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The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

Home » The Vine

The Vine: August 13, 2008

Submitted by on August 13, 2008 – 12:21 PM75 Comments

Dear Sarah,

I've often followed your advice, but this is the first time I've written in.

If you are, say, a florist, musician, or photographer, and your friend or relative asks you if you would do the flowers, sing, take photos at their wedding, and of course you happily agree, is that able to be considered as your wedding gift to the couple?

I've done such favours for a few relatives recently and haven't bought "tangible" gifts yet, and I was wondering if I was being tacky.I had figured that, because I charge a bit more for my services than many people would spend on a gift, it should suffice.However, I just caught myself wondering what your take on it would be.I'm still within the 12-month gift-giving window for all these newlyweds so I can still get them some "proper" gifts without being too embarrassed (except I think it will look funny me giving a late gift to the couple who stated in their invitations, in poem form, that they really had enough stuff and cash would be appreciated more).

Do I need to go department-store shopping?

Never A Bridesmaid, Always On The Order Of Service

Dear Service,

I think you can consider it your wedding gift to the couple if it was your idea in the first place.Let's say you're a photographer, just for example; if you offered to take the photos for the wedding, something you'd normally charge for, and if you made it clear that it's a gift, no, you don't get them a second gift.

But if they asked you, it's not a gift, strictly speaking.It's either the couple wanting to include you in the day, albeit in a non-wedding-party way, or it's the couple wanting to save some money by asking friends and family to do things for free.Maybe it's a little of both; I don't want to cast aspersions on your friends.But unless you've had an explicit conversation about the fact that your photography work (or whatever) is a gift, then they may not think it is, and you should proceed from the assumption that they expect an actual, separate gift.How you proceed is of course up to you; since you've already donated services, you may want to get them something rather modest in addition.But I would err on the side of safety and get them something else.

This may make you feel grumbly, and I don't blame you, so in the future, it's maybe wiser to say something along the lines of "I'd be happy to photograph your wedding — I'm so honored that you asked me, and in fact I'd love to give you that service as your gift."If the bride or groom looks taken aback by this, explain in polite tones of regret that the service is in fact something the couple customarily pays for, and you can certainly discuss a wholesale or friends-and-family rate if they'd rather you get them something off the registry instead.

…Or something like that; it depends on what the couples ask you to do.If you do normally charge for whatever they're asking you to do for them, this is a conversation you should start having when it comes up, because they want you to do it for free, and if you have to buy a gift too, that's not really okay.If, on the other hand, it's just something you're good at, and/or they're asking you so they can include you…I mean, bridesmaids provide service too, of a sort, but they're still expected to buy gifts.

My point is, if the bride had written to me with the other side of the same question, I'd be telling her that she should have offered to compensate you for your time and expertise.

Hi Sars! Hope you can help me out…

My BF, "Janet," used to be one of the happiest, most positive people I knew. In the past few years, she's slowly become depressed, anxiety-ridden, and self-loathing. And I'm not sure how to help her.

See, she married "Josh" about seven years ago. He was the first guy she ever dated, ever kissed, ever…well, you get the idea. But he was (is) silly, nice, and they have some things in common (like an unnatural obsession with softball).

Josh also has a superiority complex, which means that he can't hold down a job for more than a few months because he always feels he knows better than his supervisors, and voices this without any apparent concern for the consequences. For the past four years, he has been gainfully employed for a total of about eight months (not all at once, mind). The rest of the time he has either been on unemployment (bad) or just living off of Janet (worse).

And although he claims to be looking for work all day every day, I find it hard to believe he can't find ANYTHING after more than a year of job hunting — which, I should point out, came to a total stop when Janet got him a job at her office, from which he was recently…fired, for telling off his boss (Janet's coworker) and causing drama at her work.

So, on to Janet. After all these years of dealing with this, Janet's solution now is to find a second job and/or attempt to squeeze a significant raise out of the non-profit company she works for. She told me that she's given up on Josh ever being a significant contributor to their household income, and now she's trying to find other options. Which…I mean, my head explodes every time I think of Janet busting her (already anxious) ass working two jobs while her husband sits at home "job hunting."

But what bemuses me even more is the realization that Janet is just accepting this fate as though it's inevitable, and just allowing Josh to continue living like a 19-year-old college dropout staying in his parents' basement. She's just enabling his behaviour. I wrote her a long, blunt letter pointing this out to her and suggesting that perhaps she should try separating from him for six months and see if it finally forces him to grow up, but her reply was (as usual), "I'm just not in that place right now."

[pulling large chunks of hair out of head]

Okay, but this isn't about me, really. Even when I'm blunt, Janet just can't see herself leaving Josh, or even using the threat of leaving as incentive for Josh to grow up and take responsibility for doing his part in their marriage. Janet is very protective of people she loves, to a fault, so that she'll be miserable herself rather than hurt someone she loves. In the aforementioned letter, I told her that leaving Josh, even temporarily, would take some bravery on her part. Her reply: "Maybe staying with [Josh] is the braver thing to do." Um…HOW?? How is staying in a situation that makes you miserable, has indeed made you a different, desperately unhappy person, brave? Because it's brave to stay with him and keep supporting/enabling him? Is it brave to stay stuck in this rut so that you can "save" him (which, clearly, isn't happening anyway)?

Argh, okay, now I'm just heading into Bitchville. What I'd love from you, Sars, is an objective opinion about her situation. Not what I can do, because writing you is about the last thing I can think to do besides always being there and being as supportive as I can be in the midst of my frustration. What can Janet do to improve her situation? I'm hoping maybe the objective opinion she can't seem to convince herself to find in therapy can be found here, and regardless of whether you agree with me about the situation, I'm planning to show this to Janet just so she can see an objective viewpoint.

At some point on The Vine you discussed how hearing the same thing from an outside party (particularly a dude, which, well, we'll make do) gets through to people in a way that hearing it from friends can't seem to do. Be my dude, Sars. Or tell me I'm wrong, if that's the case, 'cause at this point I'm so tangled up in the whole thing I'm not even sure which way is up myself anymore.


Wondering if it'd be easier to find a good place to hide his body

Dear Body,

I think "Be my dude, Sars" just joined "have met/was bitch" and "Poor Dirk, he's GETTING A DIVORCE" on the TN Wall Of Hilarity.Excuse me while I rearrange my nut-sack…

Okay!S. Douglas Bunting, reporting for duty.Janet has low self-esteem, is probably clinically depressed, and has no perspective on Josh's treatment of her, because he's the only relationship she's ever had.It's easier for people who have had a bit more experience to compare and contrast, and also to acknowledge, even if they're not feeling it right then, that the last break-up did not in fact end their romantic and sexual lives.Someone else did in fact come along.They were not in fact doomed to tolerate selfishness, laziness, infidelity, or whatever other cross it seemed their fate to bear.

Janet should open her own bank account if she hasn't already, and restructure the household finances in a more equitable way.She should expect Josh to pull his weight, and if he can't, she's gone — and she takes her good credit and her name on the bills with her.…No?Then she needs therapy.Josh is not disabled or a minor child; treating him like he is while he chills on the couch all day is indicative of a neurosis.It's treatable, but it's time to treat it already.

It isn't going to work, mind you, most likely.Josh isn't going to toe the line, and she's going to have to decide whether to leave.And she should leave.He's a self-centered infant.Once she's filed the papers and slept with a few other dudes (or gals, whatever), she'll see that.Right now, she can't.

Hope that helps.[belch]

Dear Sars,

I have been dating a very kind, sweet, decent man for almost two years. I am a thirty-five-year-old woman and he is nine years older. In most ways, we have a good relationship: we have a lot in common, enjoy each others' company, and usually get along beautifully.

My (big) problem with the relationship is that we have never had sex — we've never even come close. Our physical relationship is entirely limited to a few good-night kisses per date. He is a very quiet, shy, passive man who has had very few previous relationships.

When we first started dating, I was very conscious of trying to giving him enough space for us to grow into a sexual relationship because he was giving me every signal that he was not ready for it (for instance, he never wanted to invite me to his house or to stay long when I invited him to mine; he only wanted to kiss goodnight in public places like parking lots, and was unresponsive to my jokes about "taking things inside," etc.). I was wary about pressuring him into anything sexual, and I was willing to be patient.

After the first seven or eight months passed with no progression, though, I brought up the subject politely but directly. I told him that I was attracted to him and interested in developing a sexual relationship with him, but tried to give him an "out" by assuring him that if he didn't feel the same way about me — if he just wanted a dinner or activity companion — I would be disappointed but understanding, and then I would be free to move on. He assured me that he wanted the same thing I did, and I was quite hopeful, but his subsequent actions seemed to contradict his words (basically, nothing changed, and he seemed as uninterested as ever in sex with me).

After several more months (during which the hope I had been given after the conversation had slowly ebbed away), I told him again that I wanted to have sex with him, but that I was very confused by the contradiction between what he had told me he wanted versus the way he acted toward me. I also told him that his actions (or lack thereof) made me feel rejected and sad. He assured me again that he was interested in me sexually, and he apologized for the ways that his behavior failed to communicate that.

I said that since I wanted to have sex with him, and he said he wanted to have sex with me, we should make a plan to have sex, since it obviously was not just going to happen for us. He agreed in theory but was unresponsive to my attempts to make the actual plans, and his behavior again never changed. Several months after that, we had a fight in which I told him that I felt like a humiliated fool for believing his words instead of his actions every time we discussed sex. He countered that by saying that I made him feel like he couldn’t do anything right, which made me feel even more hopeless, because I feel like I have tried so hard to AVOID nagging him.

Then, recently, his elderly father became seriously ill and moved across the country to live in my boyfriend's house while undergoing long-term treatment. This has been good in that it has reminded me again of my boyfriend's good, caring, sweet qualities, but it has also put any hope of resolving our sex problem on hold indefinitely.

I am really attached to him and would be devastated if we broke up now. However, it has gotten to the point where just seeing him makes me feel resentful and sad because I am with someone who (through deed, though not word) seems to find me unattractive, and lately, my sexual attraction to him has shriveled in the face of what feels like his sexual indifference toward me — and because it sometimes seems like my being attracted to him will never lead anywhere. I really identified with "Unsexy", except that unlike her boyfriend, mine has never told me he thinks I'm unsexy — he just acts as though he thinks that. It is hard not to take it personally, especially when our society is filled with the message that all men will leap at the chance to have sex with any woman at any time.

I recognize that the sexual aspect of a long-term relationship can sometimes fade away over time, and what is more important in those cases is compatibility and feeling comfortable with each other. However, what is there to do about a relationship in which the sexual component has never started? I am at a loss for what to do and really need some advice from an outside party. Thanks for any help you might be able to give.

Feeling sad

Dear Sad,

He's never going to have sex with you.I don't know why you would even want to at this point; if he does finally agree to strip down and do the deed, it's going to feel incredibly weird and fraught, because he's delayed and made excuses for TWO YEARS, and he'll only be doing it because you pressured him.AFTER TWO YEARS.Which, apparently, he will feel free to point out, thus making you feel even worse about yourself.

And it won't happen at his house, either, because at his house, there is one of three things: a wife; gay porn; child porn.He is either married, not into girls, or bent in some way he doesn't want you to see, and even if none of that is the case, it doesn't matter anyway — the relationship is fucked, because he's refused FOR TWO YEARS to touch you, and FOR TWO YEARS you've tolerated it, and whatever happens now is fruit of the poisoned tree.It isn't your fault, but you've let it go on much much too long, and no good can come of it now.It's time to move on.

You both need counseling, in my opinion, but whether he gets it should no longer be any of your affair.Tell him that you care for him, but the utter lack of sexual interest, coupled with the guilt trips he laid on you for questioning it, is messed up, and you don't want to see him anymore.Talk to someone about why you think this is the best you can do.And if the next guy you date hasn't reached for your bra clasp by the third date, neg him too.

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  • Rachel says:

    "Be my dude, Sars!" Funniest line of the day.

    I agree that Janet needs to grow a spine – like, yesterday – and either require Josh to pull his weight or kick his freeloading ass to the curb. Unless they up and have a baby, then he can be a stay-at-home-dad (and suck at that job, too, I bet).

    And as for Sad, I get a very strong feeling that Boyfriend is not into chicks. He might not be into dudes, either, but nobody is benefiting from that relationship at all. Might as well put it in the 'friends' category and go out and find someone who won't shrivel up and die at the thought of getting naked with you.

  • Sarah says:

    Holy fucking shit, two years? Wow.

    I'd put money that there is, if not one of the three things Sars mentioned, a dead body or two at his house. The "You make me feel like I can't do anything right" is a total, complete, and utter dodge, sweetie. Bounce, now.

  • JennyB says:

    Service, My husband and I encountered this very issue in planning for our wedding. My brother-in-law is a photographer; I asked him early in the planning if he would be willing to take our photos. He agreed happily, but did not mention charging us. Knowing full well that being our photographer would not allow him to enjoy our wedding as much as if he were a regular guest, I insisted that he charge us for his services. He gave us a (ridiculously reasonable) family rate – and in the end he gave us back the money and told us it was a gift. He rocks that way.

    All that to say I would hope your family recognizes that your services take time and energy and are generally considered (as photos, flowers, and musicians are) a significant part of wedding expenses. Expecting you to provide them for free, without even broaching the subject of payment, and expecting a "real" gift on top of that is rude. If they don't bring up paying you, I think you should. Or at leat make it clear up front that this is your gift to them.

  • attica says:

    Brisesmaid, in my days with a wedding band, all of my friends poached my services for their days. As many of them were musicians, too, it was understood that the poachability went both ways, and that said poaching was the de facto gift. I usually bought something small (vases were my calling card; universally useful, nobody thinks to register for them, and unusual pretty ones could be gotten inexpensively), but mostly because I like wrapping presents. (Shiny paper! Bows! Whee!)

    So I second Sars's advice. If your acquaintances aren't in the same industry as the service you provide, I'd guess it's likely there's a little good-natured weasling at play. In any event, s smallish box in pretty paper will cover your bets.

  • Katherine says:

    On the professional services as wedding gift question: it seems to me like giving of your own time is a more meaningful gift than giving the couple something they may not even want or need. I mean, when I got married my husband and I registered for some stuff mainly so that we wouldn't get a bunch of random gifts from people who had no idea what to get – not because we expected anyone to give us anything. We appreciated people thinking of us, but the big thing was having friends and family come and celebrate with us. If someone is more concerned about what loot you bring with you than whether you share in celebrating their wedding… then I think you need to reevaluate that relationship. Yeah, I know that wedding dinners are expensive, but brides and grooms shouldn't be blackmailing their guests with some expectation of "I feed you at my expense, therefore you give me a gift of equivalent value." (Especially in the case of mature yuppie couples who already have a fully equipped household.)

    One of my friends who has been a professional photographer did our wedding photos, and that meant a lot more to me than any other gift she could have given me. Not only did I get wonderful photos to remember our wedding by, I also get to be reminded of my friend every time I see them. If you feel like you're having a good relationship with your newlywed friends and that your gift of professional services was wanted and appreciated, I wouldn't spend any more time thinking about it. (Just my $0.02.)

  • Liz says:

    Totally concur on Sars advice to Never a Bridesmaid. Communicate and confirm the agreement up front.

    But it seems to me certain wedding "services" are more gift-like than others. If you are doing the flowers for someone, there is a real cost in buying the flowers. If you are taking pictures, there is a real cost in the equipment and produing the prints. But if you are singing at the wedding (assuming it's not the main entertainment at the reception), you are not really expending other resources. I think it would be hard to make the argument that a song or two at the ceremony or reception is a wedding gift.

    …still laughing at "Be my dude"……

  • Slices says:

    I disagree with Rachel – if I were Sad I wouldn't him in the 'friends' category or any other category except 'ancient history.' I don't see how you could be friends after enduring a relationship like this for 2 years. I think Sars' response has to be one of the best, most empowering pieces of advice I've ever read on vine. Tell it!

  • mjb says:

    For the photog, I hope the couples whose weddings you attended and photographed aren't expecting gifts from you – or any of their guests – and won't be peeved if they don't get a toaster or whatever from you. There were some folks at our wedding who didn't give gifts and we were happy they came to celebrate with us, and we sent them thank-you notes for being there on the wedding day.

  • KLM says:

    For Bridesmaid — I had several variations of that issue in my wedding. We asked my now brother-in-law to do the music, and a friend offered to design our programs. In one case, we got an additional gift, and in the other case we didn't. Both were totally fine with me, though I was actually shocked when we got the gift because I figured the person in question had done quite enough already (plus, they had already given us something small on the wedding day). Granted, I was a pretty laid-back bride, so it might have to do more with the general vibe of your relationship with the couple, but I was fine either way.

  • Abby says:

    Yeah, I'm planning a wedding now and there are three services that I'm getting for free from friends and I made sure I asked how much do they charge and they want to make it a gift. No biggie and much appreciated.

    As for sad, you've got all my sympathy. I was in a similar situation until I had to finally cut it off and slept around a bit just to regain some bit of feeling of attractiveness (healthy, right?). But it worked out, and he's now a happily out, gay man and I'm getting married. But that didn't stop me from crying for a full week over it.

  • Audrey says:

    To Never: I'm a professional musician, which means I also know/went to school with tons of other musicians, and I can tell you that in my experience it is very common for friends to request services, for free, as a gift–keeping in mind that I am in my mid-twenties, so most of my married friends have been pretty poor at the time of the ceremony. I think Sar's advice, though, is spot on. You generally need to make the gift issue explicit when you are arranging the service. Personally, if I were offering a friends & family rate I would also purchase a gift because I *am* still getting paid, and it just seems nice. But completely free, it's a perfectly acceptable gift, and a pretty expensive one at that.

  • Carole says:

    I'd be curious to know if Never a Bridesmaid has received a Thank-You note from any of the weddings she donated her services. That would let me know that the couple understood that the gift was her services.

    It makes me sad when someone writes in about someone else's problems because somehow I don't see Janet leaving Josh, since it doesn't seem like she even wants advice about her problem. Also, consider Janet may be in martyr territory, especially when she thinks it's, "brave" to stay with her douche bag husband.

  • Maren says:

    Janet needs to get out, but I feel terrible for her — my husband and I were also each other's firsts (well, we each dated a few people very briefly in high school before meeting freshman year of college), and you just have no perspective on a relationship when you're in that situation. There's no leverage over wanting people to change because you can't make an ultimatum if you're not willing to follow up on it, and breaking up is unthinkable. I can also guarantee that she doesn't think her husband's work situation is a dealbreaker (I've been very, very frustrated with my husband's job, but it still just goes in the "arrrgh" pile). Objectively, this is ridiculous, and if any situation called for an ultimatum it's this one, but I wouldn't count on her being able to get there any time soon.

    Sad: Gay. Or maybe asexual.

  • Natalie says:

    Why don't I remember "poor dirk, he's GETTING A DIVORCE!"?

    I tried searching the site to no avail.

    Sad's situation reminds me of Dexter and that's just not a good thing to base a relationship on. And Sars is right on the money, there is absolutely no way she could ever feel good about the sex even if it were grudgingly given.

  • slythwolf says:

    Hey, Service? If they're putting requests for cash in their invitations, I don't think you're the one who has to worry about looking tacky.

  • tess says:

    Sad – I heard those exact words for years from my ex – word for word. Until I caught him showing porn to my 10 year old son. Dump him and find someone who really does want YOU. Good luck!

  • meltina says:

    Dear Feeling Sad,

    get out now. If he's not the most repressed and closeted gay guy, it's something much worse (like SARS said). In the words of Dan Savage: DTMA.

  • Liz says:

    Order of Service–my take on it is that if the service in question involves a real expense of time and money outside of the wedding day and a service that the happy couple would otherwise expect to pay for (like reception band, photo/videography, cake-baking, florist, invitation design), it's totally legit to make it your gift, but it may be useful to clarify expectations by saying something like "I'd love to! It'll be my gift to you." And really, only the most baldfacedly grasping person would say back "No, we'd like a place setting as well."

    On the other hand, if the service in question is something like singing a song during the ceremony, the couple may have actually thought they were honoring you by including you. In that case, it's more like "pitching in" than performing a paid service. I'd probably get them a smallish gift in addition.

    Body–you asked what Janet can do about Josh? She can dump his narcissistic ass; that's clearly the only long-term solution, and you've already told her that. But she's not going to. So what you're really asking is what you can do to make her see that, and the answer is nothing. You've already done what you can. Let her know you're there for her and leave it at that.

    Sad–that guy is never going to have sex with you. And if he does, it'll be another two years before you have sex again. Also, frankly, at 35 and 44, a relationship that goes along for 2 years with no apparent discussion of the long-term future is not a relationship that is leading toward anything more permanent, especially with the lack of sex. Maybe you don't want that, but if you do, those things, you are not going to get it with this guy. He's already given you what he's apparently capable of– being your good friend. I'm not saying he's a bad guy–he sounds very nice–but he is not going to magically morph into your lover after two years of actually avoiding it. And finally, to answer your question–yes, people find ways to get along with sexless relationships. Many of them do it for a long time. But do you really want to commit to either celibacy or adultery for the rest of your life? You deserve better than that.

  • arduous says:

    For the non-bridesmaid, I honestly think that your friends get that you're not being cheap. I mean, if they are your friends, enough that you are willing to provide a service to them for free, they are likely not petty enough to get all up in arms because you didn't buy them a panini press.

    Your gift of a service is likely way more meaningful than anything they registered for anyway. However, if you are feeling a little antsy about it, here's what I would do.

    Send them a nice card, and with it include a little gift that is symbolic of the service you provided. If you sang at their wedding, record yourself singing that song on a CD for them. If you took photos, send them a framed copy of your favorite shot of them. If you did the flowers, send them a little vase. If you baked the wedding cake, or cooked something or what not, send them your favorite recipe, or an assortment of spices or something.

    Basically, send them something small and inexpensive, but that is a meaningful gesture. But honestly, I think you're fine. They're your friends. Your most important gift to them was your presence at their wedding.

  • Krissa says:

    I disagree with Liz – music at a wedding has to be selected, practiced, often coordinated with other musicians, and then performed. Time is money, after all – just because the performance lasts a few minutes doesn't make it less of an effort or worth less than something more tangible (like flowers).
    I'm of the mindset that a service performed at the wedding can be considered the gift – just clarify up front to be safe, especially if the effort really will cost YOU something.

  • Tarn says:

    I identify with both Janet and Sad in different ways. My husband was my first for everything, and I put up with a LOT of shit because of that that I am still, nearly 3 years after the divorce, trying to work through. And one of the shitty things I put up with is that he rarely wanted sex, maybe once every month or two, but he did look at porn and make a lot of sexual comments about women that weren't me. Asshole. Anyhoo. Janet and Sad need to dump their respective men's sorry asses.

    I do think Sad hit on an interesting point about society being conditioned to think that men constantly want nothing but sex, though. There has been a shift in the last 20-30 years, I think, and our public perception has not caught up to it. Women have become more overtly sexual and independent (in a good way, for the most part), and society is telling us that men want sex 24/7, so this should be a good thing, right? Sure…except for those times and places when men don't want sex. Due to what we hear about their constant horndog libido, a man turning down sex for whatever reason is more likely to make a woman feel personally rejected. And I don't know any man, anyone that I've dated or that my friends have been with, that wants sex constantly. In fact me and my female friends usually tend to be the horndogs in our relationships!

  • MCB says:

    The other possibility that occurs to me re: Sad is that her boyfriend isn't physically capable of having sex — he can't get it up, knows he can't get it up, and is too proud/embarrassed to go to the doctor or just tell her that's the reason.

    If that's the case, Sad should still dump him. After two years, if he's medically impotent he should have told her so by now, instead of letting her wonder why he seems so uninterested in sex.

  • liz says:

    "Be my dude": I agree with everyone else here that Janet needs to give Josh the boot. HOWEVER, there's really nothing you can do at this point. You've made your opinion known, so unless you're willing to lose the friendship over it (by nagging & nagging her to leave him, etc.), back off & just be there for her. Let her live her own life, it's not your life to ruin. Nobody likes a know-it-all!

    And to Sad: Lose the guy. You deserve way better than that. He's probably asexual or something. And that's fine. He may be a great guy, but you two obviously just don't jibe sexually. And he's made no effort to meet you halfway. It's nobody's fault, really, it's just how it is.

  • Liz says:

    To clarify my comment above–I certainly didn't intend to suggest that singing at a ceremony doesn't involve a fair amount of work to prepare. But the couple may not know that–like I suggested, they may feel (however erroneously) that they are doing YOU a favor in a way by asking you to sing, especially if they wouldn't have hired a professional musician to sing if they didn't have a friend who was a singer. If they understand those things, or if you're up front that it's your gift, cool–end of story, no problem. Personally, I would never dream of expecting a gift from anyone, let alone a friend who is doing me a huge favor. But I know some people do expect gifts. I just see something like singing as potentially more fraught with the possibility of misunderstandings than services that make the financial/time commitments more obvious to outsiders.

  • La BellaDonna says:

    @Service: this is one of the very, very few times I will disagree with a tiny part of what Sars said, in that I don’t think you “owe” the bride and groom a gift in addition to the free service which you have already provided them. If you were being included as an ad hoc part of the wedding itself – one of the readers, etc. – that would be one thing. But this has much more the flavor of “saved money/as gift”. And since you’ve already provided the service for which you would ordinarily have gotten paid, I don’t think you owe anything else. It’s true, bridesmaids sometimes provide service, of a sort (sometimes they make things awful, and sometimes they just show up) – but generally speaking, it’s not a professional service; most of the time, they’re not Merry Maids, and they’re not mopping up after the bride. I absolutely agree with Sars, in the future “I'm so honored that you asked me, and in fact I'd love to give you that service as your gift” is an ideal, tactful way to handle it. But for now, they’ve gotten a professional service for free – which makes it a gift. And as for being expected to provide another gift, in addition – well, Miss Manners and a whole bunch of other etiquette books say that no one should expect a gift, period – for any occasion. I’m a simple soul and no expert – I just think there shouldn’t be any double-dipping. And for what it’s worth, I do include singing with all other possible “services rendered as gift”; if you’re a professional, that’s part of your livelihood that’s going into the gift; it counts as much as any other service gift, one doesn’t count “more” than another.

    Holy cow. I missed that “cash would be appreciated more” reference. You know what? In this instance, they deserve a pretty pretty card filled with Monopoly money.

    @Body: I wish I had had one, just one, friend like you. I was twenty when I got married, and I’d been with him since I was a teenager. I thought marriage was a partnership, and one pitched in to help the other; you didn’t count who did what, really. Which is how I wound up working three, sometimes four jobs when he was working a part-time job, towards the end; and yes, there was an “end”; after a quarter of a century, when I finally figured out he didn’t love me, and that I was just a meal ticket. Other people were quick to tell me what was wrong with him afterwards, but not one, not one of them, uttered so much as a “do you think this is fair?” to me during the course of it, or in the time before I got married. And, of course, this was a marriage where everything wound up being my responsibility, including paying for everything, doing all the work being the entertainment committee, and with all that, I got to hear about all the areas in which I needed to “improve”.

    Tell Janet from me that she can look forward to spending her entire youth looking after another able-bodied adult, which NO human being should have to do. There’s no partnership. And when he finally does something so egregious that she finally figures she’s been had, she’ll be fifty years old and alone, because by then he’ll have cut her off from all her friends, with the prospect of either starting over, or getting a couple of cats. And that will be her life.

    Fortunately, there are some really nice cats out there.

    @Sad: I’m so sorry. And now you need to cut him off completely, because he’s lied to you for at least a year and a half out of those two years. There are a lot of reasons to wait for someone; to wait to have sex with someone who’s a free adult, whom you’ve been seeing for two years, who has lied to you about being willing to sleep with you – there are no reasons to put up with that.

  • KPP says:

    @Never: I agree with the others that a gift should not be necessary since you performed a service for the couple. Handling the guest book is one thing, but flowers, music, etc is a big time and supply commitment. Especially in the case that they state they just wanted money (and you saved them said money).

    Unless it was a tiny wedding or they're especially detailed oriented (if they were, they probably would have clarified the service/gift/payment detail), they probably didn't keep track of whether you gave them an extra gift.

  • Sarah in LA says:

    I am a professional singer and run into this issue from time to time. A friend of mine who is also a singer handled it with class: included in my invitation to his wedding was a small slip of paper that said something like, "In lieu of a gift, Lisa and I would be honored if you would sing in our ceremony."

    I think it's perfectly reasonable to forgo a gift if you are providing a service you would otherwise be paid for. I am always up front when a friend asks me to sing in their wedding – most of the time they will offer to pay and I turn them down. If they don't offer, I am sure to mention that they do not have to pay me and it will be my gift to them. I've never had anyone complain about not getting a gift from me after I sang for them.

  • MM says:

    Bridesmaid: I agree, you've already given the services, and that should be a more than generous gift. Have you already delivered the photos? If not, I would suggest that you enclose a note saying that you were happy to be a part the ceremony, and happy to give them the gift of the photos (memories etc.). If you have already delivered the album, etc., maybe enlarge (and frame — not too expensively) your favorite photo, and send that to them, with a note along the same lines. It makes clear that your services were the gift, but also gives them a "gift" to count.

  • ferretrick says:

    On the question of singing as a wedding gift-I agree that the couple may ask someone to perform as a way of including them. I play piano competently and I performed at my sibling's weddings and was happy to do so, but still purchased a gift. But I am not professional level by any stretch.

    I think the difference comes down to whether the person makes or supplements their income as a professional musician. There's a difference between asking Aunt Sarah who has such a nice voice and gets all the solos in the church choir to sing and asking someone who has enough talent that other people pay them to perform. Presumably, a professional will put a lot more time into preparing and will give a higher level of performance. Also, they may have to decline other paying engagements to do your ceremony. Therefore, that is gift enough.

    And, I also agree that I wouldn't be worried about being thought of as tacky by people who ask for cash in their wedding invitations.

  • lizgwiz says:

    When I sing at weddings, I consider it my gift. People ask me to sing because they want professional-caliber singing, is my thought, NOT just to include me, so…that's my gift to them.

  • meltina says:

    Also like to add to Feeling SAD: your "boyfriend" puts me in mind of a friend I have who has issues with intimacy that are deep, fucked up and pervasive, which he didn't let on about to most friends until he got married to a woman who is (and I am being kind) deeply unattractive to him, at least in the "I wanna sex you up" way. He loves her, I don't doubt, but not in the "I want to jump your bones all the time" the way my husband frequently mentions (i.e., you think about it 3 times a day minimum, and asks for it too). Most people also are surprised to learn that my friend is not gay (because he comes off that way, despite his protests).

    Anyway, his marriage has been on the skids since day one. They fight over everything, one of the reasons being that his wife probably went into it thinking she could deal with his reluctance to having sex, but it didn't really go that way, and so she might understandably feel very upset that she married a child (and forget adultery, she has her own set of problems that a sane man would not take on unthinkingly).

    The crowning touch was when he asked me advice on how to go down on his wife so she would quit asking for other kids of sex (I'm friends with both, but he's the one who's more open about asking that kind of advice). By that point in time I was like "Eeeeek, I really don't want to know what I already know, let alone more about it" (at least my brain was, thankfully I did not insert my foot in my mouth), but I gave some advice anyway. AAMOF, I've given all sort of advice up to and including "Have you ever thought that maybe… you two are not compatible and should get divorced? It happens all the time." But that last one is usually deftly dodged with "But I love her, I want to make this work."

    They've been in marriage counseling on and off for the duration of their marriage, because she too wants to make this work, and wants kids to boot. I'm glad I have yet to be asked about the "how to bring kids about" (because I would suggest a turkey baster at this point), or whether it would be wise for them to bring a child into the marriage ("Hell no! A child in the middle of this? Are you that mean?"). I suppose I will be asked about it in time, and it puts me in a bad spot: I genuinely like them both as people. They're nice and pleasant, and seem to be each other's best friend. I just think they would do better off with someone, anyone else as a spouse, and some day soon I will have to not be diplomatic about it anymore.

    Please, Feeling Sad, don't be one of those people. Please.

  • Jennifer says:

    Oh lord, I used to be friends with a Janet, except both of them decided not to work. At least Janet's accepting SOME form of reality in that if she wants to stay with this guy, she can't ever expect him to financially contribute. But that said, if you're 20something years old and one guy EVER has been interested in you, and this is the guy…well, I bet she feels like she has to just suck it up and deal with it because she has no other options. Odds are, Josh will have to cheat and get caught for her to dump his ass. But really, there's nothing you can do. My Janet dumped me in favor of her Josh when Josh's behavior wasn't so great and I was aware of it, so if you keep pushing it, she'll probably just dump you because she didn't marry you. This is one of those "gotta learn the hard way" situations.

    As for Mr. No Sex, my cousin married this guy, and found out ON THE WEDDING NIGHT that he was impotent and had no interest in trying to fix this. This guy wants companionship, but not nookie, and never will. Make him a friend and look for someone else to date that will put out.

  • autiger23 says:

    Service- My best friend asked a mutual friend to take candids at her wedding- she had a pro that she was paying already, but this was something he was looking to get into doing. She paid for his hotel at the wedding (was going to pay for a plane ticket, but he preferred to drive), got him a gift, and absolutely didn't expect him to give her anything. And he wasn't even a professional yet! I absolutely can't imagine anyone not thinking that the service was their gift. I agree with everyone that mentioning that upfront would likely be the perfect thing, but no, I definitely don't think you need to worry about this and I also think that a present now would seem more strange- even though you have that 12 month window (which I darn well took once- heh!).

    Also, I don't care *how* you put it, poem, dirty limerick, whatevs, asking for any kind of gift is already a faux paus- asking for it in cash? Wow, that is in such poor taste. And I'm not the type to care about that, but just, wow.

  • ferretrick says:

    I think Janet's comment that staying with Josh is the "braver" thing to do is very telling. And the answer to every question you ask in the paragraph following that quote, from Janet's perspective, is yes. I'm not a psychologist, but Janet's behavior and speech sounds like classic codependence to me. She sees herself as Josh's savior and she gets some kind of self-image out of supporting him. I suggest instead of encouraging Janet to break up with Josh, you encourage her to seek therapy for help with her marriage. (If you tell her she needs therapy because she's codependent she'll just get defensive and/or tune out. If you sell it as maybe the therapist can help your relationship it might work). The therapist will hear about this, recognize Janet's codependence for what it is, and help her break the cycle.

  • mia says:

    I think the service/gift thing is pretty common but I agree with people above… if your friends weren't expecting your service to be their "gift" they may/may not be looking forward to something more. Can you put their photos on to a CD/DVD for them? There are tons of free/cheap software options on the internet, where you can drop in the pictures that you took and they transition into a mini "movie" which would be a great gift. Maybe print up a couple (digital prints only cost pennies) of your favorites and send them along with a DVD.

    Some friends of our got a DVD like that as a gift from a photographer friend and LOVED it — they made their own copies and included them with all of their Thank You notes so that everyone could re-live the fun.

    Because you have a skill that not everyone has, try and keep in mind that things like a photo slideshow or CD of images has a lot of value to other people where you might be thinking "oh, but that's easy – just drag and drop" :)

  • Beth says:

    Service: I work in event lighting and so I have also been in your position. As Sars said from here on out your respose should always be "I would be so honored to have that be my gift to you guys!" Because yes, it counts as a gift. Granted you can also use your own judgement on that too. I had one friend who only asked me to rig her bouquet with led lights and a battery pack, it took about a half an hour total. I bought them a serving tray. So, yes, feel free to use your own judgement, not the couple's, as far as what feels like a gift and what feels like a favor, as it were.

    As for the work already done, in my experience most folks just expect something like that to take the place of a gift. I wouldn't worry about it, personally. Even if they didn't, as many people have said, it is really tacky to EXPECT a gift from anybody anyway. As someone else mentioned, if you do feel weird about it get a little something in line with what you did- if it was photos, extra prints or send prints to their parents free of charge, etc. etc. I think that's a great idea.

    Also, as was also mentioned above, mentioning gifts in any way in the invitation, and especially asking for CASH, is truely beyond tacky, no matter how pretty the prose. I wouldn't worry about that couple at all seeing as they view their wedding as little more than a business transaction anyway. (I'm sure they're lovely and didn't mean to offend, but come on.)

  • Bridesmaid de jour says:

    Re. Never the Bridesmaid:

    I think there's an interesting cultural perspective here in the comments re. the services offered by bridesmaids and those offered by friends who are florist/photographers etc. The idea that being a bridesmaid doesn't cost the bridesmaid anything, and it is not as much of a service as singing or doing the flowers.

    I'm wondering if there is a cultural difference between the US and my country. I have been a bridesmaid 4 times, and besides helping with all the organising (none of my brides had a wedding planner); we bridesmaids also cover our own expenses. Every time I have paid all costs for dress, shoes, hair, jewelery etc. None of my four brides has ever said "I consider that your gift", so I have always bought the couple a gift as well.

    Being a bridesmaid doesn't come cheap. I'm maiding at wedding no. 4 this weekend – a very big fancy wedding. The brides choices re. dress, shoes, hair etc means I will have paid just over $500 to be a bridesmaid.

    One of the groomsmen is my closest friend, and we usually team up to buy gifts (birthdays, weddings etc – for friends we have in common). It works well, as I would like to afford to get people something nice (easier with two peoples bank balances), and he hates to shop. Now he has had to hire a suit for the occassion, but it has cost him nothing like $500.

    The couple have stated a preference for money over a gift (there is a "wishing well" at the reception for us to place our gift in). My friend wanted to give them a very large (and as usual combined) monetary gift. I wanted to give them something small and personal, as to be honest I thought I had spent enough $$s already.

    He was horrified by this – thinking that the couple would find it odd that I hadn't contributed money like all the other guests. We've ended up with a small personal gift (as I had already bought and engraved the thing), but I have also ended up chipping in another significant sum of money to make up my half of our gift for the "wishing well".

    I realise this is all my choice (I can say no to bridesmaidal requests, and I could say no to my friend and wear his disapproval). All I can say is that it would be nice to have a change of this Australian 'tradition' so the bridesmaids costs are recognised, or considered a gift, or alternatively covered so I could afford to buy the couple something nice!

  • Was Sad for 8 Months says:

    Sad, my dear, GET OUT. I dated a guy for a few years in high school and into college, and the majority was filled with a lot of teenage groping, making-out, etc. etc. but he never seemed to want to progress to sex (giving me many, many excuses…). Eight months before it ended, he stopped touching me completely except for the kind of chaste kissing you describe.

    Now, six years later, I'm happily boning my boyfriend of three and a half years, and he's happily boning HIS boyfriend of six months. We still adore each other, but he makes a much better girlfriend than boyfriend. Stop letting this guy use you… you'll both be much happier.

  • Stormy says:

    Never: I have a lot of friends who are professional musicians and I would never poach their services, but that's because my friends would take out a hit on me. I would go against the grain and say that the service SHOULD be the gift, but maybe get a small service related gift too (For example, if you make the dress, cover a photo album in the same fabric.)

    Body: You can't help Janet. And harping at her constantly, while tempting, isn't helping her much either. Be supportive and do non-guy stuff with her, but stop harping. Imagine her letter: "Dear Sars, I have this friend whom I love dearly–and I know she cares about me–but she will not lay off my marriage…." Just be there and give her the time and space to help herself.

    Body: Is it possible that he CAN'T have sex with you and is feeling a little embarrassed about it? Its entirely possible that he is gay or a jerk, but I would at least get that possibility off the table before I gave up on the relationship.

  • Bo says:

    As a singer, I often offer to sing at weddings as my gift to the couple. And have had friends ask for me to sing as my gift to them. I've never really imagined anyone expecting more. As someone said further up, if you are singing at a friend's wedding, particularly during a busy wedding season, you are likely foregoing income to do so.

    But if you are a photographer or florist, I wouldn't hesitate in the future to say, if asked to perform your service, "I'd love to [perform my service] at cost, as my gift to you. Because no one should expect a florist to provide flowers, which are expensive, for nothing. Or expect prints or albums of photographs for nothing. If they cavil at the offer, they were looking to take advantage of you, not include you.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    It's entirely possible he has some sort of erectile dysfunction; the time to bring that up, if only out of respect TO HER because she's clearly distressed by his apparent lack of attraction to her, is the first time she has to initiate A Talk with him about how they're not having sex. She's now broached it multiple times; he made it her problem. That isn't acceptable, I don't care if he's embarrassed.

    Two weeks in, fine, he's still ashamed by/upset about it and doesn't want to go there. But it's been two years. This isn't a Hemingway novel, where that's the problem but nobody can talk about it and it's All Tragic. Medications exist for this. They're advertised on television. I understand it's not easy to talk about, and I would be sympathetic to it if he hadn't avoided discussing it for two years while letting her feel like it's her fault. He did. She already resents him. It's already over.

    Regardless of what his reason is, at this point, it just doesn't matter. The issue is now fraught beyond all positivity for both of them. Even if he got some Cialis and started feeling frisky, he still acted like a complete weirdo for two years. Let's not forget that he doesn't want her over to his house, either — this isn't just about the sex. He acts like his penis is in witness protection.

    He's not necessarily a worthless person or beyond the reach of therapy, and I'm sure he can find happiness if he gets his shit sorted out, but *this* situation with *this* woman has been too fucked up for too long and can't be uncurdled.

  • Melanie (aka Body) says:

    I just wanted to thank both Sars and the very cool Vine readers for their take on "Janet's" (and my) problem. I particularly agree with those who are telling me to stop nagging her already… I would love to never talk to Janet about her dumbass of a husband again. And I do worry about nagging her into dropping *my* pest of an ass… but as she's been my BFF for nearly 20 years, and we consider each other non-romantic soul-mates, *and* her happiness is as important to me as my own, it's hard not to keep talking about it. Especially considering the new development, which I recognize as having the potential for total disaster: the three of us have moved into a townhouse together.

    I know. I *know*. There's a very good chance this can only end badly. It's been about 6 weeks and so far no real problems. We've had some talks about the hubby, and Janet has decided to seek therapy, because she's not an idiot and realizes the situation is ridiculous. I also showed her the Vine letter tonight, and she seemed… well, maybe irritated, or maybe thoughtful, and hopefully it'll percolate in her brain a bit and maybe the therapy will help. Maybe having someone else in the house to witness his infantile behavior will help, not because I'm pointing it out but because she'll notice it more knowing I'm noticing it too. Anyway, I'm holding out some hope that Janet will come to her senses before she realizes she's wasted too many years on this guy (or, who knows, a miracle happens and Josh actually grows up and becomes a man. I *KNOW*.) I'll keep y'all updated if I can.

    Oh, and had no idea the "be my dude" line would be so popular, but the resulting gender-bended answer definitely had me giggling. Sars, you are my hero (and a great dude)!

    Thanks everyone!

  • Jo says:

    Sad: Oh, man. Hate to be the 30th person to tell you this, but your boyfriend is a very, very closeted gay man and you're his beard.

    OR, he's totally crazy and about to snap and, to kind of paraphrase George O'Malley, you could wind up in a hole in his basement being told to rub lotion on your skin before you get the hose.

    Honestly, though, I had a friend who went through a similar situation (although she was in high school). About two years into a FOUR YEAR relationship, she made it very clear to the boyfriend that she was more than willing, and he always refused, even to the point where at the end, they were in bed with no clothes on and he stopped things. He came out of the closet a few weeks later (and then went back in to avoid telling his conservative, military family that he's gay). Get out now and if he really is a nice guy, maybe you can be friends later.

  • La BellaDonna says:

    @ Stormy: this isn't really your fault; I'm one of those professionals whose services have been tapped. Let me be the first to say that after making a wedding dress … NO. Not gonna cover a photo album as an additional gift. Not gonna happen. Not ever.

    Maybe you're a professional seamstress/ster also, and maybe you can whip out gowns in no time flat, and popping off the album is another half-hour's work or less. I salute you, I admire you, and I wish I had your abilities.

    But it takes me a lot longer to make a wedding gown, what with drafting the patterns, hunting for materials, fitting, etc. And the bride winds up with a dress that's worth thousands of dollars. And this gets done after my day job, because most jobs in the arts don't support the artists. Even highly successful designers, such as Derek Lam, still wind up sleeping on the couches of friends.

    @Bridesmaid de Jour: generally speaking, bridesmaids in the US, like you, do indeed pay for their own costs, and, like you, have found them to be considerable. There are plenty of complaints about it, in fact, on many different web sites; and there are worse things they've been asked to do than just spend their money (Breast implants? I don't think so!!! Schedule a pregnancy around the bride's convenience? I don't think so!!!). I know a lot of bridesmaids have found the expenses crushing; I think more of them than actually do, need to say, "I'm honoured, but I can't afford it. But I'll be happy to celebrate it there with you, and at least as a guest and not a bridesmaid, I'll still be able to afford a gift for you." Truth is, I don't know why that isn't considered the bridesmaid's gift; I know I didn't expect, or want, anything more than just to have them turn up. However, in answer to your question about professionals bringing a gift, in addition to providing their services, as bridesmaids do:

    I don't know what skill "Service" is bringing to the table; maybe s/he is a photographer as some folks have assumed, maybe something else. For the professionals involved, there's not just the hours and related costs that go into the service that's rendered for any given bride; there are the hundreds and hundreds of hours of study and practice that have gone into taking a talent, and rendering it into a skill; there's the cost of teachers, the cost of books, the cost of professional equipment, the cost of schools – and all this, knowing that you may be lucky enough to use your skills professionally, and that it may not be enough to support you. Sadly, it often isn't, so you need to polish something else up, too, so that you can feed yourself. The $500 you mention is nothing to sneeze at; but if I'm lucky, that's the cost of, say, between four and six reference books for my library – and I have hundreds of reference books in my library. Professionals have to continue studying, and improving their skills, if they want to remain professionals.

    That's what's behind the services that professionals have to offer, and it's that which separates their gift of service from the gift of service offered by bridesmaids and groomsmen.

  • Diane says:

    @Sars, I love the penis in protection line.

    I also love everything LaBellaDonna said, particularly the bit about the cats. Excellent.

    For the record, there is no such thing as a 12-month rule on buying wedding gifts: there is no such thing as a requirement to give wedding gifts (nor any other kind) ever, at all. (There is also no such thing as a 12-month window for writing thank you notes – the rule on that is: immediately, thank you.) Weddings are solemn and celebratory, they are many things. Extortionate is NOT one of those things. Gifts are acts of generosity, not cumpulsory expectations.

    That said, I do love Carole's gift ideas, just in themselves. They are so thoughtful; I hope I remember those!

  • attica says:

    I had one friend who only asked me to rig her bouquet with led lights and a battery pack

    And here I sit, marveling at the major-motion-picture production values in weddings these days. Holy cats. Beth, I'd never guess that lighting up bouquets would be in anyone's job description; go on with your bad self!

  • S says:

    Oh my gosh, I worry that Sad is dating my ex! Dude would not invite me over to his house, would only kiss me a little, and would never stay at my house later than 10 p.m. But he was incredibly smart, super attentive and considerate, and we had a lot in common, so I put up with it for a while because he was the inverse of the social retards and self-important jackasses I usually date. After a frank conversation with similar language ("oh, I guess I'm just a waste of your time," "oh, I can't do anything right"), he confessed that he HAD NO FEELINGS FOR ANYONE! An emotional donut. (Yes, like Dexter! I watched that show and threw up a little in my soul.) Which didn't stop him from stalking me for months. Not to get all armchair psychiatrist on you, but this points to a personality disorder, not just a little equipment failure. At a minimum, his lack of interest makes him fundamentally incompatible with you. Do not waste another minute! Life is short. Other people without his issues will happily have sex with you. Don't waste friendship on him either. Friends don't lie to each other or hide critical aspects of their personality (or dead bodies). Run, do not walk.

  • Jenny 2 says:

    "He acts like his penis is in witness protection."

    I think this is the funniest thing I've read in a long, long time!

    But seriously, Sars is right, it doesn't matter what his problem was, be it ED or that he's closeted or just asexual. It's been TWO DAMN YEARS that he has avoided the subject and made her feel like crap. That's not right and she shouldn't put up with it one second longer.

    And don't even get me started on the tackiness that is including a request for money in a wedding invitation. What is wrong with people?

  • Linda says:

    Sad: Even if you could persuade this dude to have sex with you, you really do deserve to have sex with someone who doesn't have to be prodded and encouraged to perform, like a terrified spelling-bee contestant. It won't be fun. You're going to enjoy sex when it makes you feel lovely and comfy and un-self-conscious, and the odds of that being achieved with this guy are literally zero.

    It ain't gonna happen. Stop cheating yourself.

  • elayne says:

    Wouldn't it be fascinating to learn that Sad's situation is another Roberta type deal? (Well. Not fascinating for Sad, of course.)

    When Sars mentioned "they have medications for impotence; they advertise them on TV," the thought flashed into my head: "But they only work if you HAVE a penis! OMG, that's IT!!"

    Melanie, aka Body: Oh honey. No.

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