Must I Keep This Useless Gift?


Christoph Niemann

I received a nice gift (that I have absolutely no use for) from a relative. It came with a gift receipt in the box. My husband told me this was just a courtesy from the store, not permission from the giver to exchange it. He said it would hurt their feelings if I did. I think that’s crazy! If I keep it, I’ll only use it once or twice, to show my relative that I did. Wouldn’t it be better to exchange it for something I’ll use often and enjoy?

J. R.

Call me bossy boots, but I have been known to cajole and whine in department stores until my companions try on the garments that I know are perfect for them — even if they loathe them. I stop short, however, of forcing them to buy these things. I feel the same way about presents. They are gestures of affection, not mandatory school uniforms.

We make honest efforts to find gifts we hope our recipients will like. But we’re only human. So, if we fail, knock yourself out, J. R.! Exchange that gold lamé bathrobe for something you’ll actually wear. Givers who insist that we like the things they choose for us, or suffer hurt feelings if we don’t, have massive egos or are even bossier than I am. (And please remember to thank people for their gifts, even if you hate them. The gifts, that is.)

Standard Deduction?

When my mother died, my brother-in-law sent my siblings and me an email demanding that we each give his wife (our sister) $10,000 from our inheritance. They live in the same town our mother did, so they had her for holidays and visited her in the nursing home for years. I called my brother-in-law and yelled at him; he upset everyone. Still, we paid him. Later my sister told me that her husband was terribly hurt by my call. Now she and I communicate only by group text. And her husband says he’s “too hurt” to patch things up. What say you?


Well, here I am, thinking you can’t put a price on love, while your brother-in-law shrewdly calculated that it goes for $10,000 a pop. Obviously, this is a complex (but not unheard-of) family crisis. Your brother-in-law and sister probably felt overburdened and underappreciated in your mother’s final years, while you and your other siblings saw their resentment as greed at a time of great sorrow.

In a perfect world, you would all apologize simultaneously: your sister and brother-in-law for their “stick ’em up” maneuver, and you and your siblings for leaving them holding the bag. But that’s easier said than done. Letting our gripes calcify is more common.

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