You’ve got questions. We’ve got free advice. But be forewarned: Odette doesn’t coddle.
I have been dating a woman for five months. I have primary custody of my 5-year-old son, and only have two Saturday nights off a month. I have noticed that if I have to cancel at the last minute she counter-cancels our next date at the last minute. How do I explain I'm not cancelling on her because I want to?
Irked in Montauk
The problem here isn’t finding a way to make her understand why you have had to cancel a date.
The problem here is that someone in this relationship — and I’m not sure if it’s her or it’s you, or it’s both — is trapped in an cycle of Trumpian tit-for-tat that was clearly formed by earlier relationships. Perhaps much earlier relationships.
Keep the conversation light when you broach the subject; light, banter-y conversation is a more effective way, in situations like this, to winkle out the truth. You are Spencer Tracy and she is Katharine Hepburn. Ask her straight up if she is playing the “you did it first!” retaliation game. If she admits she is, we can assume she’s stuck in an unhealthy, punitive mode of interacting with the world that probably dates back a long, long time.
But if you broach the subject and she calls you a great foolish lummox and stares at you with adorable and genuinely believable befuddlement, you might want to look into your heart and ask yourself if it’s you that is stuck in transactional-retaliation mode. Stuck, that is, in a behavior pattern formed in your relationship with someone else: your son’s mom? or your siblings when you were growing up. . . ?
The upshot is that walking through life finding a string of significant others with whom to trade onsies! twosies! blows on top of the head will never, ever lead to romantic or domestic happiness. And walking through life with the expectation that others will trap you in that game is equally stunting.
Life is not a Tracy/Hepburn movie. Unless this is all a misunderstanding and you two can come together over a highball, laugh it off, and immediately cease hostilities, I think this relationship is ultimately doomed. Sorry.
Can you recommend non-boring things to give as hostess gifts when invited to dinner, or house presents for weekend visits out of town? People always say it’s thoughtful to bring something locally made—a reminders of where the gift-giver is from—but smoked bluefish from the Seafood Shop in Wainscott is pretty much all I’ve come up with. My friends are getting tired of smoked fish.
The first rule of thumb is that you don’t want to give anything that might actually be a subtle nuisance. For example, it can be disruptive when dinner guests arrive bearing bouquets: You, as host, have to fuss around, finding a suitable vase and pretending you have the time to trim and primp the arrangement, gritting your teeth as smoke begins to rise from the broiler.
Similarly, a fluffy white Annabelle hydrangea, tied with a ribbon and ready for planting, might look like the perfect souvenir-of-the-Hamptons house gift, but does your host actually want to add another flowering shrub to their landscaping? Don’t assume so. Likewise, don’t appear bearing a whole cake or pie, because the host will feel pressured to serve it at dessert time, and they probably already have dessert planned and will find this a bit annoying.
I do think cut flowers are always a good idea, but you should trim them and arrange them yourself beforehand and include a vase in the gift. Go for locally grown and seasonal, as opposed to hothouse: Montauk daisies, late-spring lilacs, boughs of cherry blossoms, daffodils, a holly-and-white-pine swag in December, and so on. As you come in, make sure to tell your kind host that he or she doesn’t need to put them onto the dinner or lunch table, which has probably already been set with care. You might trot into the kitchen, place them on a side counter, and announce: “I’ll just leave these here!”
Other hostess gifts I’d personally be delighted to receive include: a small wheel of cheese (a whole cheese is better than a cut piece, as it won’t smell and doesn’t scream out to be served immediately during the party) from Mecox Bay Dairy, etc., cellophaned up on a small cutting board or vintage plate; a bag of good coffee from Java Nation or Hamptons Coffee Co.; or bottled drinks made here on the Forks, like Monbrewcha kombucha from Montauk or Milk Pail apple cider from Water Mill.
If you’re spending a weekend or longer at your friends’ place, you could go whole hog and fill a cotton or canvas shopping tote bearing the logo of a favorite business with, say, crisp Empire apples, or papers napkins and disposable plates printed with funny slogans from the Monogram Shop in East Hampton—depending on the host’s tastes, obviously. Pike’s farmstand on Sagaponack Main Street sells simple totes that could be stuffed with good white corn at the end of summer. Most libraries sell branded totes that would be a fun way to deliver a detective novel plus a box of fancy Dobra tea from Harbor Books in Sag Harbor, for a cozy moment in January.
Also in the souvenir-y vein are T-shirts or trucker hats from institutions that you love, like a chicken cap from Iaconno’s in East Hampton, a kitschy WLNG Radio tee from Sag Harbor, or a fire department sweatshirt from whereever (which also supports the volunteer fire services). If the hosts have kids, bring kiddie sizes. These work best, though, if the receiver is familiar with these places and shares your enthusiam. If you’re meeting your host for the first time, they will think you’re weird if you gave them a chicken hat.
I am mid-divorce, 40 pounds overweight, and feeling extraordinarily frumpy. I look like Kathy Bates in Misery. My daughter, who is in fourth grade and going through an overdramatic stage, cries every time I tell her I plan to get a new hairdo, because she can’t tolerate any more change in her life and doesn't want mom to look different or change in any way. I tell her it is good for moms to take care of themselves, and that includes grooming and hairdos. I've even offered to let her choose my new hair style, but she is fierce in opposition to a mom makeover. Words of advice?
I Used to Be Pretty
My answer will sound a bit retrograde, especially to second-wave feminists, but . . . schedule a mother-daughter day of beauty.
Well-being hinges on at least a small modicum of self-care (to use that trendy phrase), and your daughter needs to learn that lesson from you. No one can really feel okay when they’re walking around looking like a psychopath from a Stephen King movie or one of the characters on Hoarders who hasn’t left their apartment in six years.
Brush the Dorito dust from the front of your sweater and make an appointment for a mother/daughter expedition to the day spa. Get day passes for Gurney’s Resort in Montauk. Swim in the pool, share fourth-grade gossip in the sauna. As you get your nails done, talk about how it feels good to take care of yourself. Talk about how appearance should never be priority number one but should never be completely blown off, either. Talk about how you can influence your own future by considering the image you present to the world. Talk about working really hard but granting yourself an afternoon of frivolity now and again, because life is short. Finish up with mother/daughter haircuts. Engage her in conversation with the stylist about what would look best on mom.
This advice sounds stupid, but it’s not.
A line from a Henry Jaglom movie has been stuck in my head for years (not Last Summer in the Hamptons, but maybe Babyfever?). The gist, to paraphrase, is that you should be as kind to yourself as you would be to an elderly favorite aunt. Teach your daughter to treat herself with kindness, just as you would have her treat some beloved relative with kindness.
It is good for kids of elementary age to start to learn how to let go of their own needs, every now and again, and understand that others, including moms and dads, deserve sympathy sometimes, too. Your self-indulgent day of beauty is also a lesson in empathy.
Please address queries to: Dear Odette, ℅ EAST magazine, The East Hampton Star, 153 Main Street, East Hampton, N.Y. 11937. The advice offered in this column is not intended as a substitute for professional advice from a doctor or therapist.