The “a Gift Too Far” Edition

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. Lucky you.

S2: Your produce, your prudence here, prudent decisions, your prudent here. Do you think that I should contact him again? No. Help. Thank you. Thank you.

S1: Hello and welcome back to The Dear Prudence Show once again. And as always, I am your host. Dear Prudence, also known as Daniel M. Claverie with me in the studio this week, our army not too so, a writer, interviewer and cultural commentator, and Ann Friedman, a journalist, essayist and media entrepreneur. Together, they host the long running podcast, Call Your Girlfriend, and have recently actually as at the time of this recording. Not yet, but by the time you hear it recently released their first book, Big Friendship. Welcome. Hello. I just want to thank you for writing a book that kind of feels like Big Pharma friendship, like, oh, they’re in the pockets of Big Friendship, these two.

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S3: We are in the pockets of big friendship. We are doubled and tripled down on it for sure.

S1: I mean, it’s great. I always appreciate and lobbyists come on this show that they declare any particular conflicts of interest. So anyone who gets advice today just know that these two are in the business of perpetuating, you know, reconciliation, shared understanding, continue to open lines of communication. And that’s just disgusting.

S4: Listen, it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work. I will not lie to you, but it’s very rewarding.

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S1: I’m really happy. So, yeah, you guys will represent the interests of big friendship today. I’ll represent big estrangements, and I think we’ll be able to give a lot of people some really. At the very least, energizing advice.

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S3: Maybe we’ll find a middle ground. I think.

S1: I hope so. How is by the way, how’s it going? How’s the rollout of the first big book together? You guys excited? Is it fun? Is it weird? It’s probably a lot on Zoome. It’s weird.

S4: It’s weird. Weird for me is the prevailing feeling. You know, it’s both of our first book. So truly, we don’t know what to expect. But you know, Pynt, pandemic vibes also weird. It’s true.

S3: We really thought we would be in the same place. You know, we thought we would be celebrating this moment together. And we are you know, we are face timing and zooming, which is, you know, not the most celebratory way to mark any life milestone.

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S1: No, no, not at all. But we can celebrate at least the solving of some. Well, let’s say seven very specific problems. We can we can celebrate that lunch. We can try. Would one of you please read our first letter?

S4: Subject proper, a Midwestern mother in law, Dear Prudence. I have been with my husband for 13 years. I’ve never been able to read his very proper Midwestern mother, but he insists she adores me. His parents are divorced and his mother remarried a while back. Her second husband died four years ago. For my last birthday, my mother in law generously gave me the wedding band her second husband gave to her. There are quite a few diamonds. It’s a little awkward. Plus, it’s totally not my style or size. Of course, I think. But I’ll never wear it. The ring has no sentimental value to either of us. She also didn’t explain why she gave us the ring. I’d love to get the diamonds reset into my current band. I don’t want to offend my mother in law. She writes thank you notes for everything and flawless calligraphy. But I also don’t want to miss out on the chance to put this ring to good use in a new way. How do I go about asking if she’s open to upcycling her generous gift into a new ring without disrespecting her? My husband and his sister are split on this question. Do you love when there’s someone in your life who you have to rely on, somebody else saying, no, no, no, they love you. I mean, in laws, is that right? It’s. This letter is also really tough because you you know, like on one hand, the letter writer is very concerned about their own relationship to the mother in law. But, of course, you know, I was like operating where there is in law. So the person who negotiates that is usually the, you know, like the husband. So this this whole thing is very fascinating. The dynamic is not clear to me about what this family unit is like.

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S1: Yeah. I didn’t necessarily get a really clear read on. Oh, I really think that the mother in law would be offended or really think that she wouldn’t. I think my biggest question is what does the sister think? Because I’m inclined to and I’ll confess this is a little gendered here, but it sounds like the husband is perhaps a little like basis, some of his beliefs here in wishful thinking rather than reality. And I wonder if the sister has a slightly more nuanced understanding of the mom’s dynamic. And since the letter writer is presumably also a woman might be able to give her more useful advice.

S4: I agree. I would ask what the sister thinks. The real opening, though, in this letter is that the ring does not fit. Ding, ding, ding. You know, which means that a discussion has to happen.

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S3: If the ring is to be worn, and I think that that is the opening, you know, into any solution, I feel very personally connected to this scenario in that I am related to many women who are into calligraphy and handwritten thank you notes and are deeply Midwestern. And I absolutely zeroed in on that little parenthetical. That it’s not my style or size because I feel like the practicality angle is is powerful. Right. Like, I really want this to be on my back on my person. And it’s not going to be on my person in its current size. And so, like, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know what part of the advice the husband and his sister are giving Visa V the size. But I fully agree with you. I mean, not to that. That is where I was like, that’s the opening here.

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S1: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. I think take your cue from your sister in law. If she says tread really carefully, tread really carefully. If she says no, you should definitely just talk to her directly. You know, you can still tread carefully and do that. But but yeah, I agree. Go with what the sister in law says. Over your husband, I think. And then if all you do is a it doesn’t fit. And I really want to be able to wear it. And she says, great. Get it resized. And you just don’t want to run the risk of offending her. I would say get it resized. Wear it. Occasionally when you see her, that doesn’t strike me as like, oh, no, I have to put this, like, hideous statue up in our foyer because she gave it to us. It’s not that huge a problem.

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S3: The one thing that I thought was interesting that we haven’t talked about is she also didn’t explain why she gave us the ring. And and maybe there is an opening for conversation there that would lead to some more info about how this person might feel about the issue of resizing or changing the ring. Just seemed like maybe there are some things that have not been discussed straightforwardly.

S1: That’s a great point. And that definitely seems in keeping with a lot of the Midwesterner as I grew up around, that they could be like, I want you to have this. This is a beloved family heirloom now, and I expect you to give it to your own children. But I’m not going to say any of that. You just have to intuit it. Right. I want you to just know that. Yeah. I think it’s step and you, I think would have grounds to just ask that. Like, I’d love to know more about what you were thinking, what a meaningful gift, etc.. You don’t have to betray your uncertainty over what she meant by it by asking that question. It’s not an inherently disruptive question, I think.

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S3: Right. And that can also come with a disclosure that the ring does not really fit. And so there might be an opportunity to feel her out a little bit before this letter writer has to make a decision.

S1: I’m going to read our next letter because it’s my favorite. It is. I read this and I was simultaneously like, I feel so much sympathy for this letter writer. This is a hundred percent something that I am my friends would have done when we were eleven and thought was just hysterically funny. And then also just real relief that I’m no longer eleven and that I’m not responsible for any eleven year old. So the subject is my daughter thinks she’s a demon and it’s driving me wild. Dear Prudence, my eleven year old daughter Alanya loves fantasy and science fiction. We’ve always encouraged her to read a lot. She’s pretty precocious, so sometimes that means reading books outside of her targeted age range. Lately, I’m starting to question that policy. Her latest favorite game, which I assume was inspired by something she read or saw somewhere, is pretending to be, quote, demonically possessed. She’ll pretend to go into a trance. Start hissing crab, walking around the house or speaking in a spooky made up language. Sometimes she’ll get her hair wet and walk around with it hanging in front of her face like ghosts in scary movies. When we tell her to stop, she’ll pretend not to hear us and later say she had no idea what we were talking about. Recently, I found her standing in the dark in front of a mirror, muttering something inscrutable. It sounded like Judy, Judy, Judy. But I can’t be sure. When I told her to knock it off, she threw herself onto the couch, pretended to faint, and then said, Where am I? How did I get here? Oh, she thinks it’s funny, but it’s annoying and rude. Plus, it confuses her a little brother. I don’t even want to think about what would happen if she pulled this trick while her religious grandma was visiting. We would probably find ourselves with a real life exorcism on our hands, and I am in the mood for no such thing. You guys, I love this so much.

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S3: Oh, my gosh. I want to befriend this demon child immediately.

S1: Fans resonate with either like we do, the kind of kid who is like, I love imagining that I’m like about to go to another dimension or like can communicate with the dead or no. I was the opposite of this child, which is why I love this child so much. Did either of you feel like my read on this was this is absolutely like age appropriate weirdness. That’s often an age where kids, like, get really interested in stuff like Ouija boards or scary movies or acting like really out there. I did not read this letter and think like, oh, I’m a little worried about the kid. She seems to have trouble separating fantasy from reality. My read here was totally she enjoys being a goof. Did either of you have a different sense here?

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S3: I had a similar read, which is feeling very like excited about this child’s imagination and honestly method follow through. I gotta say. But, you know, I found myself wondering if there is a way to kind of inhabit this world with the eleven year old a little bit and maybe make a game out of an exorcism or let me. I can’t believe I’m saying these words out loud. Just like an exorcism game or something that is kind of in keeping with like this kind of role that she is playing as a as a way of like, I don’t know, giving giving her an out. And also respecting her process, you know, as opposed to just saying, hey, knock it off. Yeah. That is one thought that occurred to me is like maybe you can join in a little bit.

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S4: Right. That’s how I felt reading it to where, you know, I was like, oh, this person is writing in because they think there’s something wrong with their kid. And I was like, actually the advice is for you. It’s not for this. This child is perfect and has a great big imagination. I think that we are always asking adults to have. I think that I would say, you know, like, can you fight to the parent? Like, can you find a way to get sillier? Because clearly this is what your kid wants, you know, and so it doesn’t have to happen every day. But maybe it’s like, OK, on, you know, on on Tuesdays after we’re done with school, like, I will also get on the floor with you and I will I will do this because I think that if you you know, if the parent joins in the fun, then you can create boundaries around it. And it’s not this is shameful thing, you know, and especially because there is obviously the concern about the grandparents and and what that means. And, you know, so I think that, like getting on the floor and having an exorcism or like, you know, being a parent demon is really fun. And then that way you can say, great, we only do this on Tuesdays and Fridays and you can’t do it when grandma is around. But I’m not punishing you for doing it in general.

S1: I think that’s super helpful. Yeah, I think you don’t want to overreact to your kid having an overweight, overactive imagination. You don’t say anything like, you know, this leads her to do dangerous stuff or to hurt people or, you know, she she does anything that makes me think she would hurt herself. So I just really think you can put this down, too. You have an imaginative kid who thinks demons and ghosts are funny and hilarious and weird and loves being creepy. And I think there’s there’s real joy in that. And so, yeah, absolutely. You can also make it clear, like if you do this in public or you do it at school, you know, at that point that’s a problem that you can’t do it. Let’s talk about why it’s not appropriate to disrupt public places or to freak out strangers. But, you know, if it makes you happy to sometimes wash your hair and walk around the house, being the girl from the ring, try not to drop on the floor, but have at it, I think is the right approach. And then I think to you know, if it’s confusing her little brother, talk to both of them, talk to him, let him know he can ask you questions, encourage her to ask questions. You might want to ask her, like, did you see this? Like, not in a way that’s like you better explain this right now or else you can’t play anymore. But just, you know, you say you assume it was inspired by something she read. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s a game. Her friends have come up with. Maybe it’s something that she invented herself. Like there’s a real opportunity for curiosity here. And yeah, I guess I would just say I remember being 11 some one of my favorite things to do would just be sometimes to scream as loud as I could like being eleven is kind of exhausting in in a weird way. I don’t know if that sounds at all familiar, but I just sometimes felt like I had so much pent up weirdness and energy I did not know what to do with myself.

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S3: I mean, that sounds very familiar to me in terms of just like this moment of social isolation. Like that was the layer that I that I read into this letter, which is just like we are all coping in our own way. And if this eleven year old has found that being a demon is what gets her through this pandemic, like, you know, I’m like, maybe I should be trying that. Like, maybe this is maybe this is a protip for all of us to go deeper into our imaginations. Right.

S1: Right. Pretending to be a demon. And it sounds like sometimes pretending to be Carrie. And only angels have wings. If she’s saying Judy. Judy, that’s amazing. That’s a bird. I think that’s kind of the same thing. Maybe if you don’t always want to join in, you can at least be like, hi, Deman Alanya. You know, you can kind of have a sort of like friendly but not entirely engaged approach that sort of like I know the mode that you’re in. I’m not going to try to coerce you out of it, but I’m also not you know, you’re not gonna get a huge reaction out of me. So if that’s part of the appeal for her, you can cut that off at the source. And then just when it comes to your super religious grandmother. Maybe now’s a good conversation or a good time to talk with your partner and your kids about what you do and don’t want to do to accommodate her religiousness. That seems like another important question. I don’t know if you share her religious views. I don’t know if you feel like you have to accommodate her religious views because she kind of steamrolls other people into accommodating them. But if if you genuinely think it’s fine and kind of annoying but harmless to play act of being a demon, it might be a good time to have a conversation with your kid about why you disagree with her grandmother. Mm hmm. Right. Like that that little bit at the end felt a little like maybe like you’re trying to fob something off on the grandmother, like, oh, if she saw this, she’d be really upset. It’s like, OK. Do you think she should be upset? Is that something that you want to accommodate with her?

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S3: Right. And this subject line of this e-mail is not my daughter thinks she’s a demon and it’s driving her grandmother crazy. It’s like it’s driving me way. Right. Right. Like, so I.

S1: Yeah, right. And it’s not like and I’m worried about her, you know, well-being or I’m worried she’ll actually invite demons on us. It doesn’t sound like that’s a concern of yours, which I think is correct. I don’t think you should worry about that. So if that’s not a real, you know, metaphysical concern, don’t try to fob that off by saying, well, it’ll freak out the grandma. And even though I don’t think they’re real, if she’s afraid that they’re real, that we all have to work around that. Right. Who wants to take this next letter?

S3: I suppose it’s my turn. This the real destiny. OK, subject. Where to masturbate? Dear Prudence, I recently moved in with my boyfriend. We share a king sized bed. He likes to masturbate in the bed and finish on the sheets between the fitted sheet and the flat sheet. He wipes it up with Kleenex after. But it still leaves a stain that goes through to the mattress cover. I’ve asked him if he can masturbate onto something else. But he insists this is how he likes to do it. I am grossed out by this. Two other men do this. Do I have the right to be upset? I support his masturbating during his private time, but it’s just so gross that it’s in the bed. I think the thing about this letter that I feel is like I keep picturing this letter writer like climbing into bed and like being surprised by this situation, like that is the that’s where my mind goes.

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S4: And I’m just like the thing that I am really struck by this letter, actually, is that, you know, usually the conflict in this kind of situation is that a woman might be upset that her partner is masturbating in bed next to her and she’s not participating. And I was like, that’s, you know, thank you for returning the trope on its head. I appreciate that. Hmm. But I do think that that’s also the opening. Right. Is the is the is the boyfriend saying this is how I like to do it. And I was like, that’s great. Good that you like to do it this way. No one is shaming you about how you like to masturbate. But if you were going to share if you were going to share a bed with someone else and you’re going to share a life with someone else, you know how they like to sleep. And the you know, the cleanliness and comfort in which they like to sleep in is also something that is up for consideration here. Yeah. And so I think that, you know, a very firm. Hi. I’m not I have fully support your masturbating. I am, in fact not shaming you for masturbating at all. I just personally do not like to sleep this way. Also, you are stating our mantras that we will both have to pay for. Is there a nice towel that I can get for you that we can put in there? And then you are still you know, you’re still masturbating in bed. It just looks quite literally not in the sheets.

S1: Yeah, I totally agree. It does not matter. The question is not whether or not he likes it. We all know he likes it. That’s why he does it. The question is, does it stay in the mattress? And the answer to that is yes. And it also stains the sheets, wiping it up after the fact still leaves a stain, as anyone who’s ever interacted with semen and fabric knows. So, you know, he can like it all he wants. That’s not a response.

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S3: Right. Like, this is a question about like cleaning standards and shared space masquerading as a question about sex.

S1: Yeah, and it’s just like you don’t have to bend over backwards to help him figure out how not to stay in the sheets and mattress. This is an incredibly low level request to make of a partner. And if he tries to make this into a huge deal or act like you’re trying to, you know, ruin his life or or surveil all his little pleasures such that he gets no freedom and no joy out of a simple mattress staining wank, then, you know, he’s being a fucking asshole and you should be mad at him.

S3: Yeah. And you can jointly invest in, like, a couple more sets of sheets so that there is always a clean one on. Like, you know, there are some concrete things about the shared space that are that that can be negotiated beyond just like, is this happening? And like is ah, is everyone okay with it? You know, like there are ways that you can kind of say, like, yeah. Like everybody gets to seek pleasure with themselves. However, this shared space issue is like what else can be done to support that? And I think like some some agreements can be made to do that. And cleanliness standards in cohabiting relationships, like I don’t know how many letters you see a week about that, but it seems like fertile territory.

S1: Yeah. Yeah. And I just like, totally agree. It’s like if you say you’re staining the mattress and he says, yeah, but I like it. It’s not that’s not a response. You know what I mean.

S4: Right. To me, I mean, that’s the most telling part of this letter is that he wipes it up with Kleenex and he leaves a stain. And I’m like, who is responsible for cleaning in the house? Who is know who is really put up on? I just I think that this question is, you know, I’m sure that if you uncover the rest of the sheet, there is more to be seen there. And so I think that, you know, it’s fine to talk about this in the context of. Yeah, like who is doing the bulk of chores in your house and also who is inconvenienced by something not being clean.

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S1: Yeah. And like what you’re asking of him is basically incorporate the Kleenex 10 seconds sooner.

S3: I’m not a huge overhaul or, you know, take some immediate action, like, you know, that follows up and goes beyond your current Kleenex routine, which is not cutting it.

S1: Yeah. Yeah. He has so many options you could get into, you know, eating his own cum. That could be a whole thing for him.

S4: So many times that I had something and I support anything this boyfriend wants to do short of wiping his semen into the sheets through the mattress, unless the your partner is incredibly into it.

S1: And you’ve already established that ahead of time. In which case, right to me, I would love to hear from you. That sounds really fun and sexy. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. That’s totally different. All right. Moving on to a very different kind of gift.

S4: I’m sorry, but that’s the backwards, perfect subject. How to ask about a gift. Dear Prudence, is there a polite way to follow up with someone who offered to buy you something? This happens to me on occasion, and I’m not sure how to bring it up without sounding greedy. Recently, my dad’s girlfriend offered to buy his patio furniture. I said I’d look into what we might want. Now, a few weeks have passed and I’d like to see if she’s still interested and reassure her that it’s fine if she if she’s no longer up for it. What would a polite, no pressure way to broach the subject is? I love this question because it’s actually very easy just to do it in a polite, no pressure way. I think, you know, whichever way is the primary way that you communicate with this person, if it’s an email, read an email. If it’s a text message or text message, I do think that writing, instead of calling and putting someone on the spot, probably is the best way to do it. And I think that you just say, hi, we are ready to buy patio furniture. I remember that you had offered wanting to help us with that if you’re open to it. We are open to it. And if not, no worries at all. Thank you so much for your kindness. I think that you don’t have to make it weird at all. And I also think that part of the hesitation with this question writer, is that some time has passed from the offer to that actually pulling the gun on it. And I think that that is always a good reminder to all of us who are lucky enough when people offer to give us things. Is that the onus is also on you to make that happen in a pretty seamless, easy way if someone is offering to buy you something. Make it as easy for them as possible. And following up like very quickly, following up very quickly. Is that so? I think, like, write a polite note and don’t be weird about it. And if the other person is weird about it, then it’s their weirdness, not yours. Just act cool. It’s totally fine.

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S3: I also have to point out that this letter writer seems to have a lot of good language for this already. You know the phrase I’d like to see if you’re still interested and reassure you that it’s fine if you’re no longer up for it appears in this letter, like to me, that seems like great language to, as you say, extend in a written format where, you know, a person can weigh in. The lag time and whether the offer is still good without having, like, you know, someone looking at them expectantly.

S1: Right. Right. My read on this was that they were a little bit worried, it was kind of like somebody who says, oh, we should get lunch sometime or like, oh, you should come by sometime. And you’re worried, like, did they mean that or was that just a polite thing? And that I would instead be like kind of putting my foot in it if I followed up. But there’s there’s no equivalent to that with patio furniture. Like nobody says out of politeness, like, oh, I should really buy you patio furniture next time we see each other. Like, that’s not let’s do lunch. Right.

S3: Right. I mean, I guess it could be a pattern with this person where they are always offering things. But but it doesn’t seem like they really want to follow through, in which case. Patio furniture is one example among many. But that is not what this letter writer is saying.

S1: Yeah, yeah. It really doesn’t sound like. I think if there was a habit of that, they would have brought it up or or something. I think they’re just nervous. I think you can take your your dad’s girlfriend at her word and congratulation on having such a cool dad’s girlfriend. One hundred percent don’t make it awkward and it won’t be awkward. Just be just be chill. Yeah. And good luck getting patio furniture. Congratulations on having a patio. I think you’re doing great. All right, last question. Whose turn is it?

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S4: It’s my turn, actually. Love this question, too. Subject. Friends and gifts. Dear Prudence, I love giving gifts. It’s how I express love. I regularly send random gifts to family and friends throughout the year, maybe once a month per person. A few friends have implied this makes them uncomfortable because they can’t or don’t want to reciprocate that often. I’ve tried to make it clear I don’t expect anything in return, but I’ve always respected anyone’s wishes and stop sending presence if they express discomfort. I try not to send anything that feels like clutter and put a lot of thought into each gift. Many of my friends say genuinely, I think that I am a great gift giver. My therapist recently had me write out a list of my friends and family and write down what gifts I give them throughout the year and then what they give me. Obviously, there’s a disconnect. But my friends and family offer other expressions of love. A friend invites me out for lunch or coffee. I buy the meals or drinks there. Invite means just as much to me as a present. I also pay for a lot of vacations. This therapist thinks I have low self-esteem, which is true. And then I think that I need to essentially pay people to be friends with me. That is not true in my opinion. I’m not going broke. I have paid off all of my debt and I still give plenty to charity. I’m looking for an outside perspective. Is my gift giving weird? And should I stop or at least lessen the gift? Oh, man. My heart really goes out to this person. I. I, too, am a person who expresses love through gift giving. And it is very I think that if you are really honest with yourself, it is like a very challenging place, because I completely understand, you know, this this feeling of saying I don’t want anything in return. I do it because I love it. And, you know, there are few things here that jump out at me like a few friends, you know, the person says a few friends have implied this makes them uncomfortable because they can’t or don’t want to reciprocate. You know, I understand that it’s an implication, but if there is more than one friend implying that to you, I feel you know, I feel OK saying that, you know, the gift giving is not very well received. And I think that that’s something that’s worth really paying attention to because, you know, noting that you were giving people, you know, a frequency of once a month, I was like, that is in and of itself is not a lot. But if there are multiple people that you were doing this with that, you know, to me, I’m like, you are a professional gift giver. This is, you know, like a one person like clearinghouse of gifts. But I think that it is really worth listening to what friends are saying, especially the ones who do not want to reciprocate that because. What they what they are saying is that they do not feel like the gift is being given without expectation. And, you know, gift giving. Like everything else is done by consent. And if if people do not receive your gifts, well, then that is really something to pay attention to. I think the other thing to pay attention to is that the therapist has really honed in on, you know, the fact that there is low self-esteem here and that there is a lot of there’s a lot of giving and not receiving. And again, you know, I think that that’s really that’s a place that is obviously very vulnerable. But I think that it’s very worth paying attention to. If you’re always giving gifts, your friends, if you you’re always paying for vacations, you’re the one that’s always paying for dinner, even if you mean it. In this most loving way, because you’re the richest of all of your friends, there is it’s impossible for people not to feel indebted to you like there’s a power imbalance in your relationship that is baked in. Money is a source of a huge power imbalance. And, you know, so I would say, like, what would this person like? What would it cost you to not give gifts for a year? What you know, could you literally not breathe if you did not give people if you did not give people things? And also, I’m curious about how big the things are. My favorite my favorite thing that I have learned in my friendship with Anne is that, you know, giving the like under fifty dollar very utilitarian gift. And because I had noticed that I like I come from a culture where you cannot go empty handed anywhere. It is like a true stick. It is a true sickness of my people. And I had a real inability not to be extravagant with people. I just didn’t know how. It’s like, how do you communicate? Like I like you. Thank you for having me over dinner. And you’re not spending too much money because there is an awkwardness that is built into that. If the person receives the awkwardly and I think that and has really taught me is that like, you know, the cheap but like kind thing to do. Which doesn’t make anyone feel awkward because you did not spend like bazillions of or hundreds of dollars on them. But, you know, there’s there’s a lot there’s a lot in this letter that I think is, you know, worth for the letter writer to reflect that.

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S3: The question I always ask myself about gifts is, is this the only person I could be giving this gift to at this time? Like, are they the person and really only person it makes sense for? Like, if I sent someone else, like, you know, the gift I got you. I mean, not too far, like 11 year friend anniversary. If I send it to someone else, but they even know what it meant. And the answer is like, no. And I think that that’s why that’s what makes it a good a good gift. And so I found myself really wondering if you are giving gifts at a rate of once a month, if they are really kind of intended as a way of showing that you’re paying attention to a friend. Because in the standard that I really tried to hold is like, does this gift show that I have been, like, lovingly attentive to this person and maybe what their needs are or their desires are or what’s happening in their life. And so those are those are that would be a question I would ask is like if you’re giving monthly, are those gifts really specific to these people or are they gestures that are kind of about something else? And I you know, this to me really ties into like it’s a little bit I roll. But the conversation about love languages, which we have all the time in the context of romantic relationships, in terms of how individuals are, you know, can most capably receive love or like what are the ways that they know that they are loved by the people in their life and gifts is definitely one of them. And I wonder about this person if they are actually engaging their friends on this question of like, hey, like to do gifts, really make you feel seen and loved by me? Because, you know, I would say that some of the discomfort mentioned would indicate that maybe they do not. And I also wonder about what else is going on in terms of like communication and connection and like emotionally extending themselves. Right. In the sense of if you’re just giving gifts and paying for dinners, are is there also some kind of like back and forth and flow in terms of vulnerability and how you are like maintaining an emotional closeness to a friend? And I think that gets to this aside about paying people to be friends with me, which this person is like. That’s not true. And I believe this person when they say that that’s not what they’re trying to do here. Right. Like, I mean, I. I don’t think there’s any reason to not take them at their word. But there is something where friendship needs a cyclical flow. Right. Like there is giving and there is taking in both parts of that are really important. In order for both people to feel connected. And I really feel like what’s going on here is that that flow of give and take is not happening with this person and their friends.

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S1: Yeah, I. I am with you guys on all of this. I think, you know, first of all, you’re allowed to disagree with your therapist, like your therapist, not just the person who tells you what you’re like, what you do right, what you do wrong. And when they express even like hesitation or encourage mindfulness about a particular habit of yours, that you then have to stop doing it. Like it doesn’t sound like your therapist has asked you to stop or lessen the gifts. It sounds like you’re freaking out a little bit because your therapist has encouraged you to ask some more questions and do some more fact finding about this particular dynamic. And it’s causing you to panic a little bit. So, you know, maybe mentioned that to your therapist. If your therapist has not actually asked you to stop or lessen the gifts, but has simply said, I want you to start paying attention to this and don’t treat it as simply a natural and unchangeable aspect of the world around you, like the tide. And if that makes you feel threatened or pressured, that’s an interesting reaction. I hate to sound like a therapist, but like, that’s interesting. Talk about it with your therapist. Yes, absolutely. You know, this is not a world ending issue. You are not doing anything evil. But I agree. I think there’s a lot of room for more curiosity here. I’m very curious about that one throwaway line. I also pay for a lot of vacations. What’s that about? Are you, like, paying to send your friends on trips without you? Are you periodically asking friends to take vacations with you? And if so, is it like let’s go to the spa up the coast for the weekend? Or is it like. We’re going across the world. You know, Yumi and Phileas Fogg around the world in 80 days like. I’m just very curious about that. I would love to hear more about it. You didn’t say very much, but I want to know a lot more. So. Yeah. And then beyond that, I think just there’s a limit to how much just telling someone, don’t worry, I don’t expect anything in return can. Can do like there’s still received cultural norms around gift giving and simply as the gift giver, you can’t necessarily say to someone, don’t worry. Just don’t feel the sort of implicit pressure of the social contract we all kind of share. Like, you can’t just make it go away. So I do think you should take people seriously when they tell you. Even though I know you personally, don’t expect something in return. It creates in me a sense of discomfort and obligation that I don’t enjoy.

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S3: Right. And it blocks that given take flow.

S4: It does. And I was just going to say that I think that, you know, the reason that it’s worth really paying attention to is that so many unhealthy relationship dynamics like thrive here. Part of this, you know, can be perceived as love bombing. And it is, you know, and it and it’s possible that it is. And it’s possible that it’s not. But I think that, you know, really being attentive to how is something that if you if you are if this letter writer is very genuine, you know, that there is no sinister like there’s nothing sinister afloat here. I think that really paying attention to like is how are people receiving what I what I’m giving to them, I think is, you know, that is more important than the gift itself because, you know, if if it is making people uncomfortable or it is making them feel indebted to you in this way because, you know, like a vacation is of your extravagance, that is a very extravagant kind of gifts to give someone anything that, you know, over the course of a lifetime. If you are doing that more than once or twice, then you know, it it is just hard that that person will not feel the value of something. And so I think that really asking yourself, why do I do this and how in what ways can it be unhealthy? And I think that, you know, it’s it’s such a dynamic of people who are emotionally abusive to just, like, give you so much and then withhold leader and. And I think that that is really worth paying attention to.

S1: Yeah. And I think you can pay attention to that without worrying. Oh, my God, am I secretly emotionally abusive? Like, I think you can separate out here a couple of things. One is you might have great intentions. Another one is sometimes you have good intentions and some self-serving intentions. That doesn’t make you a uniquely evil monster. That makes you a person. It just is helpful to acknowledge them rather than to say, no, no, no, I only ever have good intentions. And then the other thing is you might have good intentions and it might still not be fun for somebody else. So the good intentions, the part about like I try not to send clutter, I try to put thought into it. That’s great. Still doesn’t mean somebody might say, I don’t want to get a gift a month. And to that end, it would be worth reconsidering. Like the line you sort of have right now is I do this for almost everybody that I’m close to. And if they tell me to stop, I do, which is fine. Like, that’s that’s good. You should stop when people tell you to stop. But I wonder if you can do a little better than that, because that kind of puts the impetus on other people to like, wait until it gets really uncomfortable and then say to you and I wonder if you can’t bring it up earlier in your relationships with people or whether or not you can initiate this conversation, say, here’s what I get out of it, you know, here’s how I enjoy it. Here’s what’s fun about it for me. How does it feel for you? Are you OK with this? Is there a different limit that you’d like me to have than about once a month? Like you can initiate some of these conversations rather than saying, I just do it until someone tells me they hate it and then I stop? Mm hmm.

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S3: And I have some curiosity, too, around what would happen to this letter. Writers friendships, if they maybe just for a short period of time, just fully stopped giving gifts to all, regardless of how they felt. Just kind of took a break and really said, OK, I’m going gonna show up to these relationships in ways that, you know, I’m not bringing money or gifts with me. Like, I’m gonna try to just, you know, we’re going to go on walks or we’re going to do things that caused almost nothing. We’re gonna hang out. We’re gonna hang out, you know, in the park, which like these are all very Kofod friendly things to be doing, asking, asking, like what might happen if that were the case for some, like, set period of time. Not to say you have to forever deny your your amazing gift giving impulses. But like, you know, if that feels like, oh, God, I could never do that or there’s something panicky there, then maybe that is important info.

S1: Right. I realize to you, like, we’ve been spending a lot of time with this one question when we’ve all kind of agreed, like it does seem to have some really positive effects. And the letter writer is clearly like, you know, doing their best to think about how to demonstrate love and affection for people. So I worry maybe a little bit that this letter writer feels like, oh, my God, they spent so much time on my question, I must be the worst one. I don’t think that’s the case at all. I just think sometimes, especially with stuff like love languages or it’s how I express love, I personally bristle at that because people seem to me to sometimes use that as this is a feature of mine in the same way that a mountain range is a feature of a particular landscape. It is. You know, inextricable to the person that I am. I could never change it or re-evaluate. This is the only way I can express love. And if you tell me to change it, that means I don’t get to love people anymore. And so I would just encourage the letter writer to think you are allowed to give people gifts. It’s not evil. You can do it again. It will also be useful to think about other ways that you can show love. It is not the only way that you can feel good about yourself or show love.

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S3: I also think that it’s we have a tendency to belabor questions like this, because it’s just we’ve just spent a lot of time writing a book about things like how do people connect outside the bounds of maybe like a traditional family or like romantic relationship. And so, you know, just to assuage the letter writers fears, it’s like some of this is about personal interest. You know, like we just love. We just love talking about questions like this. Like, how do people show up for each other?

S1: Yeah, actually, that’s a great Segway, too, because that was our last question. Is there any sort of general broader big picture advice you, too, would like to share as representatives of big friendship to. To anyone who might be listening right now? What are we lobbying for? Exactly.

S3: I mean, I think I think one thing that we’re lobbying for is more acceptance of the fact that friendships, particularly long running, intimate friendships, contain difficulty as much as they contain joy often and they require work. And so essentially normalizing the fact that if you want to be in a friendship for a long time, it will probably challenge you to communicate things that are hard to ask questions of yourself and how you bring yourself to the friendship. And and that is good and normal and healthy. It does not mean the friendship is toxic or dysfunctional. Not not in every case at least. You know, some friendships are. But like, you know, even even healthy friendships have this have this requirement wholeheartedly.

S1: Agree. Oh, good. I’m glad that we didn’t end on a fight between the two of you. Not today. Thank you both so much for coming on the show. And I’m really, really excited for the rest of your remote. Round the World Book Tour.

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S5: Thanks for listening to Dear Prudence. Our producer is Phil Circus. Our theme music was composed by Robin Hilton.

S6: Don’t miss an episode of the show. Head to Slate dot com slash Dear Prudence to subscribe. And remember, you can always hear more prudence by joining Slate. Plus go to Slate dot com slash pretty pod to sign up if you want me to answer your question. Call me and leave a message for zero one three seven one, dear. That’s three three two seven. And you might hear your answer on an episode of the show. You don’t have to use your real name or location. And at your request, we can even alter the sound of your voice. Keep it short, 30 seconds a minute, tops. Thanks for listening.

S7: Well.

S1: And here’s a preview of our Slate Plus episode coming this Friday.

S3: Right, and you see it come up again later in the letter with the line. He’s never been abusive, which is another one of these lines that is very similar, where you don’t really say that unless you have really grappled with the question of like, is this behavior abusive like and are trying to find that line. Right.

S1: Or like the idea of if it’s not abusive, I probably shouldn’t leave him when I think there’s so many other kind of rubrics that you can apply to your marriage. Like, do I like him? Do I respect him? Do I have a good time when we eat dinner together? Because if the answer to all three of those questions is like no, no and no, you don’t need to kind of hold out for only if he starts abusing me directly. Can I consider leaving if you think I hate eating meals with this guy. He doesn’t listen to me. I don’t respect him. I’m embarrassed to be with him in public. Those are all great reasons to leave your husband to listen to the rest of that conversation. Joint Slate plus now at Slate dot com forward slash Prudy Pod.