It is so hard to say no! It is especially hard to say no to our friends, who we love, or who we like well enough but think for whatever reason that it is imperative that they love us. And it especially hard when the “no” is because of money. Or is it easier, money being an inarguable reality like the weather? “It’s raining / I’m broke.” No, it’s harder, because it is hard to acknowledge to our friends that we might be coming up short, that the thought of spending is making us hyperventilate, and that even though we love them maybe we don’t have or can’t afford to part with the $1,000+ their wedding will cost us.
Q. HOW TO DECLINE WEDDING INVITATIONS I’m getting many wedding invitations these days and unfortunately I just can’t afford to go to all of them. Some friends understand, but how do you explain that to the brides who just don’t seem to get it and keep pushing you on it?
A. CAROLYN HAX You don’t. You’re under no obligation to explain at all, though with a good friend you’ll want to say something, of course: “I would love to go but I can’t afford it.” Done. If pressed, you ask them please to respect you enough to accept that you’d go if you could. Beyond that, the couples’ behavior makes for a good sorting tool. Remember who was gracious and who was pushy, and then, as you continue to be called upon to invest more money and energy in your friends than you have to give, choose to give to the gracious ones.
Trigger warning: This is 110% a First World Problem. Read on at your own risk.
As a birthday present, my mother gave me what we call Frivolous Dollars — money that must be spent on oneself in an indulgent way, rather than saved — and insisted that I earmark the cash for massage and ice cream. She did so because she knows that I have a tendency, when given money, to stash it away immediately. Even when I was a kid, that was my impulse; the top drawer of my dresser became the family bank. Everyone knew they could rely on me to lend out the cash I had laid away there, which I did, faithfully, until it was gone.
I feel incredibly grateful that I have a mother who can remember & recognize birthdays, even for adult children who live several states away. When I was little, she used to sneak into my room in the middle of the night and decorate with streamers, signs, and balloons, so that when I woke up on July 19th it would be to a world transformed. (Mike Dang will totally do that for his kids, btw.) And she also knows that I, like most people, generally prefer experiences over things. So: perfect A+ present, mom! I feel loved & understood. Thanks!
She found a deal online for a place in Manhattan that is offering a discounted bundle of massages. Three for $149 instead of the usual price of $300! Amazing. Even when I do treat myself to a massage — like, say, after going through childbirth — I only do one, and the therapist is usually like, “Wow, your back is like a wall!” and I say, “Ha ha, yeah, I know!” and though the massage feels great there isn’t much/any lasting effect. But three massages? That might actually make some kind of dent in my Shoulder Wall of Constant Stress & Pain.
On the other hand, I haven’t ever been to that particular spa. The place I have gone, and know I enjoy, is around the corner from me in Brooklyn. That means it gets points for proximity and familiarity. With the frivolous dollars, I could afford one, maybe two massages there. So what would you do? Three at the unknown, further away place, or one, maybe two at the place you already know closer to home?
+ He breaks off the engagement. She rebounds quickly. He asks for the ring back; she walks away. Now they’re both annoyed. Who’s right?
Engagements have, historically, been a big deal — see John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman for one of my favorite fictional takes on the issue — in part because it was understood that women who had held out until that point might at last consent to have sex with their fiances. The ring was supposed to act as her insurance policy; if he played false with her, she got, at least, to keep it. She could also sue for “breach of promise,” or, as it should have been called, “breach of hymen.”
Some of the original theory behind this tort was based on the idea that a woman would be more likely to give up her virginity to a man if she had his promise to marry her. If he seduced her and subsequently refused marriage, her lack of virginity would make her future search for a suitable husband more difficult or even impossible.
However, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the main factors were compensation for the denial of the woman’s expectations of becoming “established” in a household (supported by her husband’s wealth) and possible damage to her social reputation, since there were a number of ways that the reputation of a young never-married woman of the genteel classes could be damaged by a broken engagement, or an apparent period of intimacy which did not end in a publicly announced engagement, even if few people seriously thought that she had lost her virginity. She might be viewed as having broken the code of maidenly modesty of the period by imprudently offering up her affections without having had a firm assurance of future marriage.