Dear Lisa,
My boyfriend of three years is a good guy, but he's never once bought me a decent present. For my birthday, he came home with a nose hair clipper (he thought he was being funny). For our anniversary, he got me two DVDs that he, and he alone, had been dying to see. Now Valentine's Day is coming, and I'm filled with dread. Is there a subtle way to get something meaningful out of him?
—Judy, Nashville

Judy, Judy, Judy,

Why be subtle? Take him to dinner some evening and tell him that you don't need bonbons and Bulgari, but you do need to feel he's made a sincere effort. At the end of the day, it's the thought that counts—let him know that it would mean a great deal to you if he'd actually have one.

Explain that gift giving is about listening. It's about noting the sweater you were lusting after in the window of Anthropologie, circling back, buying it, and hiding it away until just the right moment. It's about squeezing you a glass of fresh grapefruit juice in the morning...unless, of course, you're on statins, in which case he might be trying to kill you. It's about coming home with lilacs or learning your favorite song or planning a perfect Saturday night. The right present says, "I've been paying attention, I get who you are, and I want you to feel cherished." The wrong present says, "Your nostrils could use a trim."

Dear Lisa,
My husband's brother and his wife have flaked on more than a dozen family occasions in the last couple of years, from small dinners to big events. They always RSVP that they're coming and then either fail to show or text a lame excuse at the very last minute. No apologies, either. When can I stop inviting them?
—Connie, Los Angeles

Dear Connie,

If it happens once, you take a breath, smile and remove the extra place settings. I mean, kids get ear infections, grown-ups get overwhelmed, wires get crossed. If it happens twice—well, it's hard to understand how two members of polite society could not only fail to show up after saying they'd be there, but then add insult to injury by neglecting to apologize the next day. Still, cars get trapped in sinkholes, babies get swallowed by dingoes, brothers- and sisters-in-law get abducted by aliens. If, however, it happens more than a dozen times in two years, something else is going on.

Either you just happen to have the most scatterbrained in-laws on earth, or they're angry with you and this is their passive-aggressive way of expressing it. In either case, I am officially offended on your behalf. That said, you're going to have to deal with these people for years to come, and it will not serve you well to view their behavior as an act of war.

Limit invitations to crowded gatherings where a few no-shows won't make a difference. Remember that you're not losing party guests, you're gaining cheese puffs. And try showing a little compassion—after all, they were probably probed by aliens.

Dear Lisa,
This is very embarrassing, but we just found out we've got bedbugs. The day before spotting them, I gave a friend a few very expensive shirts that no longer fit me. I called her as soon as I realized what happened, hoping she hadn't taken them out of the plastic bag yet. Unfortunately, I was so panicked that I forgot her schedule—and woke her up at 7 A.M. She was furious before I could even say why I was calling, and you can imagine her reaction once I broke the news. Was I wrong?
—Sherry, Tampa

Sherry baby,

Repeat after me: Bedbugs are not your fault. They are pure evil, and they were put on this planet to freak everybody the hell out. I have more to say on this, but the whole topic is making me swat at imaginary little insects buzzing around my face. My cubicle mates are starting to look at me funny, and it's only a matter of time before they dial HR.

Here's the bottom line: I live for bedtime. Sometimes when I'm asleep, I'm actually dreaming about sleep. I took one look at the ridiculous shoulder pads and big hair of the 1980s and slept straight through the entire decade. But even when somebody (and you know who you are, Aunt Ida) feels the need to let me know—at 1:30 in the morning—that cousin Rosalie is unable to move her knuckles, I can't imagine going ballistic. The truth is, friends don't let friends open a bag that could potentially contain bedbugs, nor do they pitch a fit first and ask questions later. She's wrong. You're right. Case closed.

Lisa Kogan is O's writer at large and the author of Someone Will Be with You Shortly: Notes from a Perfectly Imperfect Life. To ask Lisa a question, email


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