Dear Clementine

Sage advice on how to handle and overly competitive family member from our resident expert, Clementine.

PHOTO CREDIT: Erica Raxworthy

Dear Clementine,
I have a cousin who thrives on competition and every family get-together is a passive aggressive quest for one-upping the other: Who has the bigger house? The most well-behaved children? The best career?
How can I tell her that I'd like to politely step away from the game? I'm grateful for what I have and don't see anything productive in keeping score.

I Don't Want To Play

Dear Player,

Ooh, your family parties sound like fun! Invite me next time!

I'm kidding.

Just tell the little sweetheart. She sounds like a wonderful person. I'm sure she'll understand somewhere deep in her sour little heart, and definitely change her ways without a brawl at all.
Still kidding.

You could tell her that you're out of the game, but it wouldn't go well. Of that, I am fairly sure. Also, she will not continue to have kids who win The Most Well-Behaved Children Contest if she keeps acting like a rotten child herself. Of that, I am dead sure.

Whenever my brain feels fuzzy and my heart feels anything-but-love and I have no clue how to act, I imagine a completely different but totally same-same situation to make things clearer. It actually works quite well. So let's imagine adorable you at your favorite restaurant with all of your favorite people, smack in the middle of having the time of your life, when all of a sudden a jerk at the next table lights up a ciggie. And I'm not talking a quick puff. This is not a shocked "Oh, what? It's against the law? Whoops!" This is not even a sheepishly mouthed "I'm sorry...I'll put it" No, he's blowing big. He's sending out smoke signals. Rings the size of hula hoops. He clearly doesn't care about your health, your comfort, or even the rules of a civilized society. And there comes that split-minute when the moment could potentially go one of two ways. You could cause a fuss, use your connections with the owner to try to get him kicked out, and make it virtually impossible for the guy to ever return with his head held high. Or you could continue on with your favorites and the time of your life, take shallow breaths, ask for the check a little earlier than usual, and make plans to all meet up on the way home at the cupcake truck over on Sixth Street. Bonus points if you refrain from hacking loudly as you pass the jerk-on-fire on your way out.

I like the girl in the second scene so, so much. And I hereby declare her the winner in any life competition. But, then, I am allergic to smoke and drama.

The next time your cousin spews poison in your direction, remove yourself from the toxins as quickly and as quietly as possible. Far enough away so you don't feel like gagging, and definitely at a distance where she can't cause permanent damage.

Just because you don't play the game doesn't mean you're a loser, you know. Some of the most spectacular people I know never say a word in contests like yours. Nope. They're mostly silent. Extra economical with their words. They let others fall off the boat and flounder in their brags, hype, and amped up opinions, while remaining afloat and perfectly dry, sailing without a splash to the finish line. Maybe not everyone sees their first place wins, but the ones who matter will always be there in their cheering section. With cupcakes, even.

Listen. Unless you're Charlie Sheen, there is no winning at life. There will always be someone with a bigger house, sweeter children, and a better career. And your cousin will always be better than you. Just ask her.

You can't let others throw you off your game, Player. No matter the cards you've been dealt, it's your hand and it's the best hand in the house. Don't fall for the bluff, buy in big, double up, all in. And may the odds be ever in your favor.

That’s the only way I live my days.


P.S. If you want to play the passive-aggressive game safely, steal a page from my Southern friend's book. When ladies faux-fret about the grandness of their homes – "Do you even know how long it takes my maid to clean it?" – or the utter cuteness of their babies – "I cannot get through Whole Foods without five strangers asking if he's a model!" – or the weight of their careers – "I can't just take a sick day like you can, lucky!" – she purses her lips, shakes her head, and says softly, "You poor thing." But here's the kicker: she means it.