November 3, 2016
My friend and I have the same birthday, so I know he remembers when it is. In our 20s, we exchanged gifts. But as we aged, he stopped acknowledging my birthday (and is generally less likely to pick up the phone to keep in touch). This hurts my feelings. Still, he was incredibly supportive when my dad died last year. And if I ever have an important issue to talk through, he will spend as much time with me as I could possibly ask. So I’m conflicted. And our shared birthday is coming up. What would you do?
ALICE, NEW ROCHELLE
Clearly, you knew the shared-birthday angle would be catnip to me: as the premise of the terrific new TV show “This is Us.” (It’s bound to go off the rails, but while it stays as heartfelt and sharp as it is, don’t miss it.) And don’t mistake the trappings of friendship, like birthday gifts, for friendship itself.
“Having It All” is best, as Helen Gurley Brown told us a million years ago. But finding it all in one person is pretty rare. If I were asked to choose between two pals, one of whom was there for me when the chips were down, and another who texted me cute GIFs on my birthday (and chatted about how dreamy Milo Ventimiglia is), I wouldn’t. Because you don’t have to choose.
Cultivate all kinds of friends, but be careful of pushing them outside their comfort zones or demanding more than they want to give. There’s no harm in saying, “I miss the old days when we used to celebrate our birthday.” Who knows? A plan may be hatched. But if work or family obligations (or the other stresses of adult life) limit his availability to big-ticket emotional items, don’t put that friendship in the loss column. It’s still a win, and an enriching one, even if it doesn’t look exactly the way you wish it did.
I am trying to follow my pediatrician’s advice to breast-feed for a year. I have tried using a cover, but it makes it harder for the baby to eat. She doesn’t get as much and tends to grab the cover and pull it away. (When my older kids are in tow, it’s often impossible to withdraw to a private place.) State law supports my breast-feeding in public, but when we were in the park recently, some visitors looked askance as I nursed quietly on a bench. Your thoughts?
You are right about your state law and the state of our culture: Feed your baby anywhere you are entitled to be when she is hungry. No excuses necessary. And if a few grumpy people give you the side-eye, who cares? There will always be grumps. But that’s no reason to let them color your behavior or self-esteem. They don’t know you, and they don’t matter. Looking for universal affirmation from strangers is a futile, full-time job. (Trust me, I punch in daily.)
It’s Nice to Be Asked
My nephew and niece were married (to different people, thank goodness). I live abroad but have been involved in their lives: sending them graduation gifts and hosting them on their travels. I received an invitation to neither wedding, presumably because they knew I would be unable to make the trip. Still, I felt hurt. Has etiquette changed on this since I left the United States in the 1970s? It used to be that wedding invitations were sent to family and close friends whether they were expected to attend or not.
What hasn’t changed in the “wedding-industrial complex” since the 1970s? You are probably correct that, back then, an aunt (beloved or otherwise) would have received a wedding invitation. Since then, the escalating grandiosity of many bridal couples, together with the backlash against them, has resulted in various outcomes.
Your niece and nephew may have opted for tiny weddings, to which only a few hand-chosen guests (read: not you) were invited. Or they may have known you couldn’t come and wanted to avoid the impression that they were fishing for gifts. But even so, I prefer sending an invitation in that case. (Hurt feelings trump fears of grabbiness, in my book.) I hope you can be the bigger aunt and send the wedding couples congratulatory cards. (No gifts required.)
To the Letter
For 10 years, I was the “right-hand girl” to a prominent figure in publishing. I left for a better opportunity after I outgrew the role. Later, this figure’s enterprise failed. He sent me his last issue with a letter, on his letterhead, reading: “If I had any success at all, it was due to you.” My BFF says this letter belongs on the first page of my portfolio. But I think it was a personal note and to display it would be tacky. What say you?
I agree with you. It was a warm (and undoubtedly warranted) letter of gratitude that was meant for you, not public consumption. Still, I bet he’d write a killer reference letter if you asked.