Friday, December 19, 2008

Giving and Receiving

This post is addressed to the ladies who read my blog. The gentlemen who read here can skip it if they like; or they can read it, if they want to continue learning what makes women tick, so to speak.

Okay, ladies. I'm planning to address a fairly sensitive topic here today, one that often produces tears and grumpiness instead of joy and laughter on gift-giving occasions: birthdays, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, and most especially, Christmas.

The topic is, "How to be a cheerful receiver." And I know it can be difficult, but let's talk about it, shall we?

When people give us gifts, one of our womanly tendencies is to analyze the gift from every possible angle. On the rare occasion when we actually like a gift, we may ponder how it is that the giver figured us out, so to speak, and wonder whether the giver has any ulterior motives in finding us such a perfect present; but on the more common occasion when the gift is as off as a soprano who has veered so far into sharp territory that she's changed the key of the entire song, we take the gift--and the giver--into our mental laboratory, don a white coat, and proceed to perform a total post mortem. What, we think as we weigh and measure and dissect, could the giver have been thinking? Doesn't this person know us at all? Is there something in our own personality or manner that could have led any reasonably intelligent person to conclude that this monstrosity might be something we'd actually want to own? Doesn't the giver realize that this is a color we never wear, a type of cookware or baking dishes we've stopped using due to concerns about poisonous plastic or deadly lead glaze, a variety of jewelry we wouldn't be caught dead in, the wrong shape of slipper, or a book or movie we got rid of already because we decided we didn't like it? How could the giver not have known these things?

This mental evaluation is bad enough when the giver is a friend, a relative, an in-law. But it gets really out of hand when the giver is a husband.

Of all people in the world, we think in injured silence, our husbands ought to know what we like. They live with us in the closest and most intimate of relationships, they hear us talk about our preferences, they seem to be listening when we drop hints, they have countless past Christmases they can refer back to, they have heard us complain before when people give us things we don't like; yet, with all of that, they still managed to come up with this? For us? After all these years together?

And we show our disappointment, and put a damper on the celebration; or we brood over it in silence, and wonder how we're going to come up with a good excuse for exchanging the thing, or we shove whatever it is into a closet at the first opportunity so that it's never seen again--at least, not until the next garage sale or Salvation Army donation.

Now, you may be thinking that you never do this--and maybe you don't. Or maybe you do it once in a while, or maybe the reason you don't do it is because you told your husband kindly but firmly years ago that you would buy your own gifts or that you and he shouldn't exchange gifts at all or that you'd rather do a joint donation to charity or something. (Now, maybe you did that for other reasons, and you really aren't a "gift" person, and have never had ulterior motives for ending the gift exchange with your husband--so if that's the case, then you can ignore this whole post, too.)

But you know what? They notice. And they can even be hurt by it.

Because generally speaking they really are trying to please us. That sweater that's the wrong color? Chances are we exclaimed over a similar one in a catalog, and while in our heads we were thinking, "Of course, I'd want it in blue, and probably the v-neck version, and I'd prefer it in a washable fabric," our husbands were thinking "She likes orange sweaters." The dishes we don't use anymore? Well, given the "Plastic leeches chemicals, glass explodes, lead glaze is poison, metal rusts..." conundrum is it really fair to expect him to have figured out our current preferences? And the slippers that are the wrong shape--maybe he heard us say we needed new slippers, but didn't realize that we've been wearing open backed ones, not ballet style ones, because we've never pointed that out before, and when he was sneaking around getting a look at the old ones, he was only concentrating on the size.

I've noticed that when I do tell my husband something specific (the slipper thing, for example; he never bought me the wrong kind, but that's because I told him when shopping for a replacement pair a long time ago that I prefer the open-backed ones, and ever after that he buys me that kind of slippers at least once a year, because I wear them around the house a lot and wear them out) he always remembers. But that means being willing to have direct and cheerful conversations about what we like and what we'd like to receive, instead of playing the game of "if he really loves me he'll automatically know what I want and surprise me with it," which is such a bad game to play.

And what if we've had those direct conversations, and he goes out on a limb to get us a surprise and it ends up being something we don't much like?

Accept it, find a way to be happy with it, and love him for wanting to keep the romance of a surprise a possibility. And use it! I mean that. If it's a color you don't usually wear--wear it anyway. If it's a dish you now think is poisonous to your family--get some silk flowers and arrange them in it, and exclaim over how pretty it looks (okay, this won't work with a crock pot or a platter, but you get the idea). The only exception here is if something doesn't fit (which can't be helped); but make an effort to exchange it for a similar item in the correct size, if possible.

You might discover that the "wrong gift" has a sweet charm all its own, when viewed through the lens of love.

Because, in the end, gifts don't come with all those mental strings attached; we're the ones who tie them on the packages after the fact. A gift from one's husband says, "I love you enough not only to go shopping by myself, but to go rummaging through the vast sections of the store that I usually ignore and avoid on my way to hardware or electronics," and what could be sweeter than that?


Anonymous said...

Great post, Red. I learned a long time ago, to express thankfulness to givers of unsolicited gifts for their thoughtfulness. And, not comment on the selection to anyone but a dear, dear close relative (or someone I can trust with with most innermost thoughts) of any dissatisfaction. Oftentimes, due to my husband's cultural influence, no doubt, I've accepted a gift with much ado, and left it wrapped just to admire the thought of it.

At different times in an offspring's life, gift-giving and thoughtfulness is much more meaningful than the actual gift itself, so 'be grateful' for any and everything, as it provides a gracious learning observation experience for the children, as well.

Maclin said...

As an avid student of male-female relations, I had to read this post. All I can say about the basic description of the problem is: wow.

"I love you enough to go shopping by myself.." is very funny. And true! True!

Ellyn said...

Some of my friends were appalled at how thrilled I was to receive a new stove from my husband two years ago. I guess they regard it as being as romantic as giving socks or know, something that I am entitled to anyway.

But I was totally blown away by the way my husband heard my distress with our crummy old stove and took the trouble to find the perfect one (he did consult our daughters) and have it delivered secretly while I was at work. That was an amazing surprise...and I felt so appreciated, understood and loved.

Rebecca said...


I think the stove is incredibly romantic. What is romantic is that he noticed your need, or your desire, and he wanted to make your life nicer. It would be way less romantic not to notice your hardship and buy you a beautiful piece of jewelry instead. That he took the care to surprise you is also very romantic!

Wendy in VA said...

Fantastic post! I had to read parts aloud to my husband, who dearly loves to surprise me. :o)