Ask Pearl is the Dennison Gazette’s advice column. Pearl Jenkins answers your questions about all various and sundry things—relationships, books, gardening, bridge, pool, etiquette, or even a recipe you’ve been trying to find (or dying to try).
Can a handwritten note be creepy?
I need your help settling an argument with my mother. Recently, a coworker sent me a very expensive bottle of wine for my birthday. I immediately sent her a text message telling her how thoughtful it was and how much I appreciated it. When I saw her at work on Monday, I thanked her again, in person. And for good measure, I sent her an email on Tuesday about something unrelated that we were working on together, and closed the email with “Thanks again for the wonderful bottle of wine!”
So the problem is, I told my mom about it (I even shared the wine with her!) and she said I should have sent a thank you note in the mail. I tried to explain that it would be weird. My coworker and I are in our late 20s. We just don’t work that way. Anything beyond the text message was probably already over the top and she might even be thinking there’s something wrong with me for not letting it go after the in-person thank you. I’m afraid if I sent a note in the mail it might feel creepy to her. I mean, I’d have to go online and ferret out a postal address for her. She’d think I was stalking her.
I’ve heard you’re kind of savvy about online stuff for a senior. What do you think?
— Grateful but not Ghoulish
It’s funny you should mention it. I am told I’m a little “savvy,” as you call it. I just taught my bridge friends how to do a reverse phone search and find out the name and address of the people who come up on Caller ID. Why, I remember the days when you could just ask the operator who it was on the call she was trying to connect. (Talk about creepy. Would you know—of course you don’t, you won’t even know how to operate a rotary phone—in those days we had party lines and you never knew when your neighbors were sitting on their phones listening to your private conversations.)
Your mother is right, dear. A handwritten thank you is always appropriate, no matter how old you are. It is certainly preferable to a text message. I never cease to be amazed at what people will do in a text message. (Is it true that people will even break up with each other? I don’t know why you’d do it that way when it’s so easy to cut the brake … oh, never mind.) But you are also right, dear. You’ve gone out of your way to tell your coworker thank you, and going very much further is sure to cause alarm. That reverse phone search is very handy, but as much as I like looking people up, I don’t think I would feel so pleased about it if I knew someone was looking me up.
Wait. Do you think someone is?
Just my journal
My guy says it was “just my journal,” and I shouldn’t be so uptight about the fact that he read it when it was sitting on my bedside table in my apartment (he has the key, and sometimes he lets himself in while I’m at work, and it’s kind of nice because actually he tidies things up or leaves fun surprises in the fridge and I find that to be rather thoughtful).
Am I overreacting, to be upset that he read the journal? If I love someone, shouldn’t my most secret thoughts be completely open to him anyway?
Worried Before Wedding
Funny, those initials remind me of BRB, and just last week I read in the little How to Text Message guide I picked up at the Thrift Store downtown means Be Right Back. My dear worried bride-to-be, I don’t have a gentle way to put this. No fun surprise in the fridge (or even tidying up, which I simply can’t believe he would do properly anyway) makes up for snooping and you shouldn’t be trying to talk yourself into thinking you are overreacting. You are underreacting if you ask me (and, you did ask!), and instead of thinking about all those fun fridge favors, you should be explaining to him in no uncertain terms that his days of having a key to your place are numbered unless he can keep his tidy little fingers off your private journal. Tell him that those initials mean What Brazen Wickedness.
There’s a reason that when I was a girl our diaries had little locks on them. Every young lady should have a place to share her most secret thoughts. After you get married, you may find, as many married women do, that there is very little, if any, space in your home that belongs just to you. Oh, men get garages, and workshops, and sheds (I don’t mean the recent idea of a she-shed, either) and some of them even get those dreadful “man caves.” But women—there’s also a reason Virginia Woolf lamented the lack of a “room of her own”—rarely have such luxury. You will likely find that other people in the house are always in your things. “I need to borrow the scissors,” they’ll say. Or “Do we have some thread? I’ll just get it from your sewing drawer.” And “Where do we keep the big knives?” So without your own space, a diary or journal, with a lock (either literal or understood), is essential.
It’s for their own good, really, as well as for yours. Sometimes we need to say things to someone, and they’re things we really can’t say to anyone. And often, once we’ve been able to say those things, we realize we don’t really mean them. Or not in the way they sound. Being able to say these things to our journal (almost like saying them, but to no one) allows us to get things out of our heads and into the light of day where we can see them and decide whether they are thoughts worth continuing to have or whether they should be sent along on their way.
But the essentialness of a journal aside, it’s a matter of simple respect. He should not minimize this transgression, and neither should you. If he cannot offer this simple promise to you, I wish I could advise you more favorably, but you are right to be worried about that wedding.
Merry Christmas to me
My mother always told me I shouldn’t buy myself anything special, starting in November, because there was a good chance I’d end up buying myself something that she might be giving me for Christmas.
So I feel a little guilty that I just bought myself a really nice pair of cashmere socks (dark plum, in honor of the William Carlos Williams poem, which seems to contain an apology even as the act is in progress).
What do you think? Should I cancel my order before it arrives? Or count on the cashmere as just one gift I know I’ll absolutely love, no matter what anyone else gets me for Christmas this year?
Merry Christmas to Me
I live by a few simple rules. One of them, nearly the most important, is that you can never have enough cashmere socks.
So, if you get another pair from your mother, or from WCW (see how these initials keep coming?), what’s the harm in that? Not nearly as great a harm as having no cashmere socks at all, that’s what I’ll tell you.
I hope you didn’t cancel. And I hope the dark plum warms your feet and your heart.
You Really Can Ask Pearl
To ask Pearl Jenkins for a bit of heartfelt advice, you really can email to ask. Just use the address she’s provided above: firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions will be considered, though time, space, and fit may determine whether an answer is published.
Photo by Jaine, Creative Commons via Flickr. Post by Pearl Jenkins.
By turns thoughtful and hilarious (even, inexplicably, both at the same time), this deeply Midwestern book quietly unfolds a vision for how to navigate in a world where we can’t always resolve things.
As much as the characters (like Pearl Jenkins) have a relationship with poetry and story (and they do), it is also a profound book about naming both the things that have held us back and the things we want, to move us forward—about choosing life. While it plays at the level of a few characters’ personal journeys, it is ultimately a novel for our time.
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- Ask Pearl: Creepy Thank You Notes, Journal Creepers & Not-At-All-Creepy Cashmere Socks - January 9, 2020
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- Ask Pearl: Up on the Rooftop, a Problem with Groceries, Shameless Flattery - November 7, 2019