Do You Owe a Present to a Bride Who Owes You Money?

cakeIn today’s Carolyn Hax advice column at the Washington Post, someone wants to know whether they need to get a wedding gift for a deadbeat bride who happens to also be a relative. As in all good advice-column questions, you can feel the heat of the writer’s anger rising in waves off the screen:

Dear Carolyn:

Do I buy the bride-to-be a wedding gift, even though she owes me money she borrowed and never paid back? I’m not the only person to whom she owes money, by the way. It’s like we’re paying for her wedding because she’s kept the money and it rankles to have to fork out more cash to buy a gift. It complicates matters that she’s a family member. Is there a polite way to say your wedding gift is that you don’t have to pay me back?

J.

I love this question because the letter writer “J.” clearly believes the answer should be “No, Of Course You Shouldn’t Have To Get This Dumbquat A Present; How Dare She Get Married When She Owes You Money? She Should Be Glad You’re Even Going To Her Farce of a Ceremony.” J. is writing because J.–who I will assign the gender ze/zir for clarity’s sake–wants zir righteous indignation confirmed. I love righteous indignation. I love how enraged entitled people get when faced with other people’s entitlement. 

This question also makes my heart flutter in gleeful circles because it’s about weddings, which get increasingly Tim Burton-esque as the years go by and only richer folks get married; and because it’s about gift-giving, which fascinates me as a phenomenon. I’d say gift-gifting is what separates us from the animals except that it doesn’t. There was an aloof and dignified neighborhood cat that befriended my family while I was growing up and liked to use our house as a shortcut to the woods. Every once in a while, he would leave us a dead mouse on the doorstep as a token of his appreciation.

You could argue that the vermin was a toll he paid, rather than a gift he gave, but since he paid it voluntarily, is there a difference? That, I gather, is what is chafing the nether regions of our letter writer J., who, under other circumstances, would want to give the bride a gift out of the same generosity of spirit that led ze to lend the bride money in the first place. Because the loan hasn’t been repaid yet, though, J.’s generosity is tapped out, and the gift that society says J. should bring to the wedding feels more like a toll J. must pay than a present J. would like to give.

But we don’t wait to get married til we have discharged all of our outstanding fiduciary obligations, anymore than we only have children when we are free of debt. As Carolyn says, J. does not need to bring a present to the wedding. No one needs to: weddings are not bridges we must pay to cross. I think, however, that J. should bring/send something, even if it is a mere token (wine glasses to toast the couple’s new life together is my fallback). J. should try to remember and reclaim that original largeness of spirit that encouraged ze to lend money to a family member, which is a valuable impulse. If J. gets any joy from seeing this family member enter into a state of wedded bliss, J. should try to tap into that joy, rather than zir own feelings of pettiness & resentment. Not for the bride, but for zirself.

Also, it’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating: never loan money you can’t handle not having repaid to you, especially when family is involved. Once the money’s out of your hands, think of it as a gift, even if it isn’t; that way, if you don’t get it back, you won’t be bitter, and if you do, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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17 Comments / Post A Comment

Allison (#4,509)

If I thought that J could phrase a card discharging the debt without sounding petty and bitter, then I would say sure, but something about the letter makes me think that won’t happen.

But man, J, you didn’t have to lend the money. If you don’t want to write off the debt that’s fine, but just wait until after the wedding and don’t tie it into that. yeesh.

j a y (#3,935)

@Allison yeah agreed. And the amount kinda matters too. It’s hard NOT to sound gracious if you’re saying ‘please forget about that 50k’! But if it’s 50 bucks you’ll sound petty no matter what.

Caitlin with a C (#3,578)

I love reading advice columns for the letters like this where the writer is not actually asking for advice but rather a confirmation of their firmly held indignation.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@Caitlin with a C Me too! Second favorite: “How do I tell my closest life person that I [feel/think/hate] a behavior?” Maybe you talk to that person about it.

Caitlin with a C (#3,578)

@aetataureate Yes! Or the “Let me tell you an elaborate story about something I didn’t like without a question and see if you comment by affirming that that thing is, in fact, terrible” type. (This happens a lot on Miss Manners.)

…Second try! First try, I replied to the wrong comment of yours.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@Caitlin with a C I love Miss Manners so much. Here are her two best schools of answers in my opinion:

1. No, it’s not okay to be rude in retaliation.
2. Here is a way for you to be the biggest asshole inside and totally polite outside. SAY IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT.

JtotheBtothe (#6,872)

I’m not sure I agree with this. Yes, when lending a person money, you should do so knowing that there’s a chance it won’t be repaid. Still, how is it “entitlement” to want to be paid back? I think “entitlement” is one of those buzzwords that is severely overused at this point. When you borrow money from someone (and in this case from a bunch of different people), shouldn’t there still be an expectation that you will pay them back? Yes, it’s silly to tie it into the wedding (why can’t people just use their words?). Still, I don’t think it’s cool to borrow money from a multiple people and not pay them back.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@JtotheBtothe Yeah, agree. “But we don’t wait to get married til we have discharged all of our outstanding fiduciary obligations” . . . I draw a bright, clear line between something like student loan or even credit card debt and money you’ve borrowed from multiple relatives who aren’t close enough to be overly magnanimous about it later.

anoninok (#7,097)

@aetataureate OMG, agreed. two totally different things. also, we all know that you can get married without having a large wedding where gifts are expected, right?!

JtotheBtothe (#6,872)

@aetataureate Yes, I was going to say something about that line too because I think it’s an overstatement. Sure it’d be unreasonable to expect people to have “discharged” all fiduciary obligations. However, if you have student loan or credit card debt, presumably, you’re assuming responsibility for those obligations by making payments.

Markovaa (#1,509)

I think that J could simply donate money to a charity that the couple care about in lieu of giving a thing or a check. It could be a more productive way to channel J’s indignation.

Lily Rowan (#70)

@Markovaa And that can be the biggest fuck-you of them all, depending on the charity! (I realize you specify a charity that the couple cares about, but the J’s of this world often donate to a charity the couple does not at all care for, “in their honor.”)

Allison (#4,509)

@Lily Rowan and then the couple gets all the mailings! that’s kind of genius actually

NoName (#3,509)

Re weddings: “…which get increasingly Tim Burton-esque as the years go by…”

I never knew it until this moment, but this is exactly how I feel

guenna77 (#856)

“I think, however, that J. should bring/send something, even if it is a mere token.” why? you acknowledge that J feels the obligation of custom… and then you encourage J to continue to feel pressured by that custom. ‘reclaiming the spirit of generosity’ is bullshit, especially if you’re saying to apply it to someone who has already proven herself to be a black hole for generosity. that’s the same pressure and obligation of society, wrapped up in a moral scolding.

honey cowl (#1,510)

J, don’t go to the goddamn wedding if you’re so mad about it. AM I RIGHT?

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