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Thank-You Note Nightmares

Aug03

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Hi Amy,
Back about 10 months ago, I had a bridal shower. Great times, great people, all made of win. Was doing a couple thank you notes a day and was waiting till I had them all done to mail out. Annnnd then, a couple of weeks after the shower, my fiance and I postponed/canceled the wedding.
At the time, I was too much of a wreck who still had to pull it together to go to work each day to even THINK about the gifts/notes. Then, as time went on we were unsure whether we were going to stay together or reschedule or what so I put the notes off again till I actually had any sort of firm information to tell.
Now…its coming up on practically a year since the shower, my fiance and I still aren’t sure if we’re going to reschedule or even stay together. There’s been a move and some of the shower gifts are still in boxes against the dining room wall and others ended up unpacked and now I’m taunted by the shiny stainless colander every time I make macaroni and cheese. Also, I can’t seem to find the shower notebook that has all the information about who gave what and even if I could find it, it wasn’t very detailed. The entries would read Mrs. X, gift card Mrs. Y, gift card. It doesn’t say which store or the amount. So, even if I do try and send out the thank you notes, I don’t know who gets the thank you for the Williams Sonoma gift card and who is Bed Bath and Beyond. And, I don’t know who was $50 to Pottery Barn and who was $200.
I don’t know what to do. Close family members have all called and said not to worry about it, keep the gift and forget about everything else. But. There’s a number of other family friends who I haven’t had any contact with. They’re mostly my mom’s friends and she’s talked to them and they’ve all been amazing and wonderful….which makes me feel worse. So, now that I’ve sent you novella length backstory, my questions would be:
a) at this point, do I still need to send thank you notes?
b) what do I do about the gaps in who gave what?
c) what do I say? Thanks for the chef’s knife, I promise to use it only on food and not on the fiance?
d) do I need to send the gifts back with the notes? How do I handle the fact that some have been used and some I don’t know who they originally came from?
At this point, it’s all just become too big and overwhelming and now I’m just frozen under the weight of the terribleness and the back and forth of I have to do something because its been 10 months and omg I can’t do anything because its been 10 months and just, bah.
Thanks so much.
-Stephanie

Oh, maaaan. So this is one of those cases that does indeed have a “proper” way to do things…but I’m not sure how it’s possible for you to actually do the “proper” thing for all the extenuating reasons you mentioned, and I’m sure you know that, which is exactly how you’ve gotten stuck in this deer-in-the-headlights spot where you don’t even know where to begin. (Talk to me about the nightmare that ended up being all the baby shower gifts I received from nice people on the Internet! And all the missing contact information! And then how my mother-in-law moved my pile of notes and cards and shipping receipts and everything got ridiculously disorganized and then I HAD A BABY and I just KNOW there are people who didn’t get an acknowledgment and/or were thanked for the wrong gift and I get hives about it TO THIS DAY.)
Wedding etiquette dictates that in the event of a canceled wedding, all gifts go back to the sender with a note thanking them for their generosity. Usually a separate card is mailed out to all guests notifying them of the cancellation/postponement (typically from parents, i.e. “Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So announce that the marriage of their daughter, Little Cold Feet to Cheating Jerkface, will not take place as scheduled.”) so you don’t need to bring up the sad circumstances in your thank-you notes.
But in your case, it sounds like things got muddled from the beginning, what with postponing first, then things staying in limbo for longer than you probably expected. Yes, you should have sent the gifts back — probably around the three-month mark, since you were still without a rescheduled date. You didn’t, but it sounds like most of your shower guests are kind, understanding people. I am sure you are not the first bride to nurse her heartbreak in lieu of making sure the dishtowels got sent back.
At this point, I still say you need to do the best you can with whatever unopened, unused gifts you have. Enlist some witnesses from the shower to see if they remember any more details (and smack whoever did such a poor job at recording the stuff in the first place — writing “gift card” with no store or dollar amount details? GAH.). If someone has specifically said, “don’t worry about it, please keep my gift,” then seriously don’t worry about returning the gift — but still write a thank-you note. If you aren’t sure who gave you what, you also still send a note, thanking them for their “generosity and attendance” at your shower. Return what you can, accompanied by the same sort of note.
For stuff that’s been used — well, that’s often forgiven with cancellations and postponements, particularly if the couple lived together and the cancellation was abrupt and unexpected. Monogrammed gifts are also sometimes considered to be excepted from the returning rule. However, other wedding etiquette sites state that no, EVERYTHING should be returned, and you should purchase a new replacement for anything you have used. (Again, I get that this is not all your fault, as this would be SO MUCH EASIER if you had a decent record of the gifts — may this be a lesson to anyone who ever gets tasked with bridal or baby shower record-keeping. Don’t half-ass it, seriously.)
In the case of used gifts or missing information to help link gifts with the givers, I still say you should take a deep breath, sit down and tackle thank-you notes. There’s no way around it, as you know things got messed up and it’s spiraled into a Big Thing You Should Have Handled Differently. Nothing long or insincere or super-hyper-apologetic about the delay, but I actually think it will make YOU feel better at this point. It’s hanging over your head, this task, this fear that you’ve let people down, screwed things up, and I’m guessing it’s gotten intrinsically linked to your feelings about the wedding cancellation and your relationship with your fiance in general. Closure, moving on, whatever.
For guests not getting their gift returned, for whatever reason, I’d go with something like this:
“Thank you so much for your generosity and attendance at my bridal shower. Your kindness lifted me through some difficult times, and I really appreciate it.”
That seems like a subtle nod to the extenuating circumstances without airing your dirty laundry. For notes accompanying returned gifts, I’d say essentially the same thing, only with an additional line or two:
“However, our wedding date has yet to be rescheduled, therefore I am enclosing your lovely gift.”
You don’t owe them a long explanation. You do owe them an acknowledgment, even if it’s no more than a sentence or two. And like I said, you owe it to yourself. I know thank-you notes are generally considered a chore even under the best of circumstances, and probably seem just downright HORRID in a case like yours, but it’s bothering you and it won’t STOP bothering you until you can really say that you gave it your very best shot at making it right.


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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

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20 Responses to “Thank-You Note Nightmares”

  1. Melinda Aug 03 at 12:39 pm Reply Reply

    I know returning the gifts is the correct thing according to etiquette but seriously, I would not want the gift to be returned to me. In every single case of a wedding shower I’ve attended, I bought the gift for the recipient. I didn’t want it, I wanted THEM to have it, you know? I already have my own shiny colander or tea pot or ginzu knife or whatever. Wishing you freedom from the thank you note guilt, Stephanie!

  2. If you are returning gifts back to people, make sure you include any gift receipts that might have come with the gift. Otherwise, they might not be able to return it to the store (and I’m guessing they already have their own towels, china, etc.). Or if you can find any information from places you were registered on how a giver can return unused wedding gifts you might want to include that or somehow get that information to them. Or maybe another possible option is for you to return the gifts for store credit/gift cards, and return that to the giver, if they can’t return it hassle-free themselves.

  3. Robin Aug 03 at 1:57 pm Reply Reply

    Boy, I know that returning the gifts is the best thing to do but I wouldn’t. It’s been a year, everyone seems to be nice about it, and the likelihood that the giver can use/return the gift is slim. Keep the gifts and send a generic, heartfelt thank you to everyone who came.

  4. Melissa Aug 03 at 4:01 pm Reply Reply

    I guess I’m in the minority here, but I do think it’s best to return them. For those that you’re unsure of the giver, maybe enlist a friend or mom or w/e to ask them “Stephanie feels badly that she didn’t take care of it all sooner, but she’s trying to return all of the gifts she received for her shower. Unfortunately the lists kept of who gave what aren’t clear, and with the difficult year she’s had, it’s hard to remember specifically who gave what. Do you remember what you gave?” Most likely people will say “Oh please, don’t worry about it, it was a gift, I hope she enjoys it” but at least this way they do have the option of saying “yes, it was the pottery barn gift card. I think $50?” if they would like it back. This way you look like you’re trying to do the right thing, rather than just laying low and hoping people will forget. (Which you aren’t, but your guests don’t know that.)
    As far as stuff that’s been used, I probably wouldn’t go so far as to buy a replacement, although if it was a particularly expensive item … eh. Honestly, if I’d bought someone a $300 stand mixer as a shower gift and the wedding was called off, but I learned they just kept it, I’d be a little annoyed. Think of it this way — your guests don’t know the story. They don’t know that there’s no list, they don’t know you feel terribly about it, they may not know things have been so in flux for so long. As far as they may know, the wedding was postponed or cancelled a mere two weeks after the shower, and you kept the gifts. At least by making an effort to come clean they’ll be able to see your side of it, which, is very understandable and sympathetic.

  5. Jay Aug 03 at 4:07 pm Reply Reply

    I’m so sorry about the turmoil of your relationship, let alone the turmoil of your shower gifts/thank you notes! I do applaud your persistence. A couple thoughts:
    1. I was taught that it is rude to mention the amount of a cash/gift card gift. So I wouldn’t worry about not knowing whether it was a $50 or $200 gift card–the same “thank you for the generous gift card” line works for all.
    2. You really shouldn’t be using any wedding gifts (and shower gifts are intended as gifts for a wedding, in my opinion) until the wedding actually happens. I can’t tell if you’ve been using the gifts, but if you have, that’s kind of poor form anyway. This “rule” is meant to take care of situations such as the one you find yourself in.
    3. If I gave you a gift for a wedding that didn’t happen and you offered the gift back (which you should do, as has been stated), I’d probably tell you to donate it to charity. I wouldn’t think you’d want a reminder of the past as you made a fresh start, and I wouldn’t want to “profit” from the relationship ending.

  6. WabiSabiLife Aug 03 at 8:02 pm Reply Reply

    My mom had a wedding shower. She did the right thing and wrote out all the Thank You cards, and mailed them. Or so she thought. NINE YEARS later, after moving THREE TIMES she opened a box and saw the stack of unmailed Thank Yous staring her in the face. Thirty years after the discovery she is still a tad mortified.
    So have a good chuckle and try not to beat yourself up over 10 months.

  7. Emily Aug 03 at 11:36 pm Reply Reply

    I actually had someone who gave me a gift and verbally told me “if it doesn’t work out, send this back – it was expensive – haha”.
    How do you respond to that?
    Two things:
    1) Thank you notes are not optional. I’m still irritated at a friend who says she’s not sending any because they got like 200 gifts and postage is too expensive and hand-delivering is too hard! That $70 gift that you never bothered to thank me for cost much more than a 0.40 stamp.
    2) It will probably make you feel better to not have this hanging over your head.

  8. lolismum Aug 04 at 9:57 am Reply Reply

    Did you have a registry for those gifts? Then you can call the store you registered at and ask for a list of who has bought what. They may be able to help you. And the unopened gifts should at least have the name of the person who sent it to you or a return address or a note, so those should be pretty easy to deal with. So start with those and then with help from friends/family/store registry and some process of elimination, you should be able to map givers to gifts. And yes, unless someone says not to return their gift, keep it, you should return all. I would be one of those people to insist that you keep them, but reading these comments make me realize that I may be part of the minority.

  9. Jamie Aug 04 at 10:28 am Reply Reply

    My concern is this- after an entire year these people are probably not going to be able to return this stuff even if you still have the receipt that they included. Most stores won’t accept a return so long after the purchase, which sucks. And gift cards sometimes expire/diminish in value over time so if you haven’t already used them they might not be worth anything, it depends on the store.
    I would just write everyone a short honest heartfelt thank you note for each gift, maybe briefly explain what happened, and call it even. You’ll feel much better.

  10. Kailee Aug 04 at 10:45 am Reply Reply

    You definitely HAVE to do the thank you notes. I am still bitter towards some friends who just sent me emails saying they got my gift in the mail, but never bothered to send an actual handwritten note.
    And I 100% agree with Melissa’s comment about how to tactfully go about getting the missing gift information. People WILL understand, but you have to let them know what you are doing to try to remedy the situation.
    Return the ones you can. DEFINITELY. The ones you cannot, I think I would ultimately donate. It would just be too hard to keep them around.

  11. jasmineN Aug 04 at 11:37 am Reply Reply

    I know that in two states (CA and MT, and I’m guessing most others), its actually illegal for gift certificates to expire or diminish in value. So that may not be a problem.

  12. Stephanie Aug 04 at 12:36 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks for the advice and comments, you guys. I’m definitely going to do the thank you notes, it was just a matter of well, what on earth do I say now. The gifts become more tricky since I live in a different state than where the shower was held. So most people gave me gift cards, for ease of travel, but the shower hostess broke down/combined the other gifts, discarding most of the original packaging (and some of the gift receipts got mixed in and discarded as well) and sent everything up to me. At the time it was an amazingly thoughtful gesture. Now, I really am just left with a colander, no box, no receipt. In the same vein, some people either went in on one group gift (the entire table setting, for example) or went off registry so I don’t have a one to one ratio as far as who gets what. I think my plan is to do the thank-you notes first to get them done and out and then contact people about the gifts and how they want them handled. This way, at least, I’m acknowledging everyone while still figuring out what to do with everything else. Oh, I guess the way I worded my question made it sound like I knew this could be coming and took the presents anyway and started using them with abandon. The shower was 2 months before the wedding and 2 weeks after the shower, I heard from the fiance saying he couldn’t go through with it for many dramatic and nonsensical reasons. So, I think there was accounting vagueness because it was so near the date of the event. And then some of the gifts I did use were due to Grandma calling and asking why I hadn’t made dinner with the pots she had given me yet :) Thanks again, Amy and everyone. Very, very helpful.

  13. Bitts Aug 04 at 2:06 pm Reply Reply

    A similar sort of situation happened to me, (without the extra complication of the intervening year) and when I did the thank-yous and returned the gifts to the givers, I found that the very act of doing it rallied people around me and really helped me feel loved and supported and able to take small steps forward. Pretty much everyone is horrified that this sort of thing happens at all, much less that the ‘bride’ has to do all this work to sort through the aftermath … people are gracious and sympathtic and understanding. But you have to give them the chance to be. Like @Kailee said, you have to let them know first. Speaking from experience, taking care of this mess will help you feel better about moving on. Also, if it’s possible, you might do like I did and give the names, addresses and corresponding gifts you got from his family/friends back to him to return with notes.
    On a side note … again, speaking from experience (YMMV, of course) … I met the man I was SUPPOSED to marry and have children with about 6 years after the whole “jilted” thing, and OP-Stephanie, honey, when it’s right, it’s not this hard. Getting married should not be full of such agony. When it’s right, it isn’t.

  14. Suzy Q Aug 04 at 2:15 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you notes really are expected. Even this late and even if they are sort of generic and vague, given your difficulties. People, whether they are nice or not, will remember that you did not send a note.
    Although I never mentioned it, I’m still a tiny bit miffed at not having received a note from my best friend’s sister, whose marriage ended in divorce more than three years ago.
    But instead of waiting until they’re all done to mail them, why don’t you try to do one or two a day and then mail them right out. You can cross those people off your list and have a small feeling of accomplishment every time you mail one.

  15. Stephanie Aug 04 at 2:59 pm Reply Reply

    - Looks like my first attempt at posting this was eaten, so, take 2. – Thanks for the advice and comments, you guys. I’m definitely going to do the thank you notes, it was just a matter of well, what on earth do I say now. The gifts become more tricky since I live in a different state than where the shower was held. So most people gave me gift cards, for ease of travel, but the shower hostess broke down/combined the other gifts, discarding most of the original packaging (and some of the gift receipts got mixed in and discarded as well) and sent everything up to me. At the time it was an amazingly thoughtful gesture. Now, I really am just left with a colander, no box, no receipt. In the same vein, some people either went in on one group gift (the entire table setting, for example) or went off registry so I don’t have a one to one ratio as far as who gets what. I think my plan is to do the thank-you notes first to get them done and out and then contact people about the gifts and how they want them handled. This way, at least, I’m acknowledging everyone while still figuring out what to do with everything else. Oh, I guess the way I worded my question made it sound like I knew this could be coming and took the presents anyway and started using them with abandon. The shower was 2 months before the wedding and 2 weeks after the shower, I heard from the fiance saying he couldn’t go through with it for many dramatic and nonsensical reasons. So, I think there was accounting vagueness because it was so near the date of the event. And then some of the gifts I did use were due to Grandma calling and asking why I hadn’t made dinner with the pots she had given me yet :) Thanks again, Amy and everyone. Very, very helpful.

  16. Sara Aug 07 at 11:01 am Reply Reply

    Personally, I wouldn’t want my gift returned to me, but I would expect a thank you note. Good luck to you with your situation.

  17. Jaymee Aug 07 at 4:14 pm Reply Reply

    Ok so maybe I’m just not a very nice person, but I would want the gift back regardless if the wedding was canceled a month ago or 5 years ago. The gift was given because you were getting married, and now you aren’t. If you had never had plans to get married people would not have given you those gifts. So, since you no longer have a plan to get married those gifts do not belong to you. What you really need to do is send out Thank-you/Apology cards. Your gift givers deserve an explanation as to why it has taken you this long to acknowledge them. Send back ALL gifts that you can. Even though they wont be able to return it they should at least get the right to give it to whomever they feel needs it more than you. For those people that you don’t know what they gave or you used it(shame on you!) you definately owe them some sort of explanation. There is no way around it. If you don’t know what someone gave you, ask them. DO NOT do it in a way though that suggests they should just let you keep the gift. That would just be rude. I would be highly offended if someone were to imply that I should just let them keep the gift. If you used their gift, you need to ask them how you can repay them. Even if they say not to worry about it, you should at least get them a gift card or something(even if it’s only for like $25) for their generosity.
    If you do ever get married you might want to do things differently.
    1) Immediately after the shower and/or when you open any gifts, you personally need to examine the list of who gave what to make sure all of the information is accurate/detailed. Let’s face it, these days if you want something done right you have to do it yourself because nobody will ever do things exactly like you would.
    2) Absolutely under NO circumstances should you ever use a gift until after the wedding is over. Don’t take it out of the original package. Don’t throw away/lose the gift receipt. JUST DON’T DO IT!
    3) If you unfortunately end up postponing/canceling the wedding again, take a week(no more than 2 weeks) to mourn. After that no matter how much it kills you, send every single gift back! That means EVERYTHING, every last butter knife and ice cube tray gets returned along with a thank you note.

  18. JG Aug 10 at 4:43 pm Reply Reply

    Everyone has given good advice here, but unfortunately, some of it is only personal opinions of what you would do. With the exception of one person (so far) it seems that no one else has experienced this type of life-changing event. So, do you really know what you’d do/how you’d act if the situation were reversed?
    So, since we’re all chiming in on giving advice (and mind you, I’ve been married 25 years to the guy that dumped me when we were engaged the first time around) I will too: Stephanie, do what you know is right and move on with your life. Life is way too short to be worrying about trivial things. Just get the TY cards done, return what you can, and personally contact those that didn’t get a gift returned for whatever reason. You can get through this- and life will be sweeter once it’s done!
    ps. i agree with ‘Bitts’ on having your fiance do his own family/friends- and if he doesn’t get them done, no sweat on your back.

  19. Sarah Aug 11 at 12:52 pm Reply Reply

    Honestly, I can totally see the confusion with the gifts and cards. I know that, while I had a careful record-keeper at our shower who did a good job, we also had some people bring gifts to the wedding itself and just put them on a table that was off to the side of the room. Since we left from the wedding to go on the honeymoon, those gifts were packed up by my parents and brought to their house. A few of them (maybe two or three?) arrived without cards, or had cards propped up against them but that didn’t seem to fit (hard to explain, but the card contained money–money *plus* gift seemed excessive, or the card would say “I hope you enjoy this next time you bake!” and was with some bathroom items). There weren’t *enough* unattributed/misattributed item to make a one-to-one correlation between those who attended the wedding but didn’t bring a gift, so we were totally confused about who brought what. We didn’t want to write thank-you cards to people who *hadn’t* gotten us a gift and make them feel like a gift was necessary and we were trying to make them feel guilty, either! In our case, at least, we ended up figuring that every gift *must* have come with a card, even if the cards had been switched, so a few people got thanked for their “gift” in a more generic way than I usually would have preferred.
    I think I agree with Amy’s answer. Yes, the items shouldn’t have been used before the wedding, and they should have been returned promptly once the wedding was called off. But with everything up in the air, I think it’s understandable that you oops. I like your idea of writing thank-you cards to everybody and *then* contacting as many people as possible to verify what their gift was and see whether they want their gift returned/replaced. I think that’s about the best that you can do now. And as long as you explain simply what happened with the gifts, that it was up in the air for a while and you just weren’t able to handle it, and then treat it as assumed that they’ll want their gift back (instead of putting them on the spot by *asking* if they want it back or not), they’re free to tell you what they want you to do with it.

  20. Teresa Feb 25 at 3:49 pm Reply Reply

    I am going through similar circumstances now too and I need help. My wedding was cancelled two weeks before the wedding date. My fiance, it was discovered, cheated on my with the maid of honor (how cliche, right?) Who also happened to be his step aunt. Disgusting. So obviously it was cancelled. Ive been grieving for so long and at the time, had no idea how to plan a wedding, and knew nothing about wedding ettiquite. I had just moved out of my parents home so the shower gifts were things I needed, so I used them. Not knowing it was wrong and had no way of knowing it would be cancelled. I feel awful and want to send out thank-yous, but don’t know what to write. Most people said just to keep the gifts but a few (from his side that I didn’t know) were upset. So I don’t know what to do. I am going to send a card-but what should it say?

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