‘Thank you’ not in daughter-in-law’s vocabulary

Dear Carolyn:

About a year and a half ago my youngest son married a lovely woman who I am genuinely fond of, if not very close to. We are a large family and she’s an only child, and I know that can be overwhelming.

So I’ve tried to overlook this thing because it seemed so trivial. But it’s really bothering me. My new daughter-in-law NEVER says thank you. For anything. Ever.

I’m not the only one who has noticed it. She sent out thank-you cards for the wedding gifts, so I shouldn’t say she never says thank you. But that was it.

I’m not the type who sits near the mailbox waiting for a thank-you card. But if you give someone a gift in person, face-to-face, along with a “Happy Birthday” and a hug, and she says “Oh. OK,” then sets the box aside and never mentions it again, I think it’s odd. I knitted her a sweater with yarn she had seen in my basket and admired. I suppose she might hate the sweater, but I’ve seen her wear it a few times. Not a word.

I enjoy making gifts for people, but is it wrong to feel peeved at the lack of acknowledgment? She’s not a rude or unkind person, so far as I can tell, but I’m starting to feel hurt by her behavior.

— Puzzled

Before I say what you don’t want to hear, please know that I agree with you. Your daughter-in-law’s behavior, as described, is weird and off-putting and I’d start to take it personally, too.

But even if mother- and daughter-in-law relationships weren’t some of the most challenging in all familydom, I’d advise you to shake this off. Which I believe you can, if you really want to.

One reason is that this isn’t, in fact, personal. That other people have noticed suggests she’s this way with everyone. It’s a quirk, not a slight. Thus the impulse to take it personally is an emotional, not logical, one.

And when your impulse is to add hard feelings to a high-stakes relationship, that’s an excellent time to hand the reins over to logic. Suggested silent mantras: “It’s not me”; “She’s just weird this way”; “Wearing it (equal sign) thanks”; “How about those Sox?”

Another reason is that this hurts her more than it hurts you. Truly. A glaring social deficit like this will compromise her with almost all who experience it, and many won’t know her well enough to have your perspective — that she’s a “lovely” woman who does this to everyone and who probably wasn’t taught any better. (Right? It’s hardly an “only” thing, if that’s what you’re implying.) Or they won’t be as invested in harmony as only the mother of the man she married can be, so they won’t try as hard as you have to forgive it.

As someone who sticks with her, you might even help her. Providing a years-long, low-key model of good gift-receiving behavior could be your most thoughtful gift.

One more thought, offered with caution: This might be worth discussing with your son. As long as your affection for your daughter-in-law is unquestioned (seriously — if you’ve said boo about her, this isn’t an option); your relationship with your son is solid and non-defensive; and your integrity and communication skills are up to the task of asking a charged question that’s credibly untainted by an ulterior motive, then go for it. “You know how much I like and appreciate Wifey, so I feel safe asking this. I’ve noticed she’s awkward about receiving gifts. Is it just me? Is there history there? Is there something I could be doing to help?”

Dear Carolyn:

One year ago, I accepted a promotion and moved to be with my long-distance boyfriend. The relationship was already on the rocks, but I hoped moving would get things back on track. Within weeks, I knew there was nothing to salvage and I soon moved out.

During the years we were together, I spent a lot of time with his friends and miss them dearly. I received an invitation recently from two of them, a couple, to a party at their home. My immediate reaction was, “I would love to, but there’s no way.” I checked the invitation list, but no ex. His not being invited would be very strange.

Is it appropriate for me to let them know I would love to see them all, but wouldn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable? If my ex will not be there, is it appropriate for me to go? If there was a falling out, I must know what happened. What to do?

— Morbidly Curious

You were invited, so you’re free to go, sans overthinking.

And by all means — do go, if indeed you “miss them dearly.” Not to snoop. Be polite and adulty to your ex if he’s there, and don’t pry if he isn’t, no matter how badly you want to. Not that it changes anything, but someone is bound to spill.

© 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

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