I spent over an hour reading comments this weekend on Facebook, about a letter to Miss Manners in the Washington Post. Never saw her column, and none of the commenters even touched on etiquette. They opined on what everyone involved should do.
I got sucked into this should show. I couldn’t stop reading. I just kept hoping for someone to stop looking in all the wrong places for what to do.
The writer wanted help with how to ask her mother to give her cash instead of gifts of clothing. Her husband had been unemployed for 4 years, she was working overtime whenever she could just to get by, and should could not afford to go anywhere the clothing might be appropriate. Returning or exchanging the gifts meant riding a bus with awkward packages.
I was impressed with all of the creative ways the commenters offered to convert unwanted gifts into cash. Most seemed to think the writer should accept the gifts and turn them into more cash.
A sizeable number opined that the mother should be ashamed of herself. She was obviously making the poor woman feel unseen, misunderstood, and gifting cash would fix this.
And a surprisingly larger number sounded off that her husband should get a job. This was curious, because the writer had not mentioned any problem with his unemployment. She had not said if he was getting his PhD, undergoing chemo, recovering from a bone-shattering accident, finding his way back from the collapse of whatever industry he worked in right before the pandemic, providing childcare at home, or goofing off. But quite a few of them felt he should solve her problem with the clothing her mother gives her by getting a job.
Everyone focused on money and that resentment-feeding word should. No one focused on love. On relationship. On building a strong foundation that will last through all of life’s financial ups and downs. She should eek more money out of the gifts. Her mother should hand over the money her daughter deserves. Her husband should bring in money.
Personally, I would want to convert unwanted gifts into better relationships. I’ve been broke, and that little bit of extra cash, piled on top of the sort of resentment this writer is feeling, was never worth much to me.
She does not appear to be dependent on her husband’s income, which is good, because a divorce would not likely increase her current cash flow, and he’s not earning one. Short of ending the marriage, telling her that he should only detracts from whatever else she gets from the relationship, like daily loving, encouragement to keep slogging through this hard time, or future income and teamwork and caretaking after he gets through whatever he’s now tackling.
And her mother’s gift-giving is not an obligation. It likely brings some level of pleasure, maybe even joy or a sense of accomplishment, to a woman who has made it through her own hard times in life. When gifts are received with gratitude, it increases the pleasure and encourages more gift-giving. When gifts are seen as a duty or a financial transaction, they become lifeless. All the love goes out of an obligatory gift.
So, maybe put on one of those gifted outfits and have a special dinner at home with her husband, a fun date without the expense. Invite Mom for brunch at the house and dress up in something Mom chose. Wear one of them to feel a wee bit wealthier while doing the laundry or dusting the blinds. Give one to that younger, same-size coworker who needs something to wear to a friend’s wedding. Cut one up for fabric to make unique gifts for her kids or nieces and nephews.
Build relationships. In the long run, relationships matter so much more than money.
And remember that no one should give you money just because they love you. However, many will if you let yourself be vulnerable enough to admit that you’re reaching your limits during a cash flow crunch. Not because you ask for a fix, but because you trust them with your fears. Choosing how to love you makes them feel great about themselves, about you, and about living.