I went to the wedding of a niece recently. As a “thank you” for the gift I gave them, I received a postcard. The card featured a photo from the wedding and a printed message, something like “Thank you for your wedding gift, we appreciate your thoughtfulness.”
I found it odd to receive a thank you that was so impersonal. Is this the new trend? I have not attended a wedding in some time, nor have I recently sent a wedding gift for a wedding to which I was invited but unable to go. I may just be uninformed.
I was looking forward to receiving the thank you card to confirm that they received my entire gift. I placed cash in the envelope with their card, and I was anxious that it did not get separated from the boxed gift. I live in another state and don’t communicate regularly with them, so I didn’t want to make a call specifically to ask (it seemed too much like fishing for gratitude).
This was by all other accounts a fairly formal affair. The invitations were preceded by Save the Date cards, and the invitation was hand addressed to me.
—Overlooked in Overbrook
I can’t think of too many excuses for not sending a personal thank-you in this situation. Severe disability, perhaps. Natural disaster, maybe. Severe post-wedding depression. But that’s about it. You gave a personal, thoughtful gift, along with cash, and both should have been specifically acknowledged—although, in the case of cash, the amount need not and perhaps should not have been mentioned: unless the sarcasm would be obvious, gifts of cash in any amount should always be referred to simply as “generous.”
No matter how informal the event, thank-you messages for gifts should be personal. Face-to-face, on-the-spot expressions of gratitude, and phone calls or e-mails after the event, may suffice in certain situations. But not this one. The fact that your niece and her spouse had all the other trappings of a formal wedding makes it even more annoying that they resorted to a mass mailing once the event was over and the gifts stockpiled. Any wedding that is enough of a production to warrant printed postcards, much less save-the-date cards and hand-addressed invitations, is also enough of a production to warrant a personal expression of thanks, sent by regular mail, preferably in a sealed envelope.
I do not know of any “new trend” in this area, and would deplore it if there were one. Even so, I do not think that you should judge your niece and her spouse too harshly. Maybe somebody, perhaps the person who printed the cards, told them that cards with printed messages were a fine, classy option. And, in any case, the offense is venial.
I can see why you would find it awkward to call your niece. How about a note, email, or text? You could include a photo from the wedding (or, if you didn’t take any pictures, some cute family photo from the past) and say: “I saw this and thought you might like it/thought of you. By the way, did you get the cash I included with the pewter sandwich tongs? Just wanted to make sure it didn’t get lost in the shuffle.” If there is a holiday when you normally send cards or gifts, you could bring the subject up then. Or you could mention it to one of her parents, preferably the one who is your relative. (This would not be tattling, since her folks must have seen the thank-you postcards.) Or you could let it go.
By the way—unless you have large amounts of cash you need to keep quiet about, send a check next time.
Who would have thought that at 81, life is still fraught with the complexities of friendship? First, I’ll tell you the situation and then I’ll tell you something about myself. I received an email from a friend who tells me that she’s noticed me distancing her and not being as friendly as I was—or as she thinks I had been. This comes to me as the proverbial bolt out of the blue. Then I see a post of hers on Facebook where she writes to everyone that she just realized she was not invited to her friend’s 80th birthday party. That I concluded would be my birthday where I only asked the small group of nearest and dearest to be part of the celebration.
What to do? I guess one should sit down and have the “conversation” but I’m really pissed and annoyed. She judges her friendships by how many times you go to lunch with her. She’s putting more demands on me than I want to give. She is not recognizing that I’m inclined to spend most of my time pursuing my interests, which are often done solo. All my other friends seem to take me as I am and don’t “push.” I’m resisting the conversation because I feel that I shouldn’t have to explain or defend myself.
Then there is the superego on my shoulder which says, “Would a little kindness on your part hurt?”
Words of wisdom? Can’t believe I can’t figure this out for myself at this age.
In a bind,
Beset in Bethesda
I bet you are already chock-full of wisdom, seeing as how you have created a life where you have so many friends, along with such compelling solo interests. But I will try to add my drop to your ocean.
It is difficult, at any age, to choose wisely when life and various friends all make competing demands. This must be true even for selfish and short-sighted people. When you throw kindness into the mix, and toss in the value of long-term (if annoying) relationships and the satisfaction to be had from creative solitude, the choices keep getting harder.
Although you do not explicitly say so, it sounds as if you’d rather not break from your old friend entirely, but do need to set some limits. Given that your friend does not seem like the sort of person who can take a hint, I agree that The Conversation — that is, the one where you say that you do value her friendship, but cannot give her everything she wants—is probably inevitable.
If I were you, I would have—or at least start—your conversation not in person, but via email. That, after all, is how she initiated it. And with a written conversation you will be better able to say exactly what you mean and avoid getting sucked into anger or defensiveness. Of course, if you state your position in writing there is the risk that your friend, who has already parsed your conduct and your birthday party so carefully, and even posted about the party on social media, may annotate, memorize, analyze, perhaps even forward your words. But at least these will be carefully-chosen words.
As for the substance of your conversation, I think you should tell her pretty much what you just told me, but in a gentler way. You might start by saying that you were surprised to get her letter because you really hadn’t noticed any change in your relationship, and that your regard for her certainly hasn’t changed.
The next part is tricky: it is quite a task to avoid hurting or offending someone when you tell them you are too busy to see them as often as they would like to see you. I know you think it is unjust that she seems to want you to explain yourself, and it probably is; but perhaps a brief explanation will make things easier for both of you. You might list your many interests and commitments, and say that they are among the things that keep you going, as you are sure she knows because this is something that has always been true of you. You might also mention any special family commitments: it is hard to feel offended, for example, if somebody wants or needs to spend time with ailing siblings or young grandchildren. The same is true of charity work.
If doing so would not strike a false chord, or totally infuriate you, you could also play the age card and say that, at your time of life, it gets harder and harder to do everything you would like to do: perhaps you get tired more easily, or perhaps there are simply more experiences and activities you want to fit in these days.
I think you should also tell her how you treasure longtime, solid friendships like hers, the kind that don’t depend on how often you see each other. You could add how grateful you are that, no matter how long it has been, you two always just pick up the conversation where it left off. (I do realize that this tactic is not totally ingenuous, but it sounds as if she deserves a gentle reminder that friendship is about more than lunch; and, anyway, it might reassure her if you use words like “treasure” and “solid.”)
There’s also the main tricky part: how often do you actually want, or feel obligated, to see her? If the answer is “almost never,” you may prefer to leave the topic of getting together for the next round in The Conversation and, when she does bring it up, play it by ear as to how often you will see her, and how often you will put her off. But if you can think of a schedule or activity that seems acceptable—and hard to manipulate or redefine—by all means propose it. Perhaps you could have lunch once a month after some meeting or religious service or class you go to anyway. Perhaps she could join your book or movie group? Or perhaps you could initiate regular, but not too frequent, potluck dinner parties where you see several friends and meet several social obligations at the same time. If you are really lucky, one of more of your other friends may start lunching with your problematic one and providing a distraction. We can dream, can’t we?
As for the perceived eightieth-birthday party snub, I would not initiate a discussion about it. I am not sure you are even supposed to be aware of her outrage. Besides, I cannot think of a palatable way to say: “The party was for dear, close friends and despite what you may have thought, you are not one of them.” If she does tax you with the party, you will just have to tough it out. You can always just shrug and change the subject. But, if you have one, it would be kind of you to provide a simple clarification that helps her save face. Perhaps a person who didn’t know her issued the invitations. Perhaps the party was limited to family and friends from some other, defined part of your life, like work or politics or your neighborhood.
I applaud your strong superego, and hope my response helps you appease it for a time as you proceed with your full, busy days.
Emergency message to Dutiful in Dedham: Do not leave your ferret with him! He is not to be trusted! (Neither of them is, actually, but I have considerably more sympathy for the ferret.)
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Cleaver’s in-house advice columnist opines on matters punctuational, interpersonal, and philosophical, spinning wit and literary wisdom in response to your ethical quandaries. Write to her at [email protected]. Find more columns by June in her attic.