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December 12, 2008 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Holiday gift giving dilemma: I have two half-sisters. One always thanks me for gifts. The other rarely does. How to remain on good terms with both, but not feel like a chump?

I have two half-sisters (full sisters to each other), with whom I would like to remain on good terms. Let's call them Abigail and Tracy. We don't know one another very well-- they are much younger than me and our father divorced their mother when they were young, so we haven't spent that much time together. Our father is now deceased. We're all adults--I'm 42 and married, Tracy is 32 and married, and Abigail is 30.

I often send them each a modest gift for Christmas; for example, the last two years it has been a cookbook. I don't expect them to reciprocate, and in fact some years I don't give them a gift. Abigail always thanks me and sometimes sends a gift herself. Tracy virtually never thanks me. In earlier years I thought "Well, she's young, I was pretty bad about thanking people when I was younger," or "She just started a new job," or "She just got married." But, you know, she's 32, she's married, she's obviously responsible in other areas of her life and I am running out of excuses for her. I feel like a chump. Abigail says Tracy never acknowledges her gifts, either.

So, what to do?

- If I stop giving gifts to Tracy and only give them to Abigail, I am sure that Tracy will know and will feel slighted. I really don't want this to happen. I want things to be good between us, that's the whole point. Plus, our dad always did shitty things to play us off one another, and I just don't want to get near that issue.

- On the other hand, I don't want to keep giving gifts to both like this. I'm afraid that perhaps Tracy perceives me as the weird distant relative who wants a relationship when she doesn't want one. I have a cousin like that, and I don't want to be that person. But I'm not sure that's it--she does occasionally e-mail and send pictures. I really don't know how she feels. Anyway, it seems stupid to keep giving gifts to someone who is saying loud and clear "I don't care."

- And I don't want to stop giving gifts to both of them. Abigail seems kind of into it. We've started to talk a little more by e-mail, and sometimes by phone. This is another little point of connection, an excuse to communicate.

I know some people will say "why don't you just talk to them about it?" Well, it's not like that. It's hard to explain, but that really isn't an option. I feel that in our particular circumstance it would seem too overt, too confrontational--too formal. We don't have enough of a relationship to have that conversation.

Thanks for reading. What do you think I should do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total)
 
I think you might be reading too much into Tracy not sending thank-you notes - perhaps she just wasn't raised to do it. I never sent thank you notes because my parent's never taught me how to - I just started doing it as it is a tradition in my husband's family.

Here's a big key: Abigail says Tracy never acknowledges her gifts, either. If she's not thanking her own sister, why do you think she'd take the time to thank you? Yeah, it's very thoughtless, but I feel like you are interpreting a thoughtless act to mean she thinks the gifts are an imposition. As long as they're not accompanied by long rambling missives about your relationship, I think Tracy is capable of figuring out that you're just be family-like.

Another option is to send Tracy more impersonal gifts and Abigail more personal ones.
posted by muddgirl at 1:59 PM on December 12, 2008 [6 favorites]


I say that there's no reason you have to send her gifts. Ask Abigail politely if she would mind terribly not telling Tracy about the gifts you send her. Continue to send cards, I guess, but there's no obligation.
posted by InsanePenguin at 2:01 PM on December 12, 2008


I feel like a chump.

In my opinion giving a modest gift to someone who doesn't reciprocate isn't being a chump, it's just being nice. If you give someone a gift I think you should just hope that they enjoy it, and not expect anything in return, even a thank you note.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:08 PM on December 12, 2008 [23 favorites]


Ask Abigail if she thinks Tracy minds your gifts or would rather not get them. If so, just sent to Abigail. If not or if she doesn't know, keep sending them and think of Tracy's gifts as part of the price you pay to maintain a relationship with Abigail.
I think it would also be fine to send Abigail a bigger, fancier cookbook and Tracy a cheaper one, but I think that if you give to one you should give to the other, no matter how ungrateful she is.
posted by rmless at 2:09 PM on December 12, 2008


I don't expect them to reciprocate

Sounds like you do. In one form or another...
posted by Vaike at 2:10 PM on December 12, 2008 [7 favorites]


I don't understand why you would feel obligated to send her a gift, if you don't feel you can speak to her about the gift or whether you should even bother sending one. Also, as other have pointed out, the fact that she doesn't specifically thank her full-sister for gifts should soften the blow of the fact that she doesn't thank her half-sister.

If you think she's really that ungrateful or possibly neglecting/trashing your gifts or something like that, perhaps you can start sending Abigail personal gifts, and making charitable donations in Tracy's name? Since it's a silent "exchange" that no one ever talks about anyway, at least you know your gift is appreciated by someone.
posted by owtytrof at 2:22 PM on December 12, 2008


Abigail says Tracy never acknowledges her gifts, either.

Wait -- Tracy doesn't acknowledge her full-blooded sister's gifts either? If that's the case, maybe she just one of those people who doesn't acknowledge gifts. She's not slighting you in particular, that's just the way she does things -- whether or not that's rude is another question.

What to do about it? If it bothers you, can you maybe be a little passive aggressive about it, if confrontation isn't an option? The next time you're having a regular old conversation with her, be all like "Oh, so-and-so got me this wonderful something-or-other, it's fantastic. I must remember to thank her!" If you want to be slightly snarky, then continue with "I know I appreciate it when people go out of their way to thank me for the things I send -- I try to put a lot of effort into my gifts."

Personally, I'd just stop sending Tracy her gifts. There's always the chance she might be feeling awkward because she didn't get you anything.
posted by cgg at 2:26 PM on December 12, 2008


You are concerning yourself with too much, I am afraid. Give the gifts and feel warm and fuzzy inside knowing that you are a kind and giving person. If the gifts aren't ones of high value or deep sentiments, then I think you should be fine giving with no expectations of any type of tangible or emotional return.

This certainly doesn't excuse an adult for not acknowledging thanks for a gift given out of kindness, but - you are not her, so take the high road. Merry Christmas!
posted by Brettus at 2:30 PM on December 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


A gift is only a gift if you don't expect anything in return.

Give the gifts only if you want to. If you give with the expectation of getting a gift in return or an acknowledgement, then you're wasting your time with Tracey. Stop - you shouldn't give a gift if it only makes you feel worse, just because the recipient is too ignorant to acknowledge it.
posted by HeyAllie at 2:30 PM on December 12, 2008


If you don't want to give giving her gifts, then stop. But don't invent excuses. You already know that she doesn't send thank you notes; she doesn't thank the sister she grew up with. You want to tell yourself that you don't want to be some kind of creepy relative, but it's pretty clear you just don't want to give gifts to someone who doesn't thank you.

So don't.
posted by Hildegarde at 2:34 PM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Additionally, if you really want to get a thank you, call her on the 26th and ask if your gift arrived.
posted by Hildegarde at 2:36 PM on December 12, 2008


in your place, I'd still send them both gifts, but Abigail's would be nicer. not hugely different, or vastly more expensive, just a bit...better. That way, you don't offend anyone, but still feel like you're rewarding the person who appreciates your gifts.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:56 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Expecting gratitude is kind of missing the point of giving things away.
posted by mandal at 3:00 PM on December 12, 2008 [6 favorites]


Personally, I think you should just keep sending the gifts with the hope that both Abigail and Tracy find some use or enjoyment in whatever you send them. And hold no expectations whatsoever on whether either of them acknowledge them or thank you.

Furthermore, let's look at the situation you've described. You send them both modest gifts. Tracy doesn't acknowledge it. You feel used.

To me, this indicates that there's some other issue at hand, bigger than the gift itself, cause honestly, this seems like it's a very, very small deal. It seems to me you are feeling a little lonely, underappreciated, and want some attention in your life, and right now you are hoping gifts will get you some of of that.

I would encourage you to get out in the world, meet some more people, or become chummier with the ones you know.

If you do this, I think you will find Tracy's reticence will cease to be an issue.
posted by uxo at 3:05 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


There is the Miss Manners approach, where you send one more gift, wait a reasonable time, and when Tracy does not acknowledge the gift, call her and ask her if she received it. When she says yes, explain that you thought that it might have gotten lost because you didn't hear anything about it from her.

If she gets the hint and starts thanking you, good. If she blows you off by saying something like, "Oh, you can just assume I got it or check the tracking number on Amazon.com," you can cut her off. Then, if she complains in the future, you can either take the straightforward route ("Tracy, if you're not going to acknowledge my presents, I'm not going to keep sending them to you. As far as I know, they are falling in a black hole, never to be seen again.") or the passive-aggressive route ("What? Gee, I sent you a present, it may have gotten lost. Can you do me a favor and contact me the moment you receive it, so I know there isn't some issue with your delivery guy?" or "Well, you told me to assume that you received it. Now it's too late to do a chargeback.")
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 3:58 PM on December 12, 2008


What Hildegarde said, if this really matters that much to you.

After my father died, I received flowers from a relative. I was a bit late in sending out thank-you's, and one of them emailed me and asked about them ("I ordered so-and-so from the florist, is that what they sent? Was it o.k.?") I don't think she was really being passive-aggressive about it, since she's a very sweet lady, but it certainly did get an extra thank-you.
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:01 PM on December 12, 2008


I'm going to up uxo, and suggest that maybe the hope might be that by giving gifts, slowly over time, you might break down the barriers between you. That each gift is a small olive branch. It's worked with one but not the other, and it's sad that the hope is not fulfilled.

But as someone who's not great at this stuff myself, I can relate to Tracy.

(Perhaps, like me, she sees the family gift exchange as fraught with expectations and disappointments -- this is too much information, but I always feel like it is a referendum on how well I know my family members, which, it inevitably turns out, is not well at all.)

Maybe another kind of olive branch would work better. I'm afraid I don't have a good suggestion, but you mention she's sent email updates of her family...is there some kind of follow up you could do? I'm not saying you should stop giving the gifts, but rather that you attach the hope to something else.
posted by girlpublisher at 4:07 PM on December 12, 2008


She emails you and sends you photos... Her sister said she doesn't say thank-you, which I was a little dubious of.. sounds like something a sister might say, you know? :)
But she emails you and sends you photos. The suggestion that she might be at home sneering at your gifts (especially after being told that she's just like that) is pretty silly.

If you're just being petty about this then don't send her anything. Exchange emails and photos with her and do the Xmas thing with her sister. Meh?

But if you are genuinely concerned that you might be harassing her then.. after sending a gift this year, send her an email just explaining that it's probably because of your creepy cousin that you're even thinking about this but... the presents are ok right?
Maybe use it as an opportunity to explain that .... huh. Good question.

Mmm, you seem to be cautiously wanting a proper relationship with them. Since you're already sending presents and she's sending you photos - would there be any harm in indicating that? Xmas is so obligatory and impersonal...
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 1:44 AM on December 13, 2008


I vote for at least one time of calling or emailing her to make sure she's getting the gift at her address, especially if you've never had any confirmation that she received the gifts. For years my family sent cards to a wrong address for one of our cousins, and unfortunately also once sent a small graduation gift for one of her daughters to the same address. We found out later it was an old address.
posted by PY at 3:44 AM on December 13, 2008


it is certainly annoying but i have to agree some people suck at it. I'm one of them. i know this will probably sound utterly ridiculous but when I was a kid my mom used to be all over me and my sister about doing it, every single time. and of course, because we were kids we always would fight her about it and it would turn into this big dumb thing and she would say how embarrassed she was to have children who didn't write thank you notes (well, we would eventually write them or she would ground us.) i actually started to dread my birthday because i knew the battle with my mother would ensue afterwards. to this day i don't know why exactly we hated doing it so much.

i don't know quite how to explain it but even nowadays (although I am a lot better about it) sometimes I miss the boat on thank you notes. it's not because it's hard- it's not. i guess in the past it always felt so forced that i think my relatives probably saw right through it and knew my mom was standing over me, making me do it. now when i write one i feel just as dorky as i did when i was ten. plus, i have a terrible memory and sometimes it slips my mind for a few days, but then after a certain amount of time passes i feel really embarrassed that i waited so long and then i end up not doing it. so, i don't know, maybe the past conflict with my mother has screwed my brain into my current internal conflict over something as inocuous as a thank you note. maybe every time i write a thank you note it's like conceding to my mother, and that's why my brain subconciously fights it.

i'm not entirely sure whether that helps or just sounds crazy, but what i'm getting at is it may have nothing to do with you, and she probably DOES appreciate it and just sucks at writing thank you notes. Plus i also agree with the fact that some other people are just not raised that way and don't know any better. Besides, in this whole day and age of email it seems like thank you notes are well on their way to becoming a lost art.

I don't think there's anything wrong with bringing it up in a non-confrontational way (i.e. "have you used any of the recipes?") maybe try it via email and see what she says. if someone did this to me i'd probably feel relieved that i'd been given a chance to redeem myself in a nonconfrontational way and say something like, 'yes, and thank you by the way, i meant to send a card but it slipped my mind due to school/ work/ whatever.' or maybe if she really doesnt like the gifts it gives her the chance to tell you 'i actually never cook, i appreciate the gesture but please don't feel like you need to keep sending me these gifts.'

maybe this is not the case with her, but i personally always feel like an ass if i fail to send one (and yet i still do it.) maybe she feels bad too. maybe not, but just give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she appreciates it for the sake of the relationship.
posted by lblair at 5:15 PM on December 13, 2008


The overwhelming sentiment on Metafilter always seems to be against thank-you notes as a concept. I will say that not only do I write a note for most gifts that I receive, I like getting notes when I give gifts. Emails count too - and it doesn't have be a big flowery gush of gratitude to please me, just a simple acknowledgment that the gift was received.

I say if the one half-sister doesn't acknowledge your gifts, stop giving them.
posted by pinky at 10:35 PM on December 13, 2008


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