My husband is the only one of his large family who left the nest for college out of state. He’s always the one calling or driving for visits. They don’t remember his birthday or reach out to him, and are always too “busy” to visit us. We were invited to his great-nephew’s wedding in September but couldn’t attend (I’m an immunocompromised cancer survivor). We sent a large check with regrets and watched the live feed (90 maskless people not distancing). We recently received a postcard from the couple with their picture on one side and an address label on the other. My question is, what happened to handwritten thank-you notes?
D.G. / Dennis
Is it, though? Is that really your question? Or is it the only question you can find the words to ask? Because that was a lot of backstory for a straightforward issue of manners that might have arisen with any crass young newlyweds.
Still, it’s an easy place to start, because the postcard was absurdly rude. There’s nothing sacred about handwriting or envelopes, but a thank-you note must express gratitude, and be somewhat personalized. That’s not a matter of etiquette: That’s the actual definition. What you got was a notification of address.
The late performer Ricky Jay could throw a playing card like a knife into a watermelon. Cardboard doesn’t usually penetrate like that, you know? It takes a mighty force to lodge a rectangle of cardstock quivering in the flesh, a force like Mr. Jay’s mental focus and bullish shoulders. Or like one of the deepest divisions in our polarized country, the one between people who left their hometowns and those who stayed. This gulf has launched a thousand think pieces and personal essays. Poke around and find some—they might offer perspective and comfort for your longstanding frustrations with your in-laws.
There’s a pattern to these things; your in-laws’ cavalier attitude toward COVID fits right in. (Although the non-thanking non-note that sparked your letter doesn’t fit the narrative, ironically. It’s a more universal faux pas. You and your husband almost certainly weren’t singled out for that slight, and god-awful wedding behavior knows no socio-political-economic boundaries.)
To answer the question you didn’t ask: Your husband chose a path other than that of his family, and this is the price he pays for it. Don’t sign up for additional unpaid emotional labor by taking more umbrage at their treatment of him than he does. Instead, refocus. Have you ever been so angered by a news story that you “rage donated” to an organization in response? It’s a healthy reaction!
The next time insensitive in-laws irritate, let it spur you to reach out to your local network of friends. This summer is an excellent time for all of us to start reweaving our social ties. Maybe take on that project with the goal of creating or reinforcing a supportive, diverse family of friends. You can’t change the place your husband came from, but you can make the place he is brighter, richer, better.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.