Dear Prudence

My Friend Insists We Need to Spend $200 on a Thank-You Gift

Prudie’s column for Sept. 21.

Photo collage of a broken piggy bank and a gift box with a "Thank You" tag on it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

To get advice from Prudie, send questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion. Or call the Dear Prudence podcast voicemail at 401-371-DEAR (3327) to hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.

Dear Prudence,
I am in my early 20s and still a student. I recently traveled to New York City with a friend (also a student) and stayed with her aunt for several days in her downtown apartment. The aunt was a lovely and generous host, and we enjoyed the trip immensely. Several days after getting home, my friend and I sat down to discuss what sort of thank-you we should send. I was shocked to hear that we were expected (by my friend’s family) to spend up to $200 on the gift. In fact, some of her relatives were getting on her case for not having sent it already!

I am fortunate enough that such an expense won’t break the bank, but I still feel like this was sprung on me. However, it is also true that we saved a fair chunk of money thanks to the aunt’s hospitality. In the end, I paid for half of the gift without voicing any objections, since I figured that the most important thing was to preserve my friend’s goodwill within her family. Privately, my gut reaction is that it is unreasonable to demand such a large gift for favors freely offered, especially from two students who do not have incomes of their own yet. On the other hand, I don’t know if I am the one being unreasonable in underestimating the generosity of my hosts. I am also worried now about whom I might have offended in the past with underwhelming gifts. My typical thank-you package consists of a handwritten note and a small personalized gift, such as a variety pack of tea, baked goods I know they like, or a copy of a book we have discussed before. Can you advise me on what the correct etiquette is in these situations?
—Pricing Etiquette

These are definitely not the rules. It is not customary for college students to spend $200 on a thank-you gift after staying in someone’s guest room for a weekend. Nor are thank-you gifts generally calculated based on how much money you may have saved by not staying at a hotel. I’m glad your budget was able to survive an unexpected $100 charge, but not every budget can, and you would have been well within the bounds of politeness to say “I can’t afford that” and stick to sending a nice card and a carefully selected tea tin. Your friend’s family has very unusual expectations, and I don’t think many other people are going to go along, as you did, if she asks for contributions for a thank-you gift in that range in the future. If someone offers to put you up in their guest room (or on a couch), it’s polite to clean up after yourself, say “thank you” in person, and follow up with a nice note or a modest hostess gift like the kind you described—that’s it. It doesn’t entitle them to later calculate what you might have spent on a hotel and then try to wrangle cash or expensive home goods out of you.

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I were both interested in romantically approaching a female friend of ours, but I had many apprehensions about it. We discussed some of my worries, and I told him that we should give it time and not approach the friend about it. Well, while he was giving her a ride to a function they were attending (and I was not), he decided to go ahead and ask her on a date on our behalf. According to him, he made it very clear that he didn’t want to pressure her and hoped she would still be comfortable spending time with us even if she wasn’t interested. She turned him down but told him that she didn’t think things had to be weird between us as long as it was understood that she had said no.

I told him how angry I was, for reasons that are probably obvious: going ahead when we agreed not to, outing my feelings toward her when I wasn’t there and without my permission, doing this when she was relying on him for a ride. His explanation was that he didn’t realize “give it time” meant indefinitely and that he saw an opportunity to talk to her and took it. He ended up understanding his mistake and apologizing for it, and I admit I probably wasn’t clear enough in the first place.

We’ve since hung out with her in a group setting a few times, and she’s been totally normal and friendly toward both of us, but I can’t stop thinking about this thing she and I both know and have never discussed. I told my husband to absolutely never talk to her about it again unless she initiates the conversation, and I’m sure he gets it this time. My question is: Should I say something to her about it myself just to clear the air, especially since I wasn’t given the chance to express that I respect her feelings? Or should I leave well enough alone? I feel lucky that she seems to have moved on, but I still feel like this has unavoidably altered my friendship with her.
—Troubled Tri-Curious

Your husband didn’t make a mistake because you weren’t clear enough and he was a simple but good-hearted rube. He acted impulsively and without you there because he thought he was going to get everything he wanted in one fell swoop, without having to exhibit patience or include you in the conversation. (Moreover, common sense dictates that this isn’t a conversation to be had when someone is in your car and can’t leave if she feels uncomfortable.) Pretending to have behaved thoughtlessly when one has behaved selfishly is an ignoble strategy, and I don’t think you should accept your husband’s attempt to downgrade his error from “impulsive, embarrassing, reckless about the comfort and boundaries of others” to “a well-intended whoopsy.”

One of the several downsides of his decision is that you now feel more uncomfortable around your friend and don’t have an easy means of addressing that new tension. I understand your reluctance, because there aren’t many ways to bring this up with her without feeling like you’re attempting to relitigate her “no,” and ultimately I think if you decide not to say anything in the interests of keeping her comfortable, that’s a perfectly sound option. But I don’t love the idea of two female friends being unable to discuss something that’s significantly affected their friendship because of a man’s bad behavior either! If you do say something, I’d suggest echoing the apology your husband already offered her, letting her know that you’re sorry he chose a moving car to ask her out in, and expressing your hope that you can all move on from this. I’m sure she already knows that you know, so I don’t think it will come as a shock if you want to briefly and straightforwardly say something. And I hope you and your husband are able to have a number of difficult conversations about dating etiquette, feigned ignorance, and covering up one’s own motives in the future.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From How to Do It

I’m getting divorced from my second husband and remain friendly with my first. While babysitting my granddaughter and having my ex over for dinner, the subject of getting naked came up. He knows how miserable I am, and his wife has lived several states away for years. Both of us could seriously use a good roll in the hay. Fast-forward to a couple nights later when we tried. Let’s say Mr. Johnson did not show up for work. I was very understanding: He is of the age where that could happen. I finally convinced him to get some little blue pills to see what comes up, so to speak.

What I want to know is what can I do to help wake things up, if you will? He is very afraid that the pills won’t work (it turns out he took one he got from a friend the one time we did try, and nothing happened). I understand not wanting to be embarrassed again, but I would never humiliate him as I know he can’t help it. I just want to know if there’s anything I can do to facilitate things. Sure, I have an ulterior motive, but we’d both be the beneficiary if we get things going. Any suggestions?