Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My In-Laws are Crashing Our Christmas”

It’s time again for Shortcuts. For every question, I’ll give my advice in three sentences or less, because sometimes the answer to a person’s question is so obvious and the need to hear it so great, being as clear and frank as possible is simply the best way to go. Today we discuss house guest etiquette, gift-giving etiquette, and plain ol’ dating etiquette.

My mother-in-law just told my husband that she and my father-in-law are coming to town December 23 and staying until Christmas. Now, it’s a short visit, and since we’re having some other out-of-town guests that week, she doesn’t intend to stay with us, but it got me to thinking about when it’s appropriate/considerate to let someone know you’re coming to town. I feel like she kind of sprung this on us last minute; the holidays are usually so packed and planning can start months in advance. Shouldn’t you let people know you’re coming to town earlier than you might otherwise during the holidays? — The Inn is Full

Sure, but life happens and you can’t always plan things with as much advance notice as you might like or that etiquette would dictate. It’s the holidays and rather than hold a grudge or get resentful, why don’t you simply say to your in-laws: “What a happy surprise that you’ll be able to visit us this year. We’re excited to have you join us on some of the activities we already had planned.”

My boyfriend and I have been together for over two years and this year I volunteered to shop for his mother’s birthday present from both of us. I found a gorgeous designer handbag at a consignment store that I know is authentic and looks like it’s never been carried. It retails for about $300 and I bought it for a small fraction of that. If I bought this for my mom or any friend that knows me, I’d be over the moon at my good luck. Since this is his mom, who doesn’t know that I love second hand/consignment stores, I’m little concerned. I don’t want his mother to worry that we spent too much money (the purse was in our budget for gifts) and I’m trying to figure out a nice way to say “I bought it at a consignment store and didn’t pay near the retail price.” How can I reassure her that I didn’t spend too much and not sound tacky? Thanks! — Present Tense

I would simply say, “I found such an amazing deal, I couldn’t pass it up!”

I got out of a two-plus year relationship this past May in which I clearly came second (or third or fourth) with the guy I was dating. We’re talking cheating on me, cancelled dates for working out with his bros, calling me fat and lazy (not the case, thank you), making me feel bad for not having sex with him after bruising my ribs in a car accident, etc. It started at the end of college and has now put me two years behind in the world of “grown up” dating. I have had a few fits and starts dating and a short friends with benefits thing, but all have fizzled out before anything serious happened.Because of my dating history, I have recently adopted the new mantra “be selfish.” I am an extremely busy graduate student with very important career and life goals so I feel like now is the only time in my life when I can truly put myself first. However, I have no idea how to broach this with a potential dude friend. Do I come straight out and tell him he won’t be as important to me as my dissertation or would I just date as per usual and not let him know that I have no plans being serious with anyone any time soon? — Selfish in the City

I wouldn’t be so adamant that you’re opposed to a serious relationship. What if you meet someone who changes your mind about that? How about: “I’m really busy right now and not looking for anything serious, but I’m always open to see where things lead me.”

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at [email protected] and be sure to follow me on Twitter.

45 comments… add one
  • Carolynasaurus December 9, 2011, 8:54 am

    LW1: I think you’re overreacting a bit here. Assuming, worst case, your in-laws told you this morning that they were coming, it’s still two weeks notice. How much notice did you want? I guess if you had made it very clear to them your holiday was busy BEFORE they told you they’d drop in, it’s slightly rude, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t there intend.

    LW2: Last Christmas, I found a great BOGO free deal on cashmere so I got sweaters for my mom and MIL. My MIL’s didn’t fit right and when we went to exchange it after Christmas, the insane original price was displayed all over the place. I felt like a prick but she just wrote me a lovely card afterward saying how nice it was to have something so nice. If you’re really concerned, just tell your bf the truth about it and ask him to slip it along at some point.

    LW3: There’s nothing wrong with saying you can’t date the person right now. If you feel you don’t have the right amount of time, you can say “Not now, but if you’re still interested after this semester/after my thesis/after I graduate I’d be interested, but I can’t now”. And as long as you don’t run around dating every other guy you see, he’ll probably understand.

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    • SpaceySteph December 9, 2011, 10:32 am

      Re: LW 1, I think you’re definitely right. Working people have to plan their vacation far in advance, as do people who have to fly. But if the inlaws are retired or have flexible schedules and live in driving distance, then they could easily decide two weeks out to pick up and visit. I think the ‘etiquette” of holiday planning early is done more out of necessity than rules of etiquette. If they were trying to stay at your house or get you to pick them and their 8 suitcases up from the airport at midnight then I might say you had a case, but otherwise, whats the big deal?

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    • John Rohan December 9, 2011, 10:49 am

      Yeah, no kidding. She should just be grateful they are not staying at their house!

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  • silver_dragon_girl December 9, 2011, 9:00 am

    To the second LW- I wouldn’t worry about it. If she asks, yes, just say you got a great deal, but she probably won’t. It’s kind of tacky to ask what someone spent on you, or to comment on the monetary worth of a gift.

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    • redessa December 9, 2011, 12:11 pm

      It might be ballsy to come right out and ask the price but if the bf’s mother knows anything about designer bags, she’ll know the general ballpark of what they normally cost. I could totally see someone receiving such a gift saying “This is too much,” and meaning it. The mother might end up feeling like what she gave them was inadequate or overspend on the next gift for these two.

      I don’t think it would be a bad idea at all for the LW to preemptively state that she got an amazing deal. She doesn’t need to give the actual $ amount, but at least let the woman know so she’s not feeling uncomfortable with the perceived extravagance.

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    Jess of CityGirlsWorld.com December 9, 2011, 9:03 am

    LW1: Family and holiday trump all the other scheduling etiquette rules! And as far as I’m concerned, you’re getting off SO easy because they are not staying with you! Winning!! Besides family and holidays are synonymous -right?

    LW2 and LW3: What Wendy said.

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    • cporoski December 9, 2011, 11:33 am

      LW1: Totally agree with Jess. i said this in the last post. There are “family holidays” and non family holidays. For Christmas, just deal. That is what it is all about. Be glad you have alot of people that love you. If they did this for 4th of July or Labor Day, I would be annoyed.

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  • bethany December 9, 2011, 9:07 am

    LW1- A way to avoid this in the future would be for you or your husband to ask his parents what their plans are for Christmas a month or two in advance. I actually find it a little odd that their own son never asked them what their pland were!

    LW2- Do what Wendy said. There are often so many great deals around the Holidays, all you have to say is that you found a deal that was almost too good to be true.

    LW3- Not everyone who is dating is looking for something serious. I think you’re assuming that everyone is. So go out and have fun! If the conversation turns to “what you’re looking for”, be honest and say what Wendy said above, but I don’t think you need to make it known on a first or 2nd date that you’re just looking to meet new people and have some fun- that’s what dating is for!

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    • cporoski December 9, 2011, 11:36 am

      Bethany – you are right on for 2&3. As far as 1 goes, men and women communicate with thier parents differently. I am always shocked at how little my husband tells his parents. Believe it or not, sometimes I make a list to make sure he goes over things with his mom.

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  • amber December 9, 2011, 9:13 am

    I think for LW#1 this depends on how close you guys are to your respective families. I can’t imagine not seeing my family or in-laws for the holidays. And I think it would be completely different if say two days before they told you this AND they were staying with you. That would be far less ok with me, but for the most part I’m happy to know I get to see family no matter how far in advance they do/don’t schedule with me. However, I understand some people aren’t as close to their families and it’s more awkward when they visit. Even if that’s the case I would be gracious about their visit.

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    Budj December 9, 2011, 9:14 am

    To the third LW – find someone as busy as you that is putting their life first too – doesn’t have to be grad school just something they are working towards that consumes a lot of their life. I read a lot of these letters condemning the party that is too busy for the other person, but really, it is all relative.

    In those letters one party is making promises they can’t keep and their partner has expectations of them they aren’t willing to meet, but they try and trudge through the relationship anyways breeding resentment and hostility. They aren’t upfront with their partners on how much they can actually give. So…be upfront about it…there are people out there like you that want a serious relationship with real chemistry that can be wedged inbetween all the other stuff they are trying to do with their life until they can both put the relationship in the forefront.

    Just make sure you weed through the ones that say they are cool with you doing what you want to do because they like you, but really are just hoping they can “change your mindset” 6 months in….blargh.

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  • Kerrycontrary December 9, 2011, 10:44 am

    LW3- I’m glad that you have found a positive learning experience out of the experience with your last boyfriend. I finished grad school in may, and yes, it is OK to be selfish at this point in your life. Your 20s are about doing what YOU want to do, before you have the responsibilities of kids and a marriage. That being said, I always find a serious boyfriend when I’m not looking for a boyfriend at all. Just be open to whatever happens. Like wendy said, not everyone is looking for something serious. Plus, the right guy will understand your demanding schedule and you will want to be serious with him. Just focus on your dissertation and see where the current takes you.

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    • Jiggs December 9, 2011, 10:54 am

      Yeah last time I wasn’t into being in a relationship I met my husband, so sometimes the world laughs at your plans. I was all “to be clear, this is super casual”, and then we both got a little carried away. For five years. (And counting).

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    • spark_plug December 9, 2011, 10:54 am

      Totally agree. I met my boyfriend when I was busy applying to grad school. There were periods when I told him that I couldn’t see him during the week, because I was also working full time while working on those apps. I wanted to date and not looking for a boyfriend, but still ended up with one. He’s very independent, so he actually though it was great that I was so busy getting my life together and very willing to accommodate my schedule. We never even discussed where the relationship was going – just let the natural process takes its course.

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      • bethany December 9, 2011, 11:09 am

        I agree too! I met my husband right after I came to the conclusion that I was never going to find the right guy for me, and that was ok. Literally within 2 weeks of me realizing that I would be ok living my entire life as a single lady, I met him.

  • CottonTheCuteDog December 9, 2011, 11:11 am

    LW3 seems to think it is EASY to find a date. I don’t know if it was just me but in college no guy ever asked me out. The only way I was consitantly going on dates was if I was doing the online dating thing. And even then, I had to write super long message to these men before they even wanted to meet me.

    If LW3 is not spending her time looking for a date and these dates are just coming then I agree with what Wendy said, but if the LW is going out all the time actively looking for a date and then telling the guys she isn’t interested in anything serious then I think that is wrong.

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    • lk December 9, 2011, 11:30 am

      EVERY time you post, i go, AWWWWWW at that cute little dog : )

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      • CottonTheCuteDog December 9, 2011, 11:37 am

        It’s not even my dog! I just found that pic on the internet. 🙂

  • lk December 9, 2011, 11:30 am

    LW2’s dilemma made me remember a question I always have…..

    I shop all the time at second-hand stores…. & i get compliments all the time on my 5 dollar designer purse or my amazing designer wool skirt ($3). i kind of want people to know how cheap it is to look nice….. but sometimes people act freaked if i say i got it at goodwill & others say i shouldn’t say that.

    other thoughts?

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    • Ktfran December 9, 2011, 11:36 am

      I wish I were good at thrift store shopping. I stink at it. I envy those with the talent to shift through clothes and find an awesome piece. Any helpful hints?

      And I think it’s perfectly ok to say where you bought something.

      I have the opposite problem. I love shopping at Anthropologie because I like wearing pretty things. People will compliment my outfit and ask where I got something. I’m usually embarrassed to answer because Anthropologie is expensive. Although I usually only shop the sales there.

      Both situations kind of suck.

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      • lk December 9, 2011, 11:46 am

        hmmm…. be so patient & go early on Sunday morning with a coffee & an idea of what you want in your wardrobe (focus on JUST blazers or just skirts) & don’t try to try things on because it’s a pain. just assume there will be some “sunk” cost of things (amazing leather pants : ( …) that simply don’t fit. some places let you take things back, but i usually just return them to goodwill as a gift. also, find a great tailor near you. because if you find a theory blazer for 5 bucks, it doesn’t feel bad to spend 15 bucks getting the sleeves perfect : )

        also, also, DON’T buy things you feel iffy on. you end up with trash. only buy amazing fabrics. omg now i’m fantasizing about $1 belts at goodwill….. someone in my parents neighborhood cleaned out their closet a couple weeks ago. no joke, i could tell it was basically me in 50 years lol…. & i basically bought everything she brought in : ) aigner bags & fxcked up cool cooky old lady shoes & so much wool….. : )

      • Ktfran December 9, 2011, 11:55 am

        Thanks lk.

        I think my big problem is patience. And good to know about what to look for, fabrics, etc. I would love to find Theory at a thrift store! I’ve heard that’s one of the best designers for my body type.

        I’ll have to give it a try sometime soon. There are a few great thrift stores in Chicago.

      • evanscr05 December 9, 2011, 12:05 pm

        I get really overwhelmed in stores where they don’t organize the clothes by the individual pieces. Having to sift through racks really stresses me out and I end up just leaving. I wish I had a knack for it, too. I always just end up defaulting to my usual Ann Taylor Loft.

        But I do love going to places like Goodwill for household stuff. You can find some cool stuff. My mom and I like to buy books from there. At one point in time, I was on a mission to get all of Nicholas Sparks’ books (in hardcover, with the sleeve, and in good condition only) and didn’t want to pay $10+ a book on amazon or something. So, it was almost like a game for my mom to see if she could find what I didn’t have, and in the condition I wanted them in, and they were usually $1, sometimes $1.50. She was actually really bummed once I had them all. Now that I’m cash poor again since we just bought a house, I might have to do this again so I can find good bargains on things to fill my house with (otherwise, for a very long time, it will look like we’ve been robbed :-P)

    • cporoski December 9, 2011, 11:38 am

      I would keep it your secret. It isn’t true, but people think lice, bedbugs, and dead people clothes when they think goodwill. again, I love our goodwill for household things but I just say its “vintage” and call it a day.

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      • lk December 9, 2011, 11:48 am

        i do put things i can’t wash (purses, etc) in the freezer for a week lol, but i hear you : )

        my mom freaks if i bring stuff into her house right after i buy it : )

    • amber December 9, 2011, 11:39 am

      i tell people all the time. i love getting a good deal and sharing sales/discounts, etc. i know if it’s from goodwill it’s been worn before but i mean, they realize you wash it, right? haha. keep enjoying getting a good deal and sharing! 🙂

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    • evanscr05 December 9, 2011, 11:43 am

      My mom reguarly frequents “The Will”. She’s so proud of her $3 jeans that have ended up being her favorites.

      Honestly, who doesn’t look for a good deal these days?? There is an outlet mall about 5 minutes down the road from me and we went crazy shopping for Christmas there last year. I love me some Coach, and so does my Sister-in-law, and we were able to get her something much nicer, and more of it, at a severely reduced rate by shopping there instead of the “real” one. Same quality, better price. Wait, did I just quote those annoying Christmas commercials where those people dance and sing in the mall with their T.J. Max and Home Goods bags??

      The only people who will ever know where you get something is the person who sells it to you, the people you tell, and anyone who sees the name on the shopping bag. Once the price tags are off, no one will ever have a clue, so who cares if you got it from a consignment shop? If it’s something they will love, and you’re able to afford it, go for it! They’ll appreciate the thoughtfulness of a gift you knew they’d love.

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    • bethany December 9, 2011, 11:49 am

      Just call it vintage! People think it’s cooler that way 🙂

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    • oppositeofzen December 9, 2011, 12:26 pm

      If it’s a close friend or family, I’ll tell them where I got it. If it’s someone else, I just smile and say thank you. Some people get really freaked out when you say you shop 2nd hand/consignment/thrift.

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    • misslisa December 9, 2011, 12:34 pm

      Whether to discuss it or not I think is regional. Here in Phoenix we have a store called the Last Chance, where everything is dirt cheap. Everyone knows about it, and there’s no stigma to saying you bought your things there. Most of my co-workers seem impressed at the deals we all snag. Example: Last week I bought a pair of Jimmy Choo boots, slightly worn, for $65.

      When I lived in Dallas, totally the opposite (and sadly, no Last Chance store there). I’m obsessed with smoking deals, but whenever I talked about them, I got a bad vibe from people. A couple of folks came right out and said, “Stop brgging about how cheap your stuff cost. It makes you look poor. You should only brag about how much you paid, not how little.” Thus, it would have been culturally acceptable there to tell everyone if I’d paid the full price of $800 for the Jimmy Choo boots mentioned above, but not tell them if I’d only paid $65.

      Perhaps attitudes have changed since the economy has tanked, however.

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      • Matcha December 9, 2011, 2:08 pm

        Hmm. I think maybe they’re just jealous of your deals. 😛 Or maybe that’s how Dallas is.

    • Splash December 9, 2011, 1:13 pm

      I never know how to find the good thrift stores that have the really good stuff. Any tips on knowing if a place is worth the time to sift through stuff? Is goodwill the place to go? I’d love to get into that!

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      • oppositeofzen December 9, 2011, 1:27 pm

        The best way is to ask around in your area. Or spend a day going to several close by. If you live in or near an upscale area, go to those first.

    • belongsomewhere December 9, 2011, 1:28 pm

      At a family wedding last year, I was wearing a necklace I got at a thrift store for $5. My aunt was oohing and aahing over it the whole night, and I sort of wanted her to get off it, so I told her that I got it at my favorite thrift store and she scolded me for having bad etiquette. (Lady clearly needs to chill.) I think bragging over it (whether something was really cheap OR really expensive) is in bad form, but saying, “Oh, thanks for the compliment! I got it for five dollars at this great thrift store, you should check it out,” is a good way to go, because then people feel like you’re letting them in on a secret.

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        theattack December 9, 2011, 2:00 pm

        I really don’t understand the difference there between saying what you said and then saying what you suggested at the end. But then again, I never knew it was bad to talk about how little you payed for something. I only thought it was rude to brag if you payed a lot.

    • AKchic December 9, 2011, 2:44 pm

      Right after my oldest son was born, I worked in a Value Village. OMG was that a trial for me. When I got pregnant, I was 98lbs and there was nothing to me. After he was born, I had curves. I actually looked like something other than a stick figure with balloons attached to my chest. Even though I wasn’t a fashion person, I wanted clothes to go with the new body.
      My mom on the other hand, wanted me to wear “mommy clothes”. We’re talking jeans that my grandmother would wear. I was 16. Why the hell would I want to do that? It’s not like I wanted to walk around showing off a thong and my stretch marks – I just wanted clothes that fit well and were comfortable. To me. And I got 50% discounts on everything.

      It takes patience, and you need to find out when they rack their clothing. Some places rotate daily, some weekly, some every few days. Also, figure out which thrift stores have the best items. Usually, the ones closest to the richest areas have the better items. Why? Because those donors can AFFORD nicer clothes.

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      katie December 9, 2011, 9:46 pm

      i have had friends that went both ways- some would brag about the great deal, some would brag about the name brand- indicating it was expensive.

      i like the “i got such a great deal on it!” approach. if they ask after that, i feel like thats a little weird, but at the same if they ask they need to be prepared for an answer!

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  • Britannia December 9, 2011, 11:34 am

    LW3, now IS the time to prioritize yourself. Relationships require a lot of time and energy, and right now your graduate program should be getting all your attention. Feel free to go on casual dates whenever one is offered to you, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to get into something serious right now. You’re going to be going through a lot of stress, graduating and being thrust into the job market, and you shouldn’t have to worry about anyone but yourself right now! Kudos to you for not letting that d-bag ex-boyfriend get you down, and good luck with your schooling 🙂

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    Landygirl December 9, 2011, 11:55 am

    I love shortcuts almost as much as I love updates.

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  • Turtledove December 9, 2011, 1:19 pm

    I would like to caution LW3 against thinking that her ex is the norm when it comes to defining priorities. I was in a serious relationship during the last year and a half of my MFA. I was working, both taking and teaching classes, and trying to finish my thesis. When I had to tell my boyfriend I couldn’t see him (or really even talk on the phone) because I had a deadline, he basically said, “Well of course that’s more important right now.” A lot of people, especially busy people, completely get that some things just have to trump your relationship at certain times. If you’re just upfront about your schedule and your priorities (think 3rd date, not first), I think you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised. Just look for people who also have things going on in their lives– who have hobbies, or ambitions, or other commitments and won’t be expecting 24-7 togetherness. You don’t have to not date or squelch a budding relationship in order to get things done in your life, you just have to be upfront and clear about your schedule and accept that it will be a deal-breaker for some.

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  • AKchic December 9, 2011, 2:04 pm

    *shudder* This only underlines my dilema with my family this year. And how my get-together is falling apart already.

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  • Elle Marie December 9, 2011, 4:10 pm

    I just wanted to share a few words with LW1:

    However stressful having extra people around for the holidays can be, try to remember to be happy that they are able and excited to spend time with you. My father had a close brush with cancer last year (his cancer came out of remission, and he was undergoing a very intense treatment regimen and in and out of the hospital just prior to Christmas), and my mother has had poor health this year and broke her hip a few weeks before Thanksgiving. Try to be grateful that your in-laws are in good health and obviously like you and your spouse enough to spend the holiday with you – they might not be able to do so forever.

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    • LTC039 December 12, 2011, 10:05 am

      This is comment is a great reminder… (Not so great about the health of your parents, & I’m very sorry to hear that) family is very important. Those who are lucky enough to have great relationships with their parents need to cherish that. It seems your husband’s parents live elsewhere & you guys may not see them too much. You should be mindful of that…

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    bittergaymark December 9, 2011, 11:13 pm

    I would treat the visit as a welcome surprise.

    I like the advice about the bag, but won’t MIL notice the lack of any tags or gift receipt? I dunno. It’s a gray area… I’d try to be more honest somehow…

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  • LTC039 December 12, 2011, 9:54 am

    LW#1: It seems to me that maybe you’re not that fond of your in-laws…For 1, they’re not even going to be staying at your house, so it’s not like you need to rush to make preparations for them & 2, it’s Christmas & Christmas is about family, as well as friends. So you’ll need two extra plates at the table, two weeks is more than enough notice for that. Stop overreacting & embrace the spirit of the Holidays!!

    LW#2: Wendy’s advice is perfect. Plus, I’m sure your boyfriend’s mom is more than aware that you aren’t “rolling in cash,” so I don’t think she’d care whether you got it at a consignment store or not.

    LW#3: I can relate to this completely. I was in quite a similar situation as you that last 3 yrs. Once the relationship ended, I became rather “numb” with my feelings. I put myself first, & made sure everyone knew it. It’s like a side effect of being stuck in a relationship where you’re NEVER EVER first. I said the same things you said, “I don’t want anything serious for a long time, I don’t want to deal with the drama of a relationship, etc…” & I didn’t for some time, but eventually I met someone that, as Wendy said, changed my mind. 3 yrs later we’re still together. We both support each other in our life goals & don’t hinder each other from doing as we want. You will find someone like that, but if you don’t want to right now, you don’t HAVE to, that’s the beauty of being single. You went through a bad experience, you learned, & now you have the opportunity to choose what YOU want to do, or WHO you want to do. Ain’t no shame in that!

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