Holiday gift question: What is your take on returning/exchanging/throwing away holiday gifts? My family members love receiving gifts and are fairly particular and demanding about it, but they do not put a lot of thought or effort into the gifts they purchase for others. The gifts I received were clearly bought because they were on sale. Some items were not anything anyone who's known me for 10 minutes would select; others were cheap and broken at first use. It's not as if I can suggest good gifts for myself as my suggestions, when asked for, are always ignored. Also, when these same folks ask me whether I like what they've given, how do you suggest I respond?
Emily Yoffe: Even something that was bought with care and attention and is just not right can be exchanged. But there's absolutely no reason to hang onto junk that was dispensed just because it was obligatory. As for what you say, since you indicated your family members really don't care if their gift hit the mark, you can say, "It's a delightful present," which can be true if you took delight in returning it, or throwing it in the trash.
Olney, Md.: This is the first year my child wrote her [thank-you] notes by herself (she's 6). Previously she just scrawled her name on notes I wrote. I do hope the recipients all have a sense of humor, as I considered but decided against correcting her rather eccentric word spacing and creative spelling.
Emily Yoffe: They will bless you and treasure your daughter's effort.
Silver Spring, Md.: What should I reasonably expect from someone I've helped out financially? Long story short—addicted husband with secret life (apartment and numerous girlfriends) leaves my friend with cervical cancer (guess why), 3 kids, and $300 in bank. I've spent several hundred dollars for food, gas, cat food, etc., and lots of hours helping out. After about eight months (husband would not regularly send money; wouldn't have wages garnished), my friend started criticizing me, my education, and my choices and not thanking me for the things I'd pay for or food I'd buy (did it have e. coli?). Should I expect some gratitude and no attitude, or do I just take it? FYI, I've been a punching bag for a good part of my adult life from family and strangers. (I'm obese.) I thought when you did something for someone, a simple "thank you" was the appropriate response—am I wrong?
Emily Yoffe: Let's start with you. You say you've been a lifetime punching bag for others. So instead of focusing on your friend's lack of gratitude, you need to look at your attitude about yourself. Since you've identified your problem, think about getting some counseling to help you keep from constantly playing out the part of martyr in your relationships. Your friend's behavior indicates she and her bum of a husband were probably a good match. But there are three kids involved. Perhaps you could focus your efforts on them and keep your contact with your friend to a minimum.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: I wrote to you about six months ago about an old friend from high school who is married with children who contacted me and we started exchanging e-mails. You said that there were likely improper intentions. I'd just like to report that we're still e-mailing regularly, and I've even met her for lunch a couple of times when in town—all with her husband's knowledge. And nothing improper or untoward whatsoever has gone on since. But I have re-established a connection and have a good, strong friendship. I'm not writing this to say you were wrong, because I know your reaction was appropriate. But I just wanted to let you know it's possible good things like this can happen, and not everything ends up becoming unsavory.
Emily Yoffe: Wonderful! I love a savory ending.
And best wishes to all for renewed friendships and happiness in 2010.