Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
Is it tacky to ask for somewhat expensive gifts when you are not throwing an expensive wedding? My fiancé and I do a lot of volunteer work. Because of that, we’ve made some connections with people that are gracious enough to donate materials or time to the wedding.
We are having a wedding in the spring in a community garden center. It’s in a beautiful Victorian-style mansion that was donated to the organization. Most of the beautiful flowers will be in full bloom during that time. Our taste is a bit more casual and we love the architectural details of the house so much that we’ve decided to have very minimal decorations. I’m getting married in a regular dress I bought right before the pandemic but haven’t been able to wear. My fiancé has his outfit. Instead of paying for the food, we’ve basically been donating a ton of time to help in the vegetable and herb gardens. Some of that food is getting dried or pickled and will be used in our wedding dishes. We will hopefully have some crops that we will get in the spring as well. Because of all of this, we are paying very, very, little, like in the low thousands.
Well, fast forward to last weekend when my family figured out just how little we were paying for the wedding. My fiancé and I decided to make sure we put our registry up before the holidays in case anybody wanted to shop early and get some deals. That brought up the topic of the wedding. My family kept asking me about which vendors we were using and how we were decorating. After the twentieth time of me telling them that I wasn’t doing X with my wedding, it finally dawned on them that we were spending very little. Some of them kept telling me it was tacky for me to put such expensive stuff on our registry when we weren’t spending much on the wedding. Our registry isn’t that extensive, but it has very few things below the $30 range because my fiancé and I have been living together for a while. There were some big-ticket items on there that we honestly just expected people to buy as a group. The food and ambiance are going to be amazing, but a bit more casual. Is it an etiquette faux pas to ask for “expensive” gifts when you’re not spending money on the wedding?
—Tacky Wedding Planner
Dear Tacky Wedding Planner,
This is stupid. A lot of people don’t pay a dime for their weddings—their parents foot the bill for everything. The fact that you’re keeping costs down in another way is nobody’s business. I do think you need to figure out a way to add some more affordable gifts (who couldn’t use some new towels?) or use a registry service that is set up to allow people to purchase gifts (which can include experience gifts that won’t take up room in your shared home) as a group. The important parts of etiquette aren’t about those weird rules about presents costing the same amount as the plate of chicken or fish you’re served—they’re about being thoughtful and making people comfortable. So it would definitely be rude to put your non-rich guests in the position of not being able to afford anything you’ve asked for.
Also: Please watch out for these family members who are making all the complaints—they either have way too much time on their hands or really don’t want the best for you.
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Happy “ruining the holidays” season to all who celebrate! Between the drive, flight, and time change, it takes me an entire day to get to my hometown—it’s a terrible and expensive day getting between two of the busiest airports in the U.S. This isn’t my family’s fault, but I do feel resentful that once I get to town, they expect me to be the one to reach out to plan a visit and then drive a further 45 minutes to see each of them. I didn’t see my sister and her toddlers last time because I experimented with just giving her my travel dates and telling her to come by when she could. And she still holds it against me!
My mother is in poor health, so I’m going home for two weeks this year. My focus is staying very close to my parents so we can spend quality time together and so I can do some house chores, take her to treatment, etc. I’m not going to have the time or emotional capacity to do visits with my siblings and cousins the way we’ve become accustomed to, as much as I truly love them and want to spend time with them! (Also, for some context, I was adopted. So I’m still connected with everyone in my bio family except my bio parents, but they don’t have my real parents’ well-being on their radars really.)
What I want from them is the emotional wherewithal to understand that I’m not on vacation for the holidays and that this is going to be a financially and emotionally taxing trip spent holding my mom’s hand at a dialysis center and beginning the uncomfortable work of preparing their home for her final stage of life. My fatigued resentment wants me to say, “Hey siblings and cousins! I’m going to be in town these dates, if you want to get together it’s your turn to plan something and to drive to me! I really for real will not be organizing anything” which seems petty, and honestly probably wouldn’t even work.
Can you help me with a script in advance (over text or a call) that communicates how much I really just need my family to show up for me in this way this year? I know I can’t control the outcome, but I’d like to give it my best shot at reaching through their absolute complacency. Once we’re in the same place we have an amazing time together! I rented my own place in my parents’ neighborhood, so they can all come to me in the evenings for dinner without disturbing my mom or making me drive across town. What do you think?
—12 Hours Plus 45 Minutes Is Too Much!
Dear 12 Hours,
You’re already very close and barely need my help here. Your idea about asking people to come to you is perfect. I just want to lightly edit your script to emphasize the part where you say what you’re willing to do, de-emphasize the part where you tell other people what to do (they can decide that on their own), and make it sound a little less agitated. Sometimes the key to communicating something like this is to come off a little less resentful than you feel, just to set the tone and avoid giving people anything to be offended by. So here’s your group text:
“Hey siblings and cousins. I’m going to be in town [insert dates] and it would be so great to see you! I’ll be caring for my mom most of the time and it’s going to be pretty draining so I won’t be able to make visits but I’ll be spending the evenings at a nice rental where I would love to host people for dinner. If you’d like to come over one night please let me know what date works best! I know it’s an incredibly busy time for everyone and you all have your own families and responsibilities so if not, I completely understand but let’s try to at least catch up over FaceTime.”
The hardest part of this will be accepting that letting go of your control over organizing everything means there’s a possibility that nothing will happen. But I hope that with enough notice and clarity about your limits, someone else will step up.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“If more than two or three relatives mentioned this, there’s almost certainly a group chat going about their registry.”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I’m in the small minority in the U.S. who have not gotten COVID. My husband and I have achieved this by working from home all this time and missing out on a lot of fun. We hoped that when we got our fifth shot we’d be ready to get out more, but no; we’re still really concerned about long COVID. I went to my first indoor group event last night, and I was both socially awkward and a little freaked out. After a while, I put my mask on and sat farther away from everyone. I think I offended my dearest friends and am going to reach out to people today. But Prudie, how can I be more relaxed like everyone else and go on trips, to concerts, and gatherings? How is everyone else coping so well with the ongoing pandemic? Over 300 people are still dying every day, but everybody is having a great time! You can see I’m not even sure what I want here. How can I be less afraid? Should I even want to be less afraid?
—Confused and Conflicted
Hey, we’ve all been through a lot and seen many people die. Some people have responded by refusing to think about the people who are still dying every day and the toll of long COVID. Others have responded by thinking about these things a lot. You don’t have to use anyone else as your model for how to feel. We all make different choices about the risks we’re willing to take with our well-being all the time when it comes to the food and drinks we consume, the sports and activities we participate in (or don’t), whether or not we lock our doors, the extent to which we protect our privacy online, and all sorts of other considerations. A hundred decisions a day require taking stock of what we feel like doing, what the consequences might be, and what matters more to us. These decisions don’t even have to make sense. For example, I’m semi-terrified to drive to downtown San Francisco because there’s so much going on and it feels like if I make one wrong move, I’ll have an accident. So I pretty much avoid it, but I’ll happily take a coastal road where I could careen off a cliff at any moment. I have been convinced that Diet Coke contains something that should be avoided at all costs but I’m willing to risk it all for a deodorant that some people insist will send me to an early grave. Making these decisions based on emotion is just being human, nobody does it perfectly, and many of us (guilty!) sometimes do it in a way that’s not 100 percent rational. You shouldn’t beat yourself up for it.
The truth is, if you do get long COVID, people are going to send thoughts and prayers and maybe partially fund the expenses you can’t afford when you cease to be able to work. But then, when the dust settles, you’ll be largely on your own to deal with the consequences. So don’t worry about what other people think!
That said, you’re not happy being this scared. And what’s the point of being so careful to protect a life you aren’t enjoying?
To kind of reset yourself, take a hard look at the best data you can get on transmission and infection. This way you can get a sense of what your risk actually is, and how it may compare to other risks that you’re OK taking. If the numbers don’t move you, maybe look for some sort of data visualization to put the situation into perspective. Then, think about the aspects of your life that you love—the reasons you want to be healthy and not have long COVID. It doesn’t make sense to deprive yourself of time with loved ones, travel, and fun all to avoid the small possibility that you will get an illness that will keep you from time with loved ones, travel, and fun. Maybe just choose the few events that you really feel are worth the risk and go all in on enjoying them, knowing the chance you’re taking and having thought about why it makes sense. If you skip some stuff that doesn’t pass the “Would I be pissed if I got long COVID from this?” test, that might actually be a way of making your time as a healthy, alive person more enjoyable.
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