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It Came From The Search Terms: It’s Gonna Be May from Valerie L's blog

Hello, it’s time for the periodic feature where I answer the search strings that led people here as if they are actual questions, no context, all snap judgment! 

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, partly because the more I do them, the more the same search terms come up in my search terms as a self-reinforcing cycle. But I finally have enough of a new batch, so, here you go. 

First, as is traditional, a song: 

Technically it is already May, but you know me and deadlines. ;-p

1 “Is it right to return gifts after a breakup?”

This really, really depends. Once given, a gift belongs to the recipient, and it’s probably good to assume that nobody can really obligate or force anybody to return a gift. Exceptions to this are such stuff as first year law school exams are made on. 

Still, off the top of my head, I can think of many examples where offering to return a gift or asking for it back is reasonable, even if it’s not technically owed, and even if the person might refuse. Say, Person A is planning to break up, but Person B doesn’t know and buys a very expensive gift, or gives A an irreplaceable family heirloom, or books a (non-refundable) vacation or big ticket event together. Person A can’t be compelled to give whatever it is back, but we invest in relationships differently when we assume they’ll last, and if Person B had had the same information Person A did they wouldn’t have given the gift. In that case, asking “Can I please have my Grandma’s antique harpsichord back?” doesn’t make Person B a jerk. 

Or, say you break up with someone who gave you lots of things, and now you want all of it out of your house. If the stuff is useful and/or valuable, and you’re still on good terms, giving your ex the right of first refusal before you sell, donate, or regift it *might* be a nice thing to do. But if it’s still useful and valuable, and you want to keep it and plan to use it, then keep it! It was a gift. 

If you’re the gift-er, and you want to ask for something back, treat it as what it is: An ask. If you’re the gift-ee, and you know in your heart of hearts that giving something back is the most ethical and kind thing to do in a given situation, then you know what to do. But there’s no one rule to rule them all. 

2 “Is it disrespectful for a friend to invite themselves on a family trip?”

I love phrasing like this, because it highlights both the uses and limitations of manners and concepts like “disrespect.” 

Is it rude for people to invite themselves places? Sure, maybe, sometimes. I recently read an epic Reddit story where a lady planned and paid for a romantic getaway with her husband, told him explicitly “No, your Mom cannot come with us” after she tried to invite herself along, showed up at the airport on the day, saw her mother-in-law standing there with a bunch of suitcases anyhow, and turned around and went home. I do not think that marriage is long for this world. But there are also many relationships where saying, “I’ve always wanted to ____, can I tag along next time you go?” is a question and “Sure!” The more the merrier!” or “Not this time, but let’s plan our own excursion” are possible answers. 

Much more importantly, do you feel annoyed when people invite themselves along to things you’ve planned? When a specific person invites themselves along for a specific trip, do you wish they hadn’t asked, and do you want to tell them “no”? Are you more compatible friends with people don’t invite themselves along? If so, an “impartial” “yeah, that’s rude” judgment from an Etiquette Authority might help you feel more justified in saying no, but the part that really matters is the part where you don’t want to because that’s a good enough reason to decline.

3 “Feeling not good enough for not being married.”

I hate this for you. The toxic pressure to get married by a certain age or milestone or else you’ve failed is the cause of so much misery in the world. How many people are grinding away in absolutely miserable relationships with someone totally wrong for them because they’re afraid of being single? I don’t know your gender, but when I think about how much of young women’s time, energy, and ambition is wasted on feral cishet dude rehabilitation because of pressure to find The One, it makes me want to scream. 

Look, you may be a total asshole, but it’s far likelier that you are pretty great, perhaps downright terrifyingly amazing. If you do in fact want to get married someday (not a given for everyone), the fact that you haven’t met and connected with someone who is compatible enough with you –someone “good enough” for you — isn’t a sign that something is wrong with you. You just haven’t met anybody worth giving up being single for. You haven’t met anybody where the timing and geography and sheer luck of the draw all worked out. Or, more accurately, you haven’t met anyone like that yet. 

This is an encouraging book: It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single, by Sara Eckel 

4 “Best answer for ‘why are you not in serious relationship?'” 

“I haven’t met anyone I like more than I like being single.” “I’m incredibly picky.” “I might someday if I were to meet the right person, but it’s not a goal I have.” “I was in one, but it didn’t work out.” “I’d love to be in one, any ideas on how?” “I’m aromantic, so, not really my thing.” “I’ve already dated all the [people of my orientation] in a 100 mile radius, and they’ve all paired off with each other.” “No clue. Why do you ask?” “Ha, hilarious question, Aunt Nosy! Why are you ________?” [Insert topic she is sensitive about.]

The best answer is almost always going to be whatever is true for you in that moment. Don’t play guessing games about what the person asking this wants to hear, or try to do that job interview thing where you try to rebrand all of your greatest weaknesses as “Oh, I just can’t stop myself from being a team player with meticulous attention to detail who loves to work hard and play hard in fast-paced environments! My problem is that I just love working Too Much!” 

5 “If someone ask you can you be my fuck buddies*? what is an answer?”

A. “Yes, I’d/*We’d love to, at least in theory. Can you tell me more about what you have in mind?” 

B. “Thank you, but no!” 

The truth will either set you free or get you laid. 

6 “I tell an experience and that person tells me theirs.” 

Sharing a story in response to a story can be a very powerful way to communicate empathy and solidarity. “I’ve been there, you’re not alone!”  When there is a respectful peer relationship where everybody trusts that they’ll both be heard and get their say, cooperative story swapping is awesome! 

It can also be really alienating and frustrating when you run into a Story Topper (“Oh, you think that’s rough? Let me tell you about the time something even more dramatic and interesting happened to me!”) or it feels like the other person spent the whole time you were talking thinking of what they wanted to say instead of actually listening to you.

What’s acceptable really depends on the specifics of personality, relationships, and power differentials, but I think you can almost never go wrong with asking people what they need before you weigh in on their story or share one of your own: “Are you wanting advice, a sympathetic ear, a distraction, or something else?”  “Oh, I dealt with something similar, do you want me to tell you about it?” 

It’s also why pauses, check-ins, and resets are so useful. Derails happen, but they don’t have to be permanent. If sharing stories is lively and the mic is truly bouncing back and forth between you, then, great! [Frankly, this is why hanging out with fellow ADHD-ers is so relaxing. Excited “Ooh, ooh, that reminds me!”  interruptions and jumping around to topics three hours or three weeks later is fine, no worries that we’re accidentally steamrolling each other.] On the other hand, if a person tells you something and stops participating when you tell them something in return, it’s a very good sign to change course: “Sorry, I got carried away for a second, your situation reminded me so much of something that’s been on my mind. Please, can you tell me more about ______?” 

If you feel like you’re being talked over, try something like “Oh, thanks for sharing that, but can we go back to my situation for a minute?”  [The dear Commander Logic can say this with words and also with her eyes. ;-)]

7 “Partner insists on lingerie and no socks in bed, controlling.”

I wish this were about your partner wanting to wear lingerie all the time and skip the socks, we could just be like, “Rock on with that, buddy! You’re the boss of you!” and get on with our day. 

That said, you are the boss of you and you should wear what makes you comfortable.If you loved wearing elaborate lingerie, you’d wear it all the time of your own accord. If your partner would stop pressuring you, you’d probably be way more into some occasional dress-up.

Unfortunately your partner has left you no choice: From now on, every time they pressure you about lingerie, add one more of these to your wardrobe and roll on this fetching homage to the Baba Yaga’s hut each night so you can make a quick getaway. 

8 “The guy you are dating his home is disgusting and dirty.” 

I suggest that you do not spend time in environments that you find “disgusting.” It’s either your place or no place.

If the relationship gets more serious, I suggest that you do not combine households with someone who is incompatible with you around cleanliness and housekeeping, unless you plan to sign up for a lifetime of resentment, arguments, “nagging,” weaponized incompetence, and having to clean everything yourself. 

It’s okay to like someone, love someone, be attracted to someone, think someone is a good & worthy person, have empathy for reasons they struggle, and still have standards and dealbreakers about what you need to be happy. Love conquers sometimes; the strict vegan and the carnivore, the ace and the hornivore, the atheist and the devout, the tidy and the un-, and assorted Mays, Decembers, cops, robbers, grasshoppers, ants, nightingales, and larks pair off sometimes and have lasting, happy relationships sometimes. My theory is that when it works it’s because all parties know that they’re signing up to play on Hard Mode and go in with eyes open about what that means. 

So take a good, long look, and remember: People change slow, if they change at all. Don’t bet that they’ll do it for you. 

Comments are on for a change, because, what the heck? Sometimes I really miss all of you. ❤  The spam filter remains as hungry as ever, so if your comment doesn’t show up right away, it probably got sucked in. Don’t worry, I’ll be checking the thread periodically over the next few days and I’ll liberate it as soon as I can. 

 


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