Holiday party woes and a daughter’s religious views

Nicole-GallandBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to

Dear Nicole:
I attended a holiday party the other night, but the good cheer quickly turned into a stomach churner for me when the newly separated husband of a good friend walked into the party with a date. And holy ginger martini — I knew the woman! What should I tell my friend?
Confidentially yours,
Shocked in my stocking

Dear Shocked:
Before getting to what-to-tell-your-friend, let’s pause a moment to look at the bigger picture here, which is: this is one of those unavoidable, inevitable, uncomfortable Vineyard Things That Happen Sometimes. Before knowing what to tell your friend, know how to handle yourself. Similar circumstances are likely to arise again, especially in the Holiday Season. Have an action plan.

I recommend taking the long view. This new coupling isn’t going away (probably not right away, at least). Your paths are likely to cross again, and the discomfort will continue unless you do something to abate it.As Iago asked Roderigo in Shakespeare’s Othello, “What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” I’ve been in all three positions you’re describing, and let me tell you — your stomach was probably not the one churning the most.

If you deliberately put forth a positive vibe toward the new couple at the party, then all the stuff that might well have been going on inside of them (defensiveness, fear-of-ostracism, etc.) would be disarmed, and the possibility of harmonious co-existence becomes possible, meaning that over time, the churning will calm. In contrast, if you give her (or him) any attitude at all, you’re setting yourself up for a churn-a-thon. So I hope you were gracious and kind; if you weren’t, I hope you will be next time.

A side comment: I notice your interjection takes the form of a cocktail. As a general rule, cocktails can be very helpful in generating a feeling of goodfellowship, but they can also be the source of more unfortunate emotional expressions. Know thyself, and moderate the eggnog intake accordingly.

Having settled all that, let’s move to the post-party: your friend. If there is some clear benefit to her in hearing about it, then tell her. Otherwise, why mention something that will upset her? That’s worse than gossip. Gossip is oblivious about its cruelty; gratuitously telling a friend something you know will upset them is simply mean.

If you are concerned that she will later hear from another source that you and Those People were at a party together, and will feel put out that you didn’t tell her, try this: find a time in the near future to say to her, “Hey, since this is a small island and all that, I want to hear from you what your preference is regarding my reporting sightings of your Ex and/or his new friend.” Believe whatever she tells you, and act accordingly.

But her feelings will change over time, so maybe in six months or so check in and ask again. By then, you’ll be running into Those People again at beach barbecue and 4th of July parties.
That’s my take.

Dear Nicole:
What do you do when your teenager daughter, who has no visible awareness of her own Jewish heritage yet an acute awareness of her mother’s issues with some Catholic church doctrine, says says she will only go to the Chanukah party if we spend the next year going to Sunday morning mass?
Confidentially Yours,

Dear Dreidel:
First, congratulate yourself on having such a daughter. That is quite the comeback!
Say yes. There are several interesting reasons to say yes. (There are also a few reasons to say no, but they’re pretty boring, so they would make you boring, too.)

She is probably only suggesting this as a strategic move, so you tactically defeat her by agreeing to it. It’s like verbal aikido. Do you really think she wants to go to Catholic Mass for a year? I doubt it. Agree to her offer, enjoy the Chanukah party and then wait for her to change her mind about the Catholic Mass herself. There’s a 99 percent chance that you will not have to go to Mass more than once. She will hesitate before trying that strategy again, without your ever having to play Bad Cop. It’s a win for you with no harm or foul to her.

But let’s say she was serious, even eager, about the Catholic Mass part, and wants to stick with it, at least for a while. That’s great. Exposing ourselves to different religions, to different  ways in which humanity expresses its social rituals, beliefs and ethics — that’s all intrinsically good! Both the impulse and the experience is terrific for her, and the experience (even if no impulse) will also be enlightening for you. It will at least give you some context for those elements of Catholicism you object to. (Plus I hear they serve snacks — sometimes even wine!) If you don’t want to agree to her bargain just because you don’t feel like going to Catholic Mass, then you are basically asking for my blessing to remain tunnel-visioned and small-minded, and I’m sorry but I can’t give you that.

All that said, however: Chanukah is not actually a major Jewish holiday, so a year of Catholic Mass is actually too hefty a demand. She’s clearly in a negotiating state of mind, so negotiate: tell her that a year of Catholic Mass also guarantees at least one Passover, and maybe a Kol Nidre service (that’s the start of Yom Kippur services and should appeal to the teen mentality -— she gets to let herself off the hook for the whole past year’s transgressions). Even at a very generous exchange rate, a Chanukah party doesn’t rate more than a couple of visits to Sunday School.

If she will not budge from her (admittedly unfair) offer, then — and only then — refuse. Not because you don’t want to bother expanding your or her world-view, but because you want your daughter to learn that unfair ultimatums are no way to function in the world.
That’s my take.