Magazine

Miss Conduct

How to handle bad birthday gifts and rude manners

Feeling let down when a friend cheaps out. Plus, what to consider if a restaurant guest over-orders.

Lucy Truman

For my best friend’s milestone birthday, I planned a very nice day, including a play of her choice and dinner at a nice restaurant. I spared no expense. She said she couldn’t wait to celebrate my birthday in a similar fashion. Two months later, she gave me an unsigned card with a gift card for a very small amount and a suggestion, “Let’s go shopping!” Should I confront her and let her know how deeply hurt I am? I know you don’t give to get, but I’m only human, and I feel betrayed!

R.G. / Carlisle

Public service announcement to all readers: If your best friend hurt your feelings, even if what he or she did is not something that “should” hurt your feelings, speak up. This is what “best friendship” is all about.

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On to you personally, R.G.: Wow, ease up on the money talk. I hear your pain in the fact that your friend tacitly promised you a big lovebomb and then didn’t deliver. Tell me — tell me! — that you would have been copacetic, nay joyous, had your BF’s celebrations consisted of a picnic in the park, a scrapbook of your memories, a scavenger hunt with clues relating to your friendship, and similar low-budget, high-context tributes of the sort popularized by the more sentimental NBC sitcoms.

Say something, but don’t “confront” — simply share. And before you speak up, back out of your hurt and look at the wider context. Is your friend going through financial hard times (without possessing the compensatory craft skills of a Leslie Knope)? Is she generally a poor planner or juggling more than the usual number of responsibilities? Or is she not all the way plugged in on social skills, so it might not have even occurred to her that your efforts weren’t symmetrical? She may have promised you a lovebomb that she simply doesn’t have the capacity to deliver. Come to terms with that possibility within yourself before you talk.

Our granddaughter participated in an event recently at her high school. Afterward, we took her and her friend — a 15-year-old stranger to us — out for ice cream. Her friend ordered a large sundae and a milkshake. One of us thinks that we should respect our guests by letting them have whatever they choose. The other feels that the friend, having shown a lack of judgment and discipline, should have her order immediately modified by those who are older and wiser and are paying the bill. Where do you stand?

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F.H. / Natick

If she’d ordered a boilermaker she should have had her order immediately modified by her elders (and clearly, in the mind of one or the other of you, “betters”), but an extra milkshake? How long has it been since you were a teenager or raised one? Don’t you remember how tiring it is and how hungry you are all the time? Especially after those school events. They’re stressful, and often there are social pressures against admitting how stressful they are. A lot of the time the preparations for them start much earlier than adolescent bodies and brains can cope with gracefully.

At worst, the girl took ever so slight a margin more of your hospitality than a conservative reading of the situation would allow, and made an unwise food choice by ordering more than she could consume, or by eating empty calories. These are hardly sins worth embarrassing someone in public over.

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

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HAS A FRIEND OR RELATIVE’S BROKEN PROMISE LEFT YOU WONDERING WHAT TO DO? Send your questions to Miss Conduct at missconduct@globe.com.

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