Jane, my sister-in-law, whom I have a very good relationship with, got married several years ago, just before I started dating her brother, Jake. As a wedding gift, Jake gave Jane and her husband, Craig, an extremely expensive camping tent … which they have still never used. We’re planning a big family get-together this summer and when Jane heard that we may camp for part of it, she got excited and was like, “Ooh that would be fun! We could finally use that nice tent after all these years!” But Craig shot her down so curtly, she seemed embarrassed.
Well, that incident opened up an old wound for Jake. He spent so much money and put so much thought into a gift that has never been used. Not only that, but when we got married last year, Jane and Craig didn’t give us a gift or even a card. In fact, Craig made several insulting comments about our wedding on the day of and since. I should point out that we gave them both very nice (and expensive) gifts for being in our wedding party.
Since I have a good relationship with Jane, would it be out-of-line for me to talk to her about this? I feel it may be productive to address whatever the underlying issue might be, but how do I do that without seeming like I’m after a gift!? I just would hate to see this build a barrier between Jake and his sister. — Giftless Bride
Absolutely, without a doubt, it would be 100 percent out-of-line for you to talk to Jane about why she’s never used a wedding gift that was given to her before you even met her or why she and her husband didn’t give you and Jake a wedding gift. You want to know why you aren’t able to think of a way to bring this up without seeming like you’re after a gift? Because there isn’t a way! Honestly, there is no way you can confront someone about her lack of gift-giving without coming across like a greedy whiner. It is the epitome of terrible manners — much, much more so than not giving a gift on a special occasion.
I can understand, though, being hurt that you didn’t receive even a card from your in-laws for your wedding, but they were actually in your ceremony, right? Isn’t that a gift itself? Isn’t that another way of expressing love and showing support for your union? Furthermore, if what most concerns you is the relationship between Jake and his sister, I would really, really hope that you’re basing this on more than the issue of gifts (both the lack of and the apathy towards them). And if there are other reasons than what you’ve mentioned in your letter, it’s still not your place to butt in. Jake and Jane are both grownups. They’ve known each other their whole lives. They can — and should — deal with whatever issues may or may not exist between without your help.
If Jake does decide to talk to his sister about their relationship, he needs to leave the gift situation out of it. Seriously, I cannot express enough how tacky and out-of-line it would be to make a point about the lack of a wedding gift (or the fact that Jane and her husband haven’t used their “very expensive” tent yet). What I am able to gather from the information you’ve shared is that Jane’s husband Craig is a douche. Now, that could be a topic Jake — or even you — could discuss with Jane. You wouldn’t want to call him a douche to her face, of course, but something along the lines of, “Sometimes I get the impression that Craig isn’t terribly happy in our company. Have we done anything to inadvertently offend him?” This way, you are acknowledging an issue with Craig, but you’re putting the brunt of responsibility on yourself. This also opens the door for Jane to give you some insight into Craig’s behavior and even their relationship. Maybe things are really rocky between them and it was all they could do to even put on a happy face at your wedding. Really, you are new to this family and no matter how well you think you get along with your sister-in-law, the very last thing you want to do is go criticizing her or questioning her relationship with her brother, a person who has been in her life decades longer than you have.
Finally, what’s up with your borderline preoccupation with the monetary value of stuff (the “very expensive” tent, the “expensive” gifts you gave your wedding party)? It sort of hurts your argument that your biggest concern is for Jake and his relationship with his sister. Sounds a bit like you’re a “tit for tat” kind of person and I can tell you now, if you don’t drop keeping tabs on the expense of things and who gave what for this occasion or that, it won’t be long before you’ll be worrying about your relationship with your in-laws.
*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.