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


My Psycho Eye Doctor

At last, you all get to hear the long, sad, sorry tale of my psycho eye doc.

No, really – she has major issues.

And me? I’m an angel. But I’m feeling a titch ranty on the subject, so: fair warning. Pretend we’re having martinis over lunch while I regale you with this story.

As we all sadly know, one of the most difficult aspects of moving to a new place is finding new service providers. I was due for my annual eye exam sometime around February, but I put it off because I just didn’t want to deal with finding a new eye doc, too. Then, sometime around the end of May, I lost a contact lens. Just one, but it forced the issue.

I asked around, got a recommendation, made an appointment – then discovered that doc wasn’t in my network. Canceled the appointment, checked my insurance network to find five eye docs in Santa Fe, all looking equally anonymous. I picked the only woman in the group, for the sake of solidarity and having no other criteria.

I have come to sorely regret that decision.

She works only on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. No, I don’t know why. I call to make an appointment and leave a voice mail. A woman calls me back saying “This is Dr. Psycho’s office. I understand you’d like to make an appointment.” Yes, please, I say, because I lost a contact lens.

“What kind of lenses do you wear – hard or soft?”

“Semi-soft, oxygen permeable lenses.”

Pause. “All lenses are oxygen permeable. Are they hard or soft?”

“Semi-soft,” I say.

Pause. “What brand are they?”

Brand? “I’ve never seen a brand associated with my lenses.”

“There’s not a name on the peel-pack?”

“I don’t know what a peel-pack is.”

“So you don’t know what brand they are or if they’re hard or soft.”

By this time, I’m thinking this is the dumbest, most passive-aggressive receptionist I’ve ever dealt with. “Look,” I say, “I started out wearing hard lenses, then eventually moved to oxygen-permeable semi-soft lenses.”

“Well, let’s just make you an appointment and we’ll see.”

At last! So we make an appointment for June 5. Please note this is nearly six weeks ago.

Ten minutes later, my phone rings. Dr. Psycho’s office again. She launches into this thing about how she really needs to know what kind of lenses I’m wearing now. Slowly it dawns on me that I’ve been talking to Dr. Psycho herself all this time.

(Yes – I’m slow on the uptake. Turns out she has no receptionist, no staff. Does everything herself in this little stark and empty office. But I digress.)

So, she concludes, what she really needs are the records from my previous eye doc. This is a simple solution so I agree. Done, request to my very efficient previous eye doc (how I miss him!) sent.

I go in on June 5. I really am trying to be open-minded. We got off on the wrong foot on the phone. Clearly our personalities don’t sync. All I want is a replacement lens, because I’m wearing one lens from 2009 and an older one from, say, 2007. When I tell her this is what I’m doing on the phone, she laughs and laughs and laughs. In kind of a creepy way.

(geez – we already blew through the first martini. time to order another round?)

She does my exam. At this point I should mention that I’ve been wearing glasses since I was nine and contact lenses since I was ten. I’ve been through a lot of eye exams. Which is better: this one? or this one? Sometimes the choice isn’t a clear one. This one might look darker but this one might look crisper. When I say there’s a minor difference or none, she becomes impatient and insists I choose. She dilates my eyes, saying she’ll use just a small amount because light-irised people like us don’t need much. She puts in so much, fluid is dripping down my cheek. I regret putting on eye makeup.

She promises me loaner lenses and talks me into trying soft lenses from, yes, a peel-pack. She teaches me how to put them in and is shocked that I can do it quickly. I’ve been putting in contact lenses for over 30 years, I remind her. She explains the process again and tells me how difficult it is.

I agree to try the soft lenses for a few days, since I’m open-minded like that. Even though I’m pretty sure every eye doc I’ve ever had says soft-lenses aren’t for me because of my astigmatism. That’s not so true Dr. Psycho says. She’s all focused on my age and thinks I’m resistant to getting bifocals. I haven’t needed them yet, I tell her. You might need reading glasses she says. Before I lost this lens, I could see perfectly, I say. Yes, but you’re getting to the age where you need reading glasses, she says.

I sigh.

I tell her that my previous eye doc set up my lenses so that the center is for near-reading and the edges are for distance and it’s worked great. She shakes her head at me. She says no, no they weren’t – she’s seen the chart. In fact, she’s quite convinced my previous lenses were a mistake.

But I could see really well. This does not matter. I might need to think about reading glasses.

I don’t like the soft lenses. Comfortable, sure, but I can’t see very well. She asks me to read with them on and I say I can’t see the text in my lap. She frowns at me like I’m lying. I remind her that she dilated my eyes, so I won’t be able to focus well until they get back to normal. She laughs and says, oh right! she forgot!! and forgive her, because it’s just been such a busy morning.

I know it’s too late to make this short, but I’ll try.

I don’t like the soft lenses, so I call in and she orders the “hard” lenses for me, reminding me of the additional expense. She’s all about expense and discounts. I received a 10% discount on my visit. I don’t know why. I just want to be able to see. I go back to wearing my 2009/2007 lenses, which is a bit disconcerting because my eyes don’t quite work together right, but at least I can pretty much see.

On June 16, I go in. She gives me the new lenses in a case on which she’s sharpie marked a big R & L for which lens is which, even though the case is embossed with the letters already. She makes a point of saying she’s sure those are in the correct order.

I cannot see. She runs me through the tests and I can’t see a thing. I’m nearly in tears. She’s impatient with me saying I can’t see. I ask her if she’s sure they’re in the right order, because it looks a lot like when I inadvertently switch them. She thinks I just need to adapt because those previous lenses were such a mistake. I say I can’t drive home like this, so no way. Fine, she’ll order me new lenses. I ask if she wants to examine me with the 2009 lens in, which she never has, and she says no and launches into this explanation of why they were such a mistake, showing me the chart, which I can’t read because, duh, I can’t see.

At this point, I begin to actively hate her.

I stick with it. Just get through this. Small problems compared to, say, working in an Apple factory in China.

I call my previous eye doc for a sanity check. Dr. Everett King in Laramie, Wyoming. A prince of a man and a fine doc, if you happen to be in that neighborhood. He looks at my chart, looks at her determination of my prescription and thinks she’s partly confused because my eyesight has improved considerably. Ironic, since one of the bad effects of the evil mistake lenses was to be to worsen my eyesight. But the lovely Dr. King offers to order me replacement lenses and ship them to me if I can’t get ones that work from her.

I feel like someone has handed me a bouquet of roses.

(Let’s order dessert, okay?)

On June 23, I go back in. She tells me this time the right lens is marked with a dot. Clearly so I can’t screw it up again. She tests me. The lenses are adequate. I can’t see quite as well at all vision lengths, but I can see well enough. I’m out of there.

She wants to schedule me for a follow-up in one week. I say no, that would be the 4th appointment and I’ve been there enough times. She insists and I give in. July 10 – farther out than she likes, but I have family coming July 4 weekend and I don’t want to take more work time for this. She calls on July 3, saying I missed my appointment. I say no, it’s for next week. She says no, she had me down for July 3. I apologize.

My family, who hear the call in the car, ask what’s up and I tell them my eye doc is psycho. Why are you going back, they ask?

Really good question.

(Don’t worry – this is almost over. I’ll pick up the tab.)

So I leave her a message saying thanks for everything, but I’m not coming back in. The lenses are fine. I don’t mention I’m never coming back again, but I’m sure it’s implied.

She leaves me a nearly rabid voice mail in return, telling me it’s imperative that I come in.

I ignore it. But I save it, just in case I need it for, oh, say, a restraining order.

She sends me a freaking CERTIFIED LETTER.

When I see who it’s from, I nearly refuse it. Then I figure, she wants it for her liability. Fine. I accept. We should be done now.


I’ll let you all know if she contacts me again, at which point I’ll have to tell her to cease and desist.

So, let’s talk about you – what’s going on in your life??