Must I Keep This Useless Gift?

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I received a nice gift (that I have absolutely no use for) from a relative. It came with a gift receipt in the box. My husband told me this was just a courtesy from the store, not permission from the giver to exchange it. He said it would hurt their feelings if I did. I think that’s crazy! If I keep it, I’ll only use it once or twice, to show my relative that I did. Wouldn’t it be better to exchange it for something I’ll use often and enjoy?

J. R.

Call me bossy boots, but I have been known to cajole and whine in department stores until my companions try on the garments that I know are perfect for them — even if they loathe them. I stop short, however, of forcing them to buy these things. I feel the same way about presents. They are gestures of affection, not mandatory school uniforms.

We make honest efforts to find gifts we hope our recipients will like. But we’re only human. So, if we fail, knock yourself out, J. R.! Exchange that gold lamé bathrobe for something you’ll actually wear. Givers who insist that we like the things they choose for us, or suffer hurt feelings if we don’t, have massive egos or are even bossier than I am. (And please remember to thank people for their gifts, even if you hate them. The gifts, that is.)

Standard Deduction?

When my mother died, my brother-in-law sent my siblings and me an email demanding that we each give his wife (our sister) $10,000 from our inheritance. They live in the same town our mother did, so they had her for holidays and visited her in the nursing home for years. I called my brother-in-law and yelled at him; he upset everyone. Still, we paid him. Later my sister told me that her husband was terribly hurt by my call. Now she and I communicate only by group text. And her husband says he’s “too hurt” to patch things up. What say you?


Well, here I am, thinking you can’t put a price on love, while your brother-in-law shrewdly calculated that it goes for $10,000 a pop. Obviously, this is a complex (but not unheard-of) family crisis. Your brother-in-law and sister probably felt overburdened and underappreciated in your mother’s final years, while you and your other siblings saw their resentment as greed at a time of great sorrow.

In a perfect world, you would all apologize simultaneously: your sister and brother-in-law for their “stick ’em up” maneuver, and you and your siblings for leaving them holding the bag. But that’s easier said than done. Letting our gripes calcify is more common.

Send a group text, if that’s the only way your sister will speak with you: “I think we’ve behaved unkindly and owe each other apologies. I’m sorry that I didn’t help more with Mom and that I was angry with Bob on the phone.” Don’t embroider your remorse with justification. Just open the door and hope your siblings walk through it. You can’t force them to.

No Babysitter? No Problem

Newish friends have a year-old baby and limited access to babysitting. We’d like to spend time with them, and we’re happy to include the baby. But they live in Manhattan, and we’re in Brooklyn. It’s hard for them to travel with the baby. And it feels rude to suggest going to their place and forcing them to host us. How do we plan something that everyone can enjoy?


I applaud your sensitivity, but as my mother used to say, “Timid cooks have skinny kids.” Just email your pals and ask. (Doing it in writing gives them a chance to confer.) “Dave and I would love to hang out. We know you’ve got a lot on your plate, so what’s easier for you? You’re welcome to bring the baby to our place, or we could throw together a meal that we can bring over to yours.” It’s the opposite of rude. I bet they’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Dinner Party Aftertaste

Here’s a conundrum I have worried about for most of my 73 years: What can one do at a dinner party when all the women stand up to clear the dishes, and all the men continue to sit? I find the men’s behavior appalling, but to say something might introduce an unpleasant note or spoil the party for the hosts and guests.


That’s a long time to worry, Toby! Here’s an apt (and lovely) quote attributed to Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Show, don’t tell. Simply stand up with the women and help clear.

What could be better than a live example of gender equality? (Though personally, I prefer my guests not clear the dishes. As host, I like to set the tempo. I also know where platters and plates should be stacked for easier cleanup.) Still, it’s a nice reminder that talk is cheap — especially emanating from a seated position.