The Perfect Life #1

The Perfect Life #1

Dear Dr. Perfect,

Three months ago, I married the most wonderful man. He was completely supportive of me keeping my name after our wedding. My mother-in-law gave us Versace tableware that costs more than my car. The problem is that she had them monogrammed. My husband and I actually share our first two initials, but since I didn’t change my name, the last initial isn’t the same. So the monogram is in his name, not both our names.

When we have my in-laws over for dinner, my mother-in-law gets upset that we don’t use the tableware. I have told her that we are waiting for a special occasion, like Thanksgiving, but really, I am horrified that my mother-in-law assumed I would be changing my name. I am horrified that my mother-in-law spent six figures on plates and bowls, and with the wrong monogram. I am horrified that my mother-in-law thinks that we don’t value her gift. What am I to do?

Horrible daughter-in-law


Dear Horrible Daughter-in-law,

You’re not horrible. You’re just confused like the rest of us. One can only speculate what crossed your mother-in-law’s mind when purchasing gifts so lavish as to make you feel financially inadequate. In-laws express themselves in various fashions.

She might have chosen the most expensive tableware on planet Earth to not only remind her son who “mama” still is but to send a veiled message against the skirting of tradition you’ve so flagrantly engaged in. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with maintaining your surname. A recent US study suggests that twenty percent of recently married women kept theirs for numerous reasons. You’re clearly not alone in this despite the constant reminder on every Versace plate.

I understand the aversion in using the tableware, as doing so would honor the very stigmatizing gesture thrust upon you. Your in-laws don’t seem like bad people, and you describe your husband as “wonderful.” I’m happy to hear that. This is a crisis of etiquette. You don’t want to make an issue where there is none. But by using the plates, you’re giving in to what could very well be a calculated move to demean your personal decision.

Or perhaps your mother in-law simply overlooked the last name issue. Perhaps she isn’t Hitler incarnate but a woman who wanted to treat her son and new daughter to the fine china. Monogrammed plates are a very deliberate move, though. You’d have to have a PhD in the psychology of in-laws to understand her angle. Fortunately for you, Dr. Perfect has that precise PhD.

Invite the in-laws over for tea and crumpets. That’s what we called it back then. My parents forced me to, and we weren’t even British! Or invite them for filet mignon. The point is, use the plates. Have the table set and show them that you have no reservations. Your mother-in-law, let’s call her Nebulous Nancy, might see this as a victory. Her victory plates are on display for all to see. That’s when you subtly leave some mail in the middle of the table with your full name in clear view.

Make sure your guests are seated, and make sure that she sees the envelope. Apologize and remove the mail, placing it on a nearby counter. Study Nancy for signs of distress or annoyance. Casually return to the kitchen and “accidentally” drop a plate onto the floor. Your guests will be no doubt startled. Sweep up the broken glass and apologize profusely to your husband for breaking one of “his plates.” Say it twice if you have to. Something like, “I’m sorry, they had your initials on them and everything.”

Return to your guests and resume hosting. Compliment the gift, while also distancing yourself from it. “We just love the new tableware,” you’ll say, as you suddenly knock over a wine glass. Quickly wipe up the spill with your newly monogrammed dish towel that has your initials on it. By then, Nancy’s head will spin from trying to figure out what the hell’s going on.

These situations usually call for some brandy in the end. I don’t care for the taste, but it’s a classy drink, and your guests will love it. After all the tea and crumpets and filet mignon and brandy is consumed, you should feel the matter settled. Leave your mother in-law with a clear reminder that plates can be broken, but family can be broken, too.

Dr. Perfect has slung advice across the globe for the last two decades due to his dedication to the uplift of the human condition.

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