A man who ended a relationship with me on Christmas Day after a serious long-term relationship contacted me -- the day after Valentine's Day, I'll just add -- to ask me to return a small piece of jewelry he gave me when we were together. Is he in the right, mannerswise, to ask for it back? I was under the impression that a gift was a gift, and I was very angered to receive his request. I've discussed the matter with my friends, who are of course on my side, but I want to get some impartial words. If you tell me I should return it, I will.
Via the Internet
Dear Bejeweled Madam or Sir,
There are a lot of ifs, buts, and other variables in these types of situations, but before we dive in, let me ask you this: Don't you sort of want to return the jewelry? It doesn't sound as though your feelings for this ex-boyfriend are all that fond (indeed, he doesn't sound like a very sensitive chap). Do you really want to remember this guy every time the tennis bracelet he gave you snags on a sweater? And wouldn't it be, I don't know, somewhat satisfying to return the gift, saying to yourself, "Good riddance!" and then spending an afternoon with a friend, drinking margaritas and shredding photographs of the guy?
That would be one way to go, but I do understand that warm feelings for jewelry can outweigh frosty feelings for ex-boyfriends -- and, well, diamonds are forever.
So gifts are gifts, yes, and it's extremely caddish to ask that a romantic gift be returned when the romance dies. However, there are exceptions. Engagement rings should generally be returned, and a present of an heirloom should at least be offered when a relationship ends. If the jewelry in question belongs "in the family," it would have been noble of you to suggest returning it yourself. If the jewelry in question does not belong in your ex's family, and if it was not an engagement ring, then mannerswise it is yours. Your ex really had no right to ask for it back. But he has asked, and the proper thing to do is to return it and forget about it (and him).
Dear Social Grace,
In a flirtatious situation, is it better for a guy to give a girl his phone number (forcing her to call him, which may be a frightening idea) or ask for hers (forcing her to give out her phone number, which may be a frightening idea)?
Dear Confused Sir,
Just for fun, I ran your question by Mother Grace, who opines that ladies neither give nor accept phone numbers (and that they avoid getting themselves embroiled in "flirtatious situations" altogether). When Father Grace was a-courtin' Mother, he got her phone number by telling his friend, who told his cousin, who told her tennis partner, who told her mother, who told Grandmother Grace that a young man wanted to call the Grace house and speak to her daughter. Inquiries were made, and approval (along with the number to call) was passed back down the line. Processes like these don't happen so often nowadays, but don't worry: Things have gotten a bit easier.
Generally speaking, and regardless of the genders involved, a phone number should be offered, not asked for, if you are interested in establishing a telephone relationship. (You don't want to force someone to say "no" -- but, of course, she need not call you just because you gave your number.)
Dear Social Grace,
At a baby shower I attended this week, I won one of the party-game prizes, which was a gift certificate for a facial. My question is: Does this sort of prize warrant a thank-you note?
Well, I don't see how a thank-you note could hurt -- and it takes only a minute or two to write. It sounds almost as though you want to write one. Don't hold back! Correspond with wild abandon. (Strictly speaking, party-game winners needn't write thank-you notes -- but you got a pretty nice prize.)
Dear Social Grace,
I live in an apartment, next door to a man with whom there have been some "discussions" about my noise level. In short, he feels that I am too noisy, and I feel that he is unreasonable (he has complained that I sneeze too loud). But we have reached an uneasy truce, even though he occasionally pounds on the wall when I let my oven timer go for too long or laugh at something a friend says over the phone. Next month, I will be celebrating an important occasion by inviting some friends into my home, and I would like to forestall the angry pounding and calls to the landlord. How should I handle this?
Noisy Neighbor in Berkeley
Dear Noisy Madam or Sir,
Though it does sound as though your neighbor is being unreasonable, you're going to have to live next door to him, so a few precautionary measures are in order. The first thing you should do is alert your landlord and your neighbor(s) as to the date, type, and duration of your party. (Perceived noise can be easier to bear if you know it's set to end at 11, for example.) Apologize ahead of time, and maybe sweeten the deal by giving him a token "Sorry in advance for the noise" gift: A movie-theater gift certificate that would cover the cost of two movies and a bucket of popcorn, for instance, might even get him out of the apartment on the night in question. Then again, if sneezes and laughter are too loud for him, I don't know how he's going to handle Dolby stereo.