Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of this week's chat is below. ( Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie's Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at email@example.com.)
A: You call them immediately and say you're the cheapskate you took them up on their offer of no gift, so someone who got them a mountain bike is missing a lovely thank you note. Do this right away so I don't have to deal with the letter from the angry person who purchased a mountain bike as a wedding gift for a couple of ingrates.
Q. Etiquette Following Family Member's Death: A while ago my friend visited the U.S. and stayed in my home. While she was here she received an urgent call from Japan saying her father's medical condition suddenly deteriorated and he was on his deathbed. During the following hours she made numerous lengthy long distance calls to her travel agent to arrange a flight back as well as various family members to ascertain what was going on. She managed to board a flight the next day to say goodbye to her father. After she left I received a huge telephone bill, $200 of which were hers. I did not contact her about this because of the timing. It has been over a month now and she's made no mention of how she is going to pay me back. My question is, is it now appropriate to ask her to pay me back? Or should I just wait for her to say something about it?
A: Someone who suddenly has to travel halfway around the world to get home in time to bid farewell to her dying father may simply never recall that she probably racked up a substantial phone bill while making the arrangements. Sure, it hurts to be stuck with a $200 tab, but you're writing to me because something is holding you back from presenting her with the bill. I hate to say it, but if you can swallow this, do so—think of it as a generous gift to a friend in crisis. I'm assuming this bill is not making the difference between your being able to make your rent or being on the street. Because being in an absolutely dire financial situation is the only way I can see that you can bring this up. And as I try to formulate a way to mention it ("I'm so sorry for your loss. Speaking of losses, you owe me $200") I just feel stumped.
Q. Do I Have To Repay This Loan?: My father borrowed $20,000 from his sister in 2003 towards his struggling business. The business did eventually fail, and he passed away in an accident in 2004. My brother and I were still in school at that point so my mom had a hard time keeping us afloat. I have since finished my education and am working full time, and my brother is about to start working soon, too. My aunt came by last week and asked us to repay the money dad borrowed from her. She said she didn't want to ask us when we were struggling financially, but now that all three of us were working she figured it would be easier to start paying her back. But, Prudie, my mom's still paying off her mortgage, my brother is earning a graduate salary, and I am saving up for a wedding and a deposit for a house with my boyfriend. All of us could do with the money. My aunt said she won't ask for any interest and she'll take $1,000 off the total as a pre-wedding "gift." I personally do not think we should pay her back—it was dad who borrowed the money and he died almost penniless. How can we convey our feelings without damaging our family relationship?
A: Now we're talking real money. It's funny how the $1,000 off the top makes her request seem more insensitive. Your letter makes clear that no one should loan money to friends or family unless they are prepared to never see the funds again. I'm afraid you've got a legal situation here. While money is clearly tight, you need to contact a lawyer who can advise you what your obligations are. It seems very unrealistic for your aunt to expect to see $19,000, and all of you may owe her nothing. But perhaps there's a way to settle this so that relations aren't permanently damaged.
Q. Cancer Patient: My wife has a congenital visual disorder that causes malformation of parts of the eyes. As such, it comes with droopy lids, oft-times odd shaped eyes, and limited visual acuity. People often say the strangest (and often rude) things to her, so we understand the fact that it seems that many people have lost the natural filter between brain and mouth. If someone starts a conversation that you are uncomfortable with (including rather unpalatable stories about cancer, treatment, and disturbing bodily functions), then I've found it best to interrupt (politely!) and say, "I appreciate the sentiments, but I'm uncomfortable discussing my situation right now," and change the topic. You can often get people to discuss current events or local news easily. As for touching, when someone reaches out towards you, put up your hand in front of theirs and just say, "Please don't." You don't need to explain, it just politely asks them not to touch you.
A: Good advice. Thanks.
Q. Wedding Decision: My 25-year-old daughter accepted an invite to a big wedding in February. The wedding is in September. Just recently her cousin declared her intention to marry on the same day. The cousin's marriage is a bit more hasty. Should she go to the big wedding to which she has already accepted an invitation? The big one is very formal, with many events planned over several days. The other wedding is much less formal, but we are a small family and her absence will be sorely missed and may cause hard feelings. The weddings are in different states. Thanks for any insights you might have.
A: Brava to the cousin for not making getting married a year-long march to the altar at a cost equivalent to the bail-out of Greece. However, months ago your daughter accepted the invitation, so she is committed. She needs to write a note to her cousin explaining she very much wishes she could join her on this happy day, but she has a long-standing, previous obligation. She should say that after the honeymoon she'd love to get together with the couple for dinner to celebrate. If there are hard feelings because your daughter is not canceling on her friend, then your family will just have to stew in their own rudeness.
Q. Re: Gossip: Please, please, please say something to these mean girls! I was part of the "mean girls" group at my high school (now 10 years ago). I wasn't mean, but I was an "innocent" bystander when they made fun of other girls, and I still feel guilty about not having spoken up. Do it because it's the right thing. P.S.—I know your high school reputation feels like the end of the world, but it's not. I now have kind, wonderful friends who are cool as hell but don't treat people like crap. It gets better.
A: To the high school girl—listen to this voice from the future. It does get better, especially if you are not really a mean girl yourself. Even if there are some bumpy times disentangling from a nasty group of friends, it's great experience in building your ability to do the right thing.