Calling Montgomery Scott...
February 11, 2008 8:28 AM   Subscribe

How do I return something that can't be mailed to someone I dated over a year ago, but don't want further contact with?

I dated a guy for a short while more than a year ago. There was no chemistry of any kind, and I broke it off. While we were dating he lent me an extra printer to use (mine wasn't working at the time), but I never really used it. After we stopped dating but were still hanging out occasionally, I told him I wasn't using it any longer and that he should take it back. He declined, saying I should keep it around in case I needed it (argh!).

Shortly thereafter, I decided I didn't want even a friendship with him. He's not a bad guy - just very emotionally immature and too much for me to deal with. At this point, we aren't really in contact anymore, and that's how I'd prefer things stay. However, I still have this printer of his sitting around taking up room in my tiny apartment.

The logical answer would be to drop it off at his place, but
(1) he lives with his parents and sibling. I've never met them, and I intend to keep it that way. Dropping it off at his house IS NOT AN OPTION for this reason.
(2) he lives 35 miles away - this is in a major metropolitan area. I completely avoid driving here because it's intensely stressful for me. So even if dropping it off at his house were an option (WHICH IT'S NOT), driving 70 miles to get rid of something he should have taken long ago is not very realistic.
(3) I absolutely don't want to keep the printer, and I would have a problem getting rid of it - it's not mine to get rid of.

I considered asking him out to lunch one day and making sure the printer goes home with him, but my only reason for spending more time with him would be to return the machinery. Hanging out once more wouldn't be the end of the world, but at this point I'm not interested even in a friendship and seeing him after a period of no contact would open the possibility that he thinks we're still friends.

I know I'm probably coming across here as horribly callous, but I am very much someone who keeps to herself and I choose my friendships very carefully. I nurture the ones I truly cherish, and am not big on trying to maintain relationships out of guilt or some sense of obligation. Also, each time I see this guy, he brings me little gifts. It's very sweet - none of the other guys I've dated have ever done that for me. It's especially touching given he doesn't have much money, and he remembers my likes, dislikes, etc. But I know beyond a doubt that I don't want to stay in touch with him, and I don't want to lead him to believe otherwise.

Is there an obvious answer for how to return his printer that I'm missing? I'm thinking I'll just have to suck it up, ask him out to lunch, return it and then let things wither away, again. That just seems a little bit cruel, given that it won't be a genuine gesture - ulterior motive, anyone? I don't want to open up the possibility that we might hang out in the future. As for being assertive and telling to come pick it up, that seems downright rude. Finally, I have no intention of driving to his house, meeting his family, etc. just to drop off something that he should have taken with him last time he was at my place.

Thanks so much for any ideas or advice you have...
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total)
He gave it to you. Give it to Goodwill if you don't want it anymore.
posted by electroboy at 8:34 AM on February 11, 2008 [4 favorites]

When he told you you should keep it after you offered to return it to him, he made a gift of it to you. It's now your property to dispose of as you please.

Printers are cheap. If he ever gets back in touch to make a stink about it (which he won't; he's either forgotten about it or written it off as the cost of a breakup), and he doesn't accept that it was a gift, then just offer to pay him the value. But - that's not going to happen! Believe me, normal people don't care about old printers. He's already bought himself a better one.
posted by Dasein at 8:35 AM on February 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I know I'm probably coming across here as horribly callous

No, you're coming across as someone who's boxed themselves into a corner.

You don't want to meet the guy, don't want to go anywhere near where he lives, don't want to mail the thing, don't want to use a parapostal package delivery service like DHL or UPS to get it to him (why not?), don't want to just trash the printer, and don't want to keep it. You're right - you're out of options.

If this question were really about, "How do I most conveniently get this printer from point A to point B" you would have phrased it that way. You, on the other hand, spent most of six paragraphs talking about your ex and your feelings for him.

This is simply not a question about a printer. Quit kidding yourself.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:36 AM on February 11, 2008 [56 favorites]

Put it on the sidewalk with a sign that says "FREE". Old printers have no value whatsoever.
posted by thomas144 at 8:37 AM on February 11, 2008

Old printers have no value whatsoever.

Right. When I said, offer to pay him the value of the printer, I should have added that.
posted by Dasein at 8:37 AM on February 11, 2008

Oh my god just throw it out
posted by 1 at 8:38 AM on February 11, 2008 [12 favorites]

He declined, saying I should keep it around in case I needed it (argh!).

Sorry, but I think it IS yours to get rid of now. You tried to give it back, he said no.
posted by Squee at 8:38 AM on February 11, 2008

Get rid of the printer unless it's a fancy or expensive one. Printers are more or less disposable commodities lately and unless you have reason to believe he wasn't just unloading this printer on YOU, I'd assume it's yours and do whatever you want with it.

Returning the printer in any way is just going to be opening up some sort of line of communication which is exactly what you don't want. At best he'd email or call to say "Hey thanks for returning that, let's have lunch" which you don't want. At worst it would look like a big "fuck you I can't even stomach looking at your things, please go die" which doesn't seem like the message you want to be sending.

You're clearly trying to do the right thing getting this guy back his stuff, but you're turning it into an extended issue that you're agonizing over. If you think things are well and truly over with you, dispose of the printer in whatever way you want. If he gets back in touch later say that's what you did. Look at it this way, if you move six months from now, do you feel that you have a responsibility to take his printer with you? Why are you hanging on to it if, by your own account, he should have taken it with him? Do you think he still thinks that he left a printer at your house that he'll come and get at a later time? Is he aware that you are totally done with him, even as a friend?

I know what you're going through because I do this to a certain extent. I had an ex who left some stuff at my house that I was half thinking "well this is his stuff I can't just get rid of it..." We were very loosely in touch but again, not hanging out, just not enemies. At some point, he got married to someone else. At that point, I decided anything left at my house was pretty much mine. I should have decided that a year earlier. When my parents split up, my Dad left a motorcycle in my Mom's basement saying he would "come get it later" When my Mom got rid of the motorcycle, twenty years later, she still wanted me to "break the news" to my Dad because she thought he'd get mad. Don't be like that. I know you're trying to be polite but agonizing over something just so you don't hurt someone else's feelings that you don't even really care about is misplaced etiquette.
posted by jessamyn at 8:38 AM on February 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

ikkyu2 is right, and you should look into that. Meanwhile, throw out the printer.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:38 AM on February 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like he did, indeed, give you the printer (even if you did not want to receive it). So I would suggest just giving it to the Salvation Army, or whatever. Especially since it was "extra" to him, and printers are basically consumable items these days (unless it is a really nice one).

Don't ask him to lunch or initiate contact over this, it will flutter his heart for no reason. Just give the printer away. Guys waste money on stuff for girls all the time, this isn't that big a deal.
posted by Rumple at 8:39 AM on February 11, 2008

He left it there. He doesn't want it. Throw it out or give it to someone else. You're over-thinking this.
posted by milarepa at 8:41 AM on February 11, 2008

The logical answer would be to drop it off at his place

No, the logical answer is to take him at his word. When you offered to give it back and he told you to keep it, it became yours.

If you don't want it anymore, freecycle it.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:41 AM on February 11, 2008

His receiving the printer will remind him of you no matter what. If you do ask him out to lunch, then _he'll_ have driven 70 miles at your behest, which you probably don't want. The onus is on you, since it was a favor to you.

How about you meet him somewhere -- come up with a pretty good plan or two before you call him, so you don't have to spend a lot of time negotiating -- briefly drop off the printer, be as distant as you want, and you're done. He may even tell you, over the phone, that it's OK with him if you get rid of the printer.

Combine the trip with another errand (advantage: excuse to leave him quickly, less random driving), or don't (advantage: if you leave quickly without a good excuse, your feelings are clear).

Another idea: Do you know of a friend of his that lives near him, or better yet between your house and his? Drop the printer off there, if you can.
posted by amtho at 8:42 AM on February 11, 2008

Throw out? Oh no, no, no. Call a local school and see if they need printers (where I used to work, we ALWAYS needed printers), if they do, leave it with them. If they don't, take it to a recycling station. Don't just dump it in the trash.
posted by plinth at 8:45 AM on February 11, 2008
posted by Burhanistan at 8:47 AM on February 11, 2008

Throw it out or donate it somewhere. Plenty of non-profit organizations would probably be happy to have it, as would your local goodwill. Barring that, throw it out. It's probably worth twenty bucks, tops.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:58 AM on February 11, 2008

How do I return something that can't be mailed to someone I dated over a year ago, but don't want further contact with?

Get a friend to drive over late one night, and leave it on his doorstep, with a note from yourself, explaining that it was late when you arrived, so you didn't want to disturb him, and here is the printer he left with you. Make the note short and simple, so it looks like you scribbled the note in the car.

Buy your friends a case of beer/nice bottle of wine for doing it. You get the printer out of your house, it goes back to the rightful owner, and your friend gets a drink. Win-win-win.
posted by Solomon at 9:10 AM on February 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

Can you not ask a friend to drop it off at his place for you? Buy a friend you do want to see dinner out or something in exchange. Have said friend drop the printer off at the ex's door, and be done with the whole mess.

Otherwise, freecycle, craigslist, goodwill, etc.
posted by cgg at 9:17 AM on February 11, 2008

He's just gonna toss it if he gets it back. Listen to everyone else that says it's yours to do with as you please. Quit over thinking it. Maybe you're the one being emotionally immature?
posted by Arbac at 9:19 AM on February 11, 2008

Just let him know he can pick it up or else you're giving it to charity (or whatever). He said you should "keep it around" but not that it was definitively yours so I'd shoot him a quick email that you're planning to pass it on if he doesn't want to take it back.
posted by mdn at 9:19 AM on February 11, 2008

I can totally understand not wanting to throw it out/give it away, and not wanting to meet, because as ikkyu2 points out, there are emotional issues involved, not just a crummy old printer.

So I think your best option is to take it to a mailbox place and have them box and ship it. You will be out $30 or so for a $0.50 printer, but you will be satisfyingly done with it in a way you won't be if you get into some complicated "let's meet, but not to talk, and not for lunch" kind of arrangement. If you don't want more contact, put his address as both the "to" and "from" address, or leave the "from" part blank.

Consider including a very short note to avoid seeming too passive aggressive (which in some ways shipping a worthless printer probably is) -- all you need to say is "Here is your printer, I don't need it anymore, thanks."
posted by Forktine at 9:22 AM on February 11, 2008

I was in the same position as you where I didn't want any gifts around (and this printer is emphatically a gift to you). Agreeing that your making the printer the issue when it really isn't. I wanted it all gone. Away. Then I could act like it never happened at all. Seeing the stuff he gave me just reminded me of him and I was in that whole no longer angry at the guy, but intensely angry at myself phase where I was all, "Rar, why was I so stupid for going out with such a manipulative, emotionally-stunted jerk! Rar, rar, all the red flags were there! Rar! I'm an idiot!" and I'd catch a glimpse of some knick-knack he gave me and it'd bring it all up and I'd go into self-loathing about being such an idiot and it made me wish that all those mementos would go away because quite honestly they embarrassed me. They were reminding me of what I was convinced of being a horrible lapse in judgment and the humiliation and everything related to the relationship and break up, making me relive the worst moments.

So why didn't I just chuck it all out? I told myself in some kind of weird twisted logic that it was unfair for me to throw it out because HE gave them to ME so the onus was upon HIM to decide their final fate. I also tried to twist it into a "but it would be soooo wasteful!" Quite honestly though, a small, cruel part of me liked and wanted to tell him how I didn't want anything of his anymore and I wanted him to know that the reason I did not want those things was exactly because I wanted to erase as much of him from my life and past as possible. Petty, no?

But enough story time. The thing is this. He doesn't need it, he doesn't want it, he said so himself. So there's really no need for you to want to return it to him so badly if it's just about returning the printer. Also if you really don't want it, give to it someone or throw it out. It is yours to give away. He made it yours when he told you you could have it. That negated any "lending" nature the printer still held. If it's logic you need, split hairs and tell yourself that he said you could keep it around "if you need it." You don't, so contractually you don't have to. And if he really, really wanted it back, he would've asked you for it or figured out a way to ask you for it by now. If you're worried about some sort of repurcussion down the road where he comes lumbering across the horizon asking for a printer that's probably horribly outdated, and wasn't that useful/important to him anyway (since it was a spare he didn't mind loaning out, dating or no), and then getting bent out of shape when he finds out you gave it to some school or a neighbor's kid? Well that's really his problem and has nothing to do with you and really, just goes to further prove how "emotionally immature" and "too much to deal with" he is.

As others have said the fact that you're agonizing over something he probably doesn't even remember anymore or didn't want back in the first place points to something else and that you're overthinking the whole thing.

So what did I do with all of my/his stuff? I never got around to throwing it away, but I like to think I've moved forward since I no longer get irrationally mad at them. We peacefully coexist in an unspoken truce of mutual indifference. When I'm looking for a CD and come across the pile of DVDs he burned for me I simply push them aside and they fall over without complaint. The stuffed puppy in my cubicle sits on top of a pile of paperwork looking off into the distance instead of directly at me as if it knows about the truce I made with the household objects and wants to respect it, and I rarely disturb it from its spot. I don't go looking for them, and they don't come looking for me. When the objects and I do run across each other we simply politely ignore each other since any sort of acknowledgment feels an ill-timed fart. I hope that one of these days we can reach a detente and proper terms will be negotiated where I can release them into another jurisdiction or the trash heap.
posted by kkokkodalk at 9:23 AM on February 11, 2008 [6 favorites]

I think I dated this same guy a couple of years ago! I just freecycled everything after it seemed clear that still having stuff at my apartment was a pretext for contacting me.
posted by caitlinb at 9:35 AM on February 11, 2008

It's not only logical, but civil and mature to call this guy up and say "Look, I really don't want this printer anymore, can I drop it off at your house?" and then drive it to his place or Goodwill depending on his answer. If he's not over you, he'll probably only say "yes" if he thinks it means he'll see you again, because he is over the printer. If he really wanted it back, he would have asked for it back.

I'm a little troubled at your insistence that "he should have taken [it] long ago" when it seems like he meant it to be a kind gesture for you to keep it. I'd guess you're not frustrated at the printer crowding the physical space in your apartment; you're frustrated that you can't get this guy out of your head even after you've made big dramatic decisions to cut him out of your life, and you resent that he didn't just pack up his stuff, cleanly snip all ties, and bow gracefully out never to be seen again. You could duct-tape both printer and ex on the back of a rocket to the moon and you're still going to resent him.

If a printer is the worst thing a bad relationship ever gives you, consider yourself lucky indeed.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:47 AM on February 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'd go with the midnight drop off with a note option, or mdn's suggestion of just giving fair warning of imminent charity donation- it's up to him after that. If he really wants it you can leave it on your porch or at a friend's for him to pick up. (A lot of charities won't take anything "electronic", though, so you might want to call around.)
posted by small_ruminant at 9:49 AM on February 11, 2008

Is there an obvious answer for how to return his printer that I'm missing?

The obvious answer is to mail it. You don't say why it can't be seem to know his address, though?

But yeah, donate it, give it away, freecycle it, whatever. He said he didn't want it back, so it's your problem to get rid of it.

I had a similar situation with someone that I dated VERY briefly who managed to leave something behind in my apartment. (Worse, it was quasi-intentional -- it was a item given as a wedding present to him and his very-recently-ex-wife.) I felt weird about it at the time, but gave the items away and never regretted it afterwards.
posted by desuetude at 9:56 AM on February 11, 2008

Toss it. I'm sure if he needed it he would have taken it back before. A year old printer isn't worth shit. If you are just using him to get rid of it now, don't do it.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:01 AM on February 11, 2008

hey i had the same problem with my ex! only he gave me two printers.
he said he didn't want them back and that i should keep them around for myself, too.
i've kept one and thrown away the other. on hindsight, i should've sold it! (it was a laser printer.) i'm gonna sell the second one on ebay someday :)

as others have pointed out, he's given the printer to you.
even if he'll want the printer back in future - he's refused to take it back when you wanted to return it, he's forfeited his dibs on the printer. just sell it or give it away.

if you -really- want to do something more than that, get a proxy (a friend or something - doesn't need to be a mutual friend, just someone who'll say 'i am acting on behalf of anonymous' etc) to write to him and tell him that if he does not pick up the printer from your proxy by XYZ date, you'll dispose of the printer - and to reply with his decision by ABC date.
(but you have already offered to return the printer to him, and he has already declined that - so i personally feel that any extra effort on your part is just... pandering to him and dragging things out between both of you.)

but yeah, sell it or give it away! :)
these sorts of decisions tend to get a lot easier after more time has passed, post-breakup.
posted by aielen at 10:13 AM on February 11, 2008

I'm going to echo the vote for Freecycle.

He not only gave it to you, but then when given the chance to have it back insisted you keep it. So it really is yours to get rid of.

There isn't anything rude about getting rid of something you don't need, particularly when you're dealing with a utility item.
posted by paulfreeman at 10:18 AM on February 11, 2008

I was in this position with a number of books that belonged to a close friend, after the friendship abruptly and bitterly ended. I hung on to the books for about six months, then sold them to a used bookstore. I figure, if she ever contacts me and is mad that I sold the books, I'll give her $50 and send her on her way. Books and printers are replaceable.
posted by korres at 10:29 AM on February 11, 2008

If its an inkjet printer then throw it out. Very few places would want one of these. The inks are crazy expensive, theyre unreliable, and a new one costs next to nothing which gives the buyer warranty service. If its a laser printer then give it to some charity, as those are generally usable. You'd be surprised at the absolute junk people try to pawn off to charities.

Toss the inkjet, stop thinking about this guy.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:37 AM on February 11, 2008

Nthing ikkyu2's comment. It's not that I think you're still in love with the guy or anything like that, but this really shouldn't be such a big deal. There's something that's making you tie yourself up in knots.
posted by mausburger at 10:49 AM on February 11, 2008

You know why he had an old printer to give you? Because he got a new printer. It probably came free with his computer. Long before the new printer dies, he'll have bought a new computer that came with another new printer. If you could wave a wand and make the old printer appear on his doorstep, he'd probably stick it in his attic and never think of it again. Printers are disposable. Toss it.
posted by happyturtle at 11:00 AM on February 11, 2008

Nthing freecycling it. I've gotten several printers off freecycle, all nominally old/broken/worthless. Some are, some just need a minor adjustment and then work quite well until their toner runs out, at which point it stops being economical to use them. In either case, it's better than junking it.
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:17 AM on February 11, 2008

saying I should keep it around in case I needed it

I think the "should keep it" part here means "I don't want this printer, and I am going to give it to you because it's some damn thing I don't want to get back and have to throw out, put on freecycle, etc". You seem to be reading "should keep it" as "this printer is very special to me, and I want you to take good care of it".

Unless the printer is a family heirloom that his great-great-grandmother brought with her from the old country, set it out on the curb. If it works, put a sign on it that says "free! works!" (exclamation points seem to be required for this, don't ask me why)
posted by yohko at 12:38 PM on February 11, 2008

i really feel you're overthinking this one.
posted by Soulbee at 1:25 PM on February 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

same thing happened to me, so strange
my ex got me a printer with a camera she bought for xmas for me, i guess it was part of a bundle AND she also dumped her old laserjet on me because she was upgrading her home office. So we break up and here i am stuck with 2 printers that never get used. I just gave one of them to my 1st floor high school neighbor whose printer died on her in the middle of some deadline book report that was due. Circle of life man. Pay it forward...Craigs list has a free stuff section.
posted by stavx at 3:54 PM on February 11, 2008

FYI, UPS ground service for a 15lb package going approximately 35 miles (I used NYC to southwestern CT as my zip codes) is $12.01.
posted by xo at 5:05 PM on February 11, 2008

Have you ever been upfront with him? Did you look him in the eye and say "I do not want your printer"? Because you need to stop avoiding confrontation and just be upfront. Telling him you don't want it and that it's his problem to deal with isn't rude if you do it right (straight up, no dithering, no aggression, no extra emotion) and is what is required here.

I agree that 'keep it around' is not that same as 'it is now totally yours' and that he actually didn't give you the printer outright. To me that really sounds like something you'd say to someone you have an ongoing relationship with, or at least someone you want to remain tied too. If you've been upfront with him in the past about your relationship why would he think that? Last time you talked with him you should have flat out said "but I don't want your printer any more" rather than continued to keep it.

Assuming you haven't been clear in your communication so far he deserves a chance to decide if he wants it before you get rid of it. Tell him he needs to come get it, with a deadline, and make it clear you'll get rid of it if he doesn't. Write him an email or a letter if it helps, just don't hint or dither or mess him around. He won't think you're leading him on towards more friendship if you, you know, don't lead him on. Then he can either come get it (you don't need to chat, just hand it over, smile politely and shut the door) or let you throw it away. Problem solved.

Upfront and clear communication is your friend and will stop situations like this developing. I highly recommend it.
posted by shelleycat at 10:15 PM on February 11, 2008

Drop the motherfuck(ing printer off at Goodwill) already.
posted by The Bellman at 3:19 PM on February 12, 2008

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