I donated an old car and several pieces of antique furniture, both worth several thousand dollars. The car went to a charity run by a friend, the furniture to another friend. Both of them later complained about the gifts. The car was difficult to register and needed a new battery after she left it unused outdoors all winter. It was expensive to reupholster a chair and a pain to distribute the rest of the furniture to various children. Really? I kept my mouth shut in both cases, and now wish I had said something. But what? I will think twice before giving to anyone again.
D.B. / Boston
I do wish I could be in the room for some of the letters I get, to hear tone and context. It’s easy to imagine that your friends mean no criticism of you, or the gifts. That they aren’t complaining at you, they’re complaining with you about the mixed blessings of auto and antique ownership. It’s hard to see, for example, how anyone could blame you for the battery of an unused car going dead, unless you have powers over entropy you didn’t mention in your letter. Try taking the comments in that spirit — more or less as you would if your friends were complaining about some recalcitrant household object that hadn’t originally come from you.
This is, in fact, the same technique to use if your friends are being unreasonable and obliquely criticizing you. You just keep cheerfully and willfully sympathizing with them, while never ever getting the point, as if you were playing rhetorical dodgeball.
But I have to ask — because there are so very many lifestyle articles written about this topic — are you 100 percent sure you are giving these items to your friends, and not foisting stuff upon them? Because there’s a lot of foisting going on out there. Keep being generous — but you should indeed think twice before giving again. A gift of that value, and requiring that kind of maintenance, is not merely a treat, but a responsibility. Make sure that the recipient is up for it.Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.