“Help! My Boyfriend Sucks at Giving Gifts”

Our wicked-smart sex and relationships columnist, Kate Carraway, to the rescue!

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love-actually-kate
Emma Thompson’s reaction to receiving a Joni Mitchell CD instead of the pretty necklace in Love Actually gets you right in the gut

My boy sucks at giving gifts (sorry not sorry) and I’m scared shitless about what he’ll get me for the holidays. Can I turn him away from a cheery Christmas sweater without being rude? —Kelli

This Q is a kind of Christmassy present for me—thank you ever so much!—because it means I can invoke my favouritest-ever maxim: there are two kinds of people in the world—givers and takers. To illustrate this more specifically for the holidays, let’s say that there are people who bring an extra bottle or two of something to the party, and there are people who bring just one bottle to the party (and you know that shit is cheap), then drink someone else’s alcohol and take their bottle back on the way out. Givers; takers. Cheers.

It’s not totally clear whether your boyfriend is a giver or a taker. He could, even as a sucky gift-giver, still be generous and thoughtful in terms of his intentions, if not in his results. So: Is he the kind of guy for whom it’s more important to “get his” than to contribute? If this applies in any way to his style of intimacy (is he one of those guys who keeps a sexual scorecard—one for you and one for me, as if that’s how it works?) or how he treats his friends and family (I’m pretty sure everything you need to know about a guy can be revealed in his relationship with his mom), his sucky gifting is not what you should be worried about.

(FWIW, my mom says “Dump him,” because if he’s a bad gift-giver now, while he’s “trying to make an impression” as a boyfriend, you should “imagine forty years from now!” So, that’s one perspective.)

It’s possible, of course, he’s a thoughtful, though boyfriendishly misguided, gift-giver. This is a solvable problem. First, though: it’s essential to recognize the meaning of “giving” and “gifts,” which should have nothing—nothingggginginging—to do with how much cash he lays out, or how much cash he lays out on your gift versus his mom’s (see: above), or how much cash he lays out in the context of how much money he makes. This is where every discussion about gift-giving goes way, way south. When we think about a good gift versus a bad gift, we are thinking about consideration, attention and effort (for me, and many others, it’s even a love language) not dollars and not expectations, which are always spark-killers anyway. Yeah? Yeah.

Anyway: choosing presents for a woman, especially for a woman with specific and conflicting tastes—like, hi—is a big task that involves many possible missteps in the emotional, financial and even social realms. He wants to get you something that you’ll like, that will indicate something about the way he feels about you, but he doesn’t want to get something that over-or-undershoots his feelings, that costs more or less than what is appropriate, or that fails to impress your friends. That’s a lot to put together. (A naturally good gift-giving man is a rare thing; it’s truly weird and amazing when someone whose entire architecture of lifestyle and desire is so different from yours can somehow anticipate and clarify the material things that you will delight in and actually want.) Cut him some Christmas-ribbon slack is what I’m saying.

There’s two ways to play this. One, you can make some suggestions—and I do mean suggestions, just lightly and chill-like—about what you’d love to get, even just generally. Getting clothes makes no sense to me because style and fit are ephemeral, so I sometimes drop hints in the pre-holiday, pre-birthday months about how much more I like personal, experiential, meaningful things than anything I will eventually have to throw out or replace. It’s not rude to do that, it’s a kindness and a practicality, and it’s not just about getting what you want, it’s also about saving them from spending money and time on something you can do better and in six seconds on Net-a-Porter. You could also employ a mutual friend to act on your behalf, to ask the boy what he has in mind, and very gently move him away from novelties and toward what might be more special and worth-it for him and for you.

And if you haven’t already, consider establishing some parameters, like a spending range—you’re getting him something too, of course, and will be expending the same effort that you want from him. Or, tell him that instead of exchanging gifts, you’d like to do something together—spend the money on a couple of nights at a secret snowy locale—or you’d like to buy yourself a present that’s both from him and for him, by which I mean the most vicious lingerie. In the end, he’ll get you what he’s going to get you—sometimes dudes have super-specific visions of what that’s going to be, and so be it—and you, of course, will say thank you.

More great advice from Kate Carraway:

Will Dating My Co-Worker Ruin My Life?
Why Do Women Pretend to be Someone They’re Not?
I’m Dating a Woman. What Do I Tell People?
Should I Be Worried About My Guy’s ‘Good Friend’?
Is My Sensitive Boyfriend Just Not All That Deep?
How Can I Make My Boyfriend Initiate Sex More?
We Had the Perfect Date and Then I Never Saw Him Again…
Help! My Boyfriend and I Are From Different Worlds
Help! My Friend Has Become a Selfie-Obsessed Monster
Help! My Girlfriend Is Always on a Diet
Help! My Boyfriend Is Better Looking Than Me
I’m So Tired of Hearing About My Friends’ Boring Babies.
I Have Proof My Friend’s BF Is Cheating. Do I Tell Her?
My Best Friend’s Life Is Perfect. Can I Tell Her to Stop Complaining Already?
How Young Is Too Young?
Is Long Distance a Dealbreaker?
When Do I Need to Disclose My Dismal $$$ Sitch?
How Can I Curb My Tinder-Rejection Sads?
When Should My Guy & I Talk “Numbers”?
Can We Be FWB When He Wants More?
Is It Ever OK to Date a Friend’s Ex?
How Do I Get Over a Guy?
Why Aren’t I More Obsessed With My BF?
Should I Propose to My Guy?

 

 

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