EDITOR’S NOTE: Annie is taking a little time off for the holidays; this column was originally published in 2018.
Dear Annie: I’m a little chagrined to admit that we can’t come up with a solution to this situation by ourselves, but we are really stumped.We have a friend who has stayed over with us twice. The first time, he brought two others with him, which worked out OK. The second time, he stayed for four days, ate everything in the fridge, as well as meals, and didn’t leave the last day until 9 p.m. Also annoying is the fact that he is an in-your-face talker.
This probably sounds a lot worse than I mean it to, because he is a good-hearted person and he did leave some money for all the food he’d eaten. But since the second visit, he has invited himself over a few times. We have made excuses, such as “we’ll be away” and “we’re just too busy at this time,” but that hurts his feelings.
We truly would like to keep this friendship at a less intimate level but can’t figure out how to get that across without breaking his heart. He just sent us another self-invitation yesterday, planning ahead to the spring. How can we tell him no? Thanks for your help.
— Stumped in Vermont
Dear Stumped: Don’t be so chagrined that you haven’t come up with a solution yet. As playwright Titus Maccius Plautus wrote, “no guest is so welcome in a friend’s house that he will not become a nuisance after three days” — and that was in 200 B.C.
The question of what to do when good friends become bad houseguests has been stumping people for millenniums.
I feel your friend needs absolute directness, because you’ve generously dropped hints to no avail. Tell him you’d love to spend time with him but he’ll need to find somewhere else to stay.
If your having boundaries “breaks his heart,” that’s his issue.
Dear Annie: I’m considering not leaving an inheritance for my children or grandchildren. I am nearing 70 and have done so much for them, e.g., buying cars and helping pay for roofs, clothes, tires and so many other things. My daughter has always been a handful and told me herself that she’s always done the opposite of anything I have suggested. There’s always been an underlying resentment from her. Whenever there has been a misunderstanding with my daughter, it ends up being the “whole family” who is under attack. She has just plain worn me out.
I know that the norm is for parents to leave their money to their children and grandchildren. How am I supposed to feel? What am I supposed to do? I do know for sure that this feels like elder abuse.
Dear Weary: If you worry so much about how you’re supposed to feel, you’ll never have a chance to learn how you actually feel. Allow yourself to experience your emotions as they come to you. I’d encourage you to see a counselor to help with this process. And I implore you not to make any decisions about your estate under duress. You aren’t obligated to leave anything to your children or grandchildren. They might even be better off; I hear from many people who have fallen out with family members over estate settlement. The most important thing is that you look after your own health and well-being now.
Dear Annie: Frequently, I read letters in your column from older people complaining that their children, grandchildren and others do not acknowledge gifts or send thank-you notes.
I have another take on this. If someone doesn’t thank another for a favor done or a gift given, maybe it is because he or she doesn’t feel the emotion of gratitude. How sad. It is a wonderful feeling to know that you are important enough to another person for them to give you a gift or a special service. If they don’t feel this, they are the ones who are the poorer for it.
I have come to realize that the inability to feel gratitude is terribly impoverishing. Maybe gratitude is the modern secular equivalent of the Christian idea of grace.
The gift-giver loves me despite my faults, just as Christians believe that God loves and forgives them despite their faults.
— Secular Grace
Dear Secular Grace: In response to your lovely letter, a quote: “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” — G.K. Chesterton
Annie Lane, a graduate of New York Law School and New York University, writes this column for Creators Syndicate. Email questions to email@example.com.