DEAR AMY: During the holidays my wife and two young children were with my wife's family (her mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law and their two children). My sister-in-law insisted that we order take-out instead of having a home-cooked meal. We ordered in, and she paid for the meal. Days later my father-in-law suggested that he and I should give her money for the meal ($47 each). I'm annoyed by this for a few reasons: I have purchased several more expensive take-out meals at family events and have never asked for (or been offered) compensation. This is also an example of an increasingly frequent situation where my father-in-law effectively dictates how my wife and I spend our money. For my son's birthday, he offered to cover half of the cost of music lessons. It was a lovely idea but it also saddled us with an additional expense (I ended up paying for all of the lessons). In my view, if he felt my sister-in-law needed to be repaid, he could have made the point at the time of the meal, or he could have chosen to take care of it himself. This is also an extension of a perceived difference in economic position between my wife and me, and her sister's family. As a result, they tend to be treated more generously by my in-laws. It is fine for them to treat their children however they wish, but I don't believe that also conscripts me to follow suit. Am I just being petty and cheap?
DEAR SON-IN-LAW: Your father-in-law's suggestions may sound like commandments to you, and you may feel pressured because he is your father-in-law, but you are an adult and you can make a choice to get on board — or respond respectfully: "Thanks for the suggestion. This is generous of you. But I've picked up the check any number of times; my theory is that these things even out in the end."
You say that this has become a persistent issue; because it seems you can actually afford to be more generous, you should choose the path that causes you to feel the best about yourself. You can try to anticipate, participate and learn to tolerate this expectation — and come off as magnanimous and generous — or you can politely push back and tolerate the uncertainty that accompanies wondering if you are being stingy. Being righteously correct (as I sincerely believe you are) doesn't always compensate for feeling petty.
DEAR AMY: I recently ran into an old friend. We've known each other since childhood, and during our years of friendship, our level of closeness fluctuates. During the past 10 years we fell out of touch, due to family complications, a return to school and a divorce (on my part), and work (on her part). I was happy to see her recently and she seemed happy to see me. Because we were both in a rush, I asked if she was on Facebook and she said yes. I promised to contact her that way. When I went to her Facebook page, I noticed her "add friend" button was grayed out. I "waved" at her through messenger, which is all I can do without a response from her. I have heard nothing back, and she has not attempted to contact me. I'm not sure if I'm being snubbed, and don't know what to do next.
In the Gray
DEAR IN THE GRAY: Your friend's "add friend" button might be inactive because of her own privacy settings. She might not realize that you are trying to add her as a friend. She might not realize that you are out there in the cyber fog, waving wildly.
Give this one more try. Send her a card or an email (if possible). Say, "It was so great to run into you again! Here's my contact information in case you want to reconnect." And then leave the connecting up to her.
DEAR AMY: Wow, I identified with "Grunged," who is stuck with disgusting housemates. When I last roomed with two guys and a gal, we developed a solution. We agreed to and referred to it as the 24-hour rule. If one made a mess in the kitchen and did not clean it up within 24 hours, the dishes landed on that person's pillow at the end of that period. It cured all future kitchen cleanups.
DEAR SOLUTION: This would be hard to implement in a large household where all were separate renters. But it's a great solution among friends.