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    Miss Conduct

    On over-thanking

    Can you express too much gratitude? Plus, whether to contact someone you wronged.

    Lucy Truman

    > My sweetheart recently helped out two neighbor families. By way of thanks, one gave him a restaurant gift certificate, the other a lovely arrangement. I would like to send a brief note of thanks, in part to get to know them better, but my sweetheart feels that no more is required. Is there such a thing as over-thanking someone?

    J.C. / Amesbury 

    There is such a thing as over-thanking, but you’re nowhere close to it. (A handwritten note of thanks for a host-gift bottle of two-buck Chuck is over-thanking.) First, you don’t mention how either the certificate or the arrangement (floral, I take it, not orchestral) was delivered. Any gift that is not given in person should get a thank you note so that the receiver knows it arrived. Second, you have affectionate ulterior motives! You don’t want this to be the “end of the transaction,’’ you want it to become the beginning of the friendship.

    If I may be a yenta for a minute: Is this the kind of thing you and your sweetheart often disagree about? Is he the logical, task-oriented sort while you tend to be more socially motivated? A lifetime of experience has taught me that such mismatched relationships can often be quite happy.


    Two warnings, though, to keep your differences productive rather than destructive. One, recognize your differences as such. It’s not always a question of one party or the other being “wrong.’’ Also, even if your sweetheart is Mr. Business and you’re Miss Pleasure, you shouldn’t take on one hundred percent of the role of social director and emotional connection-maker. It’s an easy dynamic to fall into, particularly for straight couples where the woman is the social butterfly. But to do so erodes the social skills and emotional support network of the, er, social caterpillar in the couple.

    > In 1975, as a student, I was drinking too much and kept pressuring my girlfriend for sex. Finally she gave in. I stole the most precious gift a woman can give a man. From then on the relationship was doomed. Three years ago, I wrote my ex suggesting we catch up on each other’s families; I received no answer. I am turning 65 and want to tie up loose ends. I want to write her to apologize and tell her that I used the lessons from our relationship in my marriage. Should I?

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    J.R. / Weymouth

    Leave her alone. You pressured the woman once into satisfying your “needs” at the expense of her own. Isn’t that enough? She doesn’t owe you spiritual release in 2013 any more than she owed you sexual release in 1975.

    If your 1970s girlfriend wished to contact you, she would have done so after your first letter. What happened between you is surely something she has integrated into her life story, her sense of who she is and how she got that way. Don’t mess with that. Whatever desires you have for clarity, closure, forgiveness — take care of it yourself.

    Which doesn’t mean taking care of it alone, necessarily. See a therapist, perhaps, or get involved with volunteer action (maybe even something having to do with alcohol and peer pressure in the college setting).

     Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

    NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP?Write to her at And read her blog at