Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom. Each week, we offer up a problem for you to weigh in on,then publish the most livelyresponses, with a final wordon the matter delivered by our columnist, Lynn Coady.
A reader writes: My husband and I were married 10 months ago in a beautiful ceremony overlooking the ocean. Since guests were flying in, we were sure to spare no expense on food or alcohol during the reception. However, my husband's brother (with whom he's quite close) and his hen-pecking wife never gave us a wedding present or card.
At first they said they had bought us something and just hadn't picked it up yet, which we told them didn't bother us, as it was just a few weeks after the wedding. However, they still have yet to even give us a card and my husband and I are hurt. We spent $1,500 on their wedding and searched for over six months to find the most thoughtful gift. (I should note that they earn a sizable living and have even bragged that they have their house and cars paid off.)
Should we bring it up and let it be known that their thoughtlessness is hurtful or just let it go as their tackiness is more of an unattractive reflection on their personalities?
What do you have to gain by bringing this up? At best you might guilt them into buying you something out of obligation that you will probably not like or use anyway. At worst it could lead to embarrassment and awkwardness with your in-laws - not the ideal way to enter the family. Either way you are going to end up looking materialist and ungrateful of their attendance at your wedding.
- Andrea Thompson, Ottawa
SEEK THE MORAL HIGH GROUND
When you were planning your wedding, were you doing so like a couple in love: getting married in a beautiful place surrounded by the ones you love? Or did you plan your wedding like you were running a business: How much can we get, in cash or property from the event? It sounds to me like you are more interested in the material gain, and you feel there should be some sort of accounting of how much who spends how much upon whom. Will you really be satisfied after you brow-beat a $1,500 prezzie out of your relative? My advice is to get over yourselves, find some high ground, and let it go.
- Craig Cherrie, Toronto
ATTENDANCE WAS THE GIFT
Your brother-in-law and you are on different financial planets. You are spenders ("spare no expense") while he is a saver ("paid off his house and cars" - I note plural). You should not be insisting others spend as you do. He didn't ask for you to have a lavish oceanfront wedding, for which they had to spend a fair amount to get to, or for you to spend $1,500 on his wedding. Would you have preferred that they declined to attend, and sent you a "thoughtful" bauble instead? You should tell your brother-in-law: "Thank you for sharing my special day. Your being there means more to me than just receiving an object."
- Andrew Chong, Toronto
THE FINAL WORD
A confession: I am a wedding Grinch. The kind of ceremony you describe - white gown, spare-no-expense, beautiful-ceremony-overlooking-the-ocean? I'm sorry. I'm getting hives. But I can still help. Because the problem I have with weddings is encapsulated in the problem you have with your brother-in-law.
Weddings partake of tradition and we in the Western world often take a creepily authoritarian approach to our traditions. We insist to the point of despotism that our weddings and other hallmark celebrations be absolutely right. But who can say for sure, any more, what's "right" and "wrong" when it comes to something so personal? So you have people like me - who live in horror at the idea of flowing white trains and cherubic flower girls - existing alongside people who would throw themselves to the ground in a screaming fit should either of these key ingredients be missing from their "special day."
Part of the joy of living in a free country is that people can celebrate however they want - even come up with their own traditions. What we can't do, however, is insist that others abide by the decorum we've decided is correct - even a decorum as basic as giving gifts. That way Bridezilla lies.
True, your in-law sounds like a clod. It's one thing if he didn't get you a gift, but to say he did and never deliver it is utterly crass. Still, I concur with Andrew in T.O. that nobody asked you to have a flash wedding, or spend gobs of money on your brother-in-law when his came around. You did those things for your own reasons - to demonstrate your love to each other and gratitude to the guests. Not because you wanted something in return. Ottawa Andrea warns against "looking materialist" but this isn't about how you look, it's about how you feel. You're not hurt because of the money that was and wasn't spent. You're using that as a tally, just as T.O. Craig asserts - a moral accounting to prove the love you showed your brother-in-law was not returned in kind. Noted. Now move on.
Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy, with another one currently in the oven.
Next week's question I've been seeing a wonderful man for 5-6 years but we recently had a fallout over spending habits.He advised me to buy some furniture which he thinks I need. When I told him that I needed to save first, he became distant and said I was a skinflint. Click here to read the rest of the question.