Belated Thanks

Belated Thanks

Belated Thanks

Advice on manners and morals.
Dec. 14 2000 11:30 PM

Belated Thanks

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com.

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Dear Prudie,
My husband and I have been married for almost a year and a half. Lately, I found all the thank-you notes that I had written to the guests at our wedding. They had been tucked into the back of the closet instead of mailed. Should I rewrite the thank-you notes or just let it go?

—In Trouble

Dear In,
Forgive the oxymoron, but good grief! Prudie can understand someone maybe putting an envelope or two in a pocket and forgetting to mail them, but how does anyone put a collection of letters to be mailed in the back of a closet? Were either of you drunk, perhaps mistaking the closet for a mailbox? This is a very odd fix to be in, but here is what you must do. Rewrite the notes, beginning each with a mea culpa, mea cuckoo, explaining the closet glitch. People will most likely be amused and forgive this rather unusual lapse.

—Prudie, postally

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Dear Prudence,
My husband and I got acquainted with another couple a few months ago. We've had dinner a couple of times, but that's it. The last time we had them over the wife announced that she had found my Christmas gift, but she hadn't found one for my husband yet. She said they don't expect a gift back, but her husband—kidding on the square—said he did. The way I was raised, you only buy gifts for very close friends and family. I resent that this couple has put me in this position. What should I do?

—S.

Dear S.,
While we're still in the pre-Christmas season, tell this woman of your family tradition where you only exchange gifts with close friends and relatives. That way, she can do something else with the gift she has for you. If she says she is still going to give you the present, do not be blackmailed into reciprocating. Should this woman be so dense or pushy as not to back off, write a gracious thank-you note, enjoy the gift, and leave it at that. Your situation is a perfect example of the rightness of Noel Coward's annual holiday card: "Christmas is at our throats again."

—Prudie, decisively

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Dear Prudence,
My brother has recently moved to my area, and his serious girlfriend swiftly followed. He and I had a great time in the few months he was here on his own, but now that she has arrived I find myself making excuses not to see them ... and it is always them. My problem with her is her complete lack of awareness that there may be a world beyond her own experience. Every sentence starts with "I" or "My." If I say, "How about that election recount?!" She says, "I know someone who worked for a state election commission." If I say, "Did you read about the guy who got shot at 20th Street?" She says, "My brother's best friend was shot." You get the picture. I thought about sitting down and talking nicely about it, because she might marry my brother, but how do you bring that kind of thing up?

—Wit's End

Dear Wit,
Prudie would be remiss if she didn't suggest that some of your displeasure with this woman's conversational habits might stem from a possessive feeling about your brother, so do think about that. If however, her conversation really is as constantly solipsistic as you say, then you need to find out, subtly, not with a sledgehammer, if the Me-Me I-I choruses disturb your brother. If he's aware of this habit and it bothers him, he should be the one to gently point it out to her. You should not, because it will be taken the wrong way. If your brother is unconcerned about or unaware of the ego-terrorist's effect on people, just tune her out.

—Prudie, referentially

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Dear Prudie,
My husband and I have been married five months. My mother-in-law is mentally ill and wreaking havoc on our marriage. She calls at all hours, tries to shoehorn herself into our lives, invites herself to visit, leaves sobbing two-minute phone messages saying my husband is an ungrateful son. When we graciously and politely ask her to let us live our lives, she threatens to kill herself. This is all too much for me, and my husband and I are being torn apart. I would like stop all contact, but he is caught up in her web of guilt and feels he owes her something for giving birth to him. Also, she assumes that if we don't wish to report everything about our lives that we are having marital difficulties! This is not a healthy mother-son relationship.

—Dumbfounded in D.C.

Dear Dumb,
Well, you said it: Your mother-in-law is mentally ill. The behavior you describe is a clear indication of that. If you cannot get her to a therapist for counseling or medication, then you two must go. It would be a shame if this ill and controlling woman sank your marriage. Your husband needs some understanding of the situation and perhaps some gumption. He cannot continue to be held hostage to her threats, and this nutty you-owe-me-something behavior has to be removed as a leitmotif of your marriage. Good luck.

—Prudie, resolutely