To Gift, or Not To Gift?

This is a guest post from Sheryl in Ontario, who is 40 years old with a grown daughter, and is trying to rebuild her retirement dream just 20 years too late for early retirement.

That is a tough question, one I have been experimenting with for the past few years.  The more I have read about it, the more I’m understanding the motivations behind gift giving (and receiving) and finding a happy medium in my life.

I grew up in a home where Christmas was a big deal.  Mum made sure there were lots of surprises under the tree.  In hindsight, I wouldn’t consider that she went overboard.  She spent what she could afford, and chose wisely.  There was usually the “main” present (sometimes it was “the” toy I wished for, sometimes not) which was usually a board game, or the latest Barbie house or car.  The rest of the presents were small treats and items she would have to buy for me soon anyway, like clothes and school supplies.

Moving forward a few years, it took me a long time to realize that my husband and I had fallen into the same pattern that I perceived his parents were in.  She would tolerate being treated like crap all year, as long as he gave her the Christmas she wanted, which meant buying her everything on her wish list.  Yes, I can see how dysfunctional that is, but at the time, that tactic covered up a lot of what was really wrong with my marriage.

After the divorce, I found myself in a relationship with my current boyfriend.  He had recently separated as well, so neither one of us had much money.  As I have found out since, gifting has never been important to him, he just doesn’t feel the need to give or receive material possessions. That first year, Christmas went horribly.  It was a wake up call I needed though.  My daughter got a contract job which took her out of the country from November until April, my boyfriend had to go out of town to visit his children over Christmas, and my own family gathering wasn’t until Boxing day, and was a 2 hour drive away.  Summarized, I ended up with one present (as opposed to the pile I was used to), and if it hadn’t have been for one very good friend, I would have been alone on Christmas day.

I wanted to get past the feeling that I had that I was not cared about, based on the number and value of presents I received.  I felt shallow and ashamed that this affected me so much.  I felt like I was someone I didn’t want to be.  I didn’t want to be so reliant on presents to make me happy.

The next year, my boyfriend changed the days he was away so we could be together more, and it ended up that he was able to spend more time with his kids by adjusting the schedule as well.  Between he and I, we decided no gifts, mainly due to money.  I tried to pretend that Christmas didn’t happen.  I didn’t decorate, I moved through the social obligations, bought gifts for other people, but nothing for one of the most important people in my life. It hurt.  It felt like I was missing something big.

Talking to some friends, and reading about gift giving, I learned a few things.  There is a book which talks about the 5 languages of love, and yes, gift giving is one of them.  Supposedly, we all use these 5 languages (quality time, acts of service, verbal affirmations, gift giving and physical touch), but each one of us places different importance on each one.  In my case, due to the lack of the other four, gift giving and receiving had become my number one.

In my current relationship, the other 4 are very strong, but after years of conditioning, I still struggle with a lack of gifts.  As I learned from Valentines Day, if we focus on what is important to us (time together in a relaxed atmosphere) the “no present void feeling” is nowhere near as strong.

I have convinced my boyfriend we should do something small.  I have a gift card that I won  that can be used at any store in the all, it expires in February, so we are going to split that for gifts to each other.

To me, it is an expression of love to give someone a gift.  It shows you took time to think about the person when they weren’t in front of you.  The monetary value is not as important as the though behind it.  For example, right now, I’d be happier with an umbrella (lost mine a while ago) than I would an electronic gadget or pricey jewellery.  An umbrella would also show me that someone took notice that I was without one and wanted to keep me dry.

I’ve accepted that Christmas is whatever I want to make it, and this year I’m putting the effort into making it a good one.

4 thoughts on “To Gift, or Not To Gift?”

  1. Very interesting article! Was the first marriage a young marriage? It just sounds with all that gift giving like two young people getting together who have a lot of wants and haven’t matured enough to put importance on other things.

    I agree that presents certainly can show caring.. especially your umbrella example. Jewelry and electronic gadgets seem more about social standing and pampering… and nice every once and awhile!! But if the guy you’re with notices you need an umbrella and gives you one.. to me this does show that he pays attention, cares about you and is serious about taking care of you in important ways… like making sure you don’t get sick from not having a good umbrella!

  2. My sister in law has the gift giving love language. I find it really difficult that she is always wanting to buy my kids gifts for their birthdays and Christmas, and feel obligated to do the same for her kids. It drives me nuts when we do it, it drives her nuts when we don’t.

  3. Is the gift-giving way of showing love the same if the gift is homemade?

    For some people the object in receiving a gift is to get something store-bought that is brand new.

    I’m still considering this one. I don’t know how other people feel about receiving used articles. But I think I feel fine.

  4. @ Christine – With my ex husband, we started out fine, keeping gifting to a sane, reasonable level, but as the relationship got worse, the gift giving escalated. And yes, it is nice to get the fancy stuff sometimes!!

    @Mandy – I used to try to “keep it equal” with everyone else who gave me or my child a gift, but after a while I just stopped. I then adopted the idea that people can spend what they want on who they want, and I can do the same. I spend what I can afford at the time, and sometimes it takes a few years for them to spend less on me, or stop altogether, but it happens. Also, if someone doesn’t want to be in my life because I didn’t get them an expensive gift? I won’t miss them.

    @ DiedraB – Home made and second hand, it would depend on the item. I guess to me, it has to be functional and complete. My mother knits mittens, my daughter has started woodworking, both have produced beautiful and useful gifts. Second Hand – I think it would have to be in very good condition and clean. It would depend who it came from as well. If my boyfriend gave me an obviously used small appliance (unless it was a Vita-Mix) I would be less happy than if I received something less expensive that had required more thought.

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