Thursday, January 29, 2009

Walking the [Panty] Line

For the last two days Abby has devoted her column solely to the issue of the thong. "Thongs up or thongs down?" she asked her readers a few weeks ago, in response to a letter from a young woman who was battling her mother over the "sinfulness" of such a scanty garment.

Hmm...Abby was trying to make a catchy reference to "thumbs up or thumbs down?" of course, but it doesn't quite work when you're talking about attire that is literally described as being worn (or, um, not worn) up or down. So her invitation for reader to weigh in didn't come out as well as it could have....nevertheless, folks obliged, with all kinds of answers. Some are better than others, but a two-day thong-de-force (or, um, whatevs...) of Dear Abby is certainly the kind of occasion that should be celebrated.

(On a side note, I'd like to acknowledge the glorious world we're living in, where a detailed discussion of underwear CAN be featured in the "Lifestyle" section of the average newspaper. And furthermore, I'd like to present this as a classic example of the reader response cross-section column, an issue on which Sam and I disagree-he thinks it's a break for the columnist, I think it's more work).

OK....thongs away! (um, sorry). I'll just include highlights, and Abby's and my commentary where appropriate.


DEAR ABBY: I'm writing regarding the letter from "San Diego Sinner" (Nov. 21), whose mother says wearing thong underwear is sinful. Abby, that mother may not have known a better way to express her views. I believe she was trying to protect her daughters from males who might view the absence of a pantyline as a "signal" that they are sexually available.
The issue here isn't underwear; it's the girls' lack of trust in their mother. They should accept their mom's ruling as an indication of her love and concern for them. Her attitude may be quaint, but she loves them or she wouldn't be concerned. -- MARY IN ALBUQUERQUE

Hmm....parents have done a lot of horrifying things in the name of protecting their children, particularly their purity and marriageability. Genital mutilation? Foot binding? Not a good argument.

DEAR ABBY: I'm the daughter of a clergyman, deeply involved in my church. I dress conservatively and am as far from being promiscuous as it's possible to be and not be in a convent.
Most women wear thongs to avoid a pantyline. I suspect that the mother in that letter fears her daughters are trying to be sexy or are sexually active because they wear thongs. It's a mistake. It is possible for a girl who wears "granny panties" to still sleep around.


Ooh, nice! Thongs don't count, because you can be slutty no matter WHAT kind of underwear you wear! An optimistic twist.

DEAR ABBY: I vote thongs down. They strike me as being as "comfortable" and "sexy" as walking around with dental floss between one's teeth.

Ah, the old dental floss argument...I feel like this always comes from someone who has never worn a thong....

DEAR ABBY: Moral issues aside, thongs are not good for your health. Wearing thongs has caused an increase in the number of vaginal yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis infections in women. That teeny strip of fabric is a "bacteria highway" from back to front.
I work in a hospital, and you wouldn't believe how many parents bring elementary school-age daughters to our pediatric ER for urinary tract infections. The parents are repeatedly advised not to buy thong underwear for their girls. Add my vote to thongs down. -- T.W. IN LAS VEGAS

This is actually really interesting, and something I'd never heard before. Definitely something to keep in mind when dealing with younger children who may not have the best personal habits. (How small do they make thongs these days??)

DEAR ABBY: When I was a new bride 30 years ago, my husband gave me money to buy a pair of "thongs." The only thongs I had ever heard of were those flat rubber sandals. Imagine his surprise when I got home and he asked me to "model" them. When I came out wearing fire engine red flip-flops, his expression was priceless. Imagine MY surprise when I realized what he'd meant by "thongs." I had seen those items displayed in the lingerie department and always assumed they were jock straps for transvestites. -- THONGS ARE WRONG IN BUFFALO

Just awesome. Although I wish it had ended with education and enlightenment, not "thongs are wrong."


Abby says: DEAR READERS: As promised, today you'll see what some male readers had to say about thongs, as well as the results of my reader poll. Fifty-five percent voted thongs up, 28 percent voted thongs down, and 17 percent gave mixed reviews. And 9 percent of the readers were male ...

DEAR ABBY: Thongs up, girl! I switched to thongs when I turned 14 and have never looked back. A man can't wear tight white jeans with anything else. Love ... DINO IN SAN FRANCISCO

Thanks Dino!

DEAR ABBY: I have never understood why girls would wear something that appears to violate all laws of comfort.
The only way for me to solve this mystery was to try a thong. I purchased two and wore them exclusively for a couple of days. After the initial "getting used to," they were comfortable. In fact, I like them so much I bought a few more this evening. I am also thinking about buying other ladies' underwear.
While this might be perceived as less than masculine, what I saw in the lingerie section looked a lot more comfortable and sexy to me than my old boxers or briefs. Abby, why won't they let us guys wear sexy underwear? -- CONFUSED IN VIRGINIA

Lots of men were totally comfortable embracing their own thong usage. (Moreso than the women, who were mostly either defensive or judgemental).

DEAR ABBY: I'm voting thongs down. I'm 62 and grew up in the '50s and '60s with three good-looking sisters who always wore pretty ladies' nylon briefs -- all different colors, lace trim, prints, solids, flowers, silk panties. Wow! That was the style back then. All the girls wore them -- Marilyn Monroe, Bettie Page, etc. In the '70s and '80s girls adopted those ugly bikini panties, and now they're wearing thongs? Abby, please urge them to adopt those pretty panties of the '50s and '60s again. -- JACK IN BROCKTON, MASS.

I'm creeped out by this guy's fetish with his good-looking sisters' "pretty nylon briefs." Also, speaking of hygiene, nylon is a TERRIBLE idea. Cotton! Please!

DEAR ABBY: Thongs up or down? Up, they're uncomfortable -- I twist my neck and strain my eyes -- but I have to say I really love them down. -- TODD IN MILWAUKEE

Thanks, Todd, for taking Abby's pun literally, as I was also tempted to do...

And, wrapping things up....:

DEAR ABBY: With regard to your poll, the whole world now knows Abby doesn't wear a thong. Pity. -- CLIFF IN HALLANDALE, FLA

Abby's reply: DEAR CLIFF: OK, so I'm "a little behind" the times.
P.S. I love your imagination.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Morning Makeover could get Ugly....

I've found that lately Amy's second letter is more interesting than her first. Today she answered a woman, recently married, who is concerned about--or rather, feels left out of--her new husband's morning habit of going down to the corner for a coffee and the paper. She has tried making coffee at home and subscribing to his favorite paper, but to no avail! He insists on making this trek each day. She is upset that he "doesn't seem to know that he is married!"

I think this is my favorite line: I went with him once but all he does is read the paper! I'm puzzled and I don't know if I should "change" him or just let him do what he's always done.

What did she think he was doing? Meeting women? De-briefing with the CIA?

Amy suggests that since they've only been married a few months, they'll each have some lifestyle changes to make, and that she should join him occasionally (bringing a book or a Sudoku) and otherwise meet up with him afterward. (They're 67 and 72, each on a second marriage, btw--that seems important to note). Amy also recommended bringing it up and chatting about it during a "relaxed time."

But the crux of her advice, which I agree with wholeheartedly, is here:
Don't mess with the man's morning habit, however. For some people, reading the newspaper at a coffee shop is simply the only way to start the day, just as others jog or take leisurely showers.

I guess my question is....what did the writer do in the mornings before she was married to this man, and why can't she continue to do that? He's probably been doing this longer than he's even known his new wife. And taking an hour or so to ingest some caffeine and world news might make him a more pleasant, social, and interesting person to be with each day.

If she does bring it up with him, I hope it's along the lines of "I'm still adjusting to spending mornings on my own [is she, though? Again, what has she been doing all this time?], would you mind if I joined you at the coffeeshop occasionally?" as opposed to "I don't understand why you feel the need to leave me each morning and spend precious moments that we could be spending together with the coffee and the paper. Now that you're married you need to make some lifestyle changes--the advice columnist told me so."

And I think if she wants to join him, asking is important. Even though he really shouldn't tell her no, and even though if he did, she could still technically go, because it's a free country and all that. As someone who really really values space and private time, I get resentful if/when others assume it's OK to join me because more automatically=merrier. She should ask. He should say OK. But then she should respect that the trip is about coffee and the paper, and not try to make conversation.

If he weren't coming home at night, or if he told her she could never ever come with him, I'd say there would be cause for concern. But an innocuous and relaxing morning routine that lets him wake up and face the world at his own pace isn't something that should be axed in the first months of marriage. She may find that without his coffee and paper, her husband is incoherent and unpleasant. I know I am.

P.S. I hope she didn't write to the paper on purpose hoping that her husband will recognize himself in this column and come rushing home....

Monday, January 26, 2009

On Thrifty Gifting....

A disgruntled woman (I think) wrote in to Marcie and Kathy Sugar of Annie's Mailbox, "irritated" that her cousin, whose wedding she recently attended, had commented to her parents (Disgruntled's aunt and uncle) that she (bride) and hubby had not received gifts from Disgruntled (alias assigned by me) or Disgruntled's sister. (Her letter here).

Disgruntled hadn't sent/brought a gift, because she "couldn't afford it," and wants to know, "should I have just stayed home because I couldn't afford a gift?"

Marcie and Kathy suggest that while of course, a gift can never be "mandatory," and that often young adults in transition expect to be included in their parents' "family" gift, bringing a gift to a wedding is "customary and appropriate," and if Disgruntled truly couldn't manage it, perhaps she ought to have sent a card instead.

I think it's unfortunate that all the wedding brouhaha that's been brewing the last couple of decades has put everything and everyone so off-kilter that no one can seem to find the right path through a situation that doesn't need to be that difficult.

First of all, it wasn't great form of the bride to mention to her parents that she hadn't received a gift. Unless it was truly under the guise of wondering if it got lost or disconnected from the card, etc., which I doubt.

But it wasn't great form of the cousin to just show up empty-handed, either. I agree with Kathy and Marcie on the "custom" of bringing gifts to a wedding...I'd compare it to Christmas (if, in your family, gifts are traditional at Christmas). At both occasions, gifts are not and can't be technically required, but if you don't give them, there will likely be hurt feelings and misunderstandings.

I think the real problem here is the cousin's perception that she can't "afford" a gift. And that's where the wedding industry, the above mentioned "brouhaha" comes into play. When things get tight at Christmas, we knit scarves, we make scrapbooks, we frame pictures, we provide services for each other, etc. The problem here is that wedding gifts have been portrayed as needing to be so expensive that this woman actually thought it would be better to bring NOTHING than something as a token of goodwill and good wishes.

With some thought and effort, Digruntled could have brought something perfectly lovely and meaningful without spending much money (a throw embroidered with the names of the couple and date of the wedding? ingredients for a relaxing night in? a photo album in the wedding color and style and a promise--with follow-through--to fill with with pictures snapped on the big day?).

And then we have to keep our fingers crossed that the cousin bride would see it that way--though given her raising the gift issue with her parents, perhaps we shouldn't be too optimistic.

If the cousin truly truly truly could afford NOTHING, perhaps she should have talked it over with her parents or sister, planning to go in together, or at least "signing the card" on her parents gift (if they sympathized with her situation and were cool with it) so there would be a some indication of her thought and participation.

And the wedding was only 4 months ago, so while it would have been ideal to handle this before, it's not too late to send a gift with a card wishing them the best.

"I can't afford it" is reasonable justification for many, many things....but in some cases, where part of the event is sharing a spirit of love and generosity for the new couple it really sa cop-out.

Of course, this doesn't apply if the couple has already run any generosity family and friends were feeling into the ground months before the wedding. If the bride has temporarily lost her mind or is actually crazy, evil, and tallying up material and cash gifts at the wedding door, Disgruntled would have been better off not going at all, and not just because she couldn't afford it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fixed Broken Links!

I know, I know, it's been months since I said I would fix my links, but now I finally have (and there was much rejoicing). As you'll recall, the Chicago Tribune had pulled much of its free content, and the Tribune Co. declaring bankruptcy didn't help matters. Tribune media services still provides much of the content (like Ask Amy and Dear Abby) but I've found it easier to find the latest columns in other papers. I didn't approach this very scientifically....basically I Googled the columnists, tried out the different papers that publish their columns, and went with the ones where I found the most consistent updates.

This means I'm now linking to Amy at the Denver Post (though you still write to her at the Trib), Miss Manners at the Buffalo News, and Dear Abby at her own website (independent of any single paper). I've also added Carolyn Hax and Amy Alkon, the advice goddess, to my links.

Enjoy, and as always let me know who else is out there!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

With a frenemy like you.....

The concept of the "frenemy" surfaced in Carolyn's Friday column, which caught my attention because I think the first time I heard the term was the night before at happy hour. Then, it was used to describe an unliked/unlikable boyfriend's best friend: someone you'd rather not know, but who's not going anywhere, so you've got to embrace it.

This writer, and Carolyn's other responders, seemed to define it a bit more narrowly. For them, frenemies are (mostly female) friends who make backhanded comments about clothes, dress, weight, etc. of their friends. Basically just big Mean Girls. I like the broader definition, especially since we already have Mean Girls for the narrower one (thanks, Tina Fey). But that's neither here nor there.

The original writer's question wasn't really that interesting....just looking for a sassy comeback to her own frenemy's unsolicited diet-tribes (I wish I could take credit for that pun, but the glory goes to the Lifetime network and its new reality show). Carolyn was fairly neutral (she embraces snark, but rightly reminded us that it loses its pizazz when forced and scripted), recommending that the writer remain calm when the comments are directed at her ("I'm surprised to hear you say that," etc.), and step in to take action (saying something like "How is that helpful?") when directed at another friend .

Wow, this is a lot of build up and background to get to what I really wanted to get to, that being other readers' responses to the frenemy issue as published in Carolyn's live chat from yesterday. There are a bunch of really funny ones, and some more regular generally useful ones, and I'm posting them here in order, gleaning kernels out of a long and varied chat session (full of lots of other good stuff--check it out). Enjoy.

Frenemies: Ha! I could've written the letter from the woman with the frenemy. The person I know loves tot point out other "flaws" to them. I have handled it by being delighted that she noticed.

her: You're getting a lot of gray hair. me: I know! Sparkly!

her: You've put on some weight. me: I know! Voluptuous!

She doesn't point out stuff to me much anymore. In her world of zero-sum happiness, I was taking way too much.

Carolyn Hax: Brilliant. Thank you.

This one is brilliant (oops, Carolyn just said that). But it is. It totally reminds me of a California girl I know, who manages to be sarcastic and peppy simultaneously. I wish I scowled less and said "Sparkly!" more. Goals.

Frenemy: Is the technical term for ridding oneself of a frenemy a "frenema"?

Carolyn Hax: I am both amused and skeeved. Nicely done.

This one is something Sam would say, and then look very pleased with himself, causing me to roll my eyes while also being very impressed.

Columbus, Ohio: Regarding Frenemies:

Her: That not a very attractive outfit.

Me: Uh, that's kind of harsh. I wouldn't expect someone as nice as you to make a comment like that.

I've used this before with success, and (sigh) my closest frenemy is my MOM.

Carolyn Hax: Sigh. Good adaptation, though.

Not thrilling, but useful and neutral. Sorry about the mom.

Hmm, that's it. I thought there were more. Anyway, Carolyn readers, at least the chat participants, are mostly just as funny and smart as she is. Which is great, because then you get all the more insight and sass. And who could ask for anything more?

Friday, January 23, 2009

You do it best...when you do nothing at all?

Ouch. I really feel for these folks. The only thing worse than watching someone you love lose their job is, um....losing your job under the watchful eye of someone who loves you.

Dear Amy: I am 30, and my boyfriend is 32. We have been together for eight months. We are looking at this relationship as one that will lead to marriage.

He was laid off at the beginning of the month. His response to this event has left me confused and disheartened. This was his first job out of college, and someone who knew his family hired him without an interview. He rose steadily in the company, almost effortlessly, and he deserved it — he is brilliant. Since the layoff, he has not completed his resume, has not contacted people in his industry for leads (though he knows quite a few people), and although he has listings on a few online job sites, he has not followed up on promising postings.

For now he has his severance and an agreement with his former employer to be a subcontractor for another month or two.

He agrees that he needs to do more, acknowledges that as time passes he is more anxious, and has promised to ramp up his efforts, but he always has an excuse for not actually getting things done. I've sent him information for work in his field, have offered to help send resumes or do anything else that might help to make it a less daunting task.

I know that it's his life, but what else can I do to help? He is a loving, supportive, caring man. I don't want to walk away from this relationship, but I can't see myself with someone who is so unwilling to help himself.

Is there anything more that I can do or say? — Anxious Girlfriend

It's so hard to watch someone you love wrangle with trying to find work. It's hard for lots of reasons...hard because, well, there are just fewer jobs to be had these days. Hard because you have to just trust that they're doing everything they can--even though you're probably hearing only the real highlights or real lowlights, and not much in between. Hard because maybe you have the energy and drive to do some research, and you sincerely want to be helpful, but don't know if your efforts will be perceived as badgering, or even condescending ("look at all the opportunities I was able to find in a 3 minute Google search..." etc.).

It's hard because you don't know if the person needs a pat on the shoulder or a kick in the pants, and if it's even really your role to administer any of those things. Hard because you both just want to punch all stupid HR folks who never call back or even acknowledge receiving an application. But since they avoid getting punched like it's their job (oh wait, it is), you wind up taking it out on yourselves, each other, or the poor, innocent resume--and by extension, each other again. ("Why would you use that word? I wouldn't have used that word. Is this what it looked like when you sent it out?") Wait...I seem to be talking about my life....ahem.

And it's hard enough when you're looking for a first job, straight out of college, and can hang out in family homestead limbo (even if you'd rather not) while you search. It's got to be even worse when you don't go through this trial by fire until you've had a job where you succeeded easily for 10 years, and now you've got no job, and are probably questioning the reality and validity of your success in the first place. So, now that my rant is over, here's what Amy actually said:

Dear Anxious: The next thing you need to do is less. Much, much less.

This will be very challenging for you. You seem like a very high-functioning, caring and capable person, and your guy is foundering.

If he is paralyzed, your pushing him will not help. Prodding can make paralysis worse because it is perceived as pressure.

You should convey a version of the following: "I believe in you. I know this is hard, but I also know you can do it. I'm going to do you a favor and let you do whatever you need to do. I hope you'll tell me if I can help you; otherwise, I'm going to step back."

Then you should back off (from his job search, not the relationship). Your boyfriend might spend his days in his jammies eating Cheerios out of the box. When he sees the end of income looming, he may get it together.

This is a test of his character — not yours.

I think she is right on with her advice on this one. It's what I tried (didn't always manage) to do when I was in a similar situation (which, I should clarify, was due to some perfect storm of bad market, bad timing, stupidheads, and other factors, and, unlike this case, not a lack of effort or applications). Until explicitly asked by the job seeker to participate in the process, I think it's the best anyone can do.

Friday, January 16, 2009

1-800-Debt-Free! (In which I read between the lines again)

I've been so obsessed with Carolyn lately (not to mention posting sparsely) that it seems like it's been a very long time since I've posted anything Amy-related, and that's too bad. So here's one--not a total crazy for a change (but they're so much fun!). Just one of those where I'm getting an odd feeling from the writer, and was surprised Amy didn't note it in her response. What do you think--am I too cynical, or does this woman's "opportunity" sound like a scam?

Dear Amy: My husband is a walking financial disaster. He doesn't listen to me. He thinks he knows it all. We have lost our home to foreclosure and are really struggling.
We have been married for 13 years and have three children. He has always been a stubborn person. He is not teachable and does not take anyone's advice. He has maintained his stance with handling our finances, and he stinks at it.
What do I do? I am a Christian, so divorce is not an option. Even the kids agree that something has to change.
We have an opportunity to become debt- free, but he is determined to drag us through unnecessary stress and strain! Pride is in his way.
What should I do?

— Hanging On in Alaska

Amy expresses sympathy and pushes the woman towards helpful resources: her clergy person, a recommended book, etc. It's tricky, because the woman is writing in for help for her family, but really needs to get through to her husband--a double whammy.

But doesn't it seem that, unless a wealthy family member is offering them a check (which actually is seeming more likely, now that I read this again and note the "pride is in his way" line), legitimate "opportunities" to get out of debt don't typically just materialize. Getting out of debt requires budgeting, planning, and lifestyle changes over the long term. Almost never is it simply a matter of opening the door to Opportunity's knock.

Although the writer insists that her husband manages the finances for the family and their downfall is largely his doing (which may be completely true), I wish Amy had urged her to really, really carefully evaluate the details of any get-rich-quick or refinancing scheme before signing on.

I wish them the best in these hard times! For their children's sake.

Speaking of which. I think I'd be a lot more sympathetic to this woman if not for this: Um, kids under the age of 13 are in no position to be evaluating the family's finances and weighing in on whether mom or dad f***ed it up. The parents should be protecting their kids from this struggle as much as it is reasonable to do so. This doesn't mean they should go on spending where they can't afford it in an attempt to hide their situation. It does mean that to the extent possible their family must remain a place where love and security rule the roost and where the childrens' basic needs are met. So that in the very sad and upsetting event of losing their house, the kids have not the slightest worry that they're also going to lose their family.

Whether it's the dad's fault or not, the mom is wrong wrong WRONG for getting the kids to "agree" with her that anything they're going through is the direct result of their father's pigheadedness and failure. How did that go, do you think?

Mom: If your father hadn't messed up, we wouldn't have had to move out of our house. Doesn't he do a bad job managing our family's money?

Child: I miss our backyard!

It's very, very sad that they lost their home. That's something that has happened wrongfully to too many people in the past few years. But it's also something that can be gotten over (sorry for the awkward grammar) and made right in time. Teaching your kids to blame and shame their dad is not so fixable.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Taking it personally?

I was recently informed by a former reader that he'd ditched this blog when he was offended by something I'd written earlier this fall.

Of course, pissing people off is a major sign that you've "made it" as a writer (and for such glory, I'm willing to accept a readership of 3 people rather than 4! Maybe).

Nevertheless, I wanted to address the issue, since this is the first time I've been boycotted, and that seems worth marking in some way.

On December 16, I posted a response to a letter from Annie's Mailbox, written by Ann Landers' former editors. The letter was from a young woman in college who was unhappy in her relationship with her back-home boyfriend, who sounded like less than a treat. He had a history of emotionally and verbally abusing her, she said, as well as a history of mental illness in his family that seemed to be manifesting itself in his behavior. He was, at the very least, unstable and easily angered. And yet her question was whether she should break up with him, or if instead she should "throw her life away with the wrong guy."

My main beef with her letter was the way she phrased her question. Not "I'm afraid of my boyfriend and don't know how to end the relationship" but "Should I throw my life away on the wrong guy?"

Seriously, those were her words. And I commended Marcie and Kathy for looking past what she said, and getting to the heart of what she seemed to mean: that the bf was scary and unstable, and she wasn't sure how to end it.

However, I also felt that their advice might not be so helpful. The writer (not me, but the writer) described the boyfriend as abusive, unstable, and potentially mentally ill. As a result, I didn't think that Kathy and Marcie's advice, to become so obsessed with her studies that he wants to break up with her out of boredom, would be very effective. If he is all the things that the writer (again, not me) says he is, than I think he'll be more focused on controlling her and the state of their relationship than rationally considering whether or not they still have anything in common.

My former reader was put off by the fact that I described the boyfriend as potentially schizofrenic--but that came from the writer herself, not from me. More personally offensive to him, though, was my parenthetical sidenote wondering whether there was a "creepy age discrepancy" between the two.

"As the product of a 'creepy age difference,'" he said, "I was offended."

However, this post was hardly about age difference in relationships on the whole. I caught a whiff of what sounded like it might be an age gap, and pointed it out. When a relationship is already abusive and unbalanced, a discrepancy in age that gives the abuser an even more unbalanced amount of power and authority over the other person becomes creepy, whether it's a difference of 3, 9, or 20 years.

In contrast, I truly believe that relationships between people of compatible and balanced emotional, social, and intellectual levels can and often do thrive, no matter the numbers involved.

To sum up--my problem wasn't with the age difference, which I inferred (it was never confirmed in the letter). I simply felt that if there was such a difference, it would only compound the unfortunate situation in which this young woman found herself, and make it more difficult for her to get out of the relationship.

I stand by my original answer, though this episode was a good reminder to me that the odd phrase can put people off so much that they totally stop reading.

"That's what you would do if a columnist did something like that, right?" the former reader asked me.

Nope. I'd write in to them and voice my opinion. That's what I've done for years, and I'd encourage readers here to do the same! Conversation is what keeps this interesting. I don't have all the answers, and whether or not we agree, I'd like to hear what others think.

Cracked up Glass Menagerie

This is one of the strangest letters to Abby I've seen. It's a difficult one to answer, because it's hard to give advice on dealing with a person whose actions simply don't make any sense! Many folks write into advice columns for etiquette advice because they feel they've been treated rudely or taken advantage of, and want to know how (or if) to confront the offender. I thought this was going to be one of those times. Instead, the woman just seems to be trying to create a scene. Try to figure this one out:

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I attended the wedding of two dear friends. The groom's mother, "Millie," made party favors for all the guests -- little gift bags containing sugar-coated almonds and, because the bride and groom are animal lovers, a small glass animal. A few days later, a friend brought her teenage daughter to our home. The daughter admired the two glass animals, so I gave them to her.

I was shocked when, the following weekend, Millie called and asked me to return them. She said she planned to take them back because she would prefer to use the money to buy the couple something they could use. Feeling guilty for "regifting," I responded with the first thing that popped into my head, that I hoped I hadn't "misplaced" them. Millie said she hoped not, too -- they had cost $35 apiece, and she would expect us to reimburse her! Further, we should not mention it to the "happy couple" because of the embarrassment it would cause.

I asked the bride's sister where Millie might have bought the glass figurines under the guise of wanting to get some as gifts for my grad students. I was stunned when she responded that she had purchased an entire case of these inexpensive animals as wedding favors, and that I was welcome to them if I wanted to pick them up from her home.

I'm unclear what motivated Millie to ask for the animals to be returned, or why she would inflate the price and expect to be reimbursed. I understand there was an unpleasant power struggle over the wedding arrangements, but I'm not sure what she hopes to gain from this.

How should this be handled? My husband says I should tell Millie the truth, that we gave them away and we know they cost only 80 cents apiece. What do you say? -- STYMIED IN MARYLAND

How bizarre, right? The only thing I can think of is that the woman just wants to embarrass the bride and groom by affronting all of their guests. Instead, of course, she's just embarrassing herself....this is truly just strange.

I love Abby's suggestion, though!

You were off the hook the minute the bride's sister told you she had a case of the little glass animals. Swing by, pick up a couple and give them to Millie. She's as transparent as they are, and her story about returning them to buy anything for the happy couple is another fabrication.

Give her back her own stupid animals! Nice!

***time passes***
Hmmm....upon reading this again, I've figured it out, and it all seems so obvious now. I was confused at first because, while it seemed that Millie was just trying to gather some cash for herself, since the glass animals weren't actually worth much, I couldn't figure out how she planned to make any profit.

But now I see. I just wasn't devious enough at first.

Millie EXPECTED that people would no longer have the animals, and that she'd badger them into giving her cash. The plot is all clear now. And Abby's response to give her back her own animals becomes even better!