Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers questions from readers in a live chat. Now she’ll be answering a few additional questions for Slate Plus members only.
Q. How to Acknowledge Friends’ Relationship: I have two close friends, “Nora” and “Frank” who began living together years ago because it made sense for their situation. Nora is a straight woman, Frank is a gay man. They have been close friends for a while now, and we used to laugh at people who thought they were dating. About a year ago, Nora and Frank bought a house together. Then, for the first few months of living in their new home, we found out Frank was sleeping in Nora’s bed because he was planning to paint his bedroom. They spend all their free time together, don’t date other people, spend holidays with each other’s families, etc. If they have moved into being into a relationship, I’d want to celebrate that with them and acknowledge it appropriately. However, I’m afraid to ask since we used to make fun of people for not realizing they were just friends. Is there anything I should do differently, or should I just accept this may be a relationship that doesn’t fit into a traditional “box” and carry on how I have been?
A: I think they are very much in a relationship, and it’s fine to want to celebrate or acknowledge it in some way. He’s still gay and she’s still straight, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t committed to each other in a very real sense. They’re friends, but there is nothing “just” about it—they’re part of each other’s lives. You don’t have to wonder if they’re boyfriend and girlfriend (it doesn’t sound like they are), but feel free to buy them a “setting-up-housekeeping” present or send a nice card acknowledging their commitment to one another and pointing out something you admire about their relationship.
Q. Accepting Small Cash Gifts From Parents and In-Laws?: My parents and in-laws often insist on giving my wife and I small cash gifts on our birthdays, holidays, etc., usually personal checks around $50 or $100. (Neither family likes shopping or gift-giving, so they’ve always given money instead of gifts, even when we were kids. How I wish they would just give us sweaters!) We are now much better off financially than either of our families, and we feel guilty accepting money, even relatively small amounts, that they need much more than we do. (The fact that they are personal checks also requires us to actively cash the checks, or actively rip them up, so it’s always a conscious decision on our part.) However, it also feels awkward and embarrassing to decline the gift. What should we do? Graciously accept, or politely decline?
A: Politely decline. “Your checks are so thoughtful, but we really don’t need the money, and we’d much rather just spend time with you around the holidays.” If they insist on continuing the tradition after that, don’t embarrass them by bringing it up further—just pass along their generosity and donate the money to a worthwhile organization.