My late father’s sister, who lives overseas, sends me extravagant gifts for Christmas. My parents used to reciprocate on my behalf when I was a kid, but now that I am in my 20s, I buy and send the gifts myself. The problem: It’s overwhelming! We don’t know each other well or speak the same language. I feel guilty that she’s spending money she doesn’t have on stuff I never use. And I feel silly spending money on things I don’t know that she will like. When I ask for gift ideas, she tells me I don’t need to send a gift. I’ve tried to establish new practices, like exchanging Google-translated holiday letters. She always does what I ask, then sends a fancy present on top. How do I get her to stop?
Let me assure you that the crux of your question is quite common. Many readers long to give detailed instructions to others about how (or whether) they like to receive gifts: dollar limits, sugar content, thread count, soaked in rum or by charitable donation. I think we should stop trying to control other people. Just thank your aunt for her kindness and move along.
I don’t know where you got the idea that you have to match her gifts, dollar for dollar. You don’t! A Google-translated holiday letter from a young relative sounds perfect. And you may have missed the central, emotional dynamic here: Your aunt probably buys you gifts as an expression of love for your father, her late brother. Why interfere with that? (And why not let her decide what she can afford?)
Now, you can make a case that it’s harmful to the environment to package and ship gifts overseas, or that the money would be better spent elsewhere, but sending a few gifts a year is small potatoes. I know it can be awkward to receive random presents, but remember: Every gift is bilateral; it has a giver and a receiver. So, keep your aunt in mind, too. These gifts may mean a lot to her.
This Sugar Mama Is Unsweetened
I met an escort on a dating app. We met for coffee. He was very nice — a person one would like to be friends with. We agreed to keep in touch, perhaps see a ballet together. Later, he sent a message asking if I would be willing to pay him an allowance. I told him he seemed like a great person, but I wasn’t comfortable with that. (You probably think I’m an idiot! That’s how sugar mama and daddy arrangements work.) Then he texted back, saying he would still like to spend time with me as friends. Should I trust him?
Before anyone gets too judgy here, let’s acknowledge that all of us seek qualities in companions that strike our particular fancy: beauty, intelligence, wealth, kindness or power, to name a few. Specific trade-offs vary by couple, but is anyone surprised, for instance, to see a 70-year-old C.E.O. with a pretty wife 30 years his junior?
So far, the man from the app has been direct with you. He asked for an allowance, you refused, and he said he still wants to be friends. Will I be shocked if he makes another financial proposal down the road? Not really. But if you are still interested in friendship with him, invite him to the ballet and see what happens.
Family Until Further Notice
My brother and his fiancée called off their wedding this summer, but they are still dating. He confided in a few family members that he plans to break up with her. But that was five months ago! Now, we face the holidays. We would prefer not to spend time with the sort-of-ex-fiancée. It’s awkward knowing about the pending breakup and seeing this woman with whom we all have a difficult relationship (a contributing factor in the supposed breakup). How can we broach this with my brother?
Gosh, the royal “we” is resounding here! If your brother is still dating this woman five months after canceling their wedding, isn’t it possible that they love each other and are trying to work things out (despite his unsupportive family)? I suggest saying nothing to him and behaving kindly to her.
When your brother has an announcement to make about his relationship, he will. His love life is none of your business, though, and if you press too hard, you may drive him away. (Just ask Prince Harry.)
Stop It, You’re Making Me Blush
I am surprised to be writing to you. I hate advice columns, but my sister is a fan of yours. And she really likes your book and TV references. Can you suggest a novel that I can give to her for Christmas?
How could I refuse you — after such a rousing piece of fan mail? The most delightful novel I read this year — fresh and surprising — was “Lessons in Chemistry”: a fish-out-of-water story about a feminist hero who never stops pushing for what’s right. (I laughed out loud!) For backup: “Lucy by the Sea,” which somehow synthesizes the emotional dislocations of the pandemic faster than I would have thought humanly possible.
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.