Social Qs: A Hostess Gift Comes & Goes

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Q: We hosted a party at our house, and a couple brought two bottles of wine as a hostess gift. There was enough beer, wine and liquor to go around so my wife and I never opened their bottles. Then they left with the bottles! We were dumbfounded. Is this appropriate behavior? I was so shocked I didn’t say anything but really wish I had.

A: Those must have been special wine bottles, and even though you were tempted by them, they were never truly yours. They were a gift, and as such, they are optional. It is good manners and good form to bring a gift to a dinner party, but it is not a requirement. If you enjoy the couple’s company, then don’t play Miss Manners. Chances are if you call them out, your relationship will become awkward at best. They may feel embarrassed, and in retaliation, call you petty. Save the friendship and file them under “cheap” or perhaps even “clueless.” Next time you go to their house, bring the cheap stuff. Next time they come to your house, open their gift immediately. If the couple doesn’t matter to you, then why play hostess police? Save your energy and don’t invite them again.

Q: My cousin, who is like a sister to me, is marrying her boyfriend of two years. My family is on the fence about him, mainly because we’ve had little interaction with him. We don’t know him, his family, or anything about his life. So I ordered a background check, and now can’t get over what I’ve learned. I imagine he has not been honest with my cousin or she would not be marrying him. How do I confront her with this piece of information without admitting to the background check? I know she will be upset no matter what. Is there a way to deliver a softer blow? Should I accept my consequences? I did it out of love!

A: Thanks to the Internet, everyone is a detective these days. Your actions are not unusual, but now you must follow through with them. If the information places her at significant risk such as an illness or something dangerous, then you must tell her. No exceptions. Not sharing the information could result in significant hardship or distress for her later. Assess the level of risk of the information and elect the family member she trusts most to gently break the news. Be prepared for anger. She’ll either feel angry because she already knew a part of this secret or because she feels ganged up on. She may even cut off her family, which could mean isolation and vulnerability to the possible dishonesty of her fiancé. In turn, be aware that there may be a larger context to this secret, which you may not know or understand. It is inevitable that your cousin will be hurt, but it’s a part of life, and could end up saving her from far greater anguish down the road. Ultimately, all you can do is tell her and give her time while continuously letting her know that the family is there for her.

Click here for more Q&As with Dr. Ramani.

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