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I have been dating a fantastic man for a couple of months. We’re both in our mid-30s, and each of us has a past, so we’ve taken things very slowly. My birthday is coming up, and we’ve rented a house out of town with a bunch of our friends for the celebration. I had hoped to take the opportunity to have some fun (by fun, I mean sex). But one of my friends just pulled me aside to let me know my beau bought me a bracelet that I saw at an antique store on one of our first dates. He’s planning to give me this expensive piece of jewelry as a birthday present. So what’s the problem? I don’t want him thinking I slept with him because he gave me jewelry. Do I take the gift, blow out my candles, and have my way with him—and hope he doesn’t conclude the bracelet is the reason? Do I talk to him about it (“I love the bracelet, but now I’m afraid I cannot sleep with you this weekend”)? Or what?
Dear Gift Horse,
Calling O. Henry: You were planning to sleep with your boyfriend until you found out he cares about you so much that he has bought you a gift that shows his thoughtfulness and devotion. A bracelet becomes emotional handcuffs! You should not worry that after months of getting to know each other your boyfriend is going to conclude that you forgot to tell him you were actually a high-priced call girl, and all he needed to do was pony up some jewelry to get you to put out. However, I still disagree with your plans to ravish him on your vacation weekend. You two are renting a house with friends, an inopportune setting for your first go at sexual intimacy. The first time can be supercalifragilistic, and if it is, you two will want to spend all your time in bed, not playing charades with your pals. Or the first time can be promising but awkward, in which case you two will want to have some comfortable, quiet space to readjust and reconnect. Then there is the unpleasant possibility that the first time leaves both of you thinking “I know I want to have sex again—just not with you,” and the tension that will cause will be the source of much eyebrow raising among your friends. So forget about the bracelet and decide that the “fun” can’t wait for the weekend. Or if you still want to put off the big reveal, after thanking your boyfriend for the gift, tell him how much you’re looking forward to a getaway for just the two of you.
I am a recent college graduate who is just beginning her career. When I was a girl, my family lost our house because of money problems. We moved in with my grandparents and never left. My mother doesn’t work, and my stepfather is a construction worker. They can’t afford their own house. I want to get my own house—with my boyfriend—and be closer to my job. He and I agree it would be a good idea (and the morally right thing to do) to buy a larger house and have my parents and teenage brother move in with us. We all get along great but never spend more than an hour a day together due to activities and schedules. However, when I tell people the plan, I get shocked expressions and disbelief. No one else thinks it’s a good idea. Is this really a decision I will regret?
—Home Sweet Home
Having multiple generations live under one roof is how most of humanity has done it for most of human history. However, those with the wherewithal to escape from the family cave, wigwam, or yurt fled as fast as they could across the steppes to the farthest condo they could find. You obviously would have been one of those who stayed, and it is sweet and heartwarming that you and your boyfriend love your parents and brother and want to do right by them. Don’t listen to others who, if they found themselves in a similar situation, would be looking up “assisted suicide” in the Yellow Pages. However, as you consider properties that can accommodate all of you, you might want to look at homes with an in-law suite in the basement or some similar arrangement that allows your family to be under one roof but not fighting over the clicker in the same room.
Several years ago, my father cheated on my mother with a co-worker. My parents chose to stay together and make their marriage work. I now work at the same office as the lady my father cheated with. I have to communicate with her, though sparsely. However, I hear her on a regular basis and find myself cringing at the sound of her voice! I do not know whether this woman knows who I am. When I realized that she was working near me, I took down any pictures of my family because I didn’t want her knowing who I was. How do I handle this? Should I say something to her or continue living in my cubicle bubble?
Sure, it would be entertaining for your office if you marched up to her with your family photo, smashed it over her head, and said, “How dare you try to destroy our happiness!” But it will be better for your career and hers if you both continue to act all-business and make no reference to past funny business. Perhaps your last name is Jones, and she hasn’t realized who you are; or perhaps she knows quite well and is keeping a proper façade. In either case, there’s nothing for you to say about her personal history. But you also needn’t act as if you’re in the witness protection program, so replace those family photos and stop skulking in your cubicle. However ideal your parents’ marriage may have seemed, it’s not all that unusual that over the course of many decades together a partner strays. What your parents have taught you is that a solid marriage can absorb this blow and continue. And what you are learning is that you can find yourself in a terribly awkward situation and make it work.
My girlfriend recently hosted a dinner party for which she didn’t have enough drinking glasses and had to borrow some from one of the guests. After the dinner, my girlfriend accidentally broke a glass while washing it. When my girlfriend explained the accident to our guest, he exclaimed that he purchased the glasses in South America, they were expensive and a set of six, and that he would require a replacement for the entire set. My girlfriend thinks that buying one exquisite glass will be sufficient to excuse herself, whereas I feel that she should purchase a similar set of six glasses to replace the originals. This situation has become a point of contention between us, and I’m trying to find a workable solution.
Dear Broken Glass,
Your girlfriend is not obligated to now trek the Andes until she finds the glassblower in Machu Picchu who made the originals. Actually, a good rule is that if you have something that is precious, fragile, and irreplaceable, do not loan it to someone for a dinner party. For that reason, I wouldn’t ask to borrow glassware, but if I did—or if I loaned some—I would make sure it was the stuff from Ikea. Your girlfriend broke one expensive glass, so her obligation is to try to buy something nice that resembles the broken one. (Actually, the guest should have had more class about the glass and shrugged off her offer to replace it, since he knew she couldn’t.) Or she can go to a housewares store and buy a decent but reasonably priced set of six. A note of apology and a bottle of wine to pour into the glass would be nice. But it is unreasonable for your friend to expect replacement of six pricey glasses when he’s still got five.