Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Efficient advice machines!

Ashley: What do you think about today's The Vine?
Q. I have an older sister. The thing about her is that she was a pretty comprehensively horrible older sister to grow up with, and a while back, I decided that I was kind of done with her being a horrible older sister to be a grownup with, too. ... I offered her a deal. I wanted to get off the merry-go-round of aggravation and nastiness, so I proposed terms which boiled down to some pretty elemental behaving-like-adults stuff. ... Sister said no, she wasn't interested. I said if that was her choice, then we couldn't have a relationship any more.

It's been about a year and a half since then. In that time I have seen her in person once, at Christmas 2009, at our parents' house. (I was civil, but distant.) The part that gets awkward? She still gives me birthday and Christmas presents, transferred via our parents. This Christmas, my mother followed this up with suggesting that I should write her a thank-you note for the present I had rather awkwardly taken along with my gifts from my parents and family friends.

I feel like doing so would be wrong — because I set a boundary and it's important to me to hold it, and because it would probably suggest to her that I was caving and we could resume a relationship on her terms, which I feel would be unfair, since that isn't going to happen.

What do you think? Should I write her a note — but tell her that I'm still not going to interact with her if I have a choice? Should I ignore it, and treat the gifts as damages for past injuries, or pass them on to charities? Should I reject the gifts entirely? (In my cultural background, refusing a gift is incredibly rude, and I'm reluctant to horrify my parents like that, but…)

A. But you're still interacting with her. You still have a relationship with her, and she still controls you through it. Standing right at the boundary line and informing her, over and over, that this is the boundary and you will defend it is not ignoring her or ending the relationship. It's creating even more thankless work and frustration for yourself within it. ...

Accept that she will not learn, give yourself permission to stop giving a shit, and do whatever requires the least effort and emotional engagement going forward. It doesn't sound to me like you've explained the situation to your parents, which you might consider doing, in brief, so they understand why you behave certain ways, but if it's going to turn into even more drama and they'll still make a federal case out of you accepting the gift, well, then just accept the damn thing. Take it, write a short thank-you note, and sell it on eBay or drop it in a trash can two blocks away. ...

You don't have to forgive her, or stop thinking she's a dick, but if you genuinely don't want to deal with her? Don't. But holding a boundary this unswervingly is dealing with her. Find another way, one that lets you go back to not thinking about her as soon as possible.

Lulu: I think if you have told somebody you do not want them to contact you anymore, you do not need to write them a thank you note. She can accept the gift given through the parents and discard or keep it as she wishes, because the parents don't need to be put in the middle of this, but if she has told her sister she doesn't want a present, then it's fine for the sister's presents to go into the void UNTHANKED.

Ashley: Yeppers!

Lulu: Hee hee. Anything to add or shall we move on to dispatching Miss Manners?

Ashley: I think that covers it!

Lulu: Okay, so today's Miss Manners.
Q. I seem to be at the very beginning of what might be a romance, having gone on two fun and innocent dates. I know that you encourage a period of "friendship" before plunging in. Would it ruin the illusion of just being friends to give a handmade valentine card?

I do like to make valentine cards with lots of lace and red hearts, but maybe that would seem silly. Should I give it in person, or mail it? Mailing it would require finding out the mailing address somehow. And, what should it say?

The general message I would like to convey is, at the very least, "I would very much like to keep dating you!"

A. Leaving aside the notion of "plunging in," which Miss Manners would prefer not to think about, she may well have suggested the friendship approach to romance. Not that she really expected anyone to listen.

So instead of courtship strategy, she will discuss your question in terms of the strategy of etiquette. As this has to do with the effect on the recipient, it may amount to the same approach.

The object should be to delight him, rather than to embarrass him. You know him better than Miss Manners does, although not much better, since you don't know where he lives. If you believe that a valentine from you will set his heart racing, go ahead. However, she believes that even if a romance is budding between you, it is all too likely to inspire the unromantic thought, "Uh-oh. Was I supposed to send you one?"

Ashley: I do agree re: not making him think he was supposed to get you something, but I don't think a card necessarily implies that, especially if you like making them. Maybe make a stack and pointedly fish out his? So he doesn't think he's too special?

Lulu: Ha ha, yeah. Search ostentatiously through a messenger bag of red envelopes. This is similar to advice Darnell gave me about the candygrams - plausible deniability! She should definitely try to keep it simple and spontaneous-seeming, and avoid going overboard. She shouldn't send it in the mail.

Ashley: Agreed. Mailed would be weird.

Lulu: Okay, so we're done here too? We're so efficient with our advice today! Bam bam bam! Let's do another! Any thoughts on ex-girlfriend pictures on Facebook? This is in Love Letters, and Meredith comes down HARD on the side of taking down the pics.
Q. [My sister's] boyfriend and the guy I've been dating for a month are both reluctant to remove their cuddly, kissy, coupley Facebook pictures with ex-girlfriends. Both men rationalize that they are trying to maintain casual friendships with these exes, and do not want to take the hurtful action of removing or untagging the pictures.

My sister and I lean toward thinking that this is a bunch of malarkey. My sister fears that her boyfriend still cherishes feelings for his ex. I don't feel similarly threatened by my guy's ex-lady, but I just feel awkward that his profile contains dozens of public photos of him with her! ... I can't relate to my guy's reasoning since I'm not friends with any of my exes, but personally I always take down coupley pictures once a relationship has ended. (I've also noticed that many of my guy friends keep pictures of their ex-girlfriends on their profiles. Is this related to gender?)

Help! What do you think we should tell our guys? Is there a standard of etiquette around this issue?

A: If the picture is on his profile, he should take it down. If it's tagged on someone else's, he's allowed to de-tag himself. Your feelings should be more important than his ex's. And if he's worried about offending anyone, he should slim down his entire gallery of photos so that he's just keeping the bare minimum.
Really, I've never understood the whole I’m-putting-everything-on-Facebook thing. I know I'm an old lady in my 30s, but it's about respect and privacy, two things that never go out of style.

You're right. He's wrong. And your sister is right, too. You can't start dating new people and expect them to smile at your Facebook profile if it's basically a scrapbook of your dating history.

Tell you guy he should take down the pics -- so he doesn't seem like a jerk. And if he doesn't agree, forward him your friend's text. He’s obviously worried what people think of him. He should know how this looks.

And maybe tell him that he doesn't have to replace those pictures with 100 photos of you. Make some memories in real life. Not everything has to be part of the display.

Lulu: I don't see a problem with it at all. If facebook is the place you put all your pictures from your life, then obviously you will have a lot of pictures from every relationship. I don't think you should have a picture of you with your ex as your main profile pic, since that's the one that's supposed to represent you right now, but I don't see what's wrong with having outdated photos in your photo section.

Ashley: Maybe she should defriend him. Then she won't have to worry about it.


  1. These were all good ones! Ignoring Valentines Day card etiquette since I am out of 4th grade, I want to add my 2 cents to the first and last!

    Re: the awful sister. The fact that she is essentially asking "should I write a thank you note to the sister I have cut all ties with" really demonstrates, as I think gets pointed out, that she has grossly misunderstood what cutting all ties means. My advice (I always lean in this direction): if putting the sister out of her life becomes drama because of her parents, she should just kick them more or less out as well! Ta da!

    And thanks, Lulu, for normalizing photos of exes on FB. I do not de-tag 99% of the time because then I also can't find all the pictures of me on FB. And if I didn't upload it, I can't take it down, which is also true of most pictures of me on FB.

    That said, I despise this game we're supposed to play where we pretend that exes have vanished from our lives and minds. If you were with someone for a long time, just thinking about that period in your life will mean thinking about them as well. We're always harboring feelings (even if we're not "cherishing" them) from these past versions of ourselves. Nothing vanishes without a trace. This is a symptom or a larger issue. She doesn't just want the pictures gone, she wants the whole episode to be disavowed! So she can be the only one there ever was! Photos are records of stuff that happened. If she can't handle them, it's probably because she can't make peace with the stuff that happened. She is trying to control the photos in an effort to control the past. She needs to grow up.

  2. In regards to tortured questions intertwining Facebook and romance, the appropriate advice is and will always be: "You are stupiddumb. Go be dumb somewhere else, stupid."

    First letter, because order is for suckers and jerks and suckjerks! The easiest way to stop having contact with somebody is to stop having contact with them. I didn't talk to my sister for an amount of time that I can no longer accurately quantify because she stopped being a person I wanted to have anything to do with, ever. Once she remedied that situation to some degree, I allowed her once more to bask in the glory of my presence. The idea that family is any harder to cut out of your life than any other random shmoe is an incorrect one, if you can get over that piece of bad thinking then you can be free and clear in a matter of minutes.

    Middle question - the laciest heartiest card ever you should give him. Fill it with GLITTER! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

  3. "If you haven't any charity in your heart you have the worst kind of heart trouble" to cure it help people, let's unite for one good cause, be a volunteer"save lives"! mawaddainternationalaid