When my brother got married at the age of 50, my sister offered him a ring that is a family heirloom that belonged to a great aunt of ours. My mother had given it to my sister years ago when she gave us all something from the family coffers. He graciously accepted and was very touched. Two years ago, my brother’s wife died suddenly and a month later, my sister asked for the ring back. My brother was furious and said that the ring belonged to his wife and was now his to remember her by. My sister says the ring belonged to her originally and in this situation should revert back to her ownership.
I’m in the middle. Who’s right?
Dear Ring Cycle,
I feel your pain. You are in a very uncomfortable spot. Like sitting on a massage chair covered in sand paper. It’s supposed to be relaxing but really, it just gives you a rash. However, this is not your problem, so I personally give you permission to let your sibs duke it out while you get some popcorn, and watch from the sidelines.
I believe that if you give a gift, especially one that is valuable to you emotionally, you have to be prepared to truly let it go. And that means forever. This case is particularly complicated by the messy business of grief and timing. Your sister, who I believe should not have asked for it back, could have nonetheless approached the subject with a lot more compassion by waiting a year or two.
A month after someone dies? Bad form. I see how your sister could long for the ring, but then she shouldn’t have given it away. In my opinion, it now belongs to your brother, and he can pass it down to his children if he has any or to one of his nieces/nephews should he so choose.
I have a very dear family friend who has always been generous and caring, but she has this one blind spot that is driving me nuts. No matter what conversation is happening, she always turns the conversation to her grandchildren and how amazing they are. Before she had grandchildren, it was always her daughter. I know this is textbook, the stuff of jokes, but it is getting in the way of our relationship.
If I share a very troubling thing going on with one of my kids, she will be sympathetic and lovely, but then predictably will say something like, “Janey went to her first day of daycare today, and didn’t want to leave!” Also, I’ve talked to her about how terribly my children get along and how upsetting it is to me, and yet she continues to report how her two-year-old grandson is so in love with his new baby sister and how great a job the parents are doing at fostering their children’s friendship. This friend of mine is NOT your typical narcissist, or I never would have become close to her in the first place. And yet.
So Gabby, do I try to broach it with her, and if so, what would I possibly say? Or, do I try to just accept her for all her better qualities, and continue to live with it (and is that realistically accomplished)?
Instead of saying what you wanna say which is, “You’re not even listening to what I’m saying, because if you were you wouldn’t be saying what you’re saying,” you could say, “Can I point something out? I was just talking about how my kids don’t get along and then you started telling me how great your grandkids get along. I’m not sure you’re aware that this makes me feel bad. It sounds insensitive, and I know you’re not an insensitive person.” That way what you’re really saying is, “You hurt my feelings” instead of “You’re such a narcissist.” In other words, I don’t like your behavior but I still love you.
If you are more comfortable soft-pedaling it, you could say, “You know I love hearing about your daughter/grandchildren… but I think I’m a little too preoccupied with my own circumstance to appreciate your story at the moment.” Going out on a limb and saying something “confrontational” is hard for a lot of people, particularly women, in my experience. But friendships require work, just like marriages, gardens, sex and carburetors. If you are gentle and loving, which I know you are, don’t think of it as confrontational, think of it as friendly feedback. If you were doing something she didn’t like, you’d want to know, wouldn’t you? Nevertheless, it’s very hard. Take a deep breath, and possibly a beta blocker, and go for it.
I have a dear friend who puts a price tag on everything. Every conversation has to include how much something costs. I could care less, but my friend is a multimillionaire and wants to make sure everybody knows it. How do I get her to stop without insulting her?
This reminds me of my cousin, who for years and years would mention her weight in every conversation we had and eventually asked me about mine, which drove me insane. It was a subte one-upmanship, or in this case one-downmanship, that was really not so subtle, at least to me. Did I say anything? Once, in a fit of pique, I did say, “Are you aware that you ask me about my weight every time we talk?!?!” She was horrified. She had no idea (or so she claimed). She apologized and that was the end of it, happily.
But unfortunately, it is much easier to snap at a relative than it is a friend. This is where it pays to be a guy (I know, gender stereotype!), when the convo may be something like, “Dude, what’s with putting a price tag on everything? We all know you have deep pockets, no need to talk about it all the time. Wanna beer before the game?” and that would be the end of it. I pine for a world when we can all rib each other mercilessly, and no one gets offended. Sigh.
So how about the next time it happens, you say, “You have an amazing memory for how much things cost. Unfortunately, price tags don’t do it for me. I’m much more interested in what something means to me. Like say, the new 72% cocoa chocolate chips from Trader Joe’s, yay or nay?”
Hopefully, she will get the hint. If not, just pretend you’re a dude.
Dear Gabby appears in the RoundTable every Monday. Yes, Gabby is an advice columnist – but not just any advice columnist. Because that would be boring! Gabby combines wisdom with wit. And a pinch of snark. She is not a trained therapist by any means, but has seen and loved many in her day. Her aim is to make you think while she makes you laugh. Gabby welcomes all questions and queries and is only too happy to hear your opinion, no matter how much it may diverge from hers. Write to Gabby at email@example.com.