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MISS CONDUCT

My husband gave me a present and I gave it away

A couple gets their wires crossed over a gift of a Baby Yoda doll.

Need some help with an awkward situation? Send your questions to Miss Conduct.

I am a Baby Yoda fanatic; I have two BY dolls that I’ve named and dress up and bring along on adventures. I’ve been kind of joking that I want a third. My husband rolls his eyes, but when we bought a BY doll for a friend’s kid, he said that “by mistake” he added another one to the cart, so did I want it? I didn’t like being given one as an afterthought. I decided to donate it, but it turns out he really did intend it as a gift. He says he’s not upset that I’d donate it, but I feel like a jerk now. What do I do?

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Anonymous / Boston

He knows you initially wanted to donate the doll, so that collectible’s out of the box. What you do with Yoda #3 is less important than having an upfront conversation with your husband about the Yodas (Yodae? Yoda’ot?), so that you don’t keep making half-serious comments and hurting each other’s feelings needlessly. Speak or speak not, there is no “tease.”

Jokes and hints and all forms of indirect communication are great when everyone shares the same context and social norms. (Google “ask culture vs. guess culture” if this kind of thing interests you.) A marriage is its own micro-culture, and as such couples build up their own private lexicon of references and symbolic gestures, things that don’t need to be said and questions that never need to be asked.

But the Venn diagram of your interests, friendships, and values aren’t a perfect circle with your husband’s. That’s the case with most relationships. When it comes to topics that are in the nonoverlapping areas, couples need to communicate clearly and explicitly. This is especially the case with sacred, totemic, imaginative, identity-constituting stuff, be that organized religion, Pats fever, Trek cosplay, BTS mania, or writing Bob’s Burgers fan fiction.

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These kinds of mental structures are a fundamental aspect of being human. In the present moment — so devoid of certainty, so devoid of the normal comforts of human interaction — they’re a lifeline. We can ask other people to treat our particular “stuff” with respect, but we can’t ask them to get it the same way we do. And expecting someone to grasp the exact nuances of your joshing around is very much expecting them to get it. (This goes both ways, of course; if your partner has some interest or identity you don’t share, don’t make with the slang and in-jokes like you’re in the club. It’s not your language and you won’t speak it right.)

I can’t fathom the reasons why, if two Yodas are good, three would not be better, but hey! I’m not their auntie. And it doesn’t sound like your husband is their dad. So tell him outright what you do and do not want, and what consideration and support for your Yodadventures (sorry) looks like.


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