I have three grown sons, all married with children. The wives of the older two meticulously observe every family birthday and milestone event with cards and gifts. My youngest son didn’t marry until his mid-30s. While single, he often neglected these occasions. I would remind him about them, particularly for his young nieces and nephews, but he was spotty about acknowledging them. And I heard frequently from my daughters-in-law about hurt feelings. Now that he’s married, I had hoped his wife would take up the cause of cards and gifts for family unity. She hasn’t. And my other daughters-in-law still let me know about every omission. What more should I do?
Before we deal with your problem, let’s deal with mine: All we’ve heard about the men in your family is that two of them married meticulous gift givers, and the youngest (who was spotty at it) hitched his wagon to an underperformer. Yet somehow these men — the actual blood relations — aren’t expected to pitch in at all.
Now, there’s no problem here if each of the couples has agreed to this division of labor. But it seems sexist to simply expect the new woman to solve the problem of family gifts. It may also explain why you hear from your grumpy daughters-in-law about this, and not your sons. They may resent their burden.
As for what you can do: Extricate yourself! I know you want family harmony, but you can’t force adults to send gifts. If your sons or their wives tell you they’re upset about this, suggest they speak directly to your youngest son. This may be more motivating for him than hearing from you again. He and his wife may not be “gift people,” but we all have calendars. (Or they may not care.) Stay out of it.
Friendly or Flirty?
My roommate and I have shared an apartment for three years. We’re tight. Lately, he’s been seeing a girl he met on Tinder. I never had a good feeling about her. It’s like she’s always looking over his shoulder. Last week, she came over to pick up some stuff and was fully flirting with me: touching my arm and saying we should hang out. I know you say we shouldn’t comment on friends’ relationships if we don’t know what their agreements are. So, I didn’t tell him, but I’m not comfortable. Advice?
No, no, no! My general advice to stay out of other people’s romantic relationships never argued for silence in the face of your roommate’s girlfriend hitting on you. I would have suggested you keep quiet if vague dislike was your total complaint, but that option went out the window when she crossed the line with you.
Tell your friend what happened calmly and objectively. There is still no need to share your poor opinion of her or give him unsolicited relationship advice. Be supportive, instead. He may be hurt, and your kindness will mean more to him than criticism of her.
You’re Invited … to Pony Up
A friend is having a small destination party for her 40th birthday in another city. I was not invited, but she told me about it when I asked her how she was celebrating. A few days before the event, I received an email from her husband inviting me to contribute to a fund (organized by her friends) to buy a piece of art as a birthday gift for her. So, it seems I’ve been invited to participate in the present, but not the party. How should I respond?
I know this will cause a ruckus among the tit-for-tat gifting crowd, but the birthday couple did nothing wrong here. The only reason you know about your friend’s small destination party is because you asked her about it directly. That does not entitle you to an invitation.
Likewise, your friend’s husband simply forwarded an invitation to contribute to a crowdsourced gift (arranged by friends) in honor of her milestone birthday. Ignore it if you prefer not to contribute — or subscribe to the idea that you must get something in order to give. But don’t reach for epithets like “tacky,” as some readers may. It’s ungenerous. And standing guard against small financial imbalances is itself kind of tacky.
A co-worker moved in next door, and there’s not much distance between our houses. We’ve worked together for years, but we’re not friends. The family uses strongly scented dryer sheets, and the smell is driving me crazy. I’d like to bring them unscented ones to use instead. Thoughts?
Wait! You smell their dryer sheets inside your house? (Never mind.) You can always ask. But if you go next door, make clear to your neighbors that you are asking for a favor. They have no obligation to cater to your heightened sense of smell.
If you are pleasant enough, and careful not to convey grievance, they may go along with you. Also, they may not — in which case, you should head home without another word on the subject.