Dear Captain Awkward; 

I’ve been reading your blog with great enjoyment for many years. Indirectly, you’ve pre-emptively helped me with many social challenges.  

Every year, my husband (55, he/him) and I (53, she/her) receive a few Christmas cards from a few people. We used to get dozens, from good friends who would send thoughtfully chosen or carefully crafted cards. That’s dropped off over the years, and now we get (deep sigh) the photo cards.

I hate these smug, supercilious, patronizing, wasteful pieces of crap with the fury of a thousand suns. 

I hate them so much, in so many ways, and for such a vast multitude of reasons, I’m holding back from explaining how I really feel, because I’m saving it for my Edinburgh Fringe Festival show, tentatively titled, “Fuck You and Your Fucking Christmas Cards.” 

Eric Hoover of The Washington Post summed it up pretty well, though.

These people might be thinking, “Let me share the joy I feel from having a beautiful vacation, successful and good-looking children, glamorous leisure activities, and disposable income with my friends at this festive time of year.” But that doesn’t translate on the other end. It lands in the recipient’s mailbox as, “Look how successful we are! We look like an advertisement on television! We’re almost like a picture in a Conde Nast publication! Don’t you wish you were us? We’re rich, good-looking, healthy, neurotypical, relaxed, and idle! Our existence is perpetually at golden hour! The baby is always smiling and never poops! We “dream” in bridesmaid font! Yay!” 

It’s one thing when I get these from a realtor, an insurance agent, or someone whose contact information I need to keep, along with a general feeling of warmth. That’s fine. 

It’s another thing when I receive these from people I’ve cried with when I was too young to know what manners were. These are people I’ve had to carry to bed when they were too drunk to walk. I’ve sat patiently and listened through meltdowns. I’ve always been the supportive friend they could let their hair down with.  They sent me something that looks like it was made by a professional brand ambassador. If their kids are so brilliant, why don’t they have the kids draw a holiday card?

If their vacations were so fabulous, why didn’t they simply enjoy the moment instead of enshrining it on a holiday card? If they care about how I feel enough to spend a few bucks on sending a card, why can’t they spend time instead and call? 

I’m a caregiver to an immediate family member with a disability. My husband had both parents decline rapidly and pass away during the pandemic. Everyone who would send a holiday card to me knows this. When someone who thinks they’re my friend sends me a card with pictures of all the good things they have, it’s a reminder of what I don’t have. 

It seems as though, in some social circles, it’s a competition to schedule the family vacation and get the right picture, or schedule the family photo shoot, get the right card ordered in bulk with enough time to send it out, get all the addresses on the list so the company can send the cards out for them in time, and so on. There isn’t even anything written on the card.  But, “everyone” in their social circle makes these cards and sends them to each other, so the process keeps repeating itself. It’s a social thing I don’t want to be involved in. And these people never take my name off the mailing list, no matter how much I ignore them.

Last year, a friend (of over 40 years) sent my family one of these bogus pieces of bougie bullshit for the first time. The photo was probably one of the few moments when her family wasn’t fighting with each other. I figured her husband had these made up for his professional contacts, and they’d added my address to pad out the numbers, to get better bulk pricing. There was no good way to say it, but I texted her anyway, quickly saying, “I love you so much, but please take me off the photo card mailing list.” 

The knock-down, drag out, name-calling, ad hominem attack fight was epic. 

Fortunately, it was verbal and not physical, but it was still really ugly. We’re still not speaking. It confirmed some other patterns I’d noticed in our relationship. We had been speaking to each other almost daily, at least weekly, since we were eleven years old. I thought “I love you, but take me off the photo card list” would make it clear that I thought I was the kind of friend she could be herself with instead of perpetuating a PR display. She thought this marketing display represented who she and her family really were. 

What can I do to keep from getting these faux-perfection bullshit cards in the future? I’m afraid that if I ask certain individuals not to send me theirs, they’ll be offended.  I called my cousins and told them never to send me those kinds of photo cards. They thanked me because they’d been feeling guilty for being too exhausted to make photo cards like “everyone else.” But I also know that a lot of people look forward to making and sending these and think they’re great.

Meanwhile, my disabled family member and I like making and sending cards. It’s an activity we can do together, that keeps us at least somewhat connected to others. We don’t use photos. They’re small drawings. We only send them to people who have told us they would want these cards.  So, I can’t tell people, “We’re trying to conserve trees; please don’t send us cards.” I don’t want to be less connected, but I don’t want cards that feel like they came from a braggy stranger, either. 

I’m so close to sending out my own photo collage cards, populated with stock photos, that the only thing stopping me is that I can’t decide whether to copy and paste my husband’s and my faces into the photos or not.  Technically, I have more important things to do than make cards showcasing fake golden-hour life moments, right? 

Thanks for your time and consideration. 


The Dead Letter Office

Hello Dead Letter Office,

My love for the “Dear advice columnist, who is more right here, and why is it me?” letter is deep and true, so thanks for kicking the year off right!

The thing is, this is not a manners issue or a moral issue, it’s a style preference. You’re got Eric Hoover of The Washington Post and probably a lot of other people in your corner, but as you say, “a lot of people look forward to making and sending these and think they’re great.” Yep! They sure do. I’m so sorry you had a terrible year but if you keep having “epic” fights about holiday mail you’re going to run out of friends long before they run out of enjoying an excuse to dress up and take nice family photos and look at other people’s kids, dogs, ugly holiday sweaters, etc. It’s gotta be hard to watch your friend faking it when you know the truth, but I’m betting that the cards were a way to hold onto some sense of “normal.” From your perspective, she’s lying to herself and everyone else, and for her it probably feels like you’re trying to tear away her last shred of “normal.” People will fight really, really hard for that fantasy. Neither of you are doing it AT the other person, but that doesn’t make it hurt less.

Other people love lots of things that I just don’t: The Big Bang Theory. Elaborate public wedding proposals. Expensive IPAs that taste like a decomposing prom corsage. I love to nurse an entertaining low-stakes grudge as much if not more than the next person, but at some point I realized I could either construct a persona around performatively hating stuff and lecturing people about completely optional shit they do for fun to prove how smart and cool I was and (fail to) cover up all my painful insecurities, or I could classify whole categories of things as “Hrmmm, I’m not the audience for that, but clearly someone is!” and set us all free. I honestly cannot recommend this enough as a way to instantly become at least 75 percent less exhausted and exhausting to be around. What other self-improvement project can claim results like that? Your move, Eric Hoover.

So here’s my advice:

  1. Figure out what this is really about. Loneliness? Missing people you haven’t seen in a while? Needing support after a shit year and not getting it and not knowing how to ask? Worry about your friend and her marriage? Expense and the pressure of obligation and all the invisible, tedious labor that makes up holiday “magic”? Knowing that you shouldn’t compare your mundane no-filter life to the re-touched glossy vacation version of other people’s lives and doing it anyway because you’re only human? This isn’t about superfluous paper products, not really. This is about grief, stress, and needing your people to show up for you, for real.
  2. Next year continue to send your charming etchings to the people you know appreciate them, and only those people, and opt out of the rest. Become a person who doesn’t send holiday cards because, well, you don’t feel like it and you don’t have the energy. I have at least 15 years of evidence that the world will keep turning. People who notice and care about not getting greeting cards in return eventually stop. People who send cards because *they* enjoy it keep going. It’s fine! By the way, you absolutely can chalk it up to cutting down on paper waste, expense, effort, etc. if you want to, not that anyone is likely to ask.  “It was getting to be a lot, but we decided to just send out a few this year.”
  3. When you get holiday cards from other people, display the ones you like and drop the ones you don’t in the recycling bin as soon as you open them.You’re not the audience, but someone they know probably is.
  4. If you hate the cards but love the people, then call them up already. Do you want to be right about greeting card aesthetics or do you want to have real conversations with people who are important to you? Instead of trying to reset the boundary by policing their choices, make the choice to reach out them in a way that works better for you, and see who responds in kind.
  5. Bonus: If you haven’t already, put the words “respite care” and your location into a search engine and see what might be available. I can smell your burnout from here and I hope you can find some rest and relief in the coming year.


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