Category Archives: travel

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.


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.

Vacation Interrogation

Carolyn’s Sunday column (both of her weekend columns come out Friday afternoon) features a letter from a woman who feels that her daughter-in-law is too nosy:

Dear Carolyn:

How do I handle the multitude of questions that come from my daughter-in-law regarding activities or trips I’m taking? To my son I say, “I’m going to the mountains for the weekend.” He responds, “Sounds like fun,” and that is it.

Daughter-in-law says, rapid-fire, “When are you leaving, is X going with you, what will you do there, when will you be back?” I know it is her nature to be a bit nosy and I have nothing to hide, so I find myself pouring everything out like she was a soul-sister.

Unfortunately, she stores the information and later throws little digs my way, like she is keeping a scorecard on where I go and whom I’m with. Her timing with these digs is remarkable, always implying that I don’t spend equal time with her kids. I need help in not buying into her nosiness in the first place.

Snow Bunny

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Miss Manners 2.0 (2/2)

If you thought Monday’s offended IM-er was uptight, wait until you read this:

Dear Miss Manners: I have a GPS navigator in my car, which I use when I am going to an unfamiliar location. If I have a passenger who claims to know the way, I usually rely on the passenger rather than the GPS, though sometimes this has proved to be a mistake. But when traveling to a place that is unfamiliar to both of us, I use the GPS.

Now it has happened on several occasions, and with different passengers, that while the final destination may be unfamiliar, during some portion of the route, such as getting out of the city or passing through a nearby community, the passenger has argued with the GPS navigator by calling it stupid, asking me why I bought it in the first place, or telling me to throw it out the window.

One person actually sulked for an hour because I took the GPS directions instead of his. Another person told me he would rather get lost than rely on a silly box with a simulated voice.

If I am a passenger in someone else’s car, I don’t give directions unless I am asked. I feel that most drivers have their favorite ways to travel, and it is not up to me to question their decisions. I would like to know how to respond to people who develop adversarial relationships with my GPS navigator.

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A Little Help from the Lowlands

My colleague SK (not to be confused with my husband SK) was in the Netherlands last week speaking on a panel, and brought back for me this adorable postcard featuring  a Dutch tea-towel or dishtowel (I think) emblazoned with a ring of gnomes and toothbrushes (?), and the phrase “A Little Help.”  The original is in a textile museum in Amsterdam.  I love it!

Out of Season

Carolyn totally re-purposed an excerpt from her December 23 Christmas chat in today’s (or really, tomorrow’s) column.  She does this pretty regularly, expanding upon questions answered on the fly in her live chat by formalizing them in her column…used to bug me (I’ve already read this!), doesn’t anymore.

But this one? This was explicitly about driving from one parents’ house to another for Christmas.  I even already blogged about it! She’s simply replaced the word “holiday” with “visiting” throughout:

Dear Carolyn:

Any tips for surviving driving my sister from one parent’s house to the other this weekend? It’s a three-hour trip and she commandeers my radio, criticizes my driving, and generally drives me nuts every time we’re in the car. Plus, she’ll be really late, and want to stop at every Starbucks we pass, which will make her have to pee. I’m anticipating the three-hour drive will take roughly 4.5 with her in the car. How do I do it so we arrive at parent No. 2’s house with me still in the visiting spirit?


Read this, appreciate how funny it is, and treat yourself to a foofy somethingorother-uccino at one (if not all) of the stops.

This is all fine, I suppose.  This doesn’t really have to be a holiday issue.  Though it was way funnier when it was, and mixed in with the context of everyone else’s family disasters.

I guess I just don’t see the point.  It’s one thing when a complicated proble requires a nuanced, complex answer, and truly benefits from a more intensive treatment in the column than Carolyn can spare in the live chat.  I’ve seen examples like this before.

But this one is clearly for entertainment only.  She doesn’t have much to say about it.  And it was funnier with Santa hats and eggnog in the landscape.  With the number of letters Carolyn surely receives each day, I guess I just don’t get why she bothered to revive this one, which already had its moment back in December.

A little bit of give, and a little bit of take….

It seems like the art of generous giving and gracious accepting–and reciprocation–is one that’s being quickly lost in favor of careful bookkeeping and Dutch-going. Here’s what I mean:

DEAR ABBY: I am a 43-year-old professional woman with a good job. I was recently invited by a friend to join her and her parents on a four-day mini-vacation trip. I accepted with the understanding that I would share food and hotel expenses.

Her father insisted on paying for every meal and excursion, and refused my offers to pay for anything. This made me very uncomfortable, since I was not expecting a free ride. I gave my friend some money and asked her to repay her father after I had left, but I still feel awkward about the whole thing.

Abby, what is the proper etiquette for such situations? — CAN PAY MY WAY IN TENNESSEE

DEAR CAN PAY: Your friend’s father is obviously a man of means, who could afford to treat you and did not feel comfortable allowing you to pay for the meals and hotel expenses. It is possible that he comes from the “men pay for everything” generation. While you may be too young to remember, it’s the one that grew into adulthood before the women’s rights movement.

Rather than having given your friend money to pass along to her dad, a better solution would have been to send her parents a lovely gift with a letter included, thanking them for their generosity.

Of course this woman didn’t EXPECT her expenses to be covered, but if her hosts insisted, it seems to me that the thing to do would be to thank them profusely (but not excessively!), enjoy herself, and afterward send them a letter and gift, as Abby suggests. It would have been ideal if she could have treated for a special meal out or something, but it sounds like her friend’s parents would have made this impossible.

I understand why this would have made her uncomfortable, but how much MORE uncomfortable is it to tussle over the check (I think anything more than just two volleys of “no, I insist” counts as a “tussle”), ending every meal in awkward debate between people who don’t know each other well, and excessive reflection on the cost, rather than the experience?

I think it’s weird that the writer was defensive about the fact that she “can pay [her] way,” and that even Abby attributed the host’s generosity to, basically, chauvinism. More likely it’s less about women not being able to pay than about his being a father treating his daughter and daughter’s friend to a trip.

I think it’s too bad that someone being magnanimous and generous seems commonly to lead to feelings of guilt, awkwardness, and a desire to mathematically even the playing field as soon as possible–thus, cash surreptitiously stuck into pockets, rather than a letter, gift or invitation to dinner in the coming weeks. Trying to “pay someone back” for an invitation or gift seems almost more offensive than not thanking them at all.

Ok, that’s not true. Very little would be more offensive than not thanking them at all. But still.

The exception would be, I guess, if you know the hosts can’t afford it, and so their insisting on picking up the tab ruins everyone’s fun–I actually was just speaking to a family friend who has this problem with her father.

Of course we should be mindful and thankful when others go out of their way for us. It’s a gift and a privilege to be treated or hosted on occasion, and one we should recognize, honor, and reciprocate (however we can). But refusing to accept it–in other words, rejecting the other person’s generosity–takes away from the joy of giving all together.