Why I Hate Thank-you Notes

003Jackson has been enjoying the summer, by which I mean, he totally wears himself out playing and then crashes into deathlike sleep for hours on end. He never moved when I took this pic.

I was playing around on Twitter this morning as I contemplated what to blog about today. My list of potential topics is over 40 now, which is truly unmanageable. I really need to cull them. Some I’m no longer fired up about. Or I’ve delayed too long and they’re no longer relevant. But this is one of those things I think about as I’m browsing my top-heavy list and then, once I happily settle on a topic, I close it and move on.

By the time I’d finished going through emails and various other sorting tools for the day ahead, I’d seen this tweet go by:

People of New York – if you are paying $100 for delivery of a Cronut – there may be something broken in your priority setting mechanism

The person was referring to this deal, if you care. I don’t, but I searched for it, so you don’t have to. I’m generous like that.

What left a sour taste in my mouth was, not the willingness of people to pay for pricey pastries, but the judgement of the person sending this tweet. It presupposes that the tweeter knows what the correct priorities are. It also demonstrates a lack of compassion for other people’s lives. Maybe a cronut doesn’t seem worth it to me, but how am I to judge its worth to someone else?

It dovetailed with a lingering annoyance about a Dear Abby letter I read last night – and made a note to add to my topic list. The person wrote this:

DEAR ABBY: In this season of graduations and weddings, I would like to urge the honorees to send proper thank-you notes to friends and family who give them gifts and money. Time, money and preparation are put into these events, and the effect is spoiled when guests have to contact stores or scrutinize their bank statements to learn if their gifts were, indeed, received but simply not acknowledged. Thank-yous aren’t difficult. Some “rules”: Rather than text or email, write a note on paper and mail it with a stamp via the U.S. mail. If you do, you will be forever known as “that polite young couple” or “the young man/woman who sent the nice note.” Three lines are all that are needed: “Thank you for the —-. I look forward to using/enjoying it when we entertain/grill/vacation/walk the dog, etc. Again, I appreciate your thoughtfulness.” That’s it! If showing good manners isn’t incentive enough, remember this: These are the people you will be inviting to weddings, baby showers, and your own children’s graduations and weddings in the not-so-distant future. A little courtesy goes a long way. — APPRECIATIVE IN HITCHCOCK, TEXAS

 Now, those of you who know me, know I have a THING about thank-you notes. I even have used the tag on this blog before. And this particular letter sums up everything that I hate about them. Among them:

  1. “proper thank-you notes” – appreciation is not enough, it has to be the Proper Kind. There are RULES.
  2. “the effect is spoiled” – because the spirit of giving is simply not enough.
  3. “Thank-yous aren’t difficult” – there’s that judgement thing. You don’t know what is difficult for someone else.
  4. “Some ‘rules'” – why are there freaking RULES about receiving a gift that should be freely given???
  5. “rather than text or email” – why? why? why? why does only paper “count”???
  6. “you will be forever known as…” – so, really, this is a form of social blackmail, right?
  7. the template – if it’s this formulaic, what on earth makes it meaningful? this isn’t gratitude, it’s a receipt.
  8. “If showing good manners isn’t incentive enough…” – then we should do this to ensure steady delivery of future gifts? Isn’t that awfully damn mercenary?

Back when I was graduating from college, my mom and I had a Terrible Fight. We have never fought much, but this was a doozy. In fact, I recall it as the biggest fight we’ve ever had. (I don’t know if it felt that way to her.) 

And it was over thank-you notes.

So, there I was, spring semester of senior year. As usual, I was way over-committed, a lifetime tendency I’ve attempted to curb. I was taking a full course load – including re-taking freaking Immunology because I’d inexplicably gotten a D in it and I needed a C- for my major. I’d passed both semesters of Organic Chemistry, but Immunology? No no no. (I did pass – with a C-, even on the second go! I have no idea what my deal was.) Anyway, there were classes. Plus my honors thesis in Religious Studies, which I’d delayed from the previous semester. I was in a play, so I was in rehearsals or performance most every night. I was director of our peer counseling center and we’d had a number of issues. We were having trouble with my sorority chapter, in which I’d invested so much time and love. I was working at the med school on a research project and applying for grad schools and interviewing for the Peace Corps and trying to decide what to do with the Rest of My Life. On top of all of this, I felt the onrushing deadline of college ending, which meant I would lose this family I’d become a part of. I knew that, though, we’d keep in touch, that the friendships I’d made would end in this very temporal way. I wanted to be with people as much as possible.

I was frankly overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, all the wonderful people who’d supported me growing up, were sending me graduation gifts. Thoughtful, wonderful and generous gifts. And I was not writing thank-you notes.

(This is why it really puts my back up when someone proclaims that something “is not difficult.”)

Of course, it became one of those tasks that simply grew worse the longer I neglected it. At first I hadn’t written one, then I hadn’t written five, ten, twenty. And these were my mom’s friends, asking her if I’d received their gifts. She felt I made her look bad. We had a big fight on the phone and I ended up sobbing because it was just more than I could bear to deal with.

I profoundly wished that none of those people had sent me gifts at all.

It all worked out. I eventually wrote the thank-you notes and my mom and I joke about that incident from time to time. She had her own stuff going on that got displaced into our fight. She also declared me officially detached and that I could bear the social burden of non-thank-you noting on my own, which I gladly accepted.

This is why you will never get a thank-you note from me. Certainly not a proper one. Really, if you need one, I’d really rather you not give me anything at all. I’m totally good with that!

I’m also, always and forever, absolutely fine with you not sending me a thank-you note.

So, here is my message:

DEAR EVERYONE: In this season of graduations and weddings, I would like to urge those giving gifts and money to friends and family to also give the gift of tolerance. If you feel the effect of your time and money is spoiled when you have to contact stores or scrutinize their bank statements to learn if your gifts were, indeed, received but simply not acknowledged, then don’t send anything. Thank-yous may not seem difficult to you, but for people going through major life events, they can be the thing that knocks over the teetering, towering To Do pile. Some “rules”: Texts and emails – even phone calls – can still be heartfelt communications. Please don’t measure the sincerity of someone’s appreciation by the price of a stamp and notepaper. People can still be “that polite young couple” or “the young man/woman who sent the nice note” if they avail themselves of electronic communications. Please recall that your gifts of time and money are totally voluntary. You are not required to give anything and it might be best if you don’t, if you’re only giving so you can receive a particular template response. Often the greatest gift you can give is understanding and compassion. A little tolerance for the pressure other people are under goes a long way. — APPRECIATIVE IN SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO


27 Replies to “Why I Hate Thank-you Notes”

    1. I barely did breathe! It was foolish of me and I dropped a lot of balls. Plus I was kind of seeing two different guys – which is a whole ‘nother story! Yay on sister thank-you note non-writer!

  1. I can get on board with the thank you note sentiment. My feeling has always been that if receiving something places an obligation on you, then it’s not really a gift, it’s a sale.

    On the other hand, I have developed a terrible, codgerly pet peeve regarding the “a whole ‘nother” construction. It offends my bookish sensibilities and disturbs my humours.

    1. Are you yelling at me to get off your bookish lawn? 😉

      And yes – that’s an excellent way to put it. “A sale.”

  2. Yeah, I don’t need a thank you, but if the gift was sent rather than handed off in person, an acknowledgement would be nice. Just a quick email saying ‘hey, I got this’, so I know it arrived. To me, it’s just common courtesy. (And yeah, that’s a pet peeve of mine that recently reared its ugly head, so it spilled over here.) (Also, yeah, I could’ve sent it return receipt requested, but I didn’t think I had to.)

    I’ll try to remember to never send you a ‘proper’ thank you note, Jeffe. I’ll just shoot you a quick email. ;o)

    1. Oh yes – I totally agree on acknowledgement! I don’t think there should be rules on how to do it. An email or gushing phone call or thrilled text or happy tweet ALL work Just Fine for me.

  3. Wow… I must have really relaxed friends, because this whole thank you note thing sounds like a foreign concept to me. Or maybe I should avoid getting married 😉

      1. I’ll confess the only thank-you notes I ever received were for attending funerals. I know it’s a custom to send a thank-you note to everyone who signed the condoleances-register (sp?).

        But for wedding and other gift giving things I don’t know. Maybe if you sent a present but didn’t attend the wedding that you get a note, but when I attended a wedding I never received a note afterwards.

        And truth be told: I don’t need thank you notes. If I send something and that person lets me know (whateverwaytheywant) it arrives that’s more than enough.

        1. That is SO interesting. I don’t many people in the U.S. send thank-you’s to people signing the condolence register at a funeral. I’ve never received one.

          And of course you don’t need thank-you notes. Nobody does!! ~takes deep breath~

  4. I’m with you, girl! I do not expect thank you notes when I give a gift. If you’re not close enough to someone when you send a gift that they have to “formally acknowledge” receipt with a card, then you’re not close enough to be sending a gift. (IMHO)

  5. OMG, I’ve never read anything like this before and it makes me so happy. YES. This is totally me. My best friend sends beautiful, meaningful thank you notes that are kind and sincere. I like hers and I’ve even kept a few of them. But she also usually says stuff to me in them that’s about us and not about the gift. Every time I get a template thank you note, I’m like…you poor bastard who spent way too much of your precious life and killed a tree over social custom. I read the note in five seconds and recycled it. This is stupid.

    I wonder if this is a generational thing. My mother is big on thank you notes, and post-wedding that caused us stress. But what caused us a bigger fight was pre-wedding when she insisted I address invitations to “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.” I tried to explain that anyone in the future who addressed me as “Mrs. Husband’s Name” would make me want to punch them in the face. She did not get my hostility toward this. After much argument, we finally compromised on her friends being subsumed by their husbands and my friends being allowed existence as separate entities from their spouse.

    Propriety rules need to have a serious makeover. Some of them have a purpose, but some of them are actively detrimental to life and society in general, and following them out of social custom needs to stop.

    1. You crack me up, Jax!

      I do think this is generational. But the older generations insisting that there is only one “right” way to do things just isn’t RIGHT at all. I love that you fought to address the invitations your way. Funny that the social convention is so thoroughly sexist. How programmed is THAT??

  6. Wow, I thought I was the only one who felt this way.
    I’ve always thought thank you notes were ridiculous.
    Especially when you receive the gift in person and already said “thanks”. It’s a waste of time, trees, ink, and postage.
    Phone calls, emails and texts are perfect for “acknowledging”. Back in the day, when the only thing you could do was send regular mail, I’m sure it was important to send a note saying you got the gift so the sender knew it hadn’t gotten lost. but good grief, how long has it been since we’ve had telephones?

    I think people that carry on about sending thank you notes and feel offended if they don’t get one, are the kind of people that just love to be in the spotlight. they probably give gifts more for the recognition than anything else.

    1. Apparently there are more of us than even I thought! Totally agree on this “type.” Who has the time or energy to track whether or not a thank-you not has arrived? Yeah – people with nothing better to do.

  7. THANK GOD. All this time I thought I was alone in my hate of Thank You notes. Your list of reasons just about pegs every aspect of it that bothers me. A verbal thank you isn’t good enough? A smile and gratitude aren’t enough? You want some formal validation of your gift giving greatness via mail? YUCK. Don’t give me anything please if that is how you feel about it. Just keep it and buy yourself a thank you card instead. Oh no I’m not bitter… can you tell? 😉

  8. This is my thank you note to you because I genuinely hate thank-you notes. I hate them so much I Googled “I hate thank-you notes” and found this article. You said everything I have always wanted to say. So thank you. 🙂

  9. Thank. You.

    I arrived here late one night, simply because I, too, just googled “I hate thank you notes.” I’ll confess–few, if any, were mailed after my wedding. I wrote a bunch and then many of them got lost or misplaced during a move. And seriously, at the cost of stamps nowadays, who is able to cough up that much money as a newlywed? Especially after paying for a wedding. If two hundred guests each brought a gift, at current postage rates, you’re rapidly approaching the $100 mark in postage alone… which pretty much wipes out those two $50 checks from your uncles.

    My mother was scandalized that I hardly mailed any, but I’d had to leave my job in order to move in with my new husband, so we started out surviving on the paltry $290 he was bringing home each week. If my friends and loved ones were going to take extreme personal offense because I didn’t chuck some fancy piece of cardstock with a crappy form letter scribbled over it into the mailbox, then they didn’t deserve one anyway.

    I’ve ALWAYS hated thank you notes. Ever since I was old enough to write, my mother would make me write them for everything… birthday parties, Christmas gifts, sometimes even to thank people for inviting me to their event (yes, I basically had to thank people for giving me the opportunity to give them a gift). Even as a child, I recognized what a terrible idea they were, though I wasn’t able to fully express my feelings then. I’m relieved to know I’m not alone. I stand with you all, defiant and proud.

    1. I love how THIS post is the one that still gets comments after all this time! We stand shoulder to shoulder, owning our gratitude for what it is and how WE choose to express it. No shame!!

  10. The thank you notes I like the least are from people who were standing in front of me while they opened the gift I gave. Better time would be spent on how to verbally and non-verbally be appreciative in the moment. A thank you note (for a gift) has never left me feeling good. But a hug, a smile, a joke, a light in someone’s eyes all leave the giver warm and fuzzy.

    And if you must send a thank you post gift receiving take a photo of the first time you use, wear, hang, eat, etc, the gift. Shows that the giver hit the jackpot. In case you are wondering, I am 60.

    1. These are such great points! My stepdad (in his late 70s) always makes sure to wear shirts we bought him whenever he’s around us. Makes me smile every time! That’s so much what this is – genuine appreciation and enjoyment, rather than going through the motions of social rules.

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