Forty-five years ago, my husband and I started going to a lakeside camp for a week every summer. Our kids grew up there. Years ago, when our son got his first adult job, we paid for him to join us. He wasn’t earning much, and we were afraid he wouldn’t come if we didn’t pay. Now, he is pushing 40, married and has two kids. And we are still paying. (He can easily afford it, as can we.) Money is not the total issue: He shows little appreciation for our gift. The only comment we got this year was a “Thanks again” text three days after the vacation. This was odd since he never thanked us to begin with. And whenever I try to spend (a little) time with him at the lake, he blows me off or snaps at me. Should we cut him off and stop paying?
You have absolutely no obligation to pay for middle-aged children to go on vacation with you. But my hunch here — though I may be wrong — is that you are focusing on money because it’s easier to deal with than the real issue: your hurt feelings at your son’s behavior. (I would be smarting, too!) It would be better for your relationship, though, to tell him what you really want — a little gratitude and an occasional iced-coffee date — than to focus on the cost of the trip, which seems like a pretext.
Now, I know it can be hard to make ourselves vulnerable to other people. And it’s possible that your son, even after hearing you out, will not change his behavior. In that case, cutting him off seems appropriate. But I think it’s just as likely that a man who has gone on the same vacation with his parents his entire life, always at their expense, may simply be taking your generosity for granted. I hope he course corrects quickly when you point this out to him.
If I were you, I would ask about a convenient time to meet or to talk on the phone with him. Try to make your points neutrally. By avoiding anger or distress, you will make it easier for him to acknowledge his bad behavior and avoid becoming defensive about it. Fingers crossed for next summer at the lake!
To Be Clear, It’s Not That We Can’t Hang Your Art …
My wife and I downsized our living quarters recently. About 25 years ago, we bought a large drawing that was made by an artist friend of mine from college, and we hung it in our home. We no longer want to hang the drawing, although we have sufficient wall space in our new home. Should we return it to my artist friend or avoid the subject and simply discard it?
I’m confused: Did you mention that you have “sufficient wall space” for the drawing in your new home because you think honesty prevents you from telling the artist you can’t hang it, or because some part of you wants to tell your old friend that you don’t like the piece?
I would simply tell the artist that you no longer have a place for the work and offer to return it for his or her archives — or give it to another collector who might enjoy it. Try to make the dustbin your last option for fine art.
Get a Room! (Or Perhaps a Gym Membership.)
Every evening, our next-door neighbor does an exercise routine on his patio that involves loud, rhythmic grunting that could easily be mistaken for a pornographic soundtrack. We hear it through our closed doors and windows. It’s startling and upsetting. I’ve thought about asking him to be mindful of the noise, but he’s standoffish. Do I have the right to say something? Our kids are certainly not quiet all the time. But I’m tired of this.
Fortunately, making reasonable requests of neighbors does not require perfect blamelessness on our part or friendliness on theirs. After your neighbor finishes his next porno workout, go next door and ask him politely to tone down the grunting. He may not love you for it, and he may use the opportunity to point out the imperfections in your household, but this is all in the way of neighborly negotiations. Just be pleasant about it.
Just Say It in Plain English
Friends from out of town contacted us to say they’d like to make a daylong visit. We said that sounded great. I suggested lunch in a nearby seaside town. I warned them that the restaurants can be pricey, so I said we could also grab something less expensive and wander the boardwalk. They said the restaurant sounded good. After lunch, though, when the bill came, they didn’t offer to pay their share. I mumbled something about splitting the bill and then I paid. I think sticking us with the bill was rude. Your thoughts?
You mumbled? When I have no intention of paying for my friends’ meals, I say “Shall we split it?” — as clear as a bell, the moment the waiter places the check on the table. It never fails. It also saves the tedium of grousing about friends because of misunderstandings over lunch bills. Try it!
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on the platform X.