I just started dating someone new and it’s his birthday next week. What is the gift etiquette this early in a relationship?
Dear To Give or Not to Give:
Good question. It can be tough to know what is and isn’t appropriate during the early days of dating. I recommend giving an experience gift as opposed to an Apple Watch or cufflinks. An experience gift, as you may have guessed, is something the two of you do together. It could be a standard date a la: “Let’s go to your favorite restaurant next Friday. Birthday dinner is on me!” Or something more out of the ordinary—suggest skydiving and see what he says. Since he participates in picking the place/activity there’s no fear of missing the mark. Plus it’s more quality time together for the two of you. Have fun!
My fiancé and I recently moved to the west coast to begin our post-graduate careers and with his desire to settle close to his family. We have only begun to settle and yet his mother has been visiting often, staying for days at a time. This would not be much of an issue, however she is very messy, with little consideration of her surroundings; mostly that it isn’t her own home. She
does things like tracking garden dirt onto the rugs and filling the guest bedroom with smoke.
With this new lifestyle I don’t have enough time to do all of the cleaning up and it’s starting to get to me. How can I talk to my fiancé about this in such a way that it doesn’t seem like I’m the one making an issue? And is it appropriate to simply ask his mother to clean up after herself?
Losing it in Washington
Dear Patient Fiancée,
Your stress is not unwarranted. Mother-in-law or not, it is completely okay to expect guests to respect your home, and if this attitude from your guest doesn’t surface organically then by all
means, you have the right to ask for it. It’s all in how you ask. Before we go there, let me first address the conversation that you absolutely need to have with your fiancé.
If you are marrying this guy, even if you weren’t, if you are in a committed relationship, regardless of most fear-based thinking (i.e. what if I upset him and the relationship stops working?) you don’t have much going for you or the relationship if you can’t talk about the tough stuff. And lets be real: this isn’t even the tough stuff, darling! It’s simple. You brush your teeth before bed and before your good-nights you say, “babe, there’s something that’s been bothering me a little bit and instead of letting it fester I wanted to chat about it”. It’s light. It’s not
threatening and it’s honest. Tell him your experience. This was your big move too. There needs to be some room for sensitivity and compromise, and there definitely needs to be boundaries
with mom if she is going to be around often. Truly, he should want these kinks worked out early so that he can relish his mother’s support of your happy union. You can ask him if he would
rather talk to his mother or if he would prefer you to do so. He might want you to break the ice.
Talking out our issues with others can foster a lovely intimacy- sometimes not. He probably has the foresight to know which is best. And never underestimate him. I’m sure that if he’s made this commitment to you that he cares about how you’re feeling. He may even be quietly harboring some resentments toward mom too, making this a fortuitous opportunity to approach her. That said, a mother-in-law can’t help but appreciate a strong and kind woman who cares enough about herself and her partner to bring up the things that matter. So, again be simple, understanding, and straight to the point. Let her know how happy you are about the life you are beginning together and about the load you are taking on. Extend your happiness with her involvement in your life and how much you appreciate her spending time with the both of you and then gently ask her if she could be more mindful of a few simple things. Lay them out, the ones that really get your goat. And instead of just telling her what’s bothering you, ask her to be active in solving the problem: taking off her garden boots before she comes inside, smoking outdoors and away from windows etc. Especially in the case of smoking, it’s your health we are talking about. No one else gets to make a decision about your health by smoking in your home without an invitation to it. And truly, are you willing to go into a commitment not speaking up about what matters to you? Can you mask who you really are for very long? No! You can’t. And why would you? You care about the state of your home and health and there is nothing wrong with that.
It’s possible that your fiancé’s mother may be taken aback by your forwardness; it’s possible that she will love it. She could be mortified or it may not phase her at all as some people walk around not noticing how their action effect others. Worst-case scenario, if this drums up some drama, then what an opportunity to start learning ways to deal with it now. You might even be able to help your fiancé discover some healthy ways of approaching these things as a couple. Mom stuff can be tricky, especially as family dynamics are now changing, but you are the woman he has chosen so it’s time to start choosing battles, setting boundaries, and making open communication primary. If you can do this then you are going to be fine and so will mom.
You can ask Samara and Caroline questions for the Love & Life Advice Column here at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* The ideas and advice presented here are not a substitute for professional advice. Talk to your psychologist, counselor, physician or health care professional for situations that warrant further analysis.