Dear Prudence

My Son Never Acknowledges the Surprise Gifts I Send

He says it’s my responsibility as the sender to follow up.

Mom calling her adult son to see if he received the gift she sent while the adult son is picking up a package from front stoop.
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Dear Prudence,

My issue is a boring and perhaps petty one, but causes me grief, no matter how I try to dismiss it. My son and his wife just don’t have the courtesy gene when it comes to acknowledging gifts. Somehow my son thinks it’s fine for me to ask, over and over again, “Hey, did you receive that gift I sent? I got an update that indicates that it was delivered.” He’s even said he considers this follow-up “[my] responsibility” as the sender. I hate doing that! I wasn’t raised to do it, and I sure thought I’d raised him to be more considerate. I try not to ask, but after days go by with no response, I’m just crazy, sad, and upset. It’s not just about being thanked, either—I just want to know that it arrived safely and undamaged!

Recently my son asked me to send another specially designed photo mug because his wife had broken the mug I got for my grandson, and she felt bad. So I did, and it was embellished with a lot of new photos of many family members on the mug. All I got was an update from the company. I had to ask my son if it had really arrived. “Oh, yes. Thank you,” was the offhand reply. Is there an easy way to get rid of my expectations here? Should I stop giving them gifts? Should I keep on asking them to let me know when a gift arrives? (That takes away from sending surprises and unexpected gifts, which I dearly love to do.)

—Tracking Delivery

I don’t think you should keep doing anything that leaves you feeling “crazy, sad, and upset” on a regular basis, so it might be time to take a good, long break from “unexpected gifts.” I don’t want you to feel like you can’t ever send any gifts to your son and his family ever again, but you seem to have been doing this for a long time, and the result has been that you seem mostly to re-create conditions designed to make you feel ignored, frustrated, and obsessed with getting an update. Try going three months without sending any surprises and see what it feels like. Do you find yourself worrying that your son will forget you if you’re not sending a constant stream of presents? Do you feel anxious about the state of your relationship? Whatever comes up for you, try to find a way to express a concern, ask a question, or demonstrate your feelings that doesn’t involve a gift exchange, and see if that makes a difference.

You can also talk to your son, not because I think you need to make some big declaration (“Since obviously no one cares, I’ve decided to stop sending presents to your house” probably wouldn’t go over well) but because there may be an opportunity here to know each other better. Try saying something like: “I don’t know if I’ve really made it clear just how important it is to me to hear from you unprompted when a present arrives. It’s been really frustrating and painful to have to ask so often and to get such casual, last-minute responses. I’ve decided to stop for a while because I don’t want to keep trying to get you to change, but I’m also open to having a conversation if some of the presents I’d been sending were unnecessary or felt like demands on your time and attention.” I hope you’re able to make headway with your son and start a meaningful conversation. But even if that doesn’t happen right away, you can at least give yourself a break and stop putting yourself through the same exhausting, thankless routine.

Help! My Family Doesn’t Know They’re Triggering Me—and I Can’t Explain It to Them.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Davey Davis on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

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Dear Prudence,

My partner and I have been seeing each other for about a year. My partner is overweight. It’s not something that ever bothered me until recently, and not for aesthetic reasons. My partner has broken a bed frame, a mattress, and other things from my house by either sitting or standing on them. Whenever they break things, they do not apologize. It’s instead blamed on the thing for being “cheap” or “weak.” This really bothers me, because the money to replace or fix things is coming out of my pocket. And it bothers me more because there is no apology.

I haven’t said anything, because I don’t want to hurt their feelings, embarrass them, or make them think that I don’t like them because of their weight. It’s gotten to the point that sometimes I don’t want them to come over to my place in fears that they will break something, and I won’t be able to say anything. I have no idea how to approach this in a sensitive manner. Do you think I can say anything about this without hurting them?

—Sensitive in Seattle

Yes, because no matter what size a person is, it’s very rude to say, “All your stuff is flimsy garbage” when you’ve broken someone else’s furniture. Whether you break something through carelessness or pure accident is beside the point; when you break something that doesn’t belong to you, the polite thing to do is apologize and offer to contribute something toward its replacement. I don’t think you have to worry about starting a delicate conversation about your partner’s size—I don’t think you need to mention it at all in order to state your (entirely reasonable) grievance: “I should have brought this up sooner, but I need to say something now. You break things at my house pretty regularly, and whenever you do, you don’t apologize or acknowledge the inconvenience in any way. You just insult my home and act as if it’s my fault, and I don’t appreciate it. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t want to invite you over, because I’m worried you’re going to break something else, act like it’s my fault, and then not even offer to help pay for a replacement. It’s rude, it’s thoughtless, and it’s expensive for me, and I want it to stop.”

If that conversation goes reasonably well, and you two are able to come to some sort of meaningful conclusion, then you might want to discuss comfort and sturdiness when it comes to buying new furniture in the future, especially if you two ever want to move in together someday. If it doesn’t, then it’s likely time for you to consider whether you want to stay in this relationship. Regardless, the size of your partner’s body does not need to be an embarrassing secret that you tiptoe around or euphemize. Fat is not a dirty word, and needing a sturdier set of chairs or a bed frame with reinforced mattress support is not a fatal diagnosis that can only be discussed in whispers. But first you have to find out if your partner is considerate enough for you to want to continue your relationship.

Dear Prudence,

I’m a 31-year-old lesbian who is currently engaged to my partner. I am also a four-time survivor of sexual assault. Recently, two instances with men have me questioning if I’m encouraging men to behave inappropriately with me. I met a man, “Angel,” outside my job. He seemed like a chill dude who I thought could be a good friend, and he also knew almost immediately about my female partner. I invited him over to my apartment to hang out. When he came over, he tried to initiate sex, despite my insistence that I was a lesbian. It took over an hour of talking to convince him that I was not going to sleep with him and for him to go. Another instance involves a local livery cab driver who has driven me to and from work a few times. One ride, he told me that he loves me. The last ride, despite knowing I’m a lesbian and in a relationship, he also propositioned me and made me wildly uncomfortable by talking about various sex acts and touching my arms and hand. I told both these men that I was gay and had a partner. Is there something I’m doing to encourage these men? I fear I will be assaulted again.

—Is It Me?

I am so sorry this has happened to you so often, and I wish I could promise you will always be safe if you just do the right things in the right order. You treated these men with friendliness, warmth, and camaraderie, and were met with badgering, coercion, unwanted physical contact, and an attempt to wear your resistance down through sheer exhaustive repetition. Asking someone to hang out at your house is not an invitation to have sex, and it’s definitely not an invitation to harangue someone who’s already said no to sex once for an hour. Accepting a ride from a cab driver is not an invitation to be groped—it’s just an attempt to get to work.

In the short term, take steps to keep yourself safe, whether that means avoiding Angel and blocking his number, requesting only female drivers from your livery service (or at least a different driver, if women aren’t available), checking in with a friend before and after being driven anywhere, and trusting your gut when you start to feel uncomfortable around a man who was friendly five minutes ago and is now getting a little too close for comfort. But you didn’t invite harassment or assault. You didn’t fail to “do the right thing” because it’s not incumbent upon you to convince men not to assault you. They should have taken “No” as a full and complete answer, simply because you weren’t interested. The fact that some men become more eager than ever to escalate their harassment when they find out the woman they’re harassing is gay is a deeply disturbing combination of misogyny and homophobia—not something you’re responsible for because you’re a lesbian who wanted to befriend a man and went about it with the “wrong” sort of signal. I’m so sorry that you’ve been treated this way when you just wanted to get to know a new friend, or have a companionable conversation with your driver on your way to work. You deserve better.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

Now available in your podcast player: the audiobook edition of Danny M. Lavery’s latest book, Something That May Shock and Discredit YouGet it from Slate

More Advice From How to Do It

A few weeks ago, I discovered my wife cheated on me. (I won’t say how I found out, but you’d tell me I shouldn’t have done it. I had a suspicion, and I confirmed it.) The weird thing is, now that I know, I’m not sure how to bring it up, or if I should. I know through the same means I discovered the affair that it’s over, and she feels guilty about it. I noticed an uptick in our sex life around the time I now know her affair ended, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I keep waiting to snap and tell her, but even when we got drunk together one night, it just wasn’t front of mind. I told my best friend, and he said he’d have totally lost it, but I’ve “always been weird about this kind of stuff.” I’d honestly rather just forget it, let my wife work through her guilt on her own, and hopefully learn her lesson. Is that possible if I say nothing?