Dear Amy:

Two years ago, after the birth of what I believed would be my last child, I gave a good friend a huge amount of maternity and baby items -- an entire maternity wardrobe, nursing supplies, a crib, an expensive stroller, baby equipment and clothing. She recently became pregnant again, and -- surprise -- so did I.

My husband says that my gift was just that -- a gift -- and under no circumstances should I ask for any items back. I guess I agree, and I know she still needs the items, although it hurts my feelings deeply that she hasn't even acknowledged the issue, even though she knows I need to start from scratch. (Incidentally, she and her husband are in a much better financial position than we are.)

Is it too much to hope that she would offer to return at least some of the maternity clothes?

I won't let this ruin our friendship, but the fact that she has said nothing about this issue bothers me.

What is your advice?

Showing in Virginia

In my experience, used baby things and maternity clothes don't quite have full "gift" status because these things tend to be passed back and forth between friends and family, as they are needed. In fact, my sister and I have passed things back and forth to the extent that we still have kids' clothes in circulation that were new 20 years ago.

Your friend might have passed some of your maternity items along to another expectant mother, and if you didn't give them to her with an "ask-me-before-you-pass-them-along" proviso, it is her right to do that.

You will feel better if you raise this topic, with humor and very little expectation. Just say, "Miranda, I feel weird asking this because now we're both pregnant, but do you have any of the baby things I gave you before that you might want to pass back to me? If not, that's okay."

It would be great if some mutual friends could throw you a "Here We Go Again" shower. I love the idea of pals recycling their maternity and baby wear, and I hope that your friends and family will step up to the plate.

Dear Amy:

I think that you should discourage use of the term "live-in boyfriend" and variants thereof. This expression, used so frequently by younger people, has imprecise meaning, and what's more, it is unconsciously disrespectful to at least one of the parties by giving a kind of "title" or "status" to something that is as vague as a breeze on a spring morning, and often as impermanent as a thought or a sexual encounter.

When, for example, does a "live-in boyfriend" become a "common-law husband" (an older, fancy-sounding euphemism for an ill-defined relationship)?

Women, especially, ought to be encouraged to think more deeply about the meaning of "live-in boyfriend" or "live-in girlfriend."

Jonathan From California

I'm not sure what is so unclear about the term "live-in boyfriend" (or girlfriend). In my mind, the terminology is completely and accurately descriptive. The term "common-law husband" (or wife) generally is used to describe a live-in relationship of long duration, but I don't think I've ever heard it used in conversation -- only in legal documents or news stories.

My theory on why "common-law husband or wife" isn't used is because if people living together wanted to be known as husbands or wives, then they would get married -- if legally possible. You may hear the term "life partner" used more often lately, and that also works in describing couples that are together without being married.

Clearly you have never lived with someone in this context. Otherwise, you would never describe couples that live together as being "as vague as a breeze on a spring morning." Such relationships might be impermanent (unfortunately, so is marriage these days), but they are hardly vague.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

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