Amy: A direct approach is almost always best

  • Article by: AMY DICKINSON
  • September 18, 2013 - 1:26 PM

Dear Amy: When I was in my 20s, I was in a loving and devoted relationship with a woman for five years. After several bad episodes, she ended it.

Four decades later, I still value the quality of the affection we shared and the lessons that I learned. That relationship has shaped much of the way I choose to live today. While I truly have no lingering desire for her, I am deeply appreciative of her influence in my life. We have gone our separate and successfully married ways. I am a thousand miles away and completely “over her.” We have not communicated in all this time.

During our relationship, she made me a gift. It is a beautiful, finely knit sweater, which took her many hours of effort. I have kept it in excellent condition for all these years.

I have a desire to return it to her with no messages attached, so that she might enjoy it or give it away. I want no response for this gesture. For me, this is just to say an (unspoken) thanks for all that she gave me all those years ago. Could this look like an attempt at rapprochement, or perhaps anger her? Should I give the sweater to her brother and let him decide what to do with it?

Amy says: Your gesture could come off as weirdly mysterious, rapprochement-like or even hostile. Why not be more straightforward, not to prompt an answer but to make your intention very clear? Like this:

“Dear Chelsea, I hope you remember this sweater. As you can see, I’ve taken good care of it. Perhaps you have someone in your life who likes vintage things to whom you could give this handmade gift from your youth. I’ve enclosed a photo of my family; that’s my spouse, Diana, our kids and our dog, Tippy. I hope your life is as happy as mine is and wish you all the best.”

The gift that keeps on ...

Dear Amy: Last year, my husband and I received an extravagant ($85) Christmas gift from neighbors whom we barely know. We wave hello from a distance, but I have talked face to face with the woman just once, and we have never met her husband.

It seemed strange. I then felt the need to reciprocate, and so I purchased an assortment of Christmas ornaments and sent over some home-baked goods.

Over the past year our relationship has remained exactly the same (i.e., nothing). I am not a Scrooge but feel that gift giving should be reserved for family and close friends.

Amy says: You should not feel pressured to reciprocate a gift to someone you don’t know. If you hadn’t reciprocated last year, for instance, but had simply thanked this neighbor for her generosity (“What a surprise! Thank you.”), you might not face this issue now.

You don’t want to give your neighbor a gift, so don’t. If she gives you a gift, drop a note in her box thanking her and wishing her and her family a nice holiday season. Ideally, this gesture would be the spark for a friendship.

All about acceptance

Dear Amy: I have a best friend who is the brother I never had. He is smart, organized, well read, and has a great memory — many qualities I lack. But he consistently finds the negative aspect of things. He tends to remember all of the bad events and focuses on problems (not solutions).

I feel that in good conversations friends discuss their problems and share solutions.

I try to focus on positive thought and action; it is difficult when I have enjoyed something and he consistently picks it apart or dreads something in advance that turns out great.

We have talked about this; what am I to do?

Amy says: In many ways you two sound like a good fit. I can imagine why he enjoys spending time with you.

One of the heavier lifts of friendship is to accept your friends as they are, while still trying to influence them positively through your own honest reflection and good intentions. You are right that friends offer one another solutions — but unless your friend is seeking to change, your efforts should be focused on acceptance.

Send questions via e-mail to Amy Dickinson at

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