DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was given an old mirror to use for an art show, as a feature in my booth where I sell women’s clothing of my own design. The friend who let me use it was vague about whether it was lent or given for that purpose. The mirror appears to be a part of an old armoire and doesn’t have any monetary or sentimental value. Three years have passed since the show. The mirror has since decorated my 5-year-old daughter’s room, where she uses it to dress, often checking her “look.”
The other day, my friend said, “Hey, if you have that mirror, I want it back.”
I am not a miserly person, but I kind of feel a little bit like a public storage unit. Do you have any thoughts or reflections about this situation, or am I totally in the wrong for feeling off about returning the item? Should I return it or let her know that I gave it to my daughter?
GENTLE READER: Three years is a long time for a mirror to be in doubt about its owner, and, assuming it’s not talking (other than to declare everyone who uses it the fairest of all), probably also too long to know who was in the wrong. Is it the owner for changing her mind, you for assuming that a loan was a present, or everyone, in that there was no mutual understanding at the time it was handed over?
Fortunately, it makes no difference. The owner now believes it was a loan, which means she is, gently or not-so-gently, accusing you of making off with her belonging.
The first order of business is therefore to clear yourself of the charge by apologizing and confessing that you misunderstood, as you thought it was a present. Miss Manners has no objection to your mentioning how attached your daughter has grown to it, so long as you then earnestly offer to return it.
If this does not discourage your friend from insisting on having it back, you will have to turn it over graciously if you wish to keep the friendship. It is worth remembering that what you consider uncompensated storage, she may think of as an uncompensated loan.