Tradition transitions

In Carolyn’s Saturday column, a young woman seeks advice about talking to her (apparently long term, serious) boyfriend about how they spend their vacation time. This year, he plans to spend all of it at his family’s cabin–as apparently he has always done. According to the LW, “It is one of his favorite places on Earth, and he would love nothing more than to spend the entire summer there. The two of us went last year, and I also loved it, and am excited to go again this summer.But, she is nervous this means they won’t go anywhere else, ever, ever again. (For example: while he’s willing to accompany her on visits to her family, he offered to take a week of unpaid leave to do so, rather than shortening his time at the cabin. On one hand, wow, that’s a generous thing to do. On the other, it sort of demonstrates exactly how much it is worth to him–to the dollar–not to change his cabin plans).

Carolyn advised her, wisely, to try to see the biggest possible picture here, and to be brutally honest with herself about how she hopes to spend her leisure time and money in the future. In reply to the question “how seriously should I be taking this?” Carolyn wrote:

As seriously as context tells you to. I don’t think inflexibility on one thing is automatically a sign of trouble — especially something that you can appreciate as “one of his favorite places on Earth,” and especially when he (quickly, it seems) volunteered to sacrifice something valuable to create a little more flexibility where previously there was none.

But that simply means you need to air this out more; don’t just take your consolation week and like it. If you see yourself wanting to go to the beach with him in February some year, or whatever, in addition to your normal week of family visits, then don’t be shy — say it now, and see what he says.

If his answer is, “I have no interest in the beach, and the whole time I’d just be annoyed about my lost week in the cabin/lost pay,” then you have to take that very seriously as a prediction of life with him. I do hope he’d be that honest with you, if that’s how he feels. Speaking a truth that might make us look mean or selfish is far better than saying all the right things and having no interest in following through— yet nerves do falter at truth time.

Even if you don’t feel strongly about variety in vacations, you also need to pay careful attention to other non-cabin things he feels strongly about. When people don’t care much about an area where their partners are inflexible — say, religion — it’s easy to resolve differences by letting the ones who feel strongly have their way. Sometimes, though, the mellower halves go on to find out their mates aren’t just dug in on religion, but instead are one-person Maginot lines of entrenched positions on issues — some of which the erstwhile mellow ones do care about, a lot.

So, try to see as much of the picture as you can before you decide whether this is about a great cabin, which isn’t terribly serious, or inflexibility, which is. Make sure the “give” lines up with the “take” — not just his, but yours, too.

Makes sense, but I was amazed at how quickly many of the commenters on this column jumped all over the boyfriend, when actually we don’t know very much about his response at all. For example:  “this is all of their free time for the rest of their lives doing only what he wants. if she wants to visit friends, or go to Europe or any wish she has — it must be subordinate to his plans for their free time. sounds like a lifetime of a man who doesn’t really care for her or for pleasing her — his way or the highway — I say the highway.

Whaaa?

Carolyn’s advice was consistent with her general philosophy, which is to acknowledge and honestly deal with your preferences and annoyances in (dating) relationships, because no matter how good you think the relationship is, or how much you want it to work out, if on a day-to-day basis you don’t want the same things, and don’t make each other happy, you’re on a track to years of  resentment and misery. This means sometimes you break up over reasons that feel really petty–but actually are reflections of whether or not you are well suited for each other. I think this is really important.

But I also think it’s really important to give people room to consider and accept change, and to gradually work their way out of lifelong, beloved patterns. It sounds like this boyfriend has always spent all his vacation at this cabin. Last year they went and had a great time, so he had no reason to think about changing his plans. This year, it’s in the air that she wants something more, and while he wants to be supportive of her, he’s not willing to change his plans. I think it’s important they talk about it so he can get used to the idea of doing something different, but I also think it’s fair to give a summer or two for that transition to happen, and to come more naturally.

This situation reminds me very much of Christmas 2008. SK had just moved to Michigan, and we were engaged, but not yet married. We’d both done various versions of holiday events with each other’s families for the previous couple of years. We were talking about how we’d handle the holidays that year, and we found that neither one of us was willing to break with our personal traditions just yet. We both had expectations, with lots of emotions attached, about how we’d spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and it was really hard to mash them up. In the end we did go our separate ways for part of the holiday, and then joined up again for the rest of it.

I don’t know about for him, but for me, that year was really important. It was a chance for me to experience my childhood traditions with the knowledge that it was probably going to be the last time, or at least the last time they’d be quite that way. With that mindset, I was also able to see with clear eyes that the traditions had changed, too, and things weren’t always going to be “the same” anyway. It also gave me a chance to realize that I wanted us to spend the holidays together more than I wanted to go through the motions of the events that I thought made the holiday. I needed to do things my way that year, but it wasn’t purely selfish inflexibility. It was a turning point for me that made me ready to plan our holidays as a couple in the future.

Now, this couple isn’t engaged or married, so I’m certainly not advocating that she spend one or two or three more years just waiting to see what happens when summer vacation time rolls around. But if they are together for the long haul, I guess I would just add to the converstion that the seemingly stubborn decision of one year, even if it seems hard and fast (and reduces one party to piteous weeping), can be the beginning of the conversation, not the final word.

Paying A-tense-ion

Miss Manners recently answered a question about how to respond to a valuable gift that isn’t to the recipient’s taste.  Her reply? Thank with abandon, wear with reservation. No, you don’t have to put on something you dislike every day, but to express disappointment or dissatisfaction to the giver is downright rude.

Fair enough.

But I think Miss Manners missed a key element in the language of the question. Take a look:

Dear Miss Manners: My husband bought my daughter a pair of diamond stud earrings that she had told him she didn’t like/want. She appreciates the thought and gesture but doesn’t care to wear them.

Would it be wrong to politely ask him to go with her to trade them for something that she would wear more?

Gentle Reader: Why miss another chance to show him that his outpouring of sentiment and generosity was a failure?

All presents are laden with symbolism, Miss Manners warns you, but jewelry is explosive with it, and never more so than when given by a gentleman to a lady or relative to one of the next generation.

The young lady who rejects Grandmother’s ring, telling her that it is too old-fashioned, should probably not have high expectations about the will. Ladies should never confuse gentlemen by accepting jewelry if not prepared to accept the gentleman who offers it—nor by criticizing a proffered ring when intending to take the gentleman himself.

This is not to say that those on the receiving end must wear jewelry they dislike, except on occasions when doing so would feel worth it to please the person who chose it. If a grateful fuss is made at first, it may not be crucial, as time goes by, if the jewelry is worn less. Or one may explain having stones reset to strengthen the prongs or modernize the setting.

Miss Manners’ choice for your daughter would be for her to throw her arms around her father, claim that she had been too overwhelmed to know how to react (which is certainly true), give him a huge kiss and put on the earrings.

She can then put them aside “for special occasions.” They will not lose their value, and later, if she does not come to value the sentiment enough to keep them, perhaps for the daughter she may some day have, she can privately trade them without embarrassing her father.

Miss Manners answered the question as if the young woman had opened the gift, snorted, reached for her iPhone, and tweeted “diamond earrings!? #donotwant”

But the LW actually writes that her daughter  “had told him she didn’t like/want” them. Which suggests to me she had been asked about or shown the earrings ahead of time, expressed a preference, and then her father bought and bestowed them anyway.

This sounds more to me like calculated manipulation than imprecise generosity.

Miss Manners reminds us that “all presents are laden with symbolism,” and that accepting a gift–especially an expensive one–has implications for the relationship between giver and recipient. Well, it goes the other way, too. Giving an expensive, symbolic gift– in full knowledge of the intended recipient’s discomfort with it–is about power, not pleasure.

We don’t need to debate the etiquette of prospective recipients instructing their family and friends in their tastes and preferences every time a holiday rolls around. I’m not suggesting that all givers need to get the recipient’s approval before selecting a gift. But if he did have that information and chose to act against it, something about the spirit of this gift is way off the mark.

typiquette

Sigh: the battle over whether to use one space after a period or two continues to rage. The issue has long been settled by typesetters and style guides, and even forcibly by web browsers themselves, which typically collapse all whitespace between characters to a single space.

Nevertheless, purists, loyalists, and typists of all sort continue to kvetch about it–many of them admitting that they simply can’t give up doing what they were trained to do. And so, the matter has now come to the attention of the highest authority in the land: Miss Manners. What? Yes. And since she does hold strong opinions about communication media in other situations (thank you notes must be hand written!) perhaps it’s not entirely unreasonable that she weigh in here:

Dear Miss Manners: I’ve just been informed that only one space is needed after a period, but having learned to type on a typewriter, this confused me. Apparently (note, I’m still putting in two spaces), computer fonts no longer require two spaces after a period, but if you (whoever that may be) are typing on a typewriter, you should continue to do so?

Gentle Reader: Ordinarily, Miss Manners handles only those problems that are truly about etiquette. This is less of a limitation than one may think, considering that she defines etiquette as all human social behavior.

Her answer is that while it is true that a computer does not require double spaces between sentences, you should continue to use two spaces on the typewriter. Partly this has to do with tradition. But mostly it has to do with the fact that anyone still using a typewriter has been at it too long to be retrained.

(Check out the letter above this one, too, where she makes a plug for voting polite candidates into office.)

Hello, world!

Hello, world!

….If anyone is still out there.

It’s been a busy, exciting, and sometimes stressful few month behind this blog. I’ve been taking an unintended, but much-needed break, and once I got into the non-momentum of not-posting, no post seemed worthy of being the first post…of the new year. After a 2….3….4….month hiatus. Or what-have-you.

But I miss the blog (I don’t miss the columns, as I never quit them, of course) and the only way to pick up again is to just do it, eh? So here we go–easing back in with some good advice from Carolyn’s chat today. She’s stated this philosophy in various forms many times, and I think it’s important, so for today will just share it with you:

You know, it’s okay to choose not to do something just because you don’t feel like it. I don’t advise making a habit of choosing this option, but if you’ve baked for the last three bake sales, for example, it’s okay to say you’re sorry, this isn’t a good time, and you’ll be happy to make something next time. And your unspoken definition of “isn’t a good time” could really, justifiably, be that you’ve been looking forward all week to sitting on your butt and watching a movie.

I see getting comfortable with the word “no” as a multi-step process, especially if you’re starting from a point where there’s a sense of personal risk attached to every “no”–as if everyone will hate you or think ill of you for letting them down. The first step is paying attention to when your feelings turn resentful–that’s the advice you’re referring to, I assume–and recognizing that’s your body’s way of telling you that you’re giving to the point of giving yourself away. Accordingly, you start to step back gently from there.

Once you get comfortable with that process, I think you’ll start to make out patterns–of things you like to give and don’t, of people you like to give to and don’t, or situations when it’s okay to extend yourself and when it isn’t. The second step is to put those patterns together: You’ll see the beginnings of an outline of who you are. You’ll see which are your healthy relationships, which are your passions, which are your vulnerabilities, and what just drains the life out of you. Seeing these clearly will help you say “yes” and “no” to things based on anticipation of how you’ll feel, instead of just reacting to how you feel in the moment. That means you’ll be able to make plans–and decline them–with a growing sense of confidence.

Sometimes you’ll mess up, sure, and overextend yourself here or blow off a worthy cause there. But even those aren’t the end of the world, they’re just life.  One lazy /selfish/entitled decision does not a lazy /selfish/entitled person make. That’s step three, fine-tuning your ability to recognize when to offer help and when to look at the ceiling and whistle and hope nobody spots you. As long as you’re at peace with the cumulative result, you’re fine.

There’s nothing like a hootenanny for the holidays

Gentle readers, it’s been a long time.  I realize the last month or so has been pretty lame, A-Little-Help-wise.  Things have been busy and exciting around here, which means they’ve been absolutely dead around here. It’s not likely to get much better before Christmas, but things will pick up again in the New Year!

In the meantime, I want to remind everyone that it’s almost time for Carolyn Hax’s annual Holiday Horrors Hootenanny!  Each December, in the weeks before Christmas, Carolyn turns one of her live chats into a festival of Festivus fiascos.  Don’t miss the fun–and her dad’s annual “Night Before Christmas” parody.

As a bonus, this year I submitted a holiday horror story of my own (you can too!), so there’s that to look out for.  I don’t know whether it will be posted in the chat or not, but if you follow along, take a guess at which catastophe is one of the ghosts of A Little Help’s Christmases past.

Happy holidays, happy flurries, happy shopping, happy parties…happy happy.

deja deja vu

When I read Miss Manners‘ column this morning (well, really it was Sunday’s column), I knew I’d read it–and even written about it!–before.  So imagine my surprise when in the deep little help please archives, I couldn’t find the post that I was sure would contain precisely the phrase I recognized in the column.

I broadened my search.  And, lo and behold, I found the post. But guess what–I never found the column. I know, I would bet the farm if I had one, that in early 2009 Amy published this letter from a woman who spills things on purpose to give her an excuse to clean up her boyfriend’s garage apartment.  I know it.  But apparently I couldn’t even find the column then, and I can’t find it now.

Weird.

I see someone who sees rude people

Amy Alkon–better known as the Advice Goddess–was featured on The Today Show this morning, weighing in as an expert on rudeness (she’s the author of the book I See Rude People).  Check out the clip!

I always think it’s fascinating to see and hear writers speak, and find out if they sound at all in real life how they sound in your head.  In this segment, for example, it’s a little jarring to see Amy (usually known for her unapologetic straight shooting) say, “I think strangers should treat each other more like neighbors,” in a soothing voice.  It’s not that she’s contradicting herself–I think you can call it as you see it with the adulterers who ask you for advice, and still be kind to children and gracious to the waiter.  It’s just not the tone I expected her to take, given the zingy (sometimes too zingy) one liners and black leather jacket I’m used to seeing in her column.

She certainly came off as more elegant, however, than the two guests who were on the show live, and who (ironically) proceeded to interrupt one another, cutting each other off and practically elbowing each other to get in the last word on how manners have disappeared from our e-society.  Matt Lauer looked a little afraid.