Q When I was a child I, for some reason, loved pigs. Stuffed pigs, pig games, pig books, anything pig. I’ve gotten over it, but some friends and family members continue to give me pig-related presents for my birthday and Christmas. How can I ask them to please stop without offending them?
A At a time other than a gift-giving event, say, “Aunt Charlotte, I’ve been doing some redecorating and wanted to tell you how much I’ve loved all the pig presents you’ve given me over the years! I’m over my love of pig things, but your presents will be a wonderful reminder to me of those days when pigs were what mattered most to me.” That’s a nice way to say “no more pigs,” without sounding presumptuous that she will continue to give you gifts or ungrateful for her thoughtfulness in past years. Say some form of the same thing to all the pig-present givers and hopefully they will hear the message and cease and desist!
Q My husband’s son was recently married, and orchestrated photos of him and him and his bride with my husband and his ex-wife. They have been divorced for 20 years. I didn’t say anything, but found this somehow wrong. Am I wrong?
A No, when parents are divorced, it is not appropriate to have them posed together as a happy, united family with their children. They are not united. The photos should have been of your husband with his son, or son and bride, and then of the son’s mother with her son, or son and bride. It would have been nice to have you in a photo with your husband and the bride and groom, but that is not required if a stepson or stepdaughter doesn’t feel close to a parent’s spouse. It is not correct to recreate the family as it once was.
Q I have a friend who refers to her daughter as “she” and her husband as “he,” never using their names. I often don’t know who she’s talking about and have asked “he who?” which seems to irritate her. My sense is that this is wrong, somehow. I ask because I’m trying to follow her conversation, not because I’m pointing out that she is being a little rude. Should I not ask?
A Of course you should ask. If you don’t, you can be clueless about what she is saying. I understand that you don’t want to suggest she use their names, feeling that you will sound critical, but her practice sounds impersonal and makes her conversation unclear. You can ask who she is talking about directly, or stay with your form of “he who?” but ask you must if you want to follow the conversation! If she ever brings up her irritation with your asking, seize the moment and tell her that she doesn’t refer to the people she’s talking about by name and that this is confusing. She may not even realize that she does this.
Questions for Catherine? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org