Category Archives: vacation

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.

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Summertime Blues

It’s that time of year again–the season when friends, relatives, and paid caretakers apparently contrive to tromp on the vacation fantasies of their friends, relatives, and employers.  The switchboard has been lighting up this week on this topic–read on!

Friends (Annie’s Mailbox, August 8 )

Dear Annie: For several summers, my family has overlapped vacation time with a nice couple we have known for many years. Now I’m not sure I want to keep seeing them.

They bring their two dogs, one of which is high strung and barks constantly. And last year, the husband questioned why we go to church. I like going to Mass with my family, especially in this beautiful small church on the harbor where we vacation. One evening, the four of us stayed up and talked, and I ended up having to defend my more traditional values against his anti-religious and very liberal views.

His first wife was a blonde, and his present wife is a brunette. My wife is a redhead. I’m beginning to think he has designs on her, and that his attempts to start arguments with me mask his true intentions. My wife thinks my suspicions are crazy and is willing to meet up with them regardless of whether I go or not.

The problem is, my opinion on this annual vacation scenario has me coming in a distant fourth. This is our time together, and I don’t want it used to please everyone else. What do you say? — Madness in Maine

Dear Maine: We say you are wildly overreacting. This man’s anti-religious and liberal viewpoints have nothing to do with your wife. And her hair color is irrelevant. Is he making a play for her? Does he try to get her alone? Does he call, text or visit her without your knowledge? If so, you have cause to worry. Otherwise, we don’t see it.

You don’t have to please everyone, but you should try to please your wife. If she likes to socialize with this couple, you might make the effort for her sake. Discussions on religion and politics can engender extreme reactions. We strongly recommend you pick other subjects and see whether you have more in common.

Relatives (Dear Prudence Live Chat, August 9)

Q. Vacation With the In-Laws: My husband and I have had a rough year—changes in my career, buying a new house—and had to cancel our plans for vacation earlier this summer. We decided that we’ll visit his parents down South the week of my birthday late next month. His parents are wonderful people, and staying at their home is like staying at a resort—private pool, three golf courses to choose from, and the beach nearby. About two months ago, his brother and his wife started visiting us every Sunday, for hours on end—sometimes leaving at midnight. While his brother is really funny and his wife is really sweet, I have nothing in common with these people other than a last name, entertaining them has become a chore (afternoon visits should never exceed the length of a typical workday), and my weekends have been hijacked because of their now-expected visits. Well, they caught wind of our vacation plans, and they want to join us. My husband told them, “We’ll see,” but now they have it in their heads that we are definitely driving together (12-plus-hour trip down), and told the parents. When I explained to my husband that we need alone time—we need this to reconnect and relax, he was completely with me, but he refuses to tell his brother that we want to go by ourselves because he thinks it’s a jerk move and it will anger his brother and their parents. Honestly, I can’t bring myself to go on this much-needed vacation. (I haven’t taken time off since last Christmas, and it was an entire week with the in-laws!) Do I make up an excuse to stay home? Was it really that horrible of me to ask my husband to tell his brother no? Do I suck it up and go?

A: Has anyone in your family heard of the hospitality industry? That’s where you pay other people to whom you aren’t related to provide you with rooms, food, and entertainment. It’s fine that your idea of a vacation is hanging with the in-laws, but that means you’re not really in a position to decide which in-laws are going to hang with you. If you don’t want to see your brother- and sister-in-law, then find the money to go somewhere else or have a staycation. And speaking of in-laws and hospitality, what’s up with your brother- and sister-in-law? They sound wacky, but you sound just as wacky in your inability to say, “We can’t do Sunday open house anymore. We love seeing you, but we’ll have to do it at a mutually convenient time, and I’m afraid we’re tied up for the rest of the summer.” If they show up anyway, greet them at the door and say, “I’m sorry, we were just on our way out. We’ll let you know next time we have a free weekend.”

…and paid caretakers (Ask Amy, August 9)

Dear Amy: My husband and I bought a vacation home in another part of the country.

A local couple very generously offered to visit the house periodically (they live a mile away) and let us know if anything needs to be fixed.

We paid the gentleman for necessary repairs. He’s very good at his craft.

We gave them permission to hang out at the house to enjoy the view, and at one time we let them have their son stay there with his family overnight.

It turns out that they have had at least one large party there. They set off lots of fireworks on our property.

The man painted our fountain a color of his choice, even though it didn’t need to be painted and we didn’t approve the color.

Throughout the past year, they invited additional family members to stay at our home without asking us, and some minor damage was incurred.

We requested that they clear it with us first if they wanted to have anyone stay there in the future.

We like this couple and want to keep them as friends, regardless of their actions.

However, they say that since we don’t trust them, they’ve returned the keys to the house.

They haven’t responded to a friendly message.

What is the appropriate action to take at this point?

— NM Bound

Dear Bound: After you change the locks and hire someone to serve as a caretaker of the property, and after you repaint the item you never wanted painted in the first place and repair the damage these people inflicted in your absence, you should sit down and examine the statement they made to you about trust.

You don’t trust them because they haven’t been trustworthy.

Your neighbors left you wide open to theft, damage and the liability you might face if someone was injured on your property. This is an extreme violation of the agreement you made with them.

Chalk this up to an error in judgment on both your parts.

If they are able to acknowledge their violation, then you might be able to move on. Otherwise, unlike the material damage to your property, the damage to your relationship might be irreparable

Auto-Reply: Out of Office

Gentle readers–if any of you are still out there–

Hello, and apologies that the only thing I’ve had to offer you in over a month is a Dutch tea towel.

(Digression: how can we get this phrase to catch on?  “You’re as cute as a Dutch tea towel!” perhaps, or maybe, in another direction, “she stayed with me for a month and didn’t bring so much as a Dutch tea towel as a hostess gift.”)

It’s been a busy, exciting summer, with lots of time on the road for business and pleasure, and not so many days at home, or in the office.  In that vein, now that I’m back at work it seems appropriate to revive the blog with an ongoing issue in Dear Abby (and possibly in your very own cubicle): co-workers who don’t [appear to] work.

It started with a letter from a bitter supervisor published back on June 1:

DEAR ABBY: I’m the supervisor of a small office. One of my biggest challenges is scheduling time off for the female employees. In my day, you didn’t take a day off unless you were very sick or your child was sick. Now they seem to want time off for everything from school events, sporting events, getting their nails done, their faces waxed or tanning appointments. I am amazed at the decline in work ethic.

As I read about the unemployment in our country, I would think people would be grateful to have a well-paying job with benefits — but the recession hasn’t slowed any of our female employees down one bit. What has happened to the old-fashioned work ethic that founded this country? (Maybe it went south along with the jobs?) And by the way, Abby, I am a female. — TAKES MY JOB SERIOUSLY

Yikes.  It sounds like this woman needs…..well, a day off.  Maybe a whole batch of them.

As Abby pointed out in her reply, if these women (really?  just the women?  Do men take no time off?  Or doesn’t she supervise any?) are simply making use of the paid time off included in their compensation package, then they’re within their rights to spend that time however they want.  Their salaries take into account their not working a certain number of days each year.  They should be expected to take this time, and so, for that matter, should the supervisor.

For the sake of the rest of the post, I make this assumption–that the requested time off she’s complaining about is paid vacation/personal time. If that’s actually not the case, it’s the supervisor who needs to grab the reins and regain control of the situation–meeting with employees, reviewing policies, instituting some sort of consequences, or just saying no.  But if employees want their own vacation days, and their boss resents it–well, now we’ve got something to talk about.  And so we shall.

Reader responses to this letter ran today, and varied widely.  Bits’n’pieces below:

I understand the frustration of “Takes My Job Seriously” (June 1), the supervisor who complained about her female employees requesting time off for kids’ school and sports events or beauty appointments. Over the last few years I have noticed a decline in work ethic across the board.

Phone calls go unreturned, workers stand around idle and errors are made on important forms. People seem to do the minimum necessary to make it to the end of the day, and supervisors aren’t much different — they allow this behavior. Years ago, people worked hard for their money. Now they hardly work.

[Grrrr….taking earned time off is not even a little bit the same as slacking off while on the clock]

“TMJS” fails to take into consideration the evolution of the work force. Not only are there more women working now, but we usually work far beyond the regular 9-to-5 grind. As a single mom, I need flexibility in my schedule to get everything done that’s demanded of me at work and at home. I take my laptop home every night and work after my son goes to sleep.  “TMJS” may feel superior because I’m not in the office as much as she is, but I’ll bet I work more hours per week. Technology now allows us the flexibility of choice.

[This is a really important point for folks peering over the cubicle wall and rolling their eyes at their colleagues’ empty chairs.  But it’s not something that should go unspoken between supervisors and employees.  If folks are leaving the office without officially taking time off because they intend to make up the hours remotely–well, a supervisor should sure be aware of and OK with the arrangement]

I supervise several younger women. Studies have shown that while these employees want to do a good job, they find it equally important to have “work/life” balance. I actually think they are smarter than we are. We tend to overwork and feel guilty if we take a day for ourselves. If they take the time they have earned and use it for what they enjoy — good for them.

[hear, hear!]

“TMJS” must have entered the work force when companies still took care of loyal, longtime employees by providing good benefits and job security. It paid to go the extra mile for your employer because you knew your company would return the favor when needed.

In recent years this has changed. Workers today realize that sacrificing their personal life for their professional one does not necessarily reap any benefits.

[another interesting point.  I’d venture–though with absolutely no evidence–that most young professionals entering the workforce today have no intention of staying at their first job more than five years.  It’s simply not a given that the job will even be available that long, for one thing. But there also may be no guarantee of regular advancement, promotion, or raises.  Moving forward in their career will most likely mean changing jobs.  Of course, this sword cuts both ways: why should employers offer long term benefits like, say, retirement matching, to employees that they only expect to have around for a couple of years?]

Although I’m a little annoyed with “TMJS” myself right now, I wonder if there may be practical ways she can improve the situation in her office, so that employees can take the time off they’re entitled to, and she doesn’t feel left in the lurch.  Her real problem seems to be, as she says, with scheduling people’s time off.  She’s frustrated by this, and turns her resentment back onto them and their personal choices.

As the supervisor,  she could set some policies–perhaps time off must be requested a month in advance, or no more than two employees may take vacation in the same week.  Maybe working remotely isn’t allowed, or must be logged/accounted for in a precise way.  Maybe vacation can only be taken in increments of days or half days, reducing the likelihood of odd hours-that-creep-to-three-hours personal errands.  She’s lucky to be in a position to institute or propose some changes–perhaps creative ones–to place reasonable limitations on her employees’ flitting about.

Her supervisees are entitled to their vacation time.  They’re entitled to use that time how they wish, and this shouldn’t impact their boss’s opinion of them.  But they’re not necessarily entitled to take it without notice, whenever they feel like it. Finding the right balance here might save everyone’s sanity.  And I hope, while she’s at it, this woman takes a vacation.

How about you–do you feel guilty when you take a day off of work?  Does your boss make it hard for you to do so?  How do you account for personal errands during the workday?

Do you find yourself working from home in the evenings or on vacation and why?  Is is fear, passion, boundary issues, or some combination of all three?

Later, gators!

In case you didn’t notice, this blog is on vacation. See you in September, as the song goes! (Oh wait, it IS September. OK, see you in the second half of the month). In the meantime, content yourselves with 10 years of Carolyn Hax chat archives: The Hall of Repressed Memories

You may need a Washington Post account to sift through all of these…..not sure….