Life Advice



Asking Eric: Wife wants to return husband's anniversary gift

R. Eric Thomas, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Eric: My husband and I just celebrated our first anniversary, and we cutely decided to give each other a gift in keeping with the antiquated anniversary gift themes. The first year is paper or clocks. Smartly and thoughtfully, my husband gifted me a clock made of paper he had seen me looking at in a museum gift shop. But this thing is huge, and it makes noise! We live in a tiny apartment!

There was a different paper clock in that same shop that I spent a lot more time watching that was small, silent, and super cool. He noted that he’d kept the receipt if I didn’t like the gift, but I don’t want to appear ungrateful. Should I suggest an exchange, or am I breaking too many gift-giving boundaries and being unappreciative?

– Torn Paper

Dear Torn: No need to paper over your displeasure. Go back to the museum, recycle the big clock, and you can happily wrap this whole thing up.

It’s great that your husband already offered to make an exchange because that indicates an awareness that, though the sentiment was appreciated, the gift wasn’t quite right.

He wants you to be happy, you want to be happy, the museum wants to keep the money. So, if you would appreciate the smaller clock, everyone wins if you trade in the original gift for a new one. Clear communication and the ability to revise is a great gift to give each other as the clock (silently) ticks into your second married year.

Dear Eric: I retired early and don’t know what to say when people ask derisively “what do you do all day?” Any sassy comebacks?

– Out of Office

Dear Office: Try this: “What do I do all day? Whatever I want!”

There’s also the razor-sharp diva way of responding to this – “I pursue joy, darling; see if you can relate.”

But a lot of folks are genuinely curious about what an unstructured day looks like, so mixing sass with a bit of gentle education is helpful. The transition out of a task-oriented 9 to 5, with its attendant social structures, can be daunting. Many seniors I know talk about that “first day of school” feeling. And they’re doing it without a curriculum. Be that wise, if sassy, alum leading the way.

Dear Eric: Is there a way to politely ask someone to use headphones when listening to media on their device in public?

– Wish You Were on Mute


Dear Mute: Polite, sure. Effective? Doubtful. When you find yourself in these situations, you can try saying something like “I’m having trouble concentrating, would you mind putting in headphones?” or even simply, “Your media is loud; could you listen to it privately?” But if someone is happily blasting a TikTok or cooking video on the bus, train, sidewalk, chances are they’re that most dangerous combination – aware and don’t care.

Grab some noise- canceling headphones and preserve your peace.

Dear Eric: I gave up smoking in 1991. I was 21. Should I see this through, or is there some time I can start again?

– Cold Nostalgic Turkey

Dear Nostalgic:

The idea that there is some kind of statute of limitations on the dangers of cigarette smoking is genuinely amusing to me. Ah, if only all of life’s temptations had an expiration date after which all would be hunky dory. But I’m going to tell you what you already know: no such expiration date exists. And while tobacco companies have changed the composition of some cigarettes since 1991, smoking remains not just a temptation but, according to the American Lung Association, the number one preventable cause of death in the U.S. So, why risk it?

Nostalgia is often a yearning for a world that didn’t quite exist – the present never seems as rosy as our memories of the past, does it? Maybe you miss the social aspect of smoking or the chance to just think for 10 minutes. If that’s the case, is there another hobby you can strike up a conversation with strangers around? Or try setting aside 10 minutes a day to sit outside, take a walk, or practice mindfulness.

Smoking culture has changed so much that lighting up like Bette Davis in “All About Eve” will most likely make you a pariah in many places, anyway.

Also, your body has had 33 years to repair the damage smoking caused it and, at 54, it’s not going to bounce back as quickly, if at all – even if you’re in great shape.

One last thing: You’re in good company. According to data from the CDC, the percentage of Americans who are smokers dropped from 25.7 percent in 1991 to 11.5 percent in 2021. You, along with millions of others, kicked the habit. Reap the benefits of your effort.

(Send questions to R. Eric Thomas at or P.O. Box 22474, Philadelphia, PA 19110. Follow him on Instagram and sign up for his weekly newsletter at

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