The Grief of Gifts


Giving gifts gives me anxiety. The giving of gifts is among the most dreaded of social obligations. That and small talk in the workplace. I’m starting to resort to a greeting regimen…

Monday- “Hey! Back to the grind, eh?
Tuesday- “Crazy week!”
Wednesday- “Halfway there”
Thursday- “Almost Friday…”
Friday- “It’s Friday!”

We’re human beings in the same daily environment and our only common ground is making our way through weekdays. The real thing we have in common is the desire not to be having this conversation.

Is there ever a time we don’t have some gift looming over our to-do list? Most of the time the gift is for the same person we had to give a gift to last quarter. And we strain all over again to come up with something they would want that they don’t already have that they wouldn’t rather pick out themselves that is fun but also useful that they could probably afford but don’t want to bother with but also wouldn’t expect.

Birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s and Father’s Days, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, house-warming presents (naturally when someone decides to make a huge purchase we all have to congratulate them by making them more purchases), Valentine’s Day, Easter (Christ was resurrected, so obviously children deserve hardboiled eggs and chocolate), and finally the “just because” gifts that prove we really do think about someone outside the mandated gift-giving occasions of every other month in the year.

The absolute worst hands down gift-giving occasion is on your own wedding day. Two people about to promise each other their absolute love and fidelity for the rest of their entire lives, and literally give themselves to each other are still still expected to buy each other a present.

Dear husband-to-be-in-2 hours, today I promise you that even if you turn into a vegetable I will never leave your side, I’ll raise children with you, and I’ll always love you…Here’s a watch.

Gift-giving isn’t my love language. My love language doesn’t include spending money– I’m a huge tightwad. But based on everyone else’s holiday anxieties, it seems most of us are giving  gifts less out of love and more out of we’re-rude-if-we-don’t. If we knew our gifts were perfect and appreciated, maybe it’d be different. Instead we deep inside hope we’ll squeeze by unnoticed with our mediocre gift.

It doesn't help that I suck at wrapping...Sincerely this was my genuine attempt to wrap a present this year.

It doesn’t help that I suck at wrapping…Sincerely this was my genuine attempt to wrap a present this year.

We are ashamed of our gifts. We hide them in bags and wrapping paper. Smuggling them in,
we tuck them discretely on that opulent display table, hoping it’ll be opened in private. We don’t immediately reveal the gift so the receiver won’t immediately reveal their disappointment. With the wrapping paper, at least the receiver can enjoy a moment of pleasure and happiness, while preparing themselves for the blow.

Op. Here it comes…just a little bit longer…wait for it…and….oh.

Then there’s the ol’ cut-off-the-price-tag-to-hide-how-much-we-spent. It’s all so shameful and uncomfortable, isn’t it?

The gift is never enough by itself, so we have to include a card as a sort of introduction to the gift. Now presenting…my gift! Which usually just makes it worse.  Seeing our signature at the bottom of a card we didn’t write is more unthoughtful than thoughtful. Why do we have to give cards with our gifts if we aren’t even expressing an original thought in it? If it’s the thought that counts, then the blatant lack of hallmarkaisle4thought (in fact the purchased, plagarized thought) has got to be the most uncounted ‘thought’ of all time. And yet still the card is expected. I haven’t given a card with a gift in years. Usually someone yells, “Oh this one doesn’t have a card!” while they search everywhere to find it. Idiotically I always forget to write my name on the gift somewhere so I have to reluctantly raise my hand to claim the bastard gift. The only time the card isn’t a disappointment is if there is actually some hand-written thought expressed inside…or if there’s cash. Cash is the ultimate “I give up” in gift-giving. But also not a horrible solution for either party. But if we’re going cold hard cash, we usually feel obligated to add a little extra. A sort of “convenience fee” we feel we owe the receiver for not even bothering to try. Gift cards land in the same category. Curse that little “Amount______” section you’re supposed to fill out.

Our gift stinks so we include a gift receipt. It’s like an apology. “Hey I know you aren’t going to like this present, so here’s an errand to go with it.” Unfortunately this also means they know where you bought it. That information alone makes them want to return it. Whether it’s from such a lame store/company they immediately dislike it, or it’s from such a great company they can’t understand why out of all the great stuff Brand X offers, you bought this candle??

It’s not easy being the receiver of gifts either. There’s so much pressure in how you react to a gift. You have to give three or so positive comments reassuring the giver it’s perfect. And you literally only have the seconds it takes you to unwrap to conjure up these reassurances so they’re usually as lame as the gift:

“Oh wow I was just saying to my friend that I needed another spatula!”

“And the grip– it’s so perfect for holding on to!”

“This is great because I have weak hands and this makes scooping brownie mix so much easier!”

Gift registries and wish lists are both appalling and awesome. They are appalling because you’re admitting you expect a gift while basically saying, “Look we have specific tastes and we know what we want and let’s all save ourselves the headache of searching for gifts and then returning and exchanging gifts.” Gift registries are awesome for the exact same reasons.

Re-gifting is the greatest gift to gift-giving. It’s a twofer. 1. You get rid of something that’s been in your closet that keep saying you’ll sell on ebay but never get to it, and 2. you don’t have to spend time, money or thought on another gift.  One of our wedding gifts was a glass platter that we’re certain had been regifted so many times the bar code was faded off.  I almost felt guilty ending its decade long re-gifting journey when we took it to Ross and convinced them they could somehow sell it. They bought it off us for like $9. Clean exchange. No one got hurt. (Except the next person to receive it as a wedding gift).

Imagine holidays and celebrations where everyone just enjoy themselves with no gifts. That’s a gift in and of itself. This birthday I’m going to wish for world peace, and no more gifts. But first I’d like to open some gifts. It’s my birthday and I’m allowed to be a hypocrite.

4 thoughts on “The Grief of Gifts

  1. I quit buying cards because it was as stressful as buying the gift. I realized that I was not picking the card I liked. I always wanted to pick the one that made laugh but those inevitably were likely to offend. So I ended up picking ones that were likely to be ignored. I just wanted to get the box checked for having gotten a card.

    I don’t like getting cards, unless they are personal and list all the good things about me. I never know what to do with cards or how long I have to keep them without being an ingrate. And I have never understood people who display their cards by standing them up on their desks like they just got a trophy. But maybe the display tells others it is your birthday and their grief of gifts is triggered.

  2. Had me cracking up over quite a few things haha…Ross was pretty funny…I do think gift giving or gift receiving is a love language to some though! And a card made with love from my kids or a note from a loved one is given that is definitely my (one of) love languag…also I like to write them too…but I definitely don’t care if it is an actual “card” or not…just Love personal note…and dad I do display my cards on my table at home…makes me feel loved and feel like I’m showing my feelings of thankfulness for those who thought of me! But since that’s in my own home maybe that’s different ?

  3. Ugh YES! Luckily Casey and I have agreed to pretty much never buy gifts for each other because we’re just stinking lazy, never think ahead, and let’s be honest, when we want something we buy it. I wish al gift giving could officially be over and the guilt be GONE!

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