Wondering what to do about a dinner party guests who text at the table? Or the girlfriend with dreaded cats as pets? ‘Dear John,’ at your service.
With Christmas dinner approaching, I am trying to proactively deal with a problem that is sure to arise: my sister’s family are the kind of people who think nothing of keeping one eye on their phones throughout the entire meal! This deplorable behavior includes her, her husband, and her fifteen-year-old son. The last time I had dinner with them, instead of being blatant about it, they all kept their phones in their laps and kept sneaking furtive glances under the table. If anything, this was actually worse. I can’t imagine why people who would never think of, say, reading a magazine at the dinner table think this is okay. She can be a bit of a hothead…should I say something or just let this go?
While it is very tempting to suggest going into another room and texting her to PAY ATTENTION TO THE PEOPLE WHO ARE ACTUALLY PHYSICALLY PRESENT, I’ll try to be more constructive.
For some reason, people like your sister and her husband think cell phone use is somehow exempt from basic rules of courtesy. (I can’t blame their son, considering the examples they set.)
What you should do about it, if anything, depends on whether you’re the host, and that’s not clear from your letter. If you are, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to take her aside and say, “I’ve so looked forward to having a nice Christmas dinner with you and your family. Would you do me a huge favor and leave your phones in the living room? I find it very hard to have a conversation with someone who seems so distracted.” But if she gets huffy about it, I’d let it go. What else can you do? Their boorish behavior is not worth ruining a meal over. On the other hand, if you’re not the host, it’s not really your problem to worry about. As her sister, of course you can ask her what’s so important that it can’t wait an hour. But if she wants to embarrass herself by acting so rudely, that’s up to her.
I have been dating a woman who has two cats. I like her very much, but I do not like cats – hers or anyone else’s. (And that’s understating my feelings a bit.) Our relationship has progressed to the point that we spend quite a bit of time at her house and these cats are ever-present. They’re on the couch with us, they’re milling about while we’re eating, they’re up on the bed…it’s constant! I suggested shutting them in a room for a while one night just to get some peace, but she let them out the moment they started yowling. I know she loves these cats, but I feel like we have reached an impasse. I want very much to make our relationship work, but the cats are making that less and less likely. Am I missing something? What would drive a brilliant, successful woman to pick cats over people?
Nine Lives Too Many
Dear Nine Lives,
This is going to sound much harsher than I mean it, so I am going to temper it with a little smiley face made from punctuation: She’s not picking cats over people. She’s picking cats over you. 🙂 There.
I’m sure you realize that people fall into two broad camps: Cat lovers. And bad people. You, my friend, have the misfortune of addressing your question to one of the former.
Long-term, there’s really no room for compromise here. In a way that you can’t relate to, she loves her cats. They are part of the deal. If you want to start spending more time at your place, fine. But sooner or later, you will have to either accept (not love – accept) her cats or move on.
My ex-husband and I have been divorced for about a year. We have two young boys, eight and ten. We all live near each other so we all see each other quite a bit. My ex and I don’t get along very well, but we try to conceal our animosity in front of our boys.
Here’s the problem: returning from a weekend with his father recently, my older boy told me my ex-husband’s girlfriend stayed at his house while our kids were there! I am beyond livid. I don’t know this woman. I have no idea how serious their relationship is. Even if she’s a nice person, it absolutely breaks my heart when I think of my sweet little guys trying to process this. I want to say something to their father, but this is the kind of conversation that could easily degenerate into a terrible argument. And he might actually like the fact that he has the power to upset me so. I just don’t know what to do because I can’t even think clearly about it. Any perspective would be welcome.
Mad Ex, Sad Mom
Dear Mad Ex,
I can understand your anger. You seem to realize that after a divorce, every decision parents make has to be in the best interests of their kids. You owe them that. And in the scenario you describe, your husband is falling quite a bit short.
You’re absolutely right that at the very least, this is confusing for your kids. I will give your husband the benefit of the doubt and assume that his girlfriend doesn’t pose any kind of a threat to the kids. But they sorely need the stability that has been lacking in their young lives up to this point. Will this woman be a constant presence? One in a series of short-lived dalliances? Who knows? But I don’t think kids should be exposed to a parent’s new partner until they have made a firm commitment to each other – like an engagement.
Another reason this shows terrible judgment on your husband’s part is that this should be special time with two boys who want, need, and deserve his undivided attention. During their visits, they shouldn’t have to share him with anyone. It’s inexcusably selfish of him to have his girlfriend over when they are there, too.
I’m afraid all you can do is try to calmly discuss this with him and hope he will listen. Frame it exclusively in terms of what’s best for the kids. If he rejects what you say out of hand, there’s still a chance he’ll think it over and start putting them first. If he simply refuses to change his ways, all you can do is be the best example for your boys that you can be. Let them know that if this situation (or anything else) bothers them, they can talk to you about it. And while Mom and Dad no longer live together, you both love them as much as you possibly can.
photo: tantek on Flickr