February 23, 2017
My young cousin was recently married. She and her new husband invited my boyfriend and me to dinner. They used all their new wedding china. (It was a little pretentious in a studio apartment.) During the meal, my boyfriend accidentally broke his wineglass. He may have said, “Let me replace it.” But my cousin didn’t respond; she was sweeping up the glass. Yesterday, I received an email from her with a little note and a receipt for a new wineglass. Tacky?
He “may have said”? I don’t believe for a second that you don’t remember. Let’s address the low-hanging issues first: There was nothing pretentious about the newlyweds trying to make a beautiful dinner for you. And offers to replace things we break are not mere social niceties to be made without regard to our true intentions.
Your cousin’s tackiness quotient depends on the note she sent. If it read: “How kind of you to offer to replace the wineglass. We’ve never owned such a fancy set before,” I would see her as lovely person. If it read: “Invoice attached, butterfingers,” we’re looking at a different kettle of fish.
We will never know if she would have adopted a more philosophical view and let the mishap pass — “Oh, well; stuff happens” — if your beau hadn’t offered to replace the shattered goblet. Because apparently he did.
Stop Right There
I have a friend with boundary issues. If she sees me at a restaurant having lunch with someone, she just pulls up a chair without asking. She also owns two vacation properties in a warm-weather state. Recently, she gave one to my husband and me for a week, at no cost. We were delighted, until we got there and discovered she was there, too. She dropped in on us every day without notice and ruined our vacation! May I tell her so? If not, how can I disengage from her?
Hold your (slightly ungrateful) horses! Your friend may have “ruined” your vacation, but she also paid for a chunk of it. “Boundary issues” apply only after we set limits with people and they breach them. But you don’t mention speaking with your friend. It seems (to me) you owe her that much before accusing her of vacation ruination or severing all ties.
We’ve seen a lot lately on editorial pages about the bubbles in which many of us live, and our reluctance to have much to do with folks who live outside of them — even if that’s just holding opinions that contrast too starkly with our own. But it would be a shame to let our bubbles become so fortified that we can’t salvage generous friends from the dustbin simply because they have social tics we don’t like, when all it may take to cure them is a chat or two.
Meet your pal, in person, and say: “Janie, can we talk about an issue that’s bothering me? I’m always happy to see you. But if I’ve made a lunch date with someone, I probably want to see them on my own. Please don’t just join us.” Same with the vacation: “You were incredibly generous to give us your home. But by dropping in every day, you prevented my husband and me from having one-on-one time. I think clearer boundaries would make our friendship stronger. Can we work on that?”
Even if she is defensive initially, you will have been a true friend to her: There for the good times, but also when there’s a beef to work out. And dedication to that second prong is often a better measure of friendship than the first.
Much Ado About Auntie
I am getting married, and my father is adamant that I invite his sister to the wedding. I have no relationship with her; I haven’t seen her in a decade. Also, my aunt has made many rude comments to my mother over the years that have upset her greatly. It is important to me that my mother feels comfortable and happy at my wedding. I don’t believe I should sacrifice that for a relative for whom I have no fondness. How do I tackle this with my father?
I’m being so tough this week! But if this were really about protecting your mother, wouldn’t you have spoken with her? “Mom, Dad really wants me to invite Aunt Cruella to the wedding. Are you O.K. with that?” If this is a real Bette Davis-Joan Crawford situation, you will find out soon enough. (I know! I’m breathlessly awaiting Ryan Murphy’s “Feud” too.) But don’t use your mother as an excuse. Talk to her. This is a decision for you to make with your groom. But accommodating dear old Dad in his request — at a wedding he may be helping to pay for — is also an act of daughterly love.
Bonus thought: Don’t imagine that your wedding will be a nonstop festival of earthly delights. That’s a terrible trap. It will be just like every other happy occasion: wonderfully imperfect. The more pressure you put on it (and yourself), the more likely you are to be crestfallen.