone and pour a glass of eggnog, your ancestors descend to dissect your appearance and life choices: “I liked your old glasses better,” or “That coat looks like you slept in it,” or the always delightful “Would it kill you to shave/put some lipstick on/put on a hat/take off your hat?”

Comments like this used to take me straight back to feeling (and acting) like a surly teenager. Once I realized that it was a ritual, like a pack of wolves welcoming a pack member back with butt-sniffing and a wrestling match, it got easier. It’s never a fun ritual, but the comments didn’t mean “you suck” so much as “you belong to us but you don’t quite match what I remember” in the language of repressed New England people who are terrible at feelings.

The quickest and easiest way through a random and unsolicited critique is to respond briefly and as neutrally as you can:

• “Huh.”

• “Nice to see you, too.”

• “Thanks for your opinion, I’ll think about it.” (It’s true, I did think about their opinion for a few seconds before continuing not to care.)

• “I did sleep in this coat; airport floors are cold.”

If someone really is crossing a line and hurting your feelings, or won’t stop saying mean stuff, try this:

• “Wow.” Use a strong, pointed tone and follow it with a really long, awkward pause.

• “Really?”

• “I’m confused. What is it that you want me to feel or do when you say something like that?”

If the conversation devolves from there into how sensitive you are and how you can’t take a “joke,” strongly consider going back to the airport and taking the next flight out. Somewhere warm, somewhere people aren’t jerks to you.

You’re not gonna change your dad, or get him to understand that this is sexist and rude, but you aren’t a little kid anymore and you are absolutely allowed to “Cool story, bro” him and give zero attention to the content of his critiques. “What a weird thing to say, Dad. Sorry, Grandma, we interrupted you. What were you saying, again?” 

Q4b: Hi Captain, could you give me a mantra to repeat to myself when my mom makes unnecessary, critical comments over Thanksgiving? Past experience has taught me to expect maybe five unpleasant, judgy comments over stupid little things over the course of a two or three day visit, and has taught me that ignoring them is much, much more effective than talking to her about them. Thanks!

A4b. I’m tacking this onto the above – It’s okay to say “Hahaha thanks for the constant feedback, Mom, it never gets annoying” to her out loud or inside your head.

Q5: Hi Captain! I (they/them) am a first year student in an intense graduate program. Due to some mental health stuff, there’s a good chance I will have to repeat this semester but still be able to graduate on time. I am paying for this on my own but my family has a lot of bad opinions. I find out Tuesday whether I have to rearrange my schedule and my family keeps asking. I would like to have a nice Thanksgiving with my cousin and friends without my mom screaming over the phone (I live several states away). Do you have any suggestions for ways to sidestep the conversation until after the holiday? Is this even a fair thing to do? Thank you so much for all of your help!! 

A5: You are allowed to put your family on a total information diet around the topic of grad school, through the holiday and beyond. “Not sure yet, thanks for asking!” or “Still working it out, but my research is so interesting, let me tell you about it!” or “I’m pretty sure we’ll find a good solution, thanks!” + a subject change, or “Mom, I’m trying to enjoy the holiday, I don’t have any answers for you and I’m getting tired of explaining & being yelled at. I’m gonna hang up now and try to de-stress.” Your mom will probably not take it well, but she can’t really force you to do anything and it’s okay to let her wear herself out. Also, since you mention “mom screaming over the phone,” you might want to put your mom on a communication schedule and stick to it.

Hope everything gets back on track for you soon!

Q6: Hi Captain! It’s the first time my husband and I are hosting both sets of parents on Christmas day. My in-laws love to buy vast quantities of gifts (especially now there are our 2 children, their grandchildren, in play). My parents are more likely to buy 1 or 2 gifts per person. My Mum has a tendency to put her foot in her mouth, or less generously, she often says hurtful and patronising things, especially when other people’s ways of thinking do not match her own. Should I give her a heads up about the number of presents that are likely to be brought by my in-laws? I feel if she is forewarned she may be less likely to blurt out something disdainful about my in-laws’ generosity. Or should I just stop overthinking it and leave well alone?

A6: If you want to, it’s not weird to say “Oh yeah, Husband’s family does presents a little differently than we do, it can be kind of overwhelming if you’re not prepared for it” to your mom before the gathering, but I think your last question is a good one: What’s the worst thing that could happen if your mom blurts out something rude in the moment vs. how much grief are you buying yourself ahead of time by bringing it up now? “Aw, Grandma says funny things sometimes! Who wants pie?” is a survivable situation.

Q7: This is related to but not precisely covered by the “Got Any Great Holiday Plans With Family?” question. I love Christmas. My family loves Christmas. It’s always been a big family get-together/holiday. Here’s the catch: I live at least 2000 miles and an international border away from my family of origin, all of whom expect me to do all of the work of staying in touch. I’ve lived in my new country for nine years now, and the only one who made it to my wedding was my mother and the only one who has visited since then…is also my mother.

I realize travel is expensive, that’s why I haven’t made it home in several years. But none of the rest of my family (father, stepmother, two siblings, two grown nieces, and their partners and children) have even *tried*. And so I’ve given myself permission to stop trying. I refuse to keep putting all the effort in and getting none of it back. But It’s hard, and it makes me more sad at the holidays than I’d prefer to be. I don’t want to pretend everything’s fine, but I also don’t want to harsh anyone else’s holidays and I’m struggling to figure out how to balance those two desires. So I guess I just need help figuring out how to hold my sadness and ask for help from my local loved-ones without dwelling on it and harshing everyone else’s holidays.

A7: I don’t have answers really, more sympathy/commiseration. It’s okay to be sad that you can’t see your family this year, you’re not ruining others holidays by having feelings.

As for future celebrations, can you ask your family for financial help so you can travel more reliably, like, “It’s cheaper for me & spouse to come there than it is for all of you to come here, so as my holiday present can the family make a joint travel fund so I don’t have to miss every Christmas? I can’t always swing it on my own.” That specific thing might not be workable, but I know it came up during my own wedding planning, where my mom was grumbling about the cost of extended family having to buy plane tix to Chicago and I was like “Cool, every time I’ve seen these people since 1992 it’s because I bought a plane ticket, I don’t feel bad asking them to do it one time and if they miss it they miss it.” There is an idea that because you’re the one who chose to go away, it’s on you to bear all the costs from now on, and maybe you can start to push back on that gently. Since your mom is the one who still makes the effort and you’re close to her, can you be really frank with her about how you feel?

Q8: Hi Captain, I hope it’s not too late to submit. My dad is a recovering alcoholic and has recently relapsed. I checked him into a recovery facility last night. He thinks if he gets through the withdrawal symptoms, here won’t need any more treatment. The family disagrees, but since it was a voluntary check in, he can check himself out when he wants. Before all this, he planned a Thanksgiving getaway for our family (including my brother and his family and my mom, though they’ve been divorced for years). I want to cancel the trip, to emphasize that recovery is the priority and he’s an important part of the family and the trip shouldn’t happen without him. My brother thinks we should go and let this be a natural consequence of his drinking again. Captain, I’m not asking for a solution, that’s too big. I am hoping you and the commenters can share some wisdom or ask some of your important probing questions so we can come to a decision. Thank you.

A8: If your family would benefit from some time away together, even if some of it is sad time, it’s okay to go on the trip. If you don’t feel up to the trip or think it’s right to go on the trip, it’s okay to not go on the trip. Your dad is where he needs to be and hopefully there will be a good outcome. It’s okay to take care of yourself/yourselves.

As for a framework: Canceling the trip vs. going on the trip isn’t going to teach your dad any lessons. The consequences or intended message won’t really reach him. It’s okay to ask him his opinion about the trip and tell him yours- “We hate to go without you, but we want to be all together and have a change of scene, and nothing’s refundable anyway” vs. “We’re gonna cancel and do it right when we can do it with you”  – but honestly, neither path will really be a factor in his recovery or relapse. Part of having a loved one with an addiction problem is learning to disengage from magical thinking re: “There’s something I can personally do that will make him stop drinking” and “That thing I did or didn’t do is what caused him to drink.” It’s the illness, not you. It’s his illness, not you. This is one of the hardest lessons in the world and I’m so sorry that it’s the one your family’s got right now.

Q9: Hi Captain,

I’m looking for ways to keep my cool during the holiday season. I live with my parents which means that just walking away from drama is not really a thing I can do. My entire family has different political beliefs from my own which causes great tension and then my mom always bites off more than she can chew around the holidays and takes the stress out on everyone else. On top of all of that I discovered last week that my immediate family has kept a group Facebook chat for months if not years where they can make fun of people who share my political ideologies in general and occasionally me in particular so I’m REALLY not happy with any of them and even though I confronted them about the group chat they think everything is fine. I know there is going to be way too much snapping and stress in my home environment which is guaranteed to make me stressed and snappish even if I don’t have any reasons on my own to be that way. I can hide in my room a lot but when I am forced to be around everyone for the Holiday meals and such I would like a plan so that I don’t just start screaming at people.

A9: Uggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh to all of this. There’s no fixing the situation, right? This is about enduring.

Operation: Be Out As Much As Possible

  • Got local friends who you can hang out with as much as possible?
  • Except maybe on the actual holiday when things tend to be closed, is there a way for you to be at the public library/coffee shop/the public pool? Do you enjoy walks/runs/bike rides? What free local events are going on, and can you haunt literally all of them: poetry readings, gallery shows, choir concerts. Food bank need volunteers? Here you are, ready to help! “Sorry, can’t chat, got to get to the annual poinsettia judging contest.” 
  • Is it possible to a) help your mom with holiday workload by b) being the person who runs errands and is out of the house as much as possible?
  • I realize not everyone can do this – disability, access to car/driving/energy levels – but if you can, be the person who runs out for milk/batteries/wrapping paper/to drop stuff off at the post office.

Operation: Hide In Room Except For Meals

  • Got online friends you can vent to/text with as much as possible?
  • Got enough books/shows to binge/comics/games/coloring books to last you?
  • Got comfy pants?
  • Got some snacks that don’t make a mess?
  • Ready to go to bed early and sleep late?
  • Ready to just give off an aura of being really tired/antisocial? And when people are like “oh look, it’s the ghost, we thought you were never coming down!” say “yep, that’s me!” and then go back to your room.

Operation: Focus On The People Who Suck The Least 

At mealtimes, sit down and spend time with people you actually like (Hint: often that’s little kids, if any are around). Let the other people be background noise. They know what you think about the events of the day, you know what they think, you’re allowed to be very bored by it all and not engage if they try to pick arguments with you.

That’s what I got. It’s a “grit your teeth and get through it, hopefully you’ll at least read some good books” situation. You’re not alone.

Q10: My family makes buying gifts for me into a lot of work/guilt. Saying “you’re so nice but I don’t need anything” doesn’t take. I’ve sent wishlists, charities, still this morning was told “you are the hardest person to spend money on and always have been.” Help?

A10: I tend to respond to attempts to characterize me with agreement instead of the expected argument, like “You have no sense of humor!” gets a “I guess not!” So, what if “You are the hardest person to spend money on and always have been!” gets “I guess I must be! I’ve already told you I don’t need or want anything, so give me a present at your own risk, I guess!” 

Q11: How to tell your mother you don’t want to go home for Christmas, not because of any drama, but because of the life admin involved? 

A11: Sometimes works better to phrase it with what you will be doing – “I’ll be staying put this year, I can’t travel right now.” 

Q12: Is it appropriate to ask for a gift that is what the person does for a living? (when they have first asked you what you want for Christmas) 

A12: I lean toward “Inappropriate!!!!!!!!” but obviously context varies wildly depending on what they do for a living and what your relationship is. If you think it might be something they’d be okay with, like, they’ve offered in the past or mentioned doing whatever as a gift for other people, you can build the question of appropriateness into the question – “Hey, you wanted to know what I want for Christmas this year. Is it okay to ask for _______? Please tell me if that’s out of bounds!” 

I think a lot of my “inappropriate!” reaction comes from how many stories I hear about people vastly underestimating how much time and effort is at stake when they ask their friends & family for freebies. It’s not just the time or $ value of the gift, it’s the extra gut punch of “You really have NO IDEA what I do and NO RESPECT for it, do you.” So tread carefully.

Q13: Fiancé’s parents divorcing. I think dad’s creepy (mix vague allegations re: others, vibe). Planned T-day w/ them before divorce progressed. Now dad’s hosting, w/ minor celebrating w/ mom. Can I/how do I avoid T-day w/ dad and still get the parts w/ mom?

A13: Well, their plans changed (in a big way), so can yours!

I think you should be honest with your fiancé, first of all – “I don’t want to go to your Dad’s. I’d rather just go to your mom’s.” “I’m not comfortable around your Dad, I don’t want to go there.” 

The key is, his dad is still his parent, and this sounds like a really messy time, so give him space to still go himself if he wants to, like,“If you want to go to your Dad’s solo, I totally understand, why don’t you do that and then I’ll catch up with you when it’s time to go to your Mom’s.” And you can straight up say – “You can give your Dad whatever excuse you feel comfortable with.Tell him my plans changed, tell him I’m not feeling well, tell him whatever. I find him creepy, but you don’t have to have that fight with him on my behalf right this second. He’s your dad and you’re the boss of what relationship you want to have with him.” 

There’s no comfortable way to manage this (creepy vibes and allegations make things uncomfortable, divorce is uncomfortable) so be honest and stick to what you feel safe doing.

Q14: I’m a die-hard Potterhead who is also disgusted by Johnny Depp as a person + extremely disappointed in JK Rowling for defending him. The activist side of me says to boycott the new Fantastic Beasts movie, but the Gryffindor fangirl wants to go. Thoughts? #awkwardfriday

A14: I don’t tell people what to watch or not watch.

Boycotts are coordinated, organized, ongoing, collective actions of many people toward a common goal (not one person forgoing a ticket to something). Knowing that the powers that be won’t notice, will you notice enough that it will trouble you? That’s your choice.

I watch & enjoy plenty of problematic stuff made by problematic people in a problematic world, and I don’t even pretend to have a consistent framework about this. There are certain artists and artworks where I can shove the bad stuff down in favor of what I enjoy about it, and certain ones I can’t. I want to make a Hollywood and media landscape where we don’t have to keep looking at and making excuses for abusers and misogynists on screen, but I’m also not willing to personally undertake the cultural asceticism that “If you enjoy something that a bad person worked on, you are proving that you don’t care about the bad thing they did, in fact, YOU THINK THE BAD THING THEY DID IS ACTUALLY GOOD” requires. That’s not my ethical mindset and I won’t pretend it is. It’s okay if it’s yours, I admire it, even, but I won’t argue about it with you. Is that a function of my privilege? Yep. Am I gonna watch Teh Thronegames to the last ridiculous dragon-y frame with the last hair extension blowing in the wind, drunk, on Commander Logic’s couch? Also yes.

Edit: Sorry to leave you with ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ but like, go if you want to, but maybe do it quietly and don’t seek ethical passes for it? J.K. Rowling’s increasingly transphobic statements make it hard to justify giving her money at this point. I’m not slapping my colleague’s personal copies of Manhattan out of their hands, but I’m also sure as fuck not teaching it uncritically in a film class.

That’s all for today! Comments are open, though be warned: If you try to make me moderate “detailed Harry Potter fandom wangst,” I’ll burn the thread to the ground. Happy holidays!

247 thoughts on “Short Answer Friday – Holiday Edition – 11/16/2018

  1. LW Q2 here to say thanks for Q4, it’s also a reminder I really need this holiday season but I was too worried about dealing with the ableism that I forgot to worry about the appearance nitpicking!!!

  2. Re: 4a – the patronizing tone is a trigger for me. If anyone speaks to me like I’m a child – not like a teenager, but a four-year-old – I see red. My impulse is to respond by treating them the exact same way they’re treating me.

    For example, if someone said to me, “sure you remember it’s not polite to talk while you have food in your mouth”, I’d respond in a singsong voice, “Awwww, did *someone* read an etiquette book? Look at you! You’re almost ready for your debutante ball!” As if I was talking to a precocious child. Or maybe, “Good job remembering your table manners, Dad! But of course you remember that no-one likes a bossypants!”

    Unlike the Captain’s scripts, this escalates the situation, so if you’re at all worried for your safety I wouldn’t do it. But if the other party isn’t prepared to escalate, it shuts the behavior down fast, and lets the other person know how they’re coming across.

    1. OMG these responses are amazing. I’m the same in my reaction and tendency to escalate, but nowhere near as eloquent as you. I wish you could be at my family gatherings! XD

      1. Haha, thanks! I might not be so eloquent in the moment. 🙂 But LW-4a describes it as a pattern, so she’ll have plenty more opportunities to practice the response if she decides to go down this path.

    2. I’ve found that a bit of friendly but very sarcastic ribbing is a pretty good antidote to patronizing people and have used it with surprisingly good results on a mansplainer I’d marked down as incorrigible. Keep the smile pasted in place, chuckle a little, move on from the topic in a hurry, repeat as needed.

    3. We are clearly kindred spirits, because this is absolutely my first impulse as well.

      Except–especially when I do it to men–*I’m* read as the one causing problems, which just makes me even more irritated. I tend to just raise an eyebrow, shrug and (always smiling) say something to effect of, “Well if you can’t take the heat, you might want to stay out of the kitchen”. That usually does the trick, one way or the other

  3. I was reading all “thank goodness I don’t have any of these holiday issues” and then I read the last one and AAAAAH MY FEELS. My personal ethical comfort level with problematic movie personnel is currently “wait until the movie comes out on Hulu/Netflix so I can watch it with no extra dollars spent and use the money saved from my movie budget to increase my charity budget”.

    Captain, I love your family photos! I hope you’re sending a cute family photo holiday card this year, if you’re into that sort of thing.

    1. I’m doing “wait for the reviews to come out to see if it’s worth spending Unethical Consumption coupons on.” I mean, what if it really sucks?

      1. Reviews are leaning towards really sucks, so maybe that helps? (ie, one review said it was so bad that it made the whole franchise worse…)

        1. I just saw it, and a lot of the reviews miss the point. The movie doesn’t stand well by itself, but Rowling works in a series, and Chamber of Secrets didn’t either. Taking in the movie in context, its gold.
          Also, Grindelwald is a fascinating villain.

      2. Pretty much every review I’ve seen says it sucks like hard vacuum. And Depp is not so much phoning in his performance as delivering it by inebriated carrier pigeon.

        1. Well there you go. The world’s full of better unethical shit to enjoy – don’t waste morality compromises on things you won’t even like.

      3. Hi Captain: It is none of mine, or anyone else’s, business as to what other people see. By that standard, we’d never be able to enjoy Shakespeare because of the misogyny/anti-Semitism in some of his plays.

        Also, how in Bast’s name did you get those catteens in Halloween costumes without them shredding your face?

        1. Butterflyt, the difference is that Shakespeare doesn’t get any money from you viewing his work anymore 🙂 though I agree with the Captain that one person forgoing a ticket is not a boycott.
          ps. love the work catten!

    2. I am also in the “wait til it comes out on [subscription I pay for]” camp. It helps, though, that I thought Fantastic Beasts #1 was a bit lackluster, especially regarding plot & pacing, and also I don’t care for Colin Farrell either… I caught it on HBO and was glad that I didn’t spend theater-ticket-and-snacks money on it.

  4. Q10– Could you ask for socks? Say you’d love funny/warm/brightly colored socks in all sizes. They’re easy to shop for, and homeless people in or out of homeless shelters generally can use them. No need to say what you’re doing with them. I used to ask for nightgowns (no one can see whether I’m using them or not), but socks are better.

      1. I actually am, as, surprise surprise, if your feet are not average size, average size socks don’t fit! Socks that do fit, especially wool socks for winter, are pricey for people on a disability budget. So I always ask for socks.

        1. Socks are one of my favorite gifts (the nice ones are expensive, so I can’t necessarily always buy them myself), though they’re tricky for me, becasue my feet are wide for their length and the length also lands right at the size transition point for a lot of brands I’ve found. So, it’s really down to the exact brand and style as to what size sock is going to fit me, which I’ve had to determine by trial and error, and that necessitates that people actually ask about the exact socks they’re getting if they’re going to get me something I can actually wear. Hopefully you have feet closer to whatever baseline foot model they use to design the socks you get!

          I’ve found that this is true to some degree for any/all clothing, and a lot of my relatives seem to think I’m significantly larger than I actually am, since I have a tendency to get Large size sweaters, fleeces, shirts, etc. when Small to Medium is generally what actually fits me. Gift certificates or cash – perhaps with a note about what the person intended to buy to show the thought/care that went into selecting something – might be better than actual items of clothing in general for this reason, though one might have a good idea of style and fit if one goes clothes shopping with the recipient sometimes and can then see items that the person liked but couldn’t afford.

      2. I’m in much the same position as Questioner 10. The fact that nearly everyone I know refuses to clear gifts with me ahead of time despite my repeated and explicit requests for people to either get me nothing or to explicitly ask about the exact item first (more people have gotten on board with the getting me nothing or donating to charities I specify than have with the asking first; I derive absolutely no value from surprises themselves, and gifts that I need to return, exchange, or donate become an imposition of labor on me rather than a kindness) is one of the reasons that I came to believe that a lot of gift-giving is almost entirely about the giver making zirself feel good, with very little regard for what the recipient actually wants, and this is true even for people who DO think they’re primarily trying to do something nice for the recipient. I do wish all of you who have found functional strategies for gifting well; I simply caution anyone against assuming that what works well for you is going to work well for anyone else. A discussion about gifting preferences – absent any disingenuous performative scripts like saying you don’t want anything when you actually do – is probably a good idea when considering gifts for new people, and it may also be a good idea to periodically check in with people you’ve been getting gifts for a while to see if their preferences have changed (or if their supposed preferences aren’t actually their preferences but rather what they felt they had to say becasue it was socially expected).

        Q10, I share your frustration, and sadly I don’t think there’s really anything that you can do, because ultimately this isn’t about you at all. Yes, gifts for you are SUPPOSEDLY about you, and sometimes they genuinely will be, but other times they will not. You’re already doing people the kindness of giving them clear guidance and boundaries, and if they’re going to ignore both, that’s on them. I like CA’s agreement/boundary restatement strategy – it’s a deflection that reiterates that you’ve done what you can (and reminds them of the options they have to NOT make gifting a big issue) and puts the work and stress that these people are creating back on them.

    1. I like this suggestion as a general idea, but Q10 says that they’ve actually sent wishlists/charity lists and their family still claims they’re hard to shop for? I suspect it’s an established family stereotype at this point that Q10 is The One That’s Hard To Shop For, and no number of helpful suggestions will change that.

      1. Time for the broken record!
        “You’re so hard to shop for.”
        “I know, that’s why I sent the list.”
        “But it’s so hard to shop for you.”
        “Have a look at the list.”
        “But it’s so–”
        “The LIST, Mom.”

      2. Well sure, I agree with you. No matter what LW asks for, relatives have labeled her as The One That’s Hard To Shop For. It’s almost like they’re calling her spoiled in that they’ve decided in advance that nothing they get will be good enough for fussy LW. Or they’re the ones stuck in broken record. But the beauty in socks is that it doesn’t matter if the relatives buy them or not.
        “You’re hard to shop for.”
        “Fuzzy socks.”
        “You’re hard to shop for.”
        “Blue socks.”
        “You’re hard to shop for.”
        It just gives LW something to say without any sort of frustration or exasperation in her voice.

      3. “they’ve actually sent wishlists/charity lists”

        But the beauty of the socks request is that the LW can allow the inferrence that the socks are for the LW, when in fact their purpose is to be donated. So: giver’s objective of giving object is satisfied, LW’s object of getting a thing they can actually do something with is achieved, with giver none the wiser.

        Now, if the g/lg makes the request, and receives something else (or lip about Why That Request Is Rong), this then is evidence that giver’s protestations of “Hard To Shop For” is not in good faith. Which we kinda knew, but ::shrug::.

      4. Oh man I’m sure you’re right about the family stereotype thing. I wonder if it’s also butting heads with the “ask/guess” gift culture, where the listed donation ideas are rejected because the giver feels a gift MUST be a surprise from the gift giver that says something about how the giver feels about the gift-ee. Donations don’t tick that box. If that’s how the gift culture is in LW’s family, I wonder the LW would feel ok for something locally made or grown from the gift giver’s region or some other roundabout way of helping local economy/craftspeople or some other cause.

        1. So many possibilities. For all we know, relatives are saying “you’re so hard to buy for” when they mean “you’re not getting us the right gifts.” I could go on all day on people who don’t say what they mean and don’t believe others who do.

          1. If this is it (and it still seems bizarre to me), if “you’re so hard to buy for” really means “you’ve been getting me the wrong gifts,” then the right response is “no, you’re hard to buy for, what should I get.” Though that feels like capitulating to manipulation to me.

            Another thought on distributing socks to homeless people– How to be kind to homeless people is too big a topic for a comments section, but one thing I learned that made a difference to me is how few choices homeless and impoverished people get. So while socks are a great treat, being able to choose what sort of socks can be even greater. The brightly colored ones that I love might be interpreted as ridiculous and making fun to a recipient. Homeless people can be allergic to wool too so the fancy warm ones I love might be all wrong. Nice to go up to someone and say “I have the fun bright stripes, some fuzzy, and plain black or brown. What would you like?”

          2. “people who don’t say what they mean and don’t believe others who do.” O. M. G. yesyesyesyesyes so well stated.
            Thanks. The funny thing for me is that it took me the longest time to realize that the two went together. I’ve been getting pretty good about stating my wants/ needs/ boundaries in a straightforward way. I continue to be stymied by the people who (kindly) think I must mean something else. This is a challenge for me, one I’m getting a little better at but that’s still difficult. It was a downright revelation when I realized that if I was having trouble figuring out someone else, then I needed to be on the lookout for them not taking me at my word.

      5. What I find really interesting is the wording: she’s hard to SPEND MONEY ON. To me that’s a big clue into the family’s mindset. Whether they want to brag on their purchase for her or simply don’t feel like good parents/family unless they’ve opened their wallets wide enough, they want to buy something *for her* that *costs enough.* Which is why they can’t accept all this business about not wanting things/wanting things for charity. Her assigned role at Giftmas is to want something for herself and squee when she gets it, and they’re dissatisfied with her performance in recent years…

        I don’t know the way out, but because of the wording I suspect it isn’t socks. I wonder if there’s a larger ticket item she could regift to charity without their noticing, but I’m not coming up with anything yet…

        1. Tell them that she’d like a fashionable new winter coat every year? There are plenty of charities that ask for donations of winter coats that are in good condition

        2. With my sister-in-law it’s the opposite problem. Our family is very comfortable with the fact that we have no idea what to get anyone without guidance, but we are still very gifty, so we all make wish lists every Christmas. When she joined the family and we started asking for hers, she cheerfully produced one. The problem? Half of the things on it were big ticket items that none of us could realistically afford (or else we’d all have to go in on it and get her just one thing, which, hey that might be a solution in upcoming Christmases). So we were narrowed down to a pretty short list of items to split among ourselves, and it really *was* a little hard to shop for her as a result.

          HOWEVER, I suspect that is not the case with this letter writer. If you’re the kind of person who offers charitable donations as an option for your gifts, my suspicion is that you’re also the kind of person whose wish list is not full of expensive items.

    2. Socks are what the adults in my family have given each other for the last decade. Plain black men’s athletic for me, toe socks for Mr Jules. Every year, yes thank you.

      1. I get fuzzy socks every year. I don’t remember when it started, but I have so many fuzzy socks that they have their very own basket in my closet. I wear them for 6 months of the year, though, so it’s pretty great.

        Plus the cat likes sleeping on them.

    3. Thanks for the suggestion! Socks worked for a few years, then it became “you always ask for socks/that’s boring/what else do you want”.

      As a couple other people pointed out, it’s VERY MUCH about family stereotypes that have been around since we were toddlers. My sister gets the opposite, “Oh Spamela is so easy to shop for, she’s greedy and wants everything” which has not described her for decades.

      I talked about this with my spouse a few days later, and they pointed out that their family always just gives us money and says “buy what you want” and also gives cash to charities. My family does not like to give cash or gift cards as presents, and when it comes to charities they make a BIG DEAL about donating canned goods/blankets/clothes, but will also go on about how much they hate panhandlers and don’t give cash to charities because they don’t trust it will be spent wisely. It’s like it’s all about performing generosity and a lack of trust?

      ANYWAY…I did try the Captain’s advice, and got an email back saying “we don’t understand, please explain” which I think is hilarious!

      1. I think your family is related to mine. Lots of similarities on cash, gift cards, charity, etc. Unwritten rules about what makes a proper gift, how many, and how much they cost. “Performance of generosity” hits the nail on the head. Knowing the gift giving is more about them than you… I’m still at a loss for a good response to “you’re so difficult to shop for”. Kind of seems more like a criticism that you aren’t the person they expected you to be, because if they are like my family, they prefer to buy people the gifts they think that person should have or the gifts that they themselves would like (or a combo of the two). To consider what you like may be different makes you “difficult to shop for”. If Cap’s scripts didn’t work, then I don’t know what will.

        1. Oh, this is brilliant. You’re hard to shop for (out of the catalog where I shop for everyone else).

          Or “you want things I don’t know how/where to buy, or don’t want to get you.”

      2. Whenever I get the feeling there’s something obnoxious about being asked to explain and re-explain something that was clearly worded in the first place, I get great pleasure in saying ” this might explain it better, read it carefully and I think you’ll understand” and then resending the exact same message. Sometimes, if I’m feeling kindly, I might ask “what part are you having trouble with? I don’t understand your question.” It’s hard to resist the impulse to say the same thing in different words, but resist I must. In person, I go into smile-and-nod mode.
        “You’re so hard to shop for.”

        “I mean, what are we supposed to get you”

        “What are we supposed to get you. We can’t keep getting you socks.”

        1. The system erased the point of what I wrote above.
          You’re so hard to shop for.
          Smile, nod.
          I mean, what are we supposed to get yo?
          Smile, nod.
          We can’t keep getting you socks.
          Smile, nod, Oh.

  5. Q/A14 – What if you don’t pay big dollars to go see the movie, but wait for it on Netflix or something? That way maybe you won’t feel like you are directly supporting Johnny Depp with your $20 “direct deposit”, but you can put it into your queue on something you already paid for (Netflix). Sort of like buying a secondhand fur coat? or an already built house?

  6. Captain – the cats are awesomely cute, and glad the mister is doing better. Mexican food helps almost any situation!

  7. The best T-giving I ever had was when I was in grad school. I got a rib-eye steak and ATE IT ALL. IN MY JAMMIES. All by myself. It’s okay to have the holiday YOU want!

    1. And once reason I didn’t go home, aside from the expense, was that I really couldn’t listen to my Mother criticize me for 3 solid days. Not going, and surviving, was tremendously freeing. Do what YOU need.

      1. We need a like button for both getting the ribeye AND avoiding poisonous patent(s).

        Well played.

        1. I’m sure you meant “parent” not “patents” but since I work in the latter I had to chuckle 🙂

          However with any poison, parental or not, the dose makes the poison. Small doses, as we say around here!

    2. When I was in grad school halfway across the country, I really sunk into my “I don’t go home for Thanksgiving” thing, and it is the best. Sometimes I allow myself to be adopted by other people’s families, sometimes I revel in eating / making only the parts of Thanksgiving that sound delicious at the moment, sometimes I just sleep.

      But for someone who isn’t super fond of Thanksgiving in the first place, traveling to and from a couple of weeks from the end of the semester when I’m going to do it all again in December is exhausting and unpleasant. For people who genuinely care about you, having plans you sound excited about is usually enough. (And for other people, feel free to make things up, or tell the truth creatively — “I’m having a great dinner with just some super close people” can totally be you in your pajamas with your favorite TV show or book. I also will claim to have been at more of my friend’s some-years Friendsgivings than I actually have been to, or have even actually existed.)

  8. LW 13 here.
    First of all, 280 characters is NOT ENOUGH. I cringed having to abbreviate my words that much. But the point got through, at least.
    Thank you for answering despite the super-abbreviation, Cap!
    With room to expand, the bigger question for me is how to handle it with fiancé’s mom, because while I haven’t seen her since the divorce kicked into high gear (nothing like housing arrangements after a hurricane for that!), but my experience in the past has largely been that she seems to be trying to minimize how much things change/how much she acknowledges what’s happening. Which…makes acknowledging and dealing with it complicated.
    Fortunately, fiancé is almost entirely on board with the part where I’m not going to his dad’s, it’s just convincing him that a soft lie about me having homework or meeting friends is a 100% okay answer, especially with me sending an “apology” pie. Because I love making pie so I’m fine with that. Which is the lie I’d prefer, because we’re also celebrating his birthday with his mom on Black Friday, and I do want in on that.
    Partly, I guess I asked as a way to vent, because this whole news came out *last night* and after I had taken the kind of pain meds that can lower inhibitions so I didn’t exactly take it well.

    1. “she seems to be trying to minimize how much things change/how much she acknowledges what’s happening. Which … makes acknowledging and dealing with it complicated.”

      Why is it a problem for you that she doesn’t want to talk or think about the divorce? Dealing with the divorce is Fiance’s Mom’s job. You can support her if she wants support, but if she doesn’t want to think about it during Thanksgiving, the best gift might be to talk about other stuff.

      1. Right, this is wise – Let her take the lead in how much she wants to talk about divorce stuff or not talk about it. You’re there to eat a meal and hang out, not absorb or deal with all her feelings about family stuff. Put on a clean shirt, show up on time, bring that pie you promised, tell her the house looks good, be nice to her son. That’s all you gotta do.

      2. Because I feel like this was a factor in the plan going unstated until literally a week before the meal. Which also makes it late for me to make different plans beyond the part where lies are a reasonable price for avoiding his father. So mostly venting on that front as well.
        But point definitely taken.

        1. Ah, so it’s more, “Fiance’s Mom is kind of a mess right now, this has caused last minute changes to our holiday plans, and I’m not sure what other weirdness may come up at the last minute.” I can understand that being stressful. But it’s not really something you can prepare for, nor is it Fiance’s Mom’s “fault” for not dealing with her divorce the “right” way. It’s a messy, difficult time for her, and it’s hard to predict how that will manifest. I hope Thanksgiving goes smoothly, but if it doesn’t, you can empathize with her during this tough time.

        2. Also, it’s great to hear that you have a plan for avoiding Fiance’s Dad, and that Fiance is supporting you with that!

          1. Yes, that made me happy! Advice columns are biased toward relationships that AREN’T functioning well, for obvious reasons, so it’s always nice to hear about partners who have each other’s back rather than trying to force them into a house full of bees or to constantly navigate around missing stairs.

  9. LW1 I feel you so so so much. Christmas was huge for my Dad but he died in 2011, and two years ago this week my mother had a life-changing stroke that left her in a nursing home, so my “Christmas spirit” vanished. Like I can’t watch Home Alone because that was Dad’s movie, I don’t want to hear Chris Rea “Driving Home For Christmas” because Mum isn’t at home to enjoy it.

    My cousins on my Mum’s side immediately began including Mum and I in their Christmases the year Dad died, and brought me to their place down the country in 2016 despite me feeling like an utter Grinch. It sucked. They had a very thoughtful gift for me under the tree, but I just was not feeling it. I felt like a big black hole of Christmas joy. Even the kids were bugging me begause I had to perform happy Chrimbo feels for their sake when all I wanted was to mooch on the sofa, watch Doctor Who and not pretend to feel like a happy little Christmas Elf.

    Last year, I decided my Christmas was going to just be mine. I wasn’t going to deal with anyone else’s expectations of how I should feel or act or look, and it was just what I needed. I got and refused so many kind and/or pitying invitations and explained that I said had my own plans for what I was going to do. (Those plans were to sit around in my jammies for as much of the season as possible and cuddle my canine and watch MAry Poppins, Father Ted and Doctor Who goddammit, but they didn’t need to know that). I also contemplated one of those escorted holidays to Tuscany or Lake Garda over Christmas, sadly I can’t afford it, but some year I will. Some of those are even solo friendly, which might be worth looking into another year.

    My rambly point is that LW1, if your Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hannukah doesn’t look like the tv movie version of it doesn’t make it wrong. If your November/December involves being in your own home in the most comfortable clothes you own, with your favourite food and a good movie/book/tv show or getting as glam as you like, staying in a hotel for a week or two, or however YOU want it to look, give yourself permission to give zero f*cks and tell ppl that you have your own plans for the holidays. You don’t owe them any explanation beyond “I have my own holiday plans this year.” If you’re invited somewhere you don’t wnt to go, just tell them thank you for thinking of me but I already made plans. You can include your spouse or not as you and he like, maybe play it by ear. If he wants to go to his “second family” or his blood relations and you’d rather chew your arm off, just let him go solo and let him know that he’s welcome to do things with you (if he is).

    *So many Jedi hugs* I really get how you’re feeling, LW1, and sometimes the feeling of wanting the world to just feck off is overwhelming.

    1. I am sorry for your losses. I just wanted to let you know that for reasons I can’t even fathom right now I apparently really needed all that Irishness I read in your comment (especially Father Ted!). Thank you.

      I also lost my Dad many moons ago and holidays are better now that I don’t try to recreate what they once were; I do my own thing now and it’s still sad, but it’s an okay sad.

      1. Thank you. Father Ted is brilliant. And it’s such a good show to watch just to cheer up 🙂 Also I can be more Irish if you need it 😉

        Sorry about your Dad. I think having an okay sad is a good way of looking at it. I can bawl my way through Home Alone (Dad’s fave) without worrying that the kids want to know why I’m not laughing, which is why I love doing my own thing for the season and day that’s in it.

      2. “… holidays are better now that I don’t try to recreate what they once were…”

        Oh, so much this! I wish that a) I’d learned this earlier in life and b) that my relatives would finally learn this. They are trying so hard to hang on to a version of life that no longer exists, and it’s causing everyone so much disappointment and pain.

    2. Same. A while back I started turning Christmas away from home into spa days, because that way I didn’t sit around being lonely. And after my mom died, it was easier because I had my own thing that wasn’t all about the Festive Season. Christmas Day means doing my nails/playing with makeup/making up new outfits from my wardrobe/facials, and that’s fine.

    3. I feel you too, although my experience is pretty different. In my case, an abusive family member has recently come back into my life (against my wishes) and the idea of having to pretend to have a happy family Christmas with them makes me feel sick. Although this is the case with every holiday, there is something particularly insidious about this one. I hope you enjoy your Father Ted plans.

  10. LW Q8 I wanted to put a heartfelt plug for AlAnon or CoDa (a quick google would hopefully yield some groups near you, and/or there are some online options as well), for a chance to be in a room with many other people who have been/ are where you’re at with dealing with alcoholics/addicts in crisis mode. I hope you can find your own path away from so much parenting of your own parent, that path is totally possible and involves caring for yourself,and being led by more clarity on what you want and not what’s best for the alcoholic. Jedi hugs if you want them.

  11. To Q12: this might be a know your people thing. My mother is a Maker if Things by profession, and several family members of mine would love to have a Thing for a gift! Mom is often very worried that making someone a customized Thing seems like self-promotion when in fact the recipient really would enjoy the Thing, and even more that the Thing was made with them in mind.

    If there is a way to find out whether the thing you want is within the same value as you generally exchange with this person, that might help avoid the problem the Captain mentions. Also, if your friend is a thing-maker or thing-doer who gets overwhelmed by orders this time of year, you can also say “I would love a thing as a gift if you can, but it doesn’t have to be for Holiday, I know you’re very popular this time of year.”

    1. To Q2: if the thing is a service, like a massage or haircut, then I think this is a less fraught proposition. Same language applies in the asking, I think, but keep in mind that the person may have to pay an hourly booth or room rental fee if they don’t own their work space, or mileage if they don’t work from home, all of which is to say: give a cash tip on the retail value, even though you are receiving a gift.

    2. I think that’s a good point. If you know that the value of what you’re asking for is about what you two would normally consider appropriate for gifts, then that helps make it more likely that it’s a reasonable ask. Also if you’ve seen the person show a willingness or gladness when sharing their professional skills. I have some friends who love to share whatever their skill is and freely volunteer, so I’d feel more comfortable asking them. And others are clear about NOT doing that, and I totally respect that and leave them alone unless it is a literal emergency (the last mostly only applies to my doctor friends).

      1. The literal emergency only applies to my doctor friends, I meant. Other professions, it is less likely to be a true legit emergency, no matter how it might feel in the moment.

        1. … I’m trying to imagine what a knitting emergency might look like? I had a couple days where I was frantically knitting a hat for my mom’s Christmas present a few years back, but that was more due to my own poor planning.

          1. Reminds me of the “duct tape emergency” in Apollo 11. But, er, if you’re not trying to urgently repair an oxygen leak in space with only the materials in your immediate reach before anything catches fire or you run out of air…probably no other knitting situation is urgent XD

          2. A friend of mine couldn’t find a suitable wool hat for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail years back, and her leave-date was fast approaching. We went to the yarn store and picked out an appropriate yarn, and I got to work. Not exactly an emergency, but certainly that was the most urgent hat I’ve ever knit!

      2. This was exactly what I came here to comment too. If the time-price of the service is about the price of a normal gift for them*, and they’re a person who likes to do that sort of thing, have at it! I know quite a lot of people who would be happy to do this sort of thing, especially as it can be easier than finding a random gift you’re not sure the person would like, so unless you have reason to believe this person would feel offended/not valued/annoyed/whatever, why not?

        *or if it’s greater but they like to do that sort of thing; I know people like that too, including myself, for whom time is an easier gift than money

    3. Yes. It may also help to check their company’s price list. For example I have some stylists in my family. One year my BIL’s partner gave my husband a haircut …but I wouldn’t ask him for an ombre dye job.

      1. This is what I was thinking!! Looking at their prices is a quick way to check how much they think something is worth, in terms that you don’t need to know the ins and outs of their art to understand. If you’re wanting a bracelet like the ones they sell for $20, it’s probably not an unreasonable ask. If you’re wanting a hand-knit cashmere sweater custom made to your personal measurements….maybe not a great ask.

        You could also try giving them a wishlist where one of the items is a thing that they make/do professionally…and the others are buyable items at a range of price points. That’s what I do when my mom asks me for a Christmas list, anyways–I figure it covers the bases, especially when it’s clear that it’s a pick-and-choose thing and I don’t by any means expect to be receiving the whole list.

    4. Another factor would be “Does this person do this for a living in a context that offers gift certificates? If you asked for a gift certificate to their business (to give them more direct control over how they parcel out the value of the gift), would you be able to get some value out of it regardless of the amount they were willing to give as a gift? If the gift certificate only covered part of what you wanted, would it still be worth it to you if you paid the difference?”

    5. Right! I’d be flattered if someone asked me to write a short story or poem for them, and I’ve done it before as special birthday or graduation presents. But that’s different than me writing, like, all the copy on the website for their small business, or creating a technical manual for them.

      Not that anyone’s ever asked me to write, like, a software installation guide for free? But, it’s more boring and more time-consuming than writing a story with their favorite characters or tropes. Which is why I charge a lot for installation manuals, whereas I write a short stories for free all the time and I’m always pleasantly surprised if I manage to sell one to an editor.

  12. My therapist gave me permission to stop spending holidays with my family a few years ago and it’s been amazing.

    I get food and video games and snuggle at home with my pets. I volunteer for oncall rotations for work, so I get to be a hero and have an ironclad excuse for my family.

    Back before I ghosted on my family, I’d imagine my family as kids. I’m happy to play along with kids and listen to them, but I don’t take things they say personally because most of their observations and opinions have very little to do with me and more to do with them. They’re still frustrating to be around, but I’m able to put it in perspective.

  13. LW #9 Oof, I’m sorry your family are acting like assholes. That secret chat thing sounds awful. Assuming you’re an adult, could you just not be at home during the holiday gatherings? Like, stay with a friend or (cash permitting) at an Airbnb for a couple of days? Or just out of the house all day every day? You don’t have to actually be there for the gatherings of people if you don’t want to. Sure, it will probably cause blowback with your parents when you get back, but will that be worse than having to spend any time at all in the big group of assholes? Hope it’s as painless as possible for you. ❤

    Also, Mr Awkward’s hair is on point! 👌

  14. Thank you for the link to “Holidays in Health Hell.” My mom is less obsessive about food, but she does talk about her diet and fatness , sometimes in a moralizing way. It influences my feelings of shame and body hate because she’s the foundation of my world and her words intrinsically mean more to me than anyone else’s. We spend a lot of time together year-round, but the holidays are especially likely to inspire talk of “going astray” on her diet and being punished with weight gain. Also, my brother will visit, and he’s a bodybuilder whose diet completely revolves around sculpting his physique — absolutely not a way I want to live, but I fear to hear him talk about it. So it’s helpful just to read the stories and guidance of people who have to navigate the same social and emotional dynamic.

  15. My mom used to LOVE to be immediately critical when I walked in the door. One thing she particularly liked to focus on was my hair. This is in spite of her begging me to spend time with her all the time (mostly I do not spend very much time with her at all, because, well, critical comments!)

    One time, she had demanded that I meet her for lunch at a relative’s house, because this relative lives about halfway in between where my mom lives and where I live. It was not at all how I wanted to spend my Saturday, but still, I got up early, drove two hours, and went into my relative’s apartment…to be greeted with “EW, why did you have to wear your hair like THAT?”

    Those were the literal first words out of her mouth.

    In that moment, I just decided I’d had enough of that. I turned on my heel, walked out the door, got back into my car, and drove away.

    I did end up going back when my mother apologized to me, but she has tried to restrain her comments about my hair ever since. Sometimes they still slip out, but it is slightly better.

    1. Same about the hair. To make it extra shitty, my mother used to be a professional hairdresser. Big on criticism, zero on actual help even when I was an impoverished uni student (or for my wedding). I never did work up the courage to tell her where to stick it when she was alive, but thanks to CA scripts am slowly getting better at assertively asking other family members to find other things to comment on than my or anyone else’s body.

    2. This is glorious and I totally love you for it. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as just turning around and leaving when someone’s being an asshole. “Later, which means actually fucking never.”

    3. Ugh, I feel you so hard. I remember in middle school when I was both super awkward and also paying attention to how much my clothes didn’t fit in for the first time (had moved to a different country) I was wearing a sweater and jeans and for once felt really comfortable and okay, and my mom goes “that really doesn’t match” as soon as I came out of the house. I still vividly remember the outfit.

      Also GOOD FOR YOU.

    4. Also, like, unless one’s coiffure of choice is dumping pancake batter on their hair or wearing a literal beehive, HOW BAD CAN YOUR HAIR REALLY BE?

  16. For Q10, could you make this less work for you by just picking one thing and sticking with it? “Thanks for asking, all I want this year are donations to charity x.” “Yes, I’m hard to buy for which is why I just want donations to charity X.” “All I can think of is donations to charity X.” It sounds like you’re doing a dance where you keep trying to come up with gift ideas that they keep rejecting, at which point you try to come up with new, better ideas, ad infinitum. It sounds like you’re never going to hit on the magical gift suggestion they love. So pick something that you can get multiples of, and just repeat it every time you’re asked. You win when you stop doing this work.

    1. yes, I was wondering if something along those lines was happening. It sounds like LW’s family members disagree with the gift choices presented, and since the gift choices don’t match what they WANT to give, they turn it into a huge hassle for LW to find something they like that their family members also like. uuugggghhhh exhausting.
      If that’s what’s going on, LW could include that in addition to the scripts by Thistledowns. For example, say “well, you can give me what you feel happy about, but what *I* really want is X”. And definitely feel free to treat their gifts however you like afterwards. You have no obligation to keep gifts you don’t want, didn’t ask for and that your family members insisted on giving you despite multiple suggestions on your part on what you actually want to receive instead. You got this.

  17. Q11 is SO on-point for me at the moment! In-laws are in Lisbon, we received a sum of money as a gift with the expectation that we would go there after Christmas. I had somewhat of a breakdown at the stress of trying to organise it, as my mum also wanted to tag along. Too much life admin!! My husband got his courage in hand and told his mum firmly that we were going to go next year instead, and we are now gleefully awaiting our own special Christmas of Doing Nothing, and it will be wonderful. Earlier this evening we decided that we’re going to make different butterbeer recipes, and we are going to buy a whole chicken each for the dogs.

    Sometimes you just gotta accept that adding one more thing on top of other things is too much and quit doing the life admin. I’m so happy about all the people in this thread who may get to spend their own peaceful, solitary Christmas in their comfy clothes with their animals and in their own houses, on their own terms.

    1. “a whole chicken each for the dogs”

      I know this is definitely not the case, but I couldn’t help but picture them as tiny dogs like Chihuahuas or Malteses!

  18. Profession as gift: I think it also helps if you can be nonspecific about the details of the gift, thus allowing the gifter to control how much time and effort they put into the gift. “I’d love it if you’d write me something about elephants/take some pictures of me/make me a tasty dessert/make me a piece of beach-themed art” versus asking for a particular length of writing or photo session, or a specific dessert, or a 30×20 painting of you sitting on the beach building a sandcastle at sunset with a ship on the horizon and crabs scuttling through the sand.

  19. Q14, what I did when I wanted to see Ender’s Game was donate an amount equal to the ticket price to a local LGBTQ organization. There’s definitely some financial privilege involved in basically paying twice as much for the movie, but it let me feel better about it.

  20. This is very Chicago-specific, but one of my favoritest Thanksgivings ever was spent dining alone at a Golden Nugget, followed by a long walk home through holiday-empty streets. It was amazing.

  21. Q8: Go on your trip. Your dad will have to choose to either stay sober and be with the family, or not.

    Personal store ahead…

    My mom was an alcoholic. Once we were old enough my sister and I demanded a dry holiday (any holiday) or else we wouldn’t be there. That meant not even one single drink of anything alcoholic. If we found any booze in the house unopened one of us would take custody of it until the holiday was officially over and we were leaving. If my mom had even one drink we would leave…taking any extant grandkids with us.

    My mom had a choice: abstain for the day if having family around was that important, or drink. More times than I can remember we left. Natural consequences.

    I get that alcoholism is a disease/an addiction, but remember they are choosing to drink while they are sober. It is a conscious, pre meditated decision.

    FWIW my mom mostly managed to keep it together after some years. There were a few times, even during her last years she tried to pull that shit over on us, but we’d had sooooo many years at spotting it by then that she failed every time she tried.

    My sister kept fighting it. I took the approach (and generally take it for life in general) that she was an adult and had every right to put into her body whatever she wanted to put into it. I however had every right to choose to not be exposed/deal with it/be affected by it. I didn’t try to stop her from drinking. It wouldn’t have worked anyway, my sister is proof of that, but I did insist that any time I had to spend significant time with her like a holiday that she either remained as sober as a judge or forgo my company. Her choice.

    1. I really appreciate your approach to this. My dad is an alcoholic who has periods of abstinence. He’s currently off the wagon. After so many years of hearing him justify, defend, and explain why no, really, the drinking isn’t a problem, I’ve put my foot down and said that he can do what he wants when he is away from me, but when he’s with me and my kid, there will be no booze. The end. Nor will there be any “Atta-boys” for him when he makes a big to-do over how he’s specifically not-drinking to make me happy. I’m tired of all the energy in the room being dedicated to managing the feelings of this guy.

  22. Re Q12: I t think this is okay if, and ONLY if, you:

    1) are realistic about your expectations and
    2) take your relative/friend at their word if they tell you it’s not doable.

    For example, my brother works in photo editing and printing (think making custom calendars and such, using people’s vacation pictures) and a few years ago I asked him if he could make two custom mousepads for Christmas for me. He made it very clear that, yes, he could and would, but he would not be able to do any more than that, because his company is positively SWAMPED in requests from August all through February, and that if I wanted this done, I’d have to send him the pictures in the necessary size and resolution no later than November 15th. I did all of that and got my mousepads and have been super-happy with them. If he had said “no can-do, already working too much OT”, I’d just have said “Ok, no worries. Good luck at work and don’t forget to take some breaks!”

    So my recommendation would be to just contact relative/friend and ask “Hey, I was wondering if you had time to do X for me for Christmas? If it’s too time-consuming/expensive, that’s okay – I won’t push.”

  23. #10, if you’ve given your family lists and suggestions, the problem is *not* that you are “hard to shop for.” The problem is that your family doesn’t want to buy what you’ve told them you want.
    FSM knows why they don’t want to buy what’s on your lists, but now they’re trying to make it your fault. It’s not, so return the awkward to sender. Being a smart mouth, if I were in your situation I’d probably respond “not if you buy me what I ask for,” but “that’s why I gave you a list” might be more politic.

    You can at least rewrite it in your head to: “I’m not hard to shop for. You’re bad at buying.”

    1. Yeah, I think at this point I’d go for confusion. “What? … Wait, did you not get the list I sent you? Here, I’ll resend the email right now. There you go!” If you can manage a sort of “problem solved!” air about the whole thing, I feel like they’ll have to either stop complaining, or tell you their real complaint.

  24. Kitties, kitties, omg kitties! Henrietta is a lucky kitten – when I did a whole batch (wow, they’re 7 years old now!) I ended up with three unhappy kittens crammed in a bathroom hissing at each other because nobody was willing to snuggle anybody else until they got those nasty vet smells off of them.

  25. This year, my husband listened to his brother ramble about Thanksgiving, and how they’d be combining it with my niece’s 10th birthday, and so we’d need to make the three-hour drive to their house, buy and brine the turkey (which my niece will not eat, because she lives on chicken nuggets and fruit), make two to four side dishes, one or two desserts, and bring a birthday gift. They would provide the glorious gift of their presence and their kitchen to cook all the stuff in, and my (long-suffering) mother-in-law would provide two to four more side dishes, plus the elaborate cake my niece wants and the wine my sister-in-law likes. So we’d probably need to hit the road about 7am on Thanksgiving to ensure we’d get to their place and have all the food ready by dinnertime…

    My husband said “NO”. He (and I) have stood firm over the last two weeks despite my brother-in-law’s desperate backpedaling and revamped suggestions (only one pie! He’ll order a turkey breast from the grocer! SiL can buy her own wine!). This Thanksgiving, we are going to stay home, cook exactly as much as we feel like cooking, drink some beer, and watch “The Princess Bride” in honor of William Goldman.

    Nothing will be ruined if (any of) you step back from the big faaaaaaaamily celebrations this year. Thanksgiving, and the holidays that follow, will happen whether or not you’re present. You just get to choose where and how you’ll be present.

    1. Dang, what planet are they living on? Props to you and your husband on your magnificent shiny spines! Princess bride and Little Red Hen-ing your own meal sounds delightful. Enjoy!

    2. OMG I cannot get over how incredibly rude that is (at least in my family culture), expecting someone to do all the traveling AND shopping AND cooking. This year, I’m hosting, shopping, and cooking, but not traveling. (And I see it as, if I’m cooking, I get to make what I want, taking dietary restrictions into account, and if someone really wants something that’s not on the menu, they can bring it or cook it at my place. Hence my putting my husband in charge of the corn that his mother wants). When we’re with my in-laws, I typically do half the cooking but no major shopping, and when we’re at my parents’, I do maybe a third of the cooking, which is fairly proportional to the amount travel involved.

      1. We give my brother- and sister-in-law a lot of slack because they have three kids 10 and under (and now a dog that the kids want to have participate in all family activities), and it’s a lot of work for them to pack up the minivan and visit us or my mother-in-law. But over the last few years, it’s gone from “splitting Thanksgiving duties equally” to “well, we didn’t have time to cook anything, and Ali’s pies and Husband’s turkey are better than anything we make, and you guys don’t have kids so it’s not like you have anything better to do, sooooo…” Well, this year, we have something better to do, and it’s “staying home and having our own personal Thanksgiving, and you guys can go to Cracker Barrel or whatever”.

        1. I think cutting slack for people with kids makes sense up to a point, maybe enough to add “kid-wrangling” as another thing to do along with the traveling, shopping, and cooking. The nerdy part of my brain now wants to make a formula where the total work of Thanksgiving dinner = 2 shopping trips + 1 turkey cooking + 3 side dish cooking + 2 dessert cooking + [x] total hours of travel + [y] kids to be wrangled + [z] pots and dishes to be washed + hosting preparation (more complex with overnight guests), and then express everything in a total number of turkey equivalents to figure out what an appropriate share of the work is.

          I also think that while it’s necessary to have some flexibility around kids because they’re unpredictable and they’re human beings with needs that have to be met, it’s also true that having kids is (ideally) a choice. People who choose to have kids presumably feel that doing so is worth giving up a certain amount of freedom, and people who choose not to have kids to tend to find other ways to fill their lives.

          1. Right? Like yes I don’t have children but I work two jobs and volunteer at two other places on top of that which is basically another part-time job. No children doesn’t = LOADS OF DELIGHTFUL FREE TIME.

        2. “You don’t have kids therefore your time/effort/energy is meaningless” is BULLSHIT and is not the same as you guys voluntarily making it easier for them and their kids.

          Good on you for spotting that and not taking it.

        3. Man, Instacart is a thing. They will bring a turkey and potatoes and vegetables and frozen pie crusts and all kinds of things right to your door.

          Well, not your door. Your in-laws’ door.

          1. But then they’d have to COOK. Which takes so loooooooong, and is so boooooring, and so much labooooor, so definitely Husband and I should do it all. Since, as you know, we’d otherwise be spending our holiday alone with our meaningless child-free life, instead of trying desperately not to spill hot gravy on a rampaging three-year-old.

      2. My poor friend has in-laws who do this sort of thing to her. Her husbands grandparents will sometimes just sort of tell them they’re coming for a weekend, not ask if it’s okay. And sometimes a group of her in-laws will decide it’s a great time to have a big family gathering and descend on her house for a weekend, which she would be more fine with except that they seem to give zero thoughts to how much food will be needed. They do not offer to cook anything. They do not offer to buy anything. They do not bring anything with them. It’s just kind of assumed she’ll take care of it (and she has two children under 3 to wrangle). She felt so freed when she was venting about one such impending weekend to a group of friends and we told her, “Look, there is zero shame in just ordering some pizza or buying some premade food and serving that. If they want nothing but home cooked meals, then they can step up and help make that happen.”

        1. Wow, that’s a whole nother level of awful! I would be so very not okay with people descending on my house without us having planned it in advance. My spouse and I would definitely be having a talk if their in-laws acted that way.

    3. It’s like……’re not catering staff, you know? People get paid real money to do stuff like that.

      1. I think my husband may have actually said that to his brother. Like Kacienna said upthread, we used to share the “math” of food prep/kitchen labor/shopping, but over the last several years, it’s all fallen more and more to him and me and my mother-in-law, allegedly because of kid-wrangling. So when Brother blithely assumed we’d devote our entire holiday to buying, prepping, and cooking food that (quite honestly) we don’t really like all that much, plus travel time, plus dish time, plus factor in at least an extra hour for Niece’s birthday observances…it was a mutual NOPE from us both.

        We’re roasting a duck, just for us! And I’m making one single solitary pie, and it will be brandied pumpkin, and if he and I want to eat it out of the pie plate with spoons, we shall do so.

        1. I had an aunt who seriously could not cook but thought she could. When it was their turn for Thanksgiving, my mom would then cook us a Thanksgiving dinner at home the next day so we could actually have a Thanksgiving meal, in addition to making the pies for my aunt’s meal. She probably did this three or four times over the course of my youth, and I am so grateful. Mashed potatoes shouldn’t be gray.

          1. I agree that mashed potatoes shouldn’t be grey, with one exception. If you start with purple and white potatoes (really, the flesh is purple!), and then mash them together, you get a sort of grey mashed potatoes which taste fine. That said, the color was off-putting enough that I have never repeated the experiment.

          2. Reply to Turquoise below: it’s even worse if you mash purple potatoes and orange sweet potatoes together! Talk about unappealing…but they were delicious. (It took me several years to live it down, though.)

        2. 1. Duck sounds uh-mazing
          2. Brandied pumpkin pie also sounds uh-mazing

          I feel you so hard there; I worked in a bakery and make great cakes, which I will make EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE for work occasions, but I’ve never offered to make a cake for someone because it escalates quickly.

          At my old job one of my coworkers had a side gig making these amazing cakes and people started asking him to make one for and it’s like…..those are $80 cakes AND his other job, don’t expect him to make you a cake for your niece’s sister’s husband’s birthday or whatever because you happen to work together.

  26. Q9: I just want to offer my sympathy – my god, your family (at least the ones with the mean Facebook chat group, and it sounds like that’s most of them) sounds awful, and I’m so sorry for how they’re treating you. While I like both of the Captain’s suggestions, and you should do whatever feels right for you, I do really like the one about being out of the house as much as possible. Not only are you away from your family, but it gives you a chance to actually enjoy part of the holidays if there are events that you think you’d like to go to. I’m guessing you won’t be the only person at these events who is trying to get some away-from-family time, and maybe you’ll meet a few souls to commiserate with! Either way, you might be making some good holiday memories to look back on.
    Keep in mind that this period of your life will not last forever (I’m guessing you’re relatively young and living with your parents for financial reasons), and at some point you will be able to celebrate the holidays with whoever you choose, or to celebrate by yourself, or not celebrate at all – each of those is a valid option.
    Be as kind to yourself as possible, and know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Take care.

  27. Q9, first, oh my GOD, a secret facebook group? and second, yes to “always be on the run, can’t really stop to chat”, if possible. If you can drive/do non-driving errands, keep you headphones and your coat on and move through the kitchen FAST. Hi, Aunt Awful! Hi, Uncle Tedious! Oh NO, I forgot the pickles, I’ve got to go back to the store, byyyyyyye.

    If your family exchanges holiday gifts and you can physically be out of the house you can always be shopping (and by shopping I mean in the public library on a couch playing Candy Crush).

    My personal strategy if I can’t just physically stay out of the house is usually to have a weird holiday craft: paper model christmas villages! embroidered felt turkeys! Sure! That seems fine! I can’t come out of my room, horrible relatives, because I’m in here with my felt turkeys and my podcasts. If you don’t have a room you can go to, a corner with your weird craft and your podcasts can feel at least semi-quiet. Maybe this is the year that you send holiday cards with long hand-written messages to everyone you’ve ever met. Heck, maybe you take on a tedious and lengthy chore that can only be accomplished in some distant part of the house out of everyone’s way.

    I’m sorry that your family are being such absolute dinkuses. I’m rotten at accepting that I am unlikely to get closure in some kinds of family conflicts, so I’m not going to preach acceptance to you, but I will say – they are being dinkuses of their own free will. You’ve clearly already tried to make them change their mind about the wider world. For now, they are going to be who they are going to be, and your mission is just to endure the holidays. Whatever can be repaired – either in their worldview or their treatment of you – can probably only be repaired when the stress of the season is over and people aren’t in festive fight or flight.

  28. LW7, I have two suggestions for you for cultivating space to feel your sad feelings and get local support without vomiting sadfeels all over the holiday.
    -Can you make a sadritual for you? Take a whole day to wallow in your sadfeels and do something that feels like it helps process them. For me, this is my annual Baking My Feelings tradition. I usually do this a few days before Christmas. It started by accident, the year I moved abroad, which turned into a huge Skype fight at Thanksgiving, which turned into asking for space, which turned into eventual estrangement from my mother. It was the first year I hadn’t been home for Christmas ever, I was processing a lot of family and other trauma, I had all the weird holiday feels. I decided to make cookies and suddenly I had like 8 dozen cookies in 4 varieties because I’d unthinkingly poured all my weird feels into stressbaking. (I only had like 1.5 friends on the entire continent, so this was not a practical choice.) But it was what I needed. Baking My Feelings, Christmas Edition became a thing, and I give myself permission to just wallow in the feels, listen to music that makes me feel weird, and bake all the things. Sometimes I open the invite up to other local friends who may have weird holiday feels and we drink tea and bake and snark and then feel better. What could a day of giving yourself utter permission to be sad look like? Watching holiday movies that make you sad-nostalgic? Decorating the tree alone? Reading old letters/looking at pics? Skyping a sibling?
    2. Can you be honest with your local support, without making it their problem to ‘fix’/but telling them how you want them to handle it? I specifically run an Orphans Christmas for folks with weird holiday feels so ymmv but I would want to know if my friend was sad around the holidays so I could interact appropriately and give this supportive space. “I am sad I can’t go home this year and it’s making me lose my holiday cheer. Is it okay if I attend the party and you give me eggnog but let me just sit with the cat and not say much?”

    1. My church, and some of the other churches here (I don’t know how widespread it is) have a December service called Blue Christmas, specifically for people who (for whatever reason) are struggling with the season and the expectations of “holiday cheer” and such. It’s usually pretty well attended for us. SadRituals help!

      1. Friends of mine do an annual “Orphans’ Thanksgiving” and “Orphans’ Christmas” wherein all are welcome to come and stay as long as they like or go as early as they choose, and one does not have to be without parents/family to go to their place. I know another set of friends use their parties as an excuse not to stay in their toxic “home” environments any longer than they have to.

  29. Q14: As someone who spends a lot of time in fandom, I’m wondering if some of this question is coming from the fannish tendency to value performativity over actual activism.

    Voting with your wallet as an individual still buys into the idea that engaging with capitalism can defeat capitalist toxicity. It can’t. But collective action can.

    I like the suggestion above that you give money to a charity; if you don’t have a lot of money, you could volunteer somewhere or join an activist group.

    Full disclosure: I am one of those people who boycotts stuff, so I’ll never finish the tv Game of Thrones, but I also believe that demanding Absolute Moral Purity of everyone is just another form of being self-involved (and don’t get me started on tumblr Antis). Guilt and anxiety about this won’t help anyone. If you want to help, help.

  30. Q12: I think it depends on your relationship with the person, and the nature and value of what you are asking for. My brother is a jeweller/sculptor and I have asked for him to make me something (small and not too expensive) when asked this question.

    On the other hand, things could get mighty awkward/hilarious if paid work like mine is involved (I’m a surgical assistant). MIL of a large Catholic family was NOT AMUSED (although rest of family was) when I offered “mates rates” for a vasectomy to BIL after he made a comment at a family gathering about not wanting any more children.

  31. This was all really soothing to read- thank you Captain. I have a recently developed, complicated family situation, and this is the first Christmas with Weird Things and Many FEELINGS. Great reminder that the holidays don’t need to be a performance, it can just be what it is.

  32. Q12: I’m a massage therapist and I have given massages as gifts in the past but I’ve stopped for a couple of reasons, the main one being is December is my busiest month and winter in general is my busiest time. I have to be really careful to rest physically & mentally (there can be a lot of emotional burnout in body work). Nov-Jan can be overwhelming for a lot of physically and emotionally demanding service jobs. Just something to consider. 🙂

  33. This will be my second Christmas since leaving my husband. I have the kid this year. I feel that I have to go to my parents’, because a) otherwise we’ll just be here on our own b) my sis and her family will be there and I don’t get to see them often. And also if I don’t I suspect they’ll decide to come visit me. Maybe next year I can trick my ex into taking the kid away so I can make plans to volunteer at the soup kitchen and not see anyone.

  34. About Q12 (asking people to do a professional favor or gift): This isn’t holiday themed, but here it is and how I handled it. A not-very-close friend (a person I know from a fandom group) asked if I could 3D print or laser-cut some kind of accessory for her fridge. (I think it sounded like the grid that goes under the water dispenser for the glass to sit on, but I may have misunderstood with restaurant noise and no photos for reference.) I said I would need her to trace the outline of the place it needed to go, and she gave me the look of “whoa that is too hard” so I thought maybe she literally couldn’t (because disability) and offered to go help if her roommate couldn’t figure it out.

    Well, the next thing I knew, she contacted me on my Etsy shop saying her roommate decided they need me to design a 3D structure made by laminating layers of 1/32″ veneer. I pointed out this was not a good idea if it was going to get wet, and her response was that Roommate didn’t like the aesthetics of plastic and he wanted a raised rim on it. Plastic doesn’t go with refrigerators? What kind of hipster fridge is this?

    At that point, I just replied that this was too complicated to fit in between client jobs and I hoped they could find a used one on eBay.

    She told me I need to raise my prices if I’m that busy. (The real problem is that I’m using a shared workshop in the next county over and can’t get enough access.)

    I have since unfriended this person.

    1. Ugh!! Much sympathy, from someone else who gets asked for professional services as gifts pretty regularly. Never had a request nearly as rude as that one, though. Good on you for handling it and getting rid of the pseudo-friend who dumped it on you!

    2. “She told me I need to raise my prices if I’m that busy.”

      Great idea. I’m gonna charge you a thousand dollars for this.

      1. Like, the logic from her perspective was, “You need to raise your prices so that you lose enough business so that you have time to do a bunch of free labor for me”? How does one even develop that degree of entitlement to other people’s labor? Does she mourn the end of chattel slavery?

        1. Well, she IS a Libertarian. Big L, as in ran for Senate or something. No, I didn’t donate to her campaign or vote for her. She wants Social Security and Medicare privatized and I’m on SSDI. I’m progressive, I think everyone should get basic living allowance and medical care even if they can work, because the robots are stealing our jobs.

          If you do it right, you CAN balance “too expensive for some buyers” against “more income in less time.” My original pieces were underpriced (basically selling retail at wholesale prices) so I wasn’t making a profit selling one or two at a time on Etsy or hauling them to shows. I doubled the price and made somewhat more in sales with fewer transactions (less hassle!).

          But right now, I need to hang onto my current accounts until I have new markets, new products, new pricing.

          We were not close to start with, didn’t like going the same places, and I don’t miss hearing about Transhumanism either. (Yes, Silicon Valley people really are like this. There are days when I want to pack it all up and move back to Arcata, but downtown Silicon Valley is less likely to burn up in a wildfire.)

    3. I knit, and I make gifts for my sisters and my parents and my niece from time to time. Part of the point of knitting is to make something that I enjoy making, as it is My Relaxing Hobby To Relax With Relaxingly With Relaxation Intent. I make this sub-set of my family gifts because they DON’T ask, but are always very happy with what I make when I do make it and wear whatever-it-is a lot and generally act pleased. Win-win, I think.

      Enter my sister’s (now ex) husband, who, on about our third? fourth? meeting, saw me knitting, and said ‘You can make me these socks!’ and proceeded to describe the socks in detail. I smiled and said absolutely nothing. The second time he told me to make his socks I said I only ever knitted stuff that sounded fun and the socks did not sound fun. The third time I said ‘no, I’m not going to make those for you.’ The fourth time I changed the subject. The fifth time I asked him why on earth he was still asking and we had a row about how I was selfish and how he really wanted the socks and I stormed out of the room because REALLY. The sixth time onwards I ignored him. Yep, he kept asking despite the row. I know.

      You will note he did not ONCE say ‘please’.

      Once he had become ‘ex’, years after he had become ‘ex’, I was accompanying my niece to handover, as she was going to spend holidays with her father, and the first thing he said was ‘you never made me those socks!’ I thought he was joking and went hahaha but no, he was seriously cross I hadn’t spent hours and hours and hours of my life on him. Oh, so many reasons why my sister divorced him. So very many.

  35. I have a question related to Q7: I am about to fly 3000 miles to see my parents for Thanksgiving. They are assuming I will spend the day itself with my aunt and uncle (and various cousins/their kids etc). My aunt and uncle recently spent a month traveling around about 100 miles away from me and 1) allowed the family grapevine to tell me about the trip 2) when I emailed to wish them a nice vacation, ignored my offer to meet up 3) did, however, ask to meet my ex, who has bad health problems, when they passed through his town, which I passed on 4) blew out the plans they made with my ex, which was a serious enough waste of his spoons that it caused a minor health relapse.

    My parents will be aghast that I am uninterested in seeing my aunt and uncle, but I am not getting in that car. I have no allies in the family. They do, however, all *love* my ex, and will be equally aghast at what happened over the summer (I have been too furious about it to tell them). All advice for scripts gratefully received.

    1. Off-the-cuff/first draft suggestions: “Aunt and Uncle made it clear that she doesn’t want to spend time with me, so I’m not going to impose on their hospitality. If you invite them here, of course I’ll be polite” and/or “This is painful to talk about, but when they were in my area, they asked Ex to see them and blew him off, and it made him sick. That really feels disrespectful of his time and health issues.”

      Some variant of the second one should stand by itself, either a phone call (“Hi Mom, have you got a couple of minutes.There’s something happened this summer that I was too upset to tell you about at the time…” or by email or text if that will be less stressful for you than saying it over the phone.

      If you do that in the next day or two, and they still want you to drive over for the holiday, the “I don’t want to impose” conversation could lead to “they say they love Ex as much as you do, and they stood him up, so I don’t feel comfortable going over there, especially not for an entire day.” If and only if it’s true, you might volunteer that yes, you’d like to see your cousins, you could invite them over here Friday. Or save something like that for if your parents say “I see your point about Gomez and Morticia, but what about Wednesday and Cousin Itt?”

    2. Ooh, ouch. “I’m still angry with them about how they treated me and ex. I’m not ready to see them, let alone sit at their table. Give my best to the kids.”

    3. You’re certainly not required to WANT to see your aunt and uncle, nor actually see them. That said, from my perspective, they haven’t done much wrong to you in what you describe.

      They’re allowed to make their own travel plans, including deciding that traveling 100 miles out of their way or meeting up with you in a place 100 miles away from you won’t work with their schedule for the vacation things they’re specifically planning to do, while visiting your ex who lives in a town they’re already planning to visit might. And especially now that your ex is your ex, managing his schedule and spoons isn’t really your concern, no? Like, if whatever arrangements for a visit were beyond his capacity, he probably should have just said, “No thanks,” instead of spending too many spoons. While people bailing on plans one went to a lot of trouble to make happen is definitely irritating to me (and makes me reconsider how much effort I’ll put toward plans with the people in question in the future), and I can understand frustration with that, presumably it still would have been too much or even MORE too much if they actually had visited? Unless part of their visit plans revolved around soem kind fo care work for your ex? Given your actual reaction of feeling snubbed, which they could have seen as a possibility, they might well have not told you they were traveling relatively near you without plans to visit in the hopes of sparing you that hurt, and in that context may have read an e-mail to wish them a happy vacation regarding a trip they hadn’t told you about as an unkind, passive-aggressive move.

      So, part of my advice would be to try to let the unhappy feelings you’re holding regarding the trip go, and then assess if you want to see them for the holiday. As I see it right now, you’re mad that you didn’t get to see these people, so presumably, absent the stuff about the trip, you would want to see them; and you’re attempting to punish them for not getting to see them during the trip by not going to see them at another time when you have the opportunity to do so. Since the objection seems to be to not seeing them, responding by refusing to see them strikes me as self-defeating. Again, if you’re so upset by this that you’ve decided to reevaluate your entire relationship, and now you really don’t want to see them any more ever, or if you think it will pass but you’re too upset with them to see them right now, that’s your prerogative. If your main goal is to punish them, you’re probably doing more harm to yourself than to them, and it will likely serve to further damage a relationship that seems important to you for little or no gain for you.

      All that said, I obviously lack the full context, and your feelings are what they are whether they make sense to me or not, so I’m not arguing that you’re WRONG to feel like you do, just suggesting another perspective that might make you feel less resentful, since I can’t imagine that being angry at people you like(d) is pleasant. The going through you to reach your ex does strike me as strange – if they’re that close to him, should they not have his contact info? If this IS part of a pattern of them being inconsiderate toward you (and/or others), then I think your reaction is entirely reasonable, and you may wish to note the pattern of disrespectful/inconsiderate behavior when holding your boundary.

      The suggested scripts seem good – a short, simple version of the truth that presents your non-participation as a foregone conclusion probably works best, because you’re not opening a negotiation, you’re delivering your decision and stating a boundary. If your parents are likely to push back by questioning the validity of your feelings – as I just did, in part to anticipate how this might look to other third parties and give you a prompt to think through responses to those reactions before the fact rather than being confronted with them in the moment – you can respond with something like, “I know my reaction might not seem proportionate to other people, but I’m feeling how I’m feeling, and I’m not going to be happy visiting, so, no, I’m not going.” People can’t realistically argue with HOW you’re feeling (that doesn’t stop everyone from trying, of course), so mostly they’ll argue with whether you SHOULD be feeling that way, and by preempting and agreeing with the assessment that your feelings aren’t reasonable or appropriate, but still holding the boundary becasue you’re still feeling that way, regardless of whether it makes sense to anyone else, you don’t leave them much room to try to push against the boundary. Broken record response of something like, “I know it doesn’t seem like a reasonable response, and I’m still not going,” should work for any further attempts to push against the boundary.

      Good luck, I hope you have the best holiday possible under the circumstances and manage to make peace with their behavior one way or another for your own sense of well-being!

  36. Just as a general FYI, many churches host a “longest night” service for those who are grieving or otherwise find the holiday season difficult.

  37. I didn’t realize I had a question yesterday, but reading through all this today made me realize — my family & my husband’s family are both full of people who I’m looking forward to eating turkey with this week. But on Monday, we find out if the IVF cycle we’re in the midst of has been successful; either way, these people who love us will be interested in an update, and either way, it feels like a stressful thing to add to Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone knows we find out “soon” (only Mom knows how soon, I think). Maybe I just pretend we don’t find out until Friday…

    1. “We’ll let you know as soon as we have something to share! + subject change” would let you keep it to yourself without actively lying/pretending, if that is easier.

    2. I find the phrasing “I feel like ___ is all I ever think about these days–I’m hoping to use (holiday) as a chance to get away from it for a bit! Anyways, what do you think about (new subject)?” tends to work well. It lets them know that you want the topic off the table, but in a way that makes it about you, not them–and therefore circumvents the defensiveness that people sometimes feel when you ask them to drop something.

    3. Ooof, I’m in a similar boat, though we’re a couple weeks behind. It’ll be the first family (sweetie’s family) gathering since most of them learned about the IVF, and I am dreading it. It’s extra awkward because I’m not sure who all has been told at this point, and I’m a rather private person about all this stuff. By Christmas we’ll know and then will get to navigate it all over again!!

      I love people’s suggestions to be vague about when you find out. Heck, I’d be tempted to flat-out lie so Thanksgiving is not all OPINIONS and FEELINGS about whatever way it’s gone.

      All the jedi hugs to you.

    4. When my sister was trying to get pregnant, she up-front said she didn’t want to talk about it unless she brought it up. She told me once that she was trying to get pregnant, and that was the last time we discussed it until a couple years later when they decided to go the adoption route. Which also wasn’t to be discussed unless brought up. I really appreciated her boundary setting around that, because I think she intuited (rightly) that some folks wouldn’t know whether it was ok to bring it up or not, or whether she might actively want to be asked about it, since she’s a pretty open person generally. Since the people in our family (and presumably her friends) are pretty good with boundaries, it worked out well.

    5. Thank you, all. I appreciate it.
      (SingHallelujah, I said something similar at the start of our IVF cycle — “Here is this thing we’re doing, please don’t ask us about it, I promise we’ll share news when we have any.”)

  38. Q7: A lot of people are capable and willing to be sad with/for you while being happy for themselves. I enjoy the holidays and am lucky to have families that don’t cause a lot of drama, so I’m usually deep in the warm and fuzzies once “baking with lots of cinnamon” season rolls around. But being in that happy headspace actually gives me *more* capacity for lending an ear/shoulder to a friend who’s having a crappy time, whether that crappy time is related to the holidays specifically or not. It does not harsh my own holiday cheer to know that someone else is sad, but I *would* be sad to know that a friend suffered in silence because they didn’t think they could speak up during twinkle-lights season. It’s just part of life that sad things happen around holidays, and/or sometimes the holidays themselves make people sad, and people are capable of holding both happiness and sadness at the same time.

    It’s perfectly okay to talk to your closest friends about how sad you are to be missing Christmas with family, and how sad/annoyed/hurt you are that they continue to not visit you, etc. Ask them for what support you want from them – a long chat with wine where they make soothing noises, a plan for a friends dinner with lots of holiday favorites sometime before or after the actual holiday craziness, a friends outing to see a holiday show or lights or whatever traditions you miss or have always wanted to partake in… etc. Or maybe the ask is that they don’t talk as much about holiday plans with you. Whatever you think would help alleviate your sadness around this issue, I guarantee you have at least some friends who would be more than willing to do that, but only if you cue them in.

  39. Q14: I feel ya. Generally I end up avoiding media when the creators are problems, more from a feeling of ickiness than anything, but I’m going to go see Grindelwald, because of Newt. Having a male lead who’s not violent, not misogynistic, not toxic masculinity in all its “glory”, was such a relief when I watched Fantasic Beasts. I’m a parent and an elementary teacher; I habitually think of things in terms of kids, and what tipped the scales for me was that having someone like Newt to emulate (which, if Halloween after Fantastic Beasts was any indication, they do) is important to encourage. It’s just enough to overcome the icky for me.

  40. LW4 here, and THANK YOU. The “I’d hate to have to leave with the kids” is EXACTLY the script I was looking for – ever so slightly softer than “if she starts shit I will take the kids and leave THIS IS THE WARNING”, but with exactly the same amount of information. And, incidentally, I talked to my mom this morning, and she started asking me to be nice because “she just wants a nice dinner” and by the end of the discussion she was clear that racist comments ruin dinner and that it was Not Acceptable and would lead to me leaving because dinner had been ruined. So at this point: if Aunty Dreadful comes, she does, but boundaries have been set. Thank you for you (very effective) help!

    (She has been nicknamed Aunty Dreadful for years. She prides herself on having no filter. I pride myself on having no fucks left to give. We’ll see who is still standing by the end of this…)

    (Also, may I just say that Mr Awkward looks quite dapper? Please tell him that an Internet Stranger loves his suspenders-and-tie look. A+ style.)

    1. That script definitely works. And getting family backup to support you in your willingness to leave or otherwise enforce consequences for terrible behavior. And informing them of the plan in advance so they can give terrible person a stern talking to before you’re even on scene, if appropriate.

      My now-ex had a terrible friend. Every time we got together socially, Mr Terrible would say something truly awful, some flavor of misogynist and/or racist, which would be laughed off by his wife and others, or worse, encouraged by them. I would be the only person in the group who would say that it wasn’t okay. My now-ex and I had a lot of discussions about terrible friend, bystander intervention, calling people out, etc over the period of time we knew them. Well, they moved far away, and I thought that was the end of the problem. Until they came back for a visit and wanted to stay with us. I said that would be okay as long as Mr Terrible didn’t say anything terrible. If that happened, I wanted now-ex’s support in asking them to leave and find somewhere else to stay. He said he would back me in that. They stayed with us. Everything was fine. Mr Terrible exceeded my very low expectations by being pleasant and not saying anything horrible. I rather suspect my now-ex either talked to him directly, or to his wife. Don’t care. What mattered is that I didn’t have to deal with someone being an asshole in my home because he was actually on his best behavior. And my now-ex has done a 180 in his attitude about letting this bullshit slide.

      Great job with that conversation with Mom! Way to go! Definitely great that accountability and responsibility for the steaming pile of shit is being properly attributed to the person who took a dump in public, and not to the person who has the gall to complain about the stink and the flies it’s attracted.

      That was pretty much one of the conversations I had with now-ex about this terrible friend. My partner told me not to step in the poo because I knew it was going to stink, and I was just like, dude, you’re the one who brought the unhousebroken dog into the house. I’m just trying to deal with the resulting mess–so why are you mad at me about it? Stop bringing shitters into the house, problem fixed!

    2. Great advice and communication here, just chiming in to add my vote for Mr Awkward’s look – I just bought a pair of black suspenders for myself and really want to (Jedi?) fistbump him right now.

  41. As a landscaper, Q12 made me cringe for exactly the reasons Cap stated (why yes, I will spend all my free time doing £5,000 worth of design work and manual labour for you, that seems totally reasonable!) but if it’s someone who makes custom items that retail for the same price as you’d expect that person might be prepared to pay for a Christmas present for you, then I think that’s a totally fine request.

  42. If it’s OK to add on to the RACIST AUNT (in my case grandmother) question, does anyone having any thoughts/advice about where to draw the line between “grit your teeth and ask if that lovely pie has nutmeg in it” and “calling out racism is everyone’s responsibility, particularly those in a position of privilege”? If it makes a difference, there will be no impressionable children or people of the targeted group present, and the family is pretty firmly divided between people who agree with grandma and people who reeeally hope there’s enough brandy in the eggnog to help us survive another one. I find it highly, highly unlikely that speaking up will change the minds of anyone present, and it’s definitely the sort of company where the very gentlest pushback on something an elderly lady said triggers immediate pearl clutching and “how COULD you have been so RUDE by bringing up politics at a holiday dinner?!” expressions of horror. How SHOULD a liberal, reasonably socially aware and increasingly activist granddaughter respond when grandma says of new neighbors, “Well they’re Muslim, you know, but they seem very polite”?

    1. To that exact sentence, what I might do is lean into the most generous interpretation of what was said before attempting the subject change. Something like, “That’s lovely that your new neighbors are so polite. Isn’t it great how people of different faiths can all get along? Now, where’s that pie?”
      You don’t let the bigoted implication stand, but you’re also nominally agreeing enough to avoid an argument.

    2. This might be a situation where being strategically puzzled would be useful. A tone of polite but sincere confusion is what you’re going for here.

      “I don’t understand. What does being Muslim have to do with them being polite or not?”

      “I’m sorry, I still don’t understand why it matters that they’re Muslim.”

      “Gosh, I’m just not getting it. Could you explain it again?”

      The idea is to call her out on it but in a way that makes it seem like honest confusion (because what she said makes no sense) rather than an attack. It forces Racist Granny to be aware that her prejudices aren’t something that other people share and forces her to either shut up or be really overt in her racism, at which point it’s obvious that she has the problem, not you. Bonus is that if you’re “clueless” long enough, you make it sufficiently frustrating for her to say shit like that that she might stop, at least when you’re around.

      1. I’m curious if people have had this work. I’ve seen it suggested by a lot of different people, but I’m 100% sure that it would result in Clear Overt Racism with the relatives I’d have to do this with, followed by validation from relatives that share those beliefs who are happy that someone’s Just Saying What Everyone’s Thinking. At that point I feel like the needle on “what level of racism it’s okay to express at dinner” would have moved towards “let’s just go for it”, which doesn’t feel like a win.

        1. I’ve seen it yield both possible results (or all three – the second outcome has two possible versions) – people shutting up about their racist/sexist/etc. ideas and people removing their Cloak of Plausible Deniability to express their racism/sexism/etc. clearly and unambiguously. Both of those are wins in this approach; in the second case, if the rest of the family is ALSO that racist instead of presenting a united front of Your Overt Racism Isn’t Okay (which is the primary aim with stripping plausible deniability), the question for you becomes, “Do I really want to spend time hanging out with a bunch of people who are intentional racists?” The second case is a win becasue it gives you clear cause to not see those people any more when other family members who aren’t intentionally, actively racist but also prioritize harmony over shutting down hateful views come at you with, “But faaaaaaaaaamilyyyyyyyyyyyyy.” Yes, family – hateful, racist family members with whom I’m not going to waste my precious limited time being alive.

          “I’m not going to tolerate racist comments around me,” is a perfectly good boundary, and maybe it’s time to start a new family tradition of only the members of your family who aren’t viciously hateful bigots getting together for holidays. Intentionally racist family members not being racist is not a realistic outcome, so your only real win condition is not having to deal with their racism, which can be accomplished by shaming them into silence (outcome 1 or 2a) or avoiding them if they lack shame regarding their hateful views (outcome 2b).

        2. I’m thinking about this more – I imagine most people are done with this thread, but it’s the season where Twitter lights up (including the good Captain’s) about calling out your racist/otherwise bigoted relatives. I guess I feel caught between three basic and somewhat conflicting ideas:

          1) The moral obligation to Call Out racism/bigotry
          2) The idea that most people are trained to microvalidate existing states of bigotry esp. white supremacy
          3) The idea that people with privilege are the best able to engage with bigoted people because, you know, it’s not about them and it isn’t about their lives.

          I guess to me #3 partially means that if you share a privilege with the bigot at the table, you might have the space or patience to be strategic – you might actually have the latitude to choose the phrasing or approach that might open up some room to work on someone’s ideas or change their mind. But where does that become, basically, coddling bigoted people? (The internet’s answer is usually any time short of flipping the table – we’ve got a lot of real tough guys on social media).

          Even on this thread we see a lot of strategy playing out – for instance, the poster up-thread, who is just plain going to bail on dinner of Aunt Racist really gets going, has also recruited someone who’s closer to Aunt Racist to communicate this ultimatum and help enforce it. On the other hand, the poor LW whose family made a facebook groupchat to make fun of their political beliefs is already outnumbered and isn’t going to change many minds, it sounds like, by making any sort of fuss at all – in fact, I suspect they already know that anything they say will just make their relatives back each other up harder.

          IDK. When it comes to the main prejudice that affects me in real life (homophobia with a side of transphobia), my only real requirement from my straight friends is that they not TELL me what their relatives said, please, especially not with that air of wanting to be thanked for finding their relative’s prejudices sort of annoying. But, you know, that experience isn’t going to map well onto another oppression. So.

          Anyway, the last time this happened to me IRL I was meeting, basically, an in-law who at one point came very close to disowning my partner for being queer/GNC, and that relative is also SUPER racist. I chose “willfully misinterpret”, namely, when they said that someone who is from Ohio but comes from a family with X heritage has the FOLLOWING GOOD QUALITIES, NOT TO SAY ANYTHING ABOUT PEOPLE WITH X HERITAGE, I literally just free-associated facts about the state of Ohio until they stopped trying to make the racist insinuation. I don’t think playing “I’m not going to pick up what you’re laying down here” did anything to change that person’s basic level of bigotry, and maybe choosing “I’m going to not participate without actively harming this relationship” was cowardly – but like. I guess I also felt like my partner’s choice for how they wanted to navigate bigotry that applied to them directly (in this case, by keeping some contact with this homophobic relative) had to be the first call. I don’t know, y’all.

        3. Johann7, you were still in moderation when I posted my other comment, so I wanted to respond directly – I think we have different beliefs about what’s possible here, maybe influenced by our real world environments. I don’t think yours is wrong but I do think mine is contextual. I don’t want to make the Captain moderate a longer conversation about this here this weekend, though.

        4. I don’t have time and energy to waste drawing them out with clever questions. I just say, that’s unacceptable, and it’s racist, and I’m either done talking about this with you or you need to keep those opinions to yourself. I’m not going to convince them, but I am fine with challenging them, and also with leaving the table. But, that took me 15 years to build up to.

      2. Garbling it a bit might help, too. “Oh, are Muslims particularly polite? I hadn’t heard that”
        It’s the opposite of what she implied, but now she has to either let it go or get overt.

    3. Alright, this may be weenie of me but I think it’s great that she is willing to unclench her ideology enough to think her Muslim neighbors are polite and assuming no Muslim people are at dinner I’d follow up with “other people I’ve known who are Muslim: many nice Muslim people, with specific names and anecdotes, because knowing Muslim people is VERY NORMAL and does not have to be a fraught topic. Now on to discussing times in history when people had bad beliefs that would have applied to us! Wow remember when the Polish kids and the Norwegian kids hated each other when you were young? That seems so silly now!”.

      Frankly, sometimes grandmothers on the topic of Coping With Diversity can get as far as (I’m part-Jewish and grew up around people who were much more observant than I am) “Goodness, I have met some Jewish people now and they are just the same as everyone else! Wow!”.

      If a person who’s being talked about this way is in the room of course it’s straight to acting in whatever way they would find most supportive, which may involve shutting that shit right down hard or might be giving them a way to get out of the room for a second.

      1. I’ve been in the room to overhear that particular conversation about my own minority group and it’s sure something! Sometimes that’s what “trying to be welcoming” looks like, weirdly enough, even though it’s othering and kind of unpleasant.

        I would definitely settle for “I’ve found the Muslims I know to be very kind and thoughtful” or “perfectly ordinary really”. Usually when I hear people going on about racist or sexual stereotypes I respond with something like “that hasn’t been my experience at all” (“oh, funny, I know lots of women who are good at math, though most of them were dissuaded from careers other than teaching” or “I think it’s pretty reasonable that they would want their own place to pray!” or “gosh, I’d be more worried about someone attacking the mosque, there’s so much hate and fear out there and refugees have already been through so much.”).

        To summarize, the goal I aim for is not to “start an argument” but to just put my own observations and POV out there in an objective and agreeable way. There’s always some actual value and ethical reason behind my policy views, not just “because you all are wrong and cruel” and I feel better if I’ve gotten the core feeling/ethic across than if I’ve tried to argue facts and politics.

        And who can argue with people of different faiths getting along, as the example above? It’s a good thing even if some people are clearly a bit uncomfortable with it in practice, and you can help keep the focus on it being a good thing and not on how uncomfortable it makes them.

        1. Yeah, I was thinking about it and I’d probably point out the logical fallacy, basically, like “you know, everyone I’ve ever met from Ohio has been sweet as pie but only jerks from Ohio really make it onto the news – you have to figure it’s like that with any group of people, if you only know about people from the news you only hear about people from Ohio who rob banks, not people from Ohio who serve on the PTA!”

    4. There’s always an enthusiastic smile and, “Well, why shouldn’t they be? They’re just ordinary people, like us. Do they have children? How nice….etc.”

      1. Thank you all, this is all really helpful! I particularly like “cheerfully agree with what I pretend to think she meant” for grandma in particular, because the rest of the family is very likely to respond with “Oh, she didn’t mean it like THAT” (+unspoken “you can’t expect grandma to be politically correct, why do you have to get on your lliberal soapbox and make things awkward?” disapproval). I can see this being super useful in not feeling like I’m tacitly agreeing to something gross, and I like that her only options are to save face or essentially respond with “No, I was trying to be RACIST!” – in which case, as the Captain said, it’s clear who’s to blame for “ruining dinner.”

    5. Hello, this is the flavor of racism I frequently have to deal with from my grandparents. If they’re overtly racist I can explain why that’s a harmful perspective but when they say something like “We’ve had more Indian and Pakastani families move into the neighborhood recently, which I don’t mind of course, but they don’t mow their lawns enough and don’t keep their yards up to the same standards as the rest of us” I don’t know what to say! In that case, I probably just stared confusedly at my grandpa and said “what?” or “maybe they have young kids and don’t have the time to put as much effort into their yard as you do – not everyone gardens for fun like you and Grandma”. Part of what bugs me is that I would’ve had a hard time putting into words why that’s problematic.

      1. I think it’s problematic because Grandpa is naming a behavior that *is* (kinda) problematic- neighbors not maintaining their property- but making it sound like it has something to do with the race/national origin/religion of the neighbor. So on the one hand you might want to agree about the lawn-mowing deficit and on the other hand you’re thinking ‘what does their race have to do with it and if I agree about the lawn am I tacitly agreeing to racist stuff?’ I usually have some lame reply like ‘we have all kinds of neighbors and none of them mow their lawns very often, so I don’t think that’s unique to [category] people!’ Or I try to deflect entirely (as you do) ‘hey, everyone gets busy in the summer…at least they aren’t running a smelly gas mower all the time!’…but that seems unsatisfying because it doesn’t touch the problematic part of what he said.

        Maybe if you really want to dive into it (not saying you should, but if you did…) ask him about the history of the neighborhood. What kind of people used to live here? Did everybody know each other? How have things changed since you moved here? Maybe you’ll get some good stories; maybe you’ll learn that he’s not specifically racist but he is afraid of becoming alone in his own neighborhood because his friends have moved/gone.

        1. “I think it’s problematic because Grandpa is naming a behavior that *is* (kinda) problematic- neighbors not maintaining their property- ”

          Though there’s also a whole lot that’s problematic about people being required to have lawns at all.

      2. “You know, most young people these days are moving away from lawns. [Depending on how mean you feel] They don’t really make sense in many climates / It’s looking like the whole suburbia experiment only worked so long as it was being funded by the GI Bill and home loan subsidies.”

        If the “kids these days” looked like their kids, the complaint would be “kids these days”, so maybe you can get it back there, anyhow.

  43. Q12: I’m a professional freelance artist, and I’ve long since shut down any freebie requests from friends and family, even as a appropriately timed birthday/holiday gift. CA nailed the reasons: I don’t think most people understand how much work doing a realistic painting is, or what I’d normally charge. But also, as a freelance, there is a bigger issue of any time I spend doing free work, I am NOT spending doing work that pays me. And I’m not exactly swimming in it.

    It depends on what kind of item the person makes, of course, but on the whole I’d say err on the side of placing an order/commission like a normal customer. Let THEM be the ones who extend the invitation of “oh, you don’t need to pay!” or even “I’ll give you a discount.”

    1. That’s very similar to one of my problems with offering professional services as a gift. I have a job, where I offer professional services for a set number of hours a week. That number of hours is pretty much as many as I can do without hurting myself. If I give someone a freebie, I’m either going to risk pushing my body beyond its capacity, or I’m going to need to take time off from work, of which I’ve also got a very limited amount available.

      I think people who ask for such gifts don’t often think about the capacity of the professional as limited. It’s not always easy to throw an extra however-much-time into your work week, without dropping something else (that pays).

      1. FWIW, a friend of mine in the bodywork trade has a solid policy of never ever ever working on friends for family. So a reasonable response to the request might be, “I’m sorry, I can’t [because policy]. But if you like, I can put you in touch with another professional.” And entirely side-step the whole “But I want it free because present!” angle.

  44. When I worry about “but what if I support the problematicpersons’ work” I usually just pirate personally.

    1. Yup, that’s what I was thinking. Has the same basic effect as the suggestion above to Hulu/Netflix/etc, but without knowing you’re ticking up their viewer numbers even a smidge. And also combines well with the other suggestions to donate the price you would’ve paid for the ticket to an apt charity.

  45. 4b — for an actual repeatable mantra, can I nominate something I’ve read here before? “It’s about her, not me”. “That comment was about her need to be superior, not anything I did”, “this rant is about her closemindedness, not my choices”, etc.

  46. My go-to for really critical people has become to act like I’m taking them literally.

    MOM: Wow, those new glasses are . . . interesting. Not what I’d pick with a face shape like yours.

    ME: [pulls out phone and begins typing]

    MOM: What are you doing?

    ME: Making an appointment to get some new frames you like better.

    Or this:

    MOM: Is that what you’re wearing? Don’t you think that’s a little . . . revealing?

    ME: Maybe you’re right. My suitcase is beside the bed. I’ll wait here while you pick something you like better.

    Or this:

    MOM: You’d look so much nicer if you dyed your grey.

    ME: You are certainly right. I’d look much nicer if I dyed my hair, and I’m sure it wouldn’t be expensive or a hassle or not my style at all! Why have I never thought of that?

  47. Q12:

    I’m a licensed massage therapist. People ask me for massage as a gift ALL THE TIME. When I can afford to, I usually buy them a gift certificate to a clinic, for a couple of reasons: 1) I don’t do every possible type of massage for every possible type of need (I’m mostly a medical massage specialist, trying to fix postural stress issues), and a decent-sized clinic will have a lot of different therapists available and be able to assign the recipient one who is good at the particular type they need and want; and 2) I have severe fibromyalgia, and keeping up with the workload that I actually have to do for my actually job that they pay me for is usually as much work as I can handle without breaking down and damaging myself.

    So I’d like to add a strong “Yes, PLEASE!” to the good Captain’s suggestion that anyone thinking of asking for a professional freebie go very gently, and give plenty of space for the professional involved to explain to you why this is not necessarily doable/a great idea. I’m genuinely happy to work with my family when they really need it and I have the energy to spare, but that usually happens on an impromptu basis when I am up to it (and my *immediate* family, the ones whom I live with and am closest to, all know that). “Hey, how’s that shoulder you were griping about on Thursday getting along? Want me to take a look at it?” is a pretty common offer around my house… but I’m generally the one to make it, rather than being asked, and I do so only when I can follow through comfortably.

    It would feel realllllllllly pressured to me to have a gift certificate out there (either a formal one or simply a handmade “I hereby give you one massage, to use at a time TBD” card) for a massage I’d already promised someone and received the credit for having given them a gift that pleased them, while knowing that there are plenty of times when I won’t be in a condition that’ll allow me to follow through when and how they’d like me to. REALLY pressured.

    So I don’t do it, and confine my “gift” massages to the form of gift certificates to other therapists, preferably in large clinics where they can be sure that if one isn’t available when they scheduled, another will be covering for them. That way, they get their massage, the way they want at the time they want, and I get the freedom to offer the work of my own hands only when those hands (and the rest of me) are up to it. This may not be doable in all professions, of course. But it works for me in mine, so long as the recipient isn’t offended that I didn’t work with them myself. They do get my expertise in helping choose a clinic, and ask the right questions there to get the therapist who will be right for their needs, but that’s as far as I can go, for their sake and my own.

    LW, I don’t think it’s *necessarily* wrong to ask. But please be very, very careful to leave space for the person to talk you through why this isn’t going to work, and accept that answer if it is given with reassurance and graciousness. It’s not always easy to say to someone who is obviously enthusiastic about your work, and it’s a thousand times worse if they show their disappointment vividly while you’re explaining.

    If they respond with, “Sure! That’s easy!” or something similarly chipper and comfortable-sounding, then enjoy your gift! Some of us are thrilled to be able to “buy” someone a gift with expertise instead of money. Just go in knowing that’s not the only possible scenario, and ready to be nice about it if it’s not the one you find in this instance.

  48. My eldest child comes home from freshman year of college for Thanksgiving today. Which is to say I don’t have much experience with children coming and going yet. I’m really excited to see him and hear his stories. I heard a stricken man on the radio whose college age son had been killed in the CA bar shooting and I’ve been especially eager to lay eyes on my child ever since. I’ve been imagining dancing around him flinging flowers in the air, clutching his feet and weeping, jumping up and down as I ask him questions and feed him cookies. And yet, I admit abashedly that I can almost imagine all this anticipation and care being filtered through New England reserve and distilled down to, “You need a haircut.” This thread has made certain that he will not hear those words over Thanksgiving break. Instead, I will smile to myself in appreciation of Captain’s on-target wolf pack analogy!

  49. 4a (sexist patronizing dad): You could focus on immediately undoing the result of his power-move. He shuts down Aunt, you say”excuse me, I want to hear what Aunt is saying about X. So Aunt, [follow up question about X].” Or even “actually I want to hear what Aunt is saying about X *and so does everyone else*. So Aunt, [follow up question about X].” Don’t leave conversational time or space for him to argue, and talk over him and interrupt if he does. The most diplomatic way of objecting to his behavior is enthusiastically endorsing and supporting the other women around you.

    A less diplomatic, but still important, reaction to condescending, irrelevant interjections is simply to announce, “that’s condescending and irrelevant.” It has the effect you’d expect– it drops like a conversational ton of bricks– but by the time I’m past my diplomacy limit, I’m also past my “think of witty retorts” and “gently teachable moments” limit, so this is my go-to. I simply didn’t realize it was an option until age 30 or so, when I witnessed an older woman respond to patronizing behavior, not with endurance or other emotional effort, but by effortlessly observing, “that’s very patronizing,” and then taking the conversation where she wanted it to go. It blew my mind. I don’t even remember what sort of effect it had on the dude but it was noticeably uplifting for everyone else participating in the conversation.

  50. Q 12– I make quilts and don’t knit. The rude person in my life knits but doesn’t make quilts. When RP (Rude Person) suggested I might like to make a quilt for her according to her design and instructions and with her maybe paying for as much as the fabric, I thought for a bit and suggested that she might like to do a major knitting project for me in return. Let’s just say the results of this experiment were pretty funny. She couldn’t possibly what with all the work and parenting and she was doing, but here were some compliments I could eat.

    1. As a quilter: All the WOW at that one.

      I’m on the slow side, so it can take me a year to finish a quilt. A complete calendar year, y’all. It’s a niche craft, and not a lot of people know how time/labor-intensive it is.

      I’ve stopped doing commissions entirely, which has made one friend of a friend hilariously hostile toward me ever since. Still worth it.

      1. Oh dear GOD. The sticker shock, appalled, “OMG you mean it’s not free?!” people are the WORST. I’m a knitter, and people just don’t get that it takes longer than a trip to WalMart to get a pair of socks. I no longer do commissioned projects as a result. You’ll get a surprise gift out of the goodness of my heart if I like you enough, but otherwise you can fuck off. I love that somebody was actually hostile to you about it–I mean, I don’t LOVE it, but I think it’s a fantastic example of how to decide who you don’t need to talk to anymore. That is true of everything; anybody who freaks out when you won’t put up with their shit anymore is, well, the kind of person whose shit you don’t have to put up with anymore. Yay.

        1. “Okay. First, you’ll need to buy the yarn. If you want this particular yarn I’m using at the moment, it’ll run you about $30 for the two skeins I know this project requires from experience. Next, you’ll have to pay me for my time. My current wage is about $25/hour (or whatever), and this project will take me about 20 hours to knock out. So we’re looking at…”

          1. And the rude people will STILL think you’re joking, or they’ll try to negotiate you down after you’ve gotten started, or they’ll agree to the price but change their minds several times thus making the design part 10x greater, or they’ll say yes because that’s what they think you want to hear and they just can’t say no but then they can’t pay and they’re awfully sorry. As long as “so we’re looking at …” ends with “… payment in full in advance” you stand a chance of being okay, but it’s so easy to be taken in in the mean time.

            I turned the rude person in my life down for the commission she was angling to get for free. Because I didn’t (yet) understand her whole angle, and because I was still feeling friendly and charitable, I said that I wouldn’t mind spending time with her giving her lessons. I wanted to make the point that I was serious and said her young daughter would have to be elsewhere. She said she was too busy, but she agreed that she’d get a babysitter “for the day.” I think she really thought I could teach the whole skill IN A DAY!

          2. In a day?! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA–It took me three days just to learn how to cast on when I was learning to knit. Granted, I was entirely self-taught via instructions printed off the Internet in the days before YouTube videos, and I’m sure a class would have been faster, but still. It took me several years to reach the point where I was comfortable designing patterns of my own, and I still learn new techniques and tricks all the time.

            Somebody who is that cavalier about your time and that dismissive of your skill level is not somebody you really need as a friend. At the very least I’d relegate them to “small doses” territory.

        2. I knit some projects on commission for barter. That is, you cook me a marvelous meals, I knit you a hat. You make me a beautiful necklace and earrings, I’ll knit you mittens. It’s worked out pretty well in most cases, although occasionally one side or the other estimates the work to be done badly. But at least it’s a skill for skill trade.
          I tell my coworkers, who jokingly ask for sweaters, that I don’t love them enough. My husband had been around for almost 15 years before I knit him a sweater.

  51. Q10 Years ago I realized everybody would be happier if I announced I was collecting something – I picked owls, then later angels then nutcracker. This made it possible for anyone to find a gift for me without having to worry about sizes, colours, etc, and there was always a gift that anyone could afford because I was happy with figurines, mugs, linens, artwork whatever had an owl or Angel or nutcracker on it, and usually they were pretty small too. So this solved everyone’s gift problem without hassling me too much and I now have some enjoyable collectibles too

    1. I do collect something, but I ended up steering people toward the ornament version of penguins. They take up less space.

  52. Q14 – Personally I’m happy for people who’re able to enjoy the works of artists I’m not. Like, I used to love Johnny Depp and everything he did, and now just the idea of watching “Grindelwald” makes me angry, why would I want other people to be in that position? It’s hard to say without sounding sarcastic but being able not to care is a useful, respectable skill, at least when combined with the opposite. See Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday” I guess. That is to say I hope everyone can watch or not watch the movies they want without too much guilt and/or longing.

  53. Q4: Over the summer, my mom mentioned to me that my cousin (who I see rarely–maybe once every 2 years, only at full family gatherings) has recently joined a fairly extreme church and internalized some of their more intensely homophobic beliefs.

    I told her that if he ever voiced that kind of shit around me, I would absolutely start a fight over it. From there, I kind of figure it’s out of my hands. Maybe she and my aunt will try to arrange family events so we don’t interact much; maybe they won’t. Maybe someone will warn him not to say bigoted stuff around me; maybe they won’t. Maybe he’ll keep quiet on his own; maybe he won’t. All I can control is my behavior–and I’ve given fair notice on what that will be, and I stand behind that strongly. At that point, if the next family event goes sideways because he starts talking shit and I don’t let it slide, I figure that’s not on me–it’s on everyone else who has a closer relationship to him and chose to allow him to voice his nonsense without repercussions.

  54. Q14: What would you want to accomplish by boycotting the movie?

    If you’re hoping that voting with your dollars will impact Johnny Depp’s future career…odds are it won’t. Like the Captain said, boycotts require organized action to take effect. Without that, even if a bunch of scattered people do in fact individually boycott, there’s no message to it–the studio won’t know if it’s because of Depp, or because they weren’t that exited for the movie in the first place, or because of something else entirely.

    If you’re worried that your fandom friends will think you’re a Bad Person ™ if you go see it…I’d love to say that no one will think that, but the internet is a surprisingly rigid social space sometimes, and there are people around who might. The question is whether you care what someone with such a rigid idea of good/bad thinks of you. My experience is that people working on that kind of framework will eventually find SOME reason or another to decide that you’re Bad, no matter how hard you try to do everything right by their standards–so you might as well do what you want and not bother living in fear of their judgement. But it’s your call.

    If you think that seeing his face on the screen will ruin the movie for you, then by all means don’t waste your money on something you don’t think you’ll be able to enjoy!

    1. All the movie posters I’ve seen took great care to *not* show Johnny Depp, or not centre him. Which tells me that the boycott *is* working. He’s not an asset, a draw, someone who gets centered at the expense of others anymore. He’s close to being a liability – not so close he gets dropped (after all, Rowling wanted him), but he’s no longer the golden boy.

      Sure, there’s always more to do (and being vocal on social media about why you won’t pay to see this film _if enough people do it_ will also have an impact. Small things add up.

        1. Truth. I joined a boycott of Pokemon GO last month over their promotion of Autism Speaks, and guess what? I really don’t miss the pressure to keep up with the game and how hard it is on my phone. I typically paid $10-20/mo because I don’t have time to go around earning credits in-game, and now I can spend that money donating to ASAN or AWNB (or treating myself to a salad buffet instead of junk food when I don’t have time to cook.)

          I admire the cleverness of Niantic’s tactics to get people to play more regularly, but don’t actually like being guilted into playing daily so I can “build friendship” with people so I can trade with them. Then they make the trading mechanic so arduous to navigate (when I do manage to meet up with a friend who still plays) that you give up after 2-3 trades. And of course it’s another way people with partners or kids can get ahead of me… they can trade every day and I have to schedule meetings around my already busy schedule. (This is on top of having helpers for craft shows, someone else to do chores, etc. and then they are so surprised I get behind on these things.)

          1. I didn’t know about Autism Speaks, ugh. (Another reason to ditch it.) The problem is that it works so well for me in making me leave the house once a day (I work from home); which is good for my health overall. I’m looking to replace it, but haven’t yet found a way.

            I struggled finding people to ‘be friends with,’ but trading is impossible – all my Pokemon-playing friends are elsewhere on the globe. (Also, who can spontaneously meet twelve people to take down a 5* Gym? Not me. Just Does Not Happen Around Here.)

          2. Honestly, PoGo is a great example of privilege in action.

            Your experience of the game will be totally different if you live in a major metro area vs. boonies, and your skills can’t make up the difference.

            I used to use it as a way to motivate myself walking, but between weather, allergens, and an increase in the” underground economy” in my neighborhood, it’s not healthy.

          3. @GrumpyMeowth Don’t get me started. It’s such a mean game. (If you live next to a gym, you’re golden. If you live in the countryside, you’re stuffed. My experience has improved with the introduction of two new Pokestops and a Gym on the local green, before that, it was pretty dire.

            My ‘does not happen’ experience includes numerous parts of Central/Tourist London, and you’d THINK there was a sufficient number of players around… but no.

            Underground economy

            Tell me more? I’ve given up playing in one area because it was ruled by bots (Niantic does not care, and not only is it suspicious when all gyms in a 15 mile radius are ruled by the same player, I’ve had evidence: isolated place, one approach, and if he didn’t drive up from town 2 miles away and sneak through the pasture and hide in the undergrowth _AND BRING HIS GIRLFRIEND TEN MINUTES LATER_, he must have cheated. Our locality now has gyms filled by Name61, Name61, Name63 and Name64, and unless they’re quadruplets getting a kick out of this, I suspect bots.

            What does one _gain_ by running a bot account? Other than the joy of ruining things for everybody else?

          4. “Underground economy” as in street drugs (you can get legal cannabis at registered stores, but not meth or heroin), stolen bikes, anything stolen out of cars/yards/porches.

          5. @GrumpyMeowth Ah, so not Pokemon-specific, then. Still sucks a lot. (I’ve backed out of playing locally because of a creepy player.)

          6. Ugh, that’s awful. I just live in a downtown area that got worse after I moved in, and it just isn’t fun walking around. I’m not sure how dangerous it is; at the very least, I’m tired of having to watch where I step because people won’t bother to use the public toilets. And the scooter riders who zoom around on the sidewalk, bicyclists who won’t use bike lanes, etc. endanger pedestrians.

  55. This Tgiving, Mr Jules and I are making big plans for our 4 days off work together: We’re going to clean the basement. YASSSS. Over Xmas, we’re talking about learning Python, together. Or at least starting on it.

    Letting go of obligatory actions that we’re not really into has been awesome the last few years.

    1. My other half and I have often spent Christmas (we’re in the UK so we don’t do Thanksgiving) either decorating or sorting out the contents of the loft/spare bedroom/awkward cupboard. We tend not to see our relatives on the day itself, and much as we we’d like to spend our time relaxing with a box set or something it also feels good to be subversive and do some *work* then, and award ourselves a day off in lieu when everybody else has gone back to work. This year, however, we’re having a Christmas holiday and actually going *away*, so we won’t be tempted not to relax…

  56. I like seeing Mr Awkward is ok. I was having my own not-safe thing around that time and you guys always being so open about how he (and you) keep safe and well is so helpful for keeping myself in perspective and knowing it’s OK to ask the professionals for help and knowing that that is a thing that is not end of the line but just a thing that happens sometimes is so glorious. I did NOT know that before tbh. So thanks for sharing things.

    1. I hope you’re on the mend, as well. It is absolutely ok to call in the professionals if you need them.

  57. To question 9: Seconding the suggestion to barricade yourself in your room with a book! Or Netflix or Facebook or whatever. When I was a kid, I would hide from my horrible grandparents that way. I’m a bookworm, so I did a LOT of reading while hiding from relatives. My older cousin was the same. When I briefly lived with my grandfather as an adult (emphasis on briefly because, again, horrible), I really had to double down on the hiding/not being at home thing. I would spend hours in bookstores perusing knitting magazines or at the park looking at ducks. I would stay out till almost bedtime, go home, and go straight to bed. My grandfather still managed to make my life a living hell, though, such as screaming at me for opening the windows or trying to prohibit me from cooking at all (and I love to cook), so I got the hell out. My dad helped me move out, and we figured out quickly that we had to stick together while getting my things, because my grandfather would latch on to one or the other of us to bitch. He would corner me to yell at me or corner my dad to complain about me, and neither one of us wanted to hear it, but neither one of us could get him to shut up, and we simultaneously realized that the best way to stop him was to stick together, and we tacitly refused to split up until everything was loaded up and we were on the road. I never spoke to him again. If you can find a family member to stick with (the focusing on the least sucky ones suggestion), try that.

    Now I live with my dad. He’s better than my grandfather, but there are similarities regarding projects around the house not getting done and the accompanying excuses for why not. At least our politics are the same, but he’s very negative and dwells on political issues that stress him out, whereas I will skim the news to be generally informed but otherwise tune out because it’s negativity that I don’t need. I try to get him to change the subject, but it doesn’t work (he just complains and tells me not to get nasty), so I just leave. It took a long time to learn that walking away is an option. I used to just sit there and listen to the whining or try to participate in the discussion, but it never got anywhere and stressed me out. So I learned to say “I’m going to bed; good night” or “Okay; in that case, I’m going to bed.” He stews a bit, but I don’t care because I don’t have to listen to it. It’s a few minutes versus all evening. He even used to keep me up and insist on talking to me waaay past my bedtime until, like I said, I figured out that I could just up and leave.

    Much like my childhood when my grandparents came to visit, I today spend a lot of my time at home barricaded in my room with a book or laptop. I also stay out of the house as much as possible. I work full time, volunteer at the animal shelter and Red Cross, and play and watch ice hockey. I also go for bike rides or to the pool in warmer weather. Those things all keep me out of the house a lot. Weeknights, I come home and do chores (with an iPod and earbuds!), exercise, and retreat to Netflix. I used to exercise in the living room, but lately I’ve been doing it in my room because the living room is where the TV is, which of course is where my dad is, watching the evening news and bitching about politics. So I exercise along to a YouTube workout video or something, and it works great. I’ve also completed a lot of craft projects that way. His negativity doesn’t have to become mine. I can separate myself and do what I want to do. Moving out isn’t an option for me right now, but I’ve found something that works instead.

  58. A lot of great ideas about avoiding holiday crowds by hiding away/getting out of the house! My personal favorite is NaNoWriMo. There is in fact a not insubstantial chance that NaNo continues to appeal to me year after year because it’s a built-in excuse to flee especially a loud-TV-watching or dinner-table-arguing crowd. Of course, if you tell your crowd you’re doing NaNo, they may have questions/demands to see what you’re writing, but for me the hours of respite are worth the minutes of smiling and nodding and refuse to commit to sharing anything.

    I’m quasi-joking here; there’s a BIT more to NaNoWriMo than avoiding prolonged Thanksgiving contact. And obligatory disclaimer, it’s definitely not for everyone. But as people have mentioned, having a particular project that people know you do can be helpful–again, if you can bear the sometimes polite, sometimes friendly, sometimes intrusive questions that often accompany time-intensive personal projects.

    BONUS you may get an opportunity to practice Captain Awkward’s agreeing with people’s snitty assessments of you. Yes, you ARE too busy for family! Yes, you obviously DO hate all of them. Your daily 2k word goal awaits byyyyyyye!

  59. Q14 (Fantastic Beasts): I have been boycotting the entire Fantastic Beasts franchise from the beginning. For me it’s because of some issues I have with JK Rowling mainly related to Fantastic Beasts and some other things too (happy to elaborate elsewhere). Rationally, I know that JK Rowling is going to be a billionaire regardless of whether I buy a ticket and that the franchise is going to be popular no matter what I do. I just like knowing that I will not be contributing to the series’ success and that JK Rowling is not making any cents off of me. It’s a token thing that makes me feel less helpless.

    I say this as someone who lives and breathes Harry Potter. I drew the line at Fantastic Beasts. You do you, but I wanted to share what works for me.

    1. I’ll be seeing it this weekend because my 10 year old desperately wants to see it. And read the book/script.

      I don’t quite get how it turned into a 5 part movie from the original book but whatever. It’s making my daughter happy.

  60. Haven’t read the short answers yet, but may I just say that the “Christmas Help for Non-Christians” post from last year was gold. As a Christmas celebrator, I found it very illuminating of just how othering the general Christmas period can be for non-participants, and it also opened my eyes to more ways to acknowledge and appreciate other cultures’ traditions (throughout the year). I’m enjoying rereading it, as it’s still a very good reminder.

    1. Ditto.
      It opened my eyes that even having rejected pretty much everything else from my Christian upbringing, even knowing it’s an appropriated pagan holiday, even not giving a damn about it other than Charles Dickens, I still have “Christmas” in my head and contribute to the othering.

      I think I’ll bookmark that post and make reading it a personal tradition.

  61. Q12: As the SO of a dude who does a kind of work everyone wants/needs all the time, I would err on the side of not asking. It’s kind of like asking an accountant friend to do your taxes for Christmas and, imo (and his), somewhat goes against the spirit of the season. For people who work for themselves,the Captain is absolutely right that people seriously underestimate the value of the project/your time so while maybe they planned on spending $50, now they’re doing $350 worth of work (which takes up time they could otherwise be getting paid for). I think a good rule of thumb would be to look up the going rate for [x] in the wild, and consider if that’s an amount of money this person would otherwise spend on you. Like, if you’re related to Stephen King and want him to write you a nice letter for Christmas, probably okay. But you probably wouldn’t ask him to write you a novel, y’know?

    I would say if it’s not something you’d ask of another working professional (accountant, doctor, lawyer, hedge fund manager, housekeeper, chef), please don’t do it to the artist/craftspeople/makers in your life. Holidays for people who make things also tend to be really busy, with requests coming in all over the place; my SO gets so bummed out when people ask him for gifts like this, because everyone wants/needs it all the time and it seems like he can never disconnect from it, in addition to taking away a lot of the fun of gift-giving.

    YMMV, of course, depending on what the person does and how enthusiastic they are about it (and probably also if it’s their bread and butter vs what they do on the side/hobby), but witnessing my SO react with dread/sadness when the inevitable, “Hey, instead of a gift, will you do/make [x] thing for me” requests start coming in, I just wanted to add that perspective.

  62. Q6 I’m late to the party, but maybe stagger the present stuff and the parents’ visits: we want both of you to have some one on one time with the kids, can you come a bit early and then be so kind as to leave a bit early so they have their time as well? Then you can do the Present Shebang after your mom jets.

  63. I’m also alone on Thanksgiving this year, which I am SUPER STOKED ABOUT because I am going to (in addition to volunteering at my usual shelter) shampoo the rugs, sort through a bunch of clothes for charity donations, binge the rest of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, snuggle the hell out of my dog, eat Chinese food, and do face masks and nails and girly things, and finally do some minor sewing projects I’ve been putting off.

  64. Q7: What springs out to me is that you have two related-but-possibly-separatable issues.

    There’s the “- expect me to do all of the work of staying in touch” issue, and there’s the ‘long-distance travel, particularly of the sort that necessitates passports/other documentation, is expensive and in some cases prohibitively hard for whichever party is doing the traveling’ issue.

    The way you put it makes me think they’re not very good about initiating other types of contact (calls, skype, letters, email, even social media) that might make you feel happier and more connected. If that is indeed the case, do you have the type of relationship where that’s something you feel comfortable asking for (or asking your mom to help facilitate)?

    If you don’t feel like you can ask for that or have any confidence you’d get it, that’s a sad situation and you’re allowed to feel hurt. You deserve a family that puts as much value on keeping in touch with you as you do with them. And since you do have people who care near to where you are now, trust that giving a little extra love to someone who’s feeling lonely on a holiday isn’t even remotely a burden.


    Q9: To the Captain’s excellent strategies, I would add:

    Operation: Keep your eye on the future.

    In times when I’ve been stuck in a situation that feels unendurable, it’s felt helpful to try and take some concrete steps/make practical plans that get me even a tiny little bit closer to that peaceful place in the Fuck Its.

    To some degree, these shitheels value your presence and attention. Whether it’s because you’re faaaamily (just, y’know, not important enough to have your opinions respected) or because they simply enjoy making fun of you, if they didn’t get something out of engaging you they wouldn’t do it.

    How satisfying is it going to feel when you can nope out of this at will? How huffy is your mom going to get when she no longer has you to use as a handy stress-ball? How much fun will you be subtracting from the Facebook gremlins once they’ve been blocked/unfriended and possibly never see you in person again? How awesome will it be to spend the holidays with Team You (or just You!) doing absolutely whatever you want?

    The fake-ass smile of ‘you don’t know it, but today I researched the roommate/rental/financial aid atmosphere in a place that I’d like to live in, buffed up my resume, signed up for an online class, or just checked another day off the calendar until I reach the legal age of FUCK YOU’ feels rather satisfying to wear.

    1. This, sadly, was how I got through my childhood. But when the day came that I finally got to NOPE out, it was so, SO satisfying to no longer have to perform civility, or even attention, for those people.

      And that smile? With fangs. That only I could see.

      1. I had something similar happen in high school. I was in the same small rural school district K-12, and from third grade on I was relentlessly bullied by classmates and teachers. On the very last day of senior year I drove through the parking lot with my boyfriend, blaring “O Fortuna” out the open windows. None of them got it, but I did and that was enough.

  65. Be really careful on Q3 with, “I’m really looking forward to a quiet celebration!” — there was a previous LW who tried something similar and her father invited himself over to be laboriously waited on as part of that quiet celebration. I had the same problem with my horrifying father I know longer speak to — if I said I wanted a quiet Christmas, or a restful Christmas, or a Christmas doing nothing, so he should make other plans — and I would spell it out bluntly and repeatedly in at least 5 different ways that my Christmas would not involve him and he’d better make other plans, he’d always say, “Oh I feel the same way!” and claim he would make other plans. And then he’d show up to stalk me and play sad, sad, lonely old man who drove a thousand miles to be lonely and sad waiting for me to pay attention to him at the holidays, don’t worry, he’ll sit alone and wait and just call every relative he’s ever known to tell them all about how he’s sitting sad and alone after driving a thousand miles in winter weather to sit alone and sad in a sad motel room all alone at Christmas waiting for his daughter to find a little sliver of time to see him…

    I moved and haven’t told him which city I moved to.

    It all comes down to the quirks of who you’re dealing with when it comes to them having their feelings at you. With some people, you can state in no uncertain terms, absolutely no room for misinterpretation, that you want to spend every second of your holiday alone and have zero contact with any other human being, and all they’ll take away from it is that you are 100% available that day or those days *for them*, to devote every second to entertaining them, happily alone together, zero contact with any other human being, all alone and peaceful and quiet…together. With them. Because you’re all available!

  66. Captain, as a kindred reading spirit, I love that you love the Wolves of Willoughby Chase! I will reread my childhood copy when I visit my parents this weekend.

    Also, I’m stealing the term “cattens.” We just adopted six-month old siblings this past weekend!

    1. It is a RIDICULOUS book, but I love it at this time of year. Enjoy the hilarious new friends!

  67. QW3 here! Thanks very much for your response. I am completely looking forward to my quiet holidays (I’ve got supplies to make pumpkin soup and stuffing for Thursday, and presumably I have enough time to buy more supplies for Christmas). Otherwise. . . NAP.

    I talked with my parents, and they were surprisingly good about not transferring any sad!feels they might have over to me. I suspect I’ve doing a bit of projection, alas — I do have some messy feelings about my current professional/living situation, but oh well.

  68. #14: if you don’t mind missing it on the big screen, I usually just wait for the library to get a copy of the movie and watch it for free (well, I do this with a lot of movies because we don’t get to the theater much anymore, but especially when I don’t want to support the creator)

  69. I’m just here to say I’m thankful no one thought my kitty reincarnation theory from a few weeks ago was dumb. And hope Daniel and HerriettaHenrietta

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