On Her Own

The Present Dilemma

Gift-giving season is challenging. Put aside the whole showing up at the present exchange part that we talked about yesterday. There are a lot of expectations wrapped up (see what I did there?) in who you should be shopping for and how much you should spend, not to mention exactly how much thought and effort is appropriate. And if you’re like me, you may not have even started shopping yet, so you get to cram all of that anxiety into the next month or so.

Let’s dispense with one myth right off the bat. Just because someone buys you a gift doesn’t mean you are required to reciprocate, and certainly not with something that has a similar value. You may want to, and that is your choice. But maybe you’re a little squicked out with receiving the gift or aren’t comfortable with returning the gesture. While we’d all like to believe that gifts are always given with the best of intentions, we also know that’s both not always true and that intentions aren’t everything. Sending presents can be a way of trying to force past a boundary on a relationship you don’t want to include material or expensive gifts, or even any gifts at all. The idea that you should be grateful for receiving them under all circumstances is flawed, and not just because a giver doesn’t always know your specific likes and dislikes. It might be that the giver is being overly extravagant or intimate. When that happens, you can refuse or return the gift, or simply respond with a neutral thank you (and maybe give it away or donate it). You don’t have to buy a return gift, and you don’t have to let that person further into your life than they already are. That’s especially true if it’s somebody you hadn’t planned on shopping for anyway, or who has been told you don’t want a relationship that includes presents.

You might want to limit the people on your buying list for a variety of reasons, whether it’s your money, time, or energy budget. Overextending yourself isn’t just a mental health concern, but could affect your ability to pay the bills or otherwise manage the priority items in your life. It can be very important to you to recognize the holidays by giving your loved ones presents, but be careful if doing so will make it impossible for you to take care of yourself later. Instead, you might consider whether you want to buy smaller items, create homemade gifts, write heartfelt letters, promise focused quality time, or just consciously decide and communicate a physical-gift-less year. Another option among families or groups of friends is to switch to a gift exchange format of some type, so that you’re all shopping for fewer folks. It’s a wonderful thing to bring joy through a well-chosen gift, and people who love and care about you will appreciate that. People who will be offended or hurt by your inability to give are people who likely also would be unappreciative if you did. And that’s okay. You’re not here to cater to them.

That’s nice, you say, but there are those you can’t get out of shopping for because of family or professional obligations, not to mention the desire to be a good host and not leave anybody out if a guest might not have anything to open while everyone else is tearing into their presents. For those, you might be tempted to buy everybody gift cards or variations on the same item or theme, to ship out Generic Corporate Food Gift, or even wrap up a dreaded re-gift (I won’t tell if you don’t). I have definitely been there with you, and I suspect you’ll find agreement among OHO readers that those are all acceptable solutions, especially when you’re crunched for resources. Or if not precisely acceptable, strategies that they, too, have resorted to. Perhaps next year is when you can work out a more sustainable answer, whether it’s getting a jump start on obligatory shopping or setting boundaries and expectations that the future is going to be a bit different when it comes to exchanging presents.

Personally, I’m still working my way through the analysis for this year. What about you?

Hi, I'm Annette.

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