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Is it a grand gesture to anonymously give a woman I think is beautiful a banjo?
December 12, 2009 2:09 PM   Subscribe

Is it a grand gesture to anonymously give a woman I think is beautiful a banjo? At the beginning of this semester, I briefly was in a relationship with a woman who I cared a great deal about. It didn’t end well, and really, it couldn’t have ended well. We have nothing in common. But as it is, I still think she is beautiful, and I’d like to do something truly grand, both to make this world a better (albeit stranger) place, and to give myself some closure.

I have three reasons for doing this, but by all means, do not feel obligated to read them all. I’m just typing them out to see how they sound outside of my head. Skip to the end for the real question.
A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a different ex-girlfriend. We’d been together for a few months, and had some really happy moments. I was very sad when things ended, and when I went to dinner with her, I admit that I was curious to see what she thought about it. But she didn’t think about it. It was if it had never happened, she treated me the exact same way she had when we first met, with lots of care and good feelings, but absolutely nothing of the deeper connection we once had. It hurt that she didn’t seem sad that it was over, even though I honestly would never wish any sort of sadness on her. It’s seemed to me lately that all of my relationships are like this lately, sort of formal, with no real feeling on either party’s part. Someone told me years ago that they measured their life in terms of the effects they had on others, and I can’t get that thought out of my head. So, here it seems that I have the chance to affect someone that I sort of secretly love in a way that seems fantastically random and kind of wonderful.
I’ve been thinking about the word serendipity lately, how it’s supposed to be the hardest English word to translate and all that jazz. I love that word, what it means, and would like to craft a moment of serendipity for someone.
Finally, and most selfishly, I can think of nothing in this world more beautiful than this girl playing the banjo. I mean, Christ, just that mental image of her sitting under a tree in spring sunshine, picking a banjo. That is something I would keep until the worms picked it from my rotting brain.
So, I’ve got a little extra money around, and I just want to do something grand. Something magnanimous. I realize this all hinges on perfect anonymity, but I’m planning on calling musiciansfriend.com to make sure that none of my information is on the box. I’m sending it to her parent’s house, where I assume she’s spending Christmas, so I’m even less suspect (and, to clarify, I’m not stalking this girl. I have no interest in her except as an admirer, this is probably more about me than about her. I looked up her address in the phone book).
My question for you: Is this really a grand gesture, or is it creepy as hell? There is probably some chance that my e-mail or something ends up on the slip, and is it worth that risk?
posted by Archibald Edmund Binns to Human Relations (135 answers total) 125 users marked this as a favorite
 
Creepy.
posted by grouse at 2:11 PM on December 12, 2009 [57 favorites]


Um, why a banjo exactly? Is there any reason that you think this girl might like to play a banjo besides that you think she would look beautiful playing a banjo under a tree in spring sunshine? As it stands, this gesture doesn't seem particularly "magnanimous" but selfish and yes, a little creepy.
posted by peacheater at 2:12 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


If she finds out it was you, it's creepy. If she never finds out it was you, it's some bizarre shipping mistake by a banjo company. Don't waste your money. Buy yourself a nice banjo instead.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:13 PM on December 12, 2009 [23 favorites]


It really, really depends on your relationship and how it ended. It would creep me out enormously if certain exes of mine did this, and not so much if others did.

If you're just doing this so that she'll think about you, I'd say don't do it. If she cares about you, she's already thinking about you. If not, she'll be uncomfortable getting a large gift from you.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:13 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's a bit creepy, not to mention wasteful - I imagine that banjo will be left gathering dust in the basement of her parents' house rather than played under a tree anytime soon. In reading this my major impression is that you sound like you fancy yourself, to be honest.
posted by jamesonandwater at 2:15 PM on December 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Is this really a grand gesture, or is it creepy as hell?

Unfortunately, this really depends. I have a few creepy people in my history and many very nice people. If I got a superduper anonymous and somewhat valuable gift, I would worry that it was from one of the creepy people, or a new creepy person and I would probably not enjoy the gift and would give it away.

It seems like you are crafting a moment of serendipity for yourself, imagining this lovely woman playing the banjo, but you haven't even told us whether, for example, she plays music, plays the banjo, has a nice sunny tree under which to play it, etc. Also, involving her folks [by sending it to her house] makes this whole thing even less cool. My folks would have bugged me "Who is it from...?" and would have been ootchy in my stead if there were no forthcoming answer.

My personal opinion is that you should stop admiring and having idle fantasies about your ex who by your own admission things ended badly with and focus on real people in your real life who you could do good things for non-anonymously.
posted by jessamyn at 2:15 PM on December 12, 2009 [38 favorites]


Creepy, but in a headscratchingly grand way.
posted by found missing at 2:15 PM on December 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


You've neglected to mention whether she is the kind of person who might enjoy a banjo. Plus it's kind of a big-ticket gift for an ex-girlfriend.

For better or worse, she'd certainly be hard-pressed to forget that guy who gave her a banjo.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:16 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't call the gesture "grand" or "magnanimous so much as "grandiose", "pompous", and "self-absorbed".

Oh yeah, and creepy as all get-out. If you don't want her to know it's from you, it might be a pretty good sign you shouldn't give it to her at all.
posted by balls at 2:19 PM on December 12, 2009 [16 favorites]


Ah. I overlooked the anonymity. Anonymous banjo is a bit creepy, yeah.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:19 PM on December 12, 2009


It would be viewed, correctly, as a last-ditch effort by an ex to guilt her into considering re-starting the relationship. You know that's what this is about. You want her to find out. If I'm wrong, I apologize, but I really don't think I am. Spend your money on something nice for you. Move on.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:20 PM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


You're her ex, and it doesn't sound like you're friends. Not at all an appropriate time for gift-giving.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:20 PM on December 12, 2009


This seems really self-serving. As others have said, it seems as if you want to do this not really for her, but so you can feel good about it. Are you sure there isn't a part of you that kind of hopes she does find out who it's from?
posted by runningwithscissors at 2:21 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Very creepy.

I'd spend the money on some therapy to figure out why you fixate on these women with whom you've had doomed relationships. I'm not trying to be mean; I honestly think you'd be happier if you could learn not to spend time thinking about these women.
posted by decathecting at 2:22 PM on December 12, 2009


You could spend your money commissioning a painting of her playing the banjo under a tree in the spring sunshine. I'm serious. That would also be creepy, but at least it wouldn't involve your ex in a way that makes her feel uncomfortable (unless she ever sees it).
posted by oinopaponton at 2:22 PM on December 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


Personally, getting a big gift anonymously would at worst creep me the hell out and make me think stalker. At best it would make me uncomfortable.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:23 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the whole random present sent anonymously to a girl's family home is definitely creepy. I say this even as someone who usually encourages random acts of weirdness. But in this case, you risk ruining this girl's Christmas and embarrassing her in front of her parents. Don't do it. I second buying a banjo for yourself. Maybe you could practice and use it to meet a new banjo-playing girl ...?
posted by mannequito at 2:25 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yep creepy. Perhaps you should buy the banjo and find someone who wants to pose fetchingly with it for you. Maybe it's a kink that waiting to get out. Giving it to the ex-fling is just going to go south.
posted by diode at 2:25 PM on December 12, 2009


so terribly creepy!
posted by cannibalrobot at 2:25 PM on December 12, 2009


If you really wanted to do "something magnanimous" you'd do something that was good for her as opposed to giving her a gift that fits your mental image of what makes her beautiful, so I'm going to put this in the "creepy as hell" column.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:26 PM on December 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


(and, to clarify, I’m not stalking this girl. I have no interest in her except as an admirer, this is probably more about me than about her. I looked up her address in the phone book)

Riiiiight. You're worse than stalking her. At least with stalking there is a chance she may remain oblivious. In your scenario there is going to be a creepy as hell banjo turning up at her parents house. Not fair on her or her parents and the last thing she is going to do is grab it from the postman and run to the nearest tree picking out Camptown Races. Depending on their tolerance for weird crap on their doorstep they'll either return to sender or call the police department.

Go out and get laid.
posted by fire&wings at 2:26 PM on December 12, 2009


If you give it anonymously, it's creepy. If you give it... nonymously... it's like you're trying to win her back by spending lots of money on an expensive present, and with that comes the "grandiose" and "self-absorbed" result. You just can not win with this banjo thing. Maybe if we were in a novel.
posted by tehloki at 2:26 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nothing says "I have a heartfelt wish for your life to go well" like the majesty and the gravitas of the gift of a banjo.

If it helps in your thought process, imagine if instead of the actual banjo, you availed yourself of one of Hallmark's line of "This Anonymous Note Sends You Good Wishes In Lieu Of A Banjo" cards, unsigned, and sent to her parents' house. If you envision that having a good ending, then maybe you can take baby steps towards the banjo to see how that works out for you, like a kazoo discreetly left at her lunch table with her name and a bow, or a mouth harp tucked in the top of her car's sun visor so it drops delightfully into her lap next time she has to save a parking garage stub.

But if at all possible, find some way to remove the creepy. Euuughghgh.
posted by spinn at 2:27 PM on December 12, 2009 [53 favorites]


I love that word, what it means, and would like to craft a moment of serendipity for someone.

Your area probably has charity gift programs where you can "adopt" a poor kid/family to buy gifts for. That would be a better way to achieve your goal of selfless kindness.

The banjo-ex idea is just weird; it's a way of roping her into your fantasy life, and that's not selfless or kind.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:28 PM on December 12, 2009 [14 favorites]


It's not very often I tell someone on here to get their head looked at, but after reading your post I think you should. The most charitable reading I can give this is that you're giving the banjo to make yourself happy, not her- and at worst, it comes off as a little schizophrenic.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:30 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


nth-ing creepy. if this girl has ever been stalked, it could be the thing that makes her change her numbers/name/schedule/job. anonymous, big ticket presents delivered to her parents house reeks of an overly large attachment without the emotional stability to approach it like an adult. in no way would i, were i to receive something like this, think it was serendipitous or magnanimous. i would go through the list of every guy i had a bad breakup with, and every guy that seemed a little too interested in my personal life, and i'd make myself sick with worry for at least a few months.
posted by nadawi at 2:30 PM on December 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


Screw practicality. I think it's a lovely idea. But don't ever let her find out that it was you.
posted by kitcat at 2:30 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


oh - and your first reason should be reason enough for you to see that what you say your intentions are, and what you hope the outcome to be are so far apart as to be astronomical. you want to be remembered, pined over, to leave women with some sort of sadness for being without you. there is no way you'd be able to stay anonymous. and the fact that you had to look her parents up, instead of being given that information by her, just makes it that much more of an invasion of her privacy.
posted by nadawi at 2:34 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's not actually grand and magnanimous, as others are saying; what you are trying to frame as a selfless, romantic gesture appears to be almost exclusively about you (and your fantasy of who this woman is), and very little about her.

Please don't do it. I cannot imagine under what circumstances she'd find it anything other than creepy, and I cannot imagine how it might be healthy for you in any way to try to relate to a woman like this.
posted by scody at 2:34 PM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's creepy, and there's a good chance she will know it's from you, even without any identifying information on the packaging. I have an ex-boyfriend who has thoughts along these lines, and I would know in a minute that any weird, anonymous gift was from him.
posted by amro at 2:35 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


oh - oh - do not follow spinn's advice of leaving things in her car (!). that would go from creepy anonymous gift to breaking and entering and actual invasion of her private space.

you need to figure out a way to get this girl out of your head. you have a fixation on her that needs to be sorted out in therapy or in the arms of someone else. thinking an ex would be beautiful doing (x) is perfectly normal. looking up her parents address, researching how to gift a instrument anonymously, and crafting elaborate fantasies around someone you had a bad parting with is well over the gray line of "am i obsessing over someone".
posted by nadawi at 2:38 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you actually want to make someone happy, I'm certain there's someone in this thread who would be quite happy to be the recipient of a banjo.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:38 PM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Feeling the need to elaborate on my last comment there. I was once the 'woman thought beautiful' and also once knew many men, who, like you, loved to engineer this kind of serendipity and also loved banjos. Yes, it's silly and youthful, but foolishness and youth tend to fade and we all miss them when they're gone. Years from now, the woman can think: "I was once thought beautiful, and was given a bango." And you can think: "Once, I anonymously gave a beautiful woman a bango." I think those are both reminiscences worth having when you're old and soured. In fact, I know so.
posted by kitcat at 2:39 PM on December 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


Unless the girl is named "cortex" and lives in Portland, I think this is a terrible idea. My first reaction upon reading this question was "WHAT?"

do not follow spinn's advice of leaving things in her car

I think he/she was being dramatically ironic.
posted by desjardins at 2:45 PM on December 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


Creepy, in a Deliverance sort of way.
posted by fixedgear at 2:50 PM on December 12, 2009


do not follow spinn's advice of leaving things in her car

I think he/she was being dramatically ironic.

i hope so. but since the OP thinks sending the banjo is not only a good idea, but a grand gesture, i didn't want him to get any other crazy ideas in his head. i'm sure i'm overly sensitive since i once had a guy that liked to leave love notes in my locker that were attached to teddy bears with sharpened pencils and fake blood around the "wound"...
posted by nadawi at 2:51 PM on December 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


this is probably more about me than about her.

This is what drops it squarely into the realm of creepy for me. It does sound like it's much more about you than it is about her - you don't even mention if she likes the banjo, or has always wanted to learn to play, or anything. It's all about you.

And that's a yucky reason for giving a gift, even anonymously.

As for the ex you had dinner with? If this was the first time you'd seen each other one-on-one since the break-up, then it's entirely possible that she was being a little formal and distant so as not to send mixed messages. She was setting boundaries. She may feel very sad about the break-up, but she may be trying to take care in not sounding like "sad=missing you=wanting to get back together." It doesn't mean she wasn't affected by you and your relationship. Again, it's not necessarily about you.

If you really want to do something cool and lower on the creepy scale, then give a big donation in her name to a cause that she cares about and supports. And never tell anyone it was you.
posted by rtha at 2:56 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I really don't think there's a way she won't figure out that it was from you. She dated you which gave her access into the world in which your head lives. This creepy gesture would only be preformed by certain type of "special" person. As soon as the banjo showed up, she'll put two and two together in a heartbeat and you'll forever be known as her creepy stalker ex who gave her a banjo.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 2:58 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you do, enclose a card that says "Hey, I just saw Deliverance and was thinking about you. Enjoy!" and then put her out of your mind. Forever.

It'll thus be engraved in her psyche long after it voids yours. Not too cool, IMO, but if you're after impact, it's virtually certain to have one.

Consensus here seems to be that it's creepy. I agree, but FTW!, someone has to be Creepy's friend! Embrace your inner creep! Creep out! Practice abundant creepage! Creepalate. Banjos for everyone!
posted by FauxScot at 3:00 PM on December 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh and also, I like the suggestion of using that money to buy a needy kid a present for the holidays.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 3:02 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Years and years ago, I was in a relationship with a guy who was prone to romanticized gestures like this - nothing quite to the degree of a banjo, but similar stuff. I broke up with him because I felt like he really didn't understand me, like instead of seeing me for myself he had this weird idealized vision of me being some ethereal maiden walking along a distant shore or some shit, and I just didn't feel like I could really be myself around him. (It was a "sort of formal" relationship, too, like you describe.)

Long after we broke up, he drove by my parents' house a few times to drop off trinkets or long poetic letters for me, and I got a Valentine's Day email from him seven years after the fact with some jive about reflections and mists of time. Oh, and by this time he had married someone else.

I had a favorable opinion of him when we broke up, he was a nice guy and I wished him the best, etc. His post-breakup attempts to contact me and send me gifts turned him creepy pretty quickly and have ensured that I will do my best to avoid him forever. And I'm saddened and a little weirded out that, wherever he is, somewhere in the back of his mind he probably still pines for me, or rather, a mental image of me that is absolutely nothing like who I really am.

Your question reminds me so, so much of that guy. Please do not be that guy.

Your ex does not want a banjo. She would not play a banjo. She probably finds nothing beautiful about banjos. If she received a banjo anonymously and couldn't figure out who sent it, she'd probably think "what the fuck?" and try to return it or sell it on Ebay or something. If she figured out it was from you, she'd be anywhere from slightly skeeved out to flat-out terrified.

Put something beautiful in the world that does not involve an ex-girlfriend, instead.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:02 PM on December 12, 2009 [42 favorites]


Random Banjos. Remember them? They opened for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 82.

Yeah, it's creepy. It's selfish, too, because it seems that the banjo is your dream, not hers. Unless she once confessed to you that her biggest dream in the world was to own a banjo, I'd keep the stringed-instruments to myself. How would you feel if a week later you see a listing on CraigsList for a brand-new banjo, never used?

If you do, however, need beyond anything to get a banjo for someone...donate one to a kid who wants to learn or find an unusually talented frog in the swamp. Or just donate some money to Save the Music.
posted by inturnaround at 3:03 PM on December 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Creepy. Even if she mentioned to you that she is dying for a banjo. Really it is so creepy.

If I received an anonymous musical instrument, I would contact the company and let them know that they'd made a mistake. If they then told me that it was some kind of gift for me from a secret admirer, I would be totally freaked out.
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:06 PM on December 12, 2009


I can think of nothing in this world more beautiful than this girl playing the banjo.

The whole plan is odd and likely to just confuse, frighten, or annoy this woman, but the above sentence stands out to me as super duper wow creepy oh my god so much creepy. Don't do it. Satisfy your desire to imagine her playing the banjo by... imagining her playing the banjo.

Spend your serendipity money on a date with or gift for a woman who is interested in receiving your attention.
posted by Meg_Murry at 3:10 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oddly enough, I have been the recipient of a Christmas banjo from an ex. But it was like 2 Christmases after we broke up, and it wasn't done anonymously, and she probably heard me say "I should probably buy a banjo" like a bajillion times while we were dating. If this was done anonymously and if I hadn't wanted a banjo? That would be a totally different story.

I'll add my voice to the crowd saying "creepy as hell", but I'd also like to say that nothing about this would seem serendipitous if it happened to me. I wouldn't be thinking "Hmmm, what an odd series of events must have happened exactly perfectly for me to get this banjo", I'd be thinking "Who did this? Why did they do it? Why didn't they put their name on it?"
posted by 23skidoo at 3:11 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


In defense of myself, I don't think I'm at any risk of putting strange ideas in the head of someone who wants to get his unrequited love a banjo as a grand gesture. If I had that kind of rhetorical power, I'd use it to write a series of increasingly strange science fiction novels.
posted by spinn at 3:12 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is not only creepy, but one of the creepiest things I've ever read on metafilter.

I say this as a banjo-playing lady. So, so, so, so, so creepy.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:15 PM on December 12, 2009 [17 favorites]


You are obsessed and really need to move on. Seriously.

SERIOUSLY.
posted by twblalock at 3:16 PM on December 12, 2009


Donating to a charity in memory of the failed relationship would be the dictionary definition of magnanimous. There's nothing high-minded about shoehorning her into your daydream.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:17 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm going to disagree with most of the people here and tell you that if I got an anonymous gift of a banjo, I would be truly delighted!

I don't play the banjo, I've never considered learning to play the banjo, but if a nice banjo just appeared on my doorstep, I think I'd look at it as an opportunity to try something completely unexpected. Who knows... maybe I'd discover that I really really like playing the banjo! Maybe it would turn out to be some kind of life-changing event. If I were the recipient, it would definitely be one of the coolest things that had ever happened to me. I think you should go for it!

So... I think the banjo idea is interesting. I think you should go for it!
posted by rhartong at 3:18 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
posted by hermitosis at 3:21 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just send a goddamn banjo to a random person in the phone book if you're so desperate to give a banjo to someone who doesn't give a shit about a banjo. Christ.
posted by Damn That Television at 3:25 PM on December 12, 2009 [42 favorites]


Perhaps you should consider sending enough money for a banjo (if possible, with a stipulation that it be used for one) to a music charity. That banjo would make some needy kid or New Orleans musician affected by Katrina supremely happy. They might even sit under a tree with it in the springtime.
posted by Soliloquy at 3:27 PM on December 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


I once got an anonymous gift of a $20 paperweight from a secret admirer. It scared the hell out of me, to the point where I had trouble sleeping at night until my "secret admirer" fessed up. If I got an anonymous gift of a thousand-dollar musical instrument from a secret admirer, I think I'd quit my job and move.

You may be shooting for "serendipity," but what you're more likely to achieve is "bowel-liquefying terror." Because here's the thing. . . you, as the giver, know that the next gift isn't going to be a pig's head on a spike, but she doesn't.
posted by KathrynT at 3:30 PM on December 12, 2009 [13 favorites]


Why did you bother asking the question if you were just going to favorite the answer from the one person who sees things your way?
posted by amro at 3:33 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


What an astoundingly interesting question.

I have three things to say to you about this:

Archibald Edmund Binns: “I was very sad when things ended, and when I went to dinner with her, I admit that I was curious to see what she thought about it. But she didn’t think about it. It was if it had never happened, she treated me the exact same way she had when we first met, with lots of care and good feelings, but absolutely nothing of the deeper connection we once had. It hurt that she didn’t seem sad that it was over, even though I honestly would never wish any sort of sadness on her. It’s seemed to me lately that all of my relationships are like this lately, sort of formal, with no real feeling on either party’s part. Someone told me years ago that they measured their life in terms of the effects they had on others, and I can’t get that thought out of my head.”

To start with:

(a) I think measuring your life in terms of the effect which you have on other people is probably a very, very bad idea, a recipe for a wildly fluctuating self-image. At worst, it could quickly lead a completely immoral, unprincipled and unguided life. If you'd like a good, vivid image of what a soul oriented solely toward the effect it has on others really looks like, you are referred to Orson Welles' film Citizen Kane.

I can see how you might interpret the credo that one should "measure a life in terms of its effect on others" in such a way that it might be a moderately useful one. However, it's clear to me that you aren't doing that; and that brings me to my next point:

(b) If you want to gauge the impact you have on another person's life, the very last metric you should use is feelings. Feelings don't count for crap. Feelings are momentary; they say nothing about a person's long-term well-being, and they often actually contradict a really careful assessment. We have feelings about all kinds of things, but if people lived according to their feelings they'd be dead in a few hours. Long-term happiness and contentedness and lasting tranquility are the kinds of things you should be looking at if you want to best judge whether you have a good impact on other people, and those things often have very little to do with how people are feeling at any given moment.

To give the glaringly obvious example: the fact that your ex-girlfriend isn't feeling sadness, that she treats you as the friend you were before you dated, is a sign of her long-term psychological health. You're worried that what you two had, brief as it was, didn't mean anything to her; but that's because you're under the mistaken impression that "meaning" has to be conveyed through a muddled emotional response, whereas the healthy and functional way to place meaning on a past relationship is to learn lessons from it that are not forgotten. And, to be honest, if you want to be happy, I think you need to get to the point where you can stop worrying so very much about what she thinks of you, since what she thinks doesn't have two shits to do with your future happiness.

“So, here it seems that I have the chance to affect someone that I sort of secretly love in a way that seems fantastically random and kind of wonderful. I’ve been thinking about the word serendipity lately, how it’s supposed to be the hardest English word to translate and all that jazz. I love that word, what it means, and would like to craft a moment of serendipity for someone.”

(c) Getting toward the point, your plan will probably fail, to be honest, because you're ignoring human nature and specifically your own part in all this. You're impressed by the idea of 'serendipity,' and I think it's a very deep and interesting subject which I've explored more in the context of 'providence.' But this isn't a simple situation where you're just exercising and taking part in serendipity.

You explained your deeper reason for wanting to give her the banjo when you said that you were sad that she didn't display feelings about your relationship when you talked with her. You want to send her a banjo because you want a safe, detached way to make her feel something; giving the banjo anonymously is just a way to disguise this fact from yourself and to give yourself a free pass to do so, since you aren't distinctly making her feel about you that way.

This won't work, however, because your secret hope is to see her feeling this, and so you will almost certainly feel strongly compelled to try to break in and observe her reaction to the banjo. It'll be hard for you not to call her up and say "so - did you get any... obscure musical instruments from anonymous admirers for Christmas?" And besides, part of you seems to want her to know you've given this banjo to her. You can tell yourself that you're believing in serendipity, and thus force yourself not to make such inquiries, but really not being able to see her enjoy your gift will rob you of the joy which your displaced sort of method of giving is aiming at. This aim of yours is clear when you say:

“Finally, and most selfishly, I can think of nothing in this world more beautiful than this girl playing the banjo. I mean, Christ, just that mental image of her sitting under a tree in spring sunshine, picking a banjo. That is something I would keep until the worms picked it from my rotting brain.”

(d) So keep that image. You've got it. That doesn't change the fact that you'll never see her playing that banjo. Even if you do this - even if you give it to her anonymously, even if she receives it with joy, even if she plays it until the day she dies, it is exceedingly unlikely that you'll ever manage to drag her under a tree and get her to play that thing for you. Can you even imagine getting her to play it for you at all? This is what I mean when I say that feelings can be contrary to practical life. Keep that image in your mind, return to it whenever you like; and then smile and get on with your life.

If you want to engage in a real, direct experiment in serendipity, purify it and do it right: give the banjo to a complete stranger. That way it's not all mixed up with misplaced feelings.

As for the girl: either pursue her or forget her. It's hard, and it's not what your feelings tell you to do, but it's the only way to happiness.
posted by koeselitz at 3:33 PM on December 12, 2009 [28 favorites]


Does it diminish the creepy if it's not to an ex? I talked it over with some friends of mine and I'm thinking about giving it to another girl i don't know well at all. She's wrestling with some self-esteem issues, from what I've heard, and could do with just the idea that someone thinks she's special. What makes this different from that metafilter thread (I can't remember which) where that girl was saying she received roses anonymously for a year, and didn't find out for years that it was her best friend?
I'd just like it to be a mystery, a happy mystery, a grand gesture.
Yeah, maybe this is a little self-centered, I'd be silly to think otherwise, but is there no positive outcome here?
posted by Archibald Edmund Binns at 3:33 PM on December 12, 2009


Seriously, seriously creepy. Like, "never contact me again, I will not only cross the street but change directions and head into any random business to avoid you" levels of creepy if someone did that to me. Especially if it was an ex.

Also kind of odd that out of 50+ responses saying creepy and you mark the just about the only one saying go for it as best. Why even bother asking?
posted by Kellydamnit at 3:36 PM on December 12, 2009


Does she actually like the banjo? This sounds like your fantasy, sort of a la Vertigo.

I mean, I might like to get a banjo in the mail. You could send it to me! I am unconventionally attractive.

I'd keep the stringed-instruments to myself. How would you feel if a week later you see a listing on CraigsList for a brand-new banjo, never used?

What was that Hemingway short story? The saddest creepiest story in the world, in six words?

Something like, "For sale: one banjo, never used," maybe?
posted by liketitanic at 3:37 PM on December 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Does it diminish the creepy if it's not to an ex? I talked it over with some friends of mine and I'm thinking about giving it to another girl i don't know well at all. She's wrestling with some self-esteem issues, from what I've heard, and could do with just the idea that someone thinks she's special

Gaaaaaaah. I don't think you are listening to the people in this thread. If you'd like to make someone happy by giving them a banjo, find someone who wants a banjo and give it to them. This plan you have to give some woman, ANY woman, a banjo is more about you and your ideas on romance than it is about them, and that's why it's so creepy. Would you give the banjo to a good male friend? No? Didn't think so.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:41 PM on December 12, 2009 [38 favorites]


Does it diminish the creepy if it's not to an ex?
Only in that it goes down a peg to chronic heavy breathing phone calls level creepy from someone watching you through the windows level creepy.
Small anonymous tokens can be sweet. maybe. Expensive anonymous not-very-popular musical instruments sent to people who have zero interest in said instrument is going to always be on the creepy end of the spectrum.
posted by Kellydamnit at 3:42 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Does it diminish the creepy if it's not to an ex?

Give it - or money - to a charity that will give the banjo to SOMEONE WHO NEEDS IT.

This random cheering up girls with self esteem issues by giving them banjos they can't play is really level 4 on the Gein-ometer of creepiness.

Listen to what the 50+ people on here are telling you.
posted by fire&wings at 3:42 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


wow - so many comments here about how creepy it would be, and you best answer the one that agrees with you? why even post the question if you are going to ignore the overwhelming majority of the answers?

it's really creepy. I would be very weirded out to get an anonymous banjo present. It's very very likely that she will know it was you who sent it - even if doesn't have your name on it anywhere, she'll know that you are the sort of person to do something like that, and it will totally change her perception of you for the worse. don't do it.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:45 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


What makes this different from that metafilter thread (I can't remember which) where that girl was saying she received roses anonymously for a year, and didn't find out for years that it was her best friend?

1) There is a big difference between a friend giving a gift to another friend, and either a) a person giving a gift to an ex, or b) a person giving a gift to a stranger.

2) People are used to getting flowers, and there is a specific set of cultural meanings attached to them. People are not used to getting banjos, and there is no way that the recipient is going to understand the meaning behind getting a banjo.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:46 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Extremely creepy. No, it does not diminish the creepiness if it's not an ex. There is no possible set of circumstances that does not make this creepy, unless the girl happens to be a banjo prodigy who had to give up her dreams of stardom and sell her banjo to pay for her mother's gall bladder operation. Which is to say, nope, this is quite definitely both creepy and insane.
posted by equalpants at 3:46 PM on December 12, 2009


Does it diminish the creepy if it's not to an ex? I talked it over with some friends of mine and I'm thinking about giving it to another girl i don't know well at all. She's wrestling with some self-esteem issues, from what I've heard, and could do with just the idea that someone thinks she's special. What makes this different from that metafilter thread (I can't remember which) where that girl was saying she received roses anonymously for a year, and didn't find out for years that it was her best friend?
I'd just like it to be a mystery, a happy mystery, a grand gesture.
Yeah, maybe this is a little self-centered, I'd be silly to think otherwise, but is there no positive outcome here?


The fact that you're so hung up on giving a banjo to a woman shows that you're doing this with objectification in mind. This is all about your fantasy of a hot chick playing a banjo under a tree, and not anything about these women as actual people--which is a big part of what makes it seem both creepy and self-centered, too.

(And honestly? It's shudder-worthy enough to make me cringe at the idea of picking up my own banjo in front of strange men. It just seems so fetishistic.)

Also speaking as a bad banjo-player, it's a really hard string instrument to play even if you are interested in it. I think more than almost any other instrument, there's a high likelihood that this will just end up as an expensive paperweight, collecting dust in a corner. Though I would be slightly skeeved out about receiving anonymous roses for a year, at least there the message is clear and it doesn't necessitate a ton of work on the part of the recipient to be appreciated.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:47 PM on December 12, 2009 [13 favorites]


oh sorry - I see you've marked another best answer - I should have previewed, nevermind the first bit of my comment
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:47 PM on December 12, 2009


I once desired a banjo. If someone had sent me one, along with a gift certificate for banjo lessons, I would have been totally charmed. Of course I would have wondered who sent it all, but that was back in a simpler time before the internet and before anyone ad invented the word stalking.
posted by mareli at 3:47 PM on December 12, 2009


Can't this be that?
posted by Archibald Edmund Binns at 3:48 PM on December 12, 2009


Dude, banjos are hardly on the super-easy end of the musical instrument spectrum. I got one (as in, I bought one) and it was NOT good for my self-esteem.

Instead of imagining someone being really happy doing something that you want them to do, why not try imagining them being really happy doing something they want to do?
posted by hermitosis at 3:48 PM on December 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


Does it diminish the creepy if it's not to an ex?

No, it increases the creepiness because you want to give it to some girl who has self esteem issues that doesn't even really know you and there still isn't a damn clue that she even wants a banjo! Quit trying to please random women 'cause you think it would make them look beautiful, it's tipping the meter towards flat out crazy.

Come on man, you're being that incredibly creepy nice guy that scares the shit outta women, based on what you're writing here. Go mentor a child. Volunteer to help the homeless. Work with AIDS patients or burn victims. Hell, give a banjo to a starving male musician, that would make his damn world, you just don't know, but leave the anonymous women alone.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:49 PM on December 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


Your scheme has a quality that reminds me of an ex who gave me presents that he thought I should like, but who never tried to find out what I would like. The gifts had a very different effect from what he must have expected. I always resented the burden of a gift that I couldn't appreciate. So, unless you know that she's hankered for a banjo, or even a bango, I think your fantasy is leading you astray. Go ahead and run those dreams in your head, but don't act on them, please, because they don't really have anything to do with her.
posted by path at 3:49 PM on December 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


Does it diminish the creepy if it's not to an ex?

Diminishes, yes, but not to a level of uncreepy enough that it's okay to do.

It really seems to me, especially now, that you have some need to give a woman a banjo which means this is about you, not them. So whether it's creepy or not is one thing. Sometimes dramatically odd and arty gestures like this one succeed against all odds. However if you are unsure of social mores enough that you're asking about it, you're probably not one of those people who should be considering it, im my opinion.

Here's a story. I get things in the mail from strangers a lot. Rarely anonymously. I got a map of the Long Trail recently from someone who knew enough about me to know I lived in Vermont. They were cleaning out their garage or something and thought I'd like it. They wrote a nice letter saying so. I thought "hey neat" and I look at the map and smile. Last year I got an Amazon gift card in the mail in an envelope with no return address and no legible postmark for a not insubstantial amount. Many thoughts went through my head including

- is this from my crazy neighbor who threatened me?
- is this from some creepy ex?
- is this from some creepy MeFite?
- is this from some nice MeFite who doesn't know that my first thoughts are "is this from someone creepy?"

So I couldn't send it back and figured there was an off chance it was from someone with good intentions so instead of giving it away, I used it to buy a necklace. However, every time I wear that necklace, I'm a little "hmm?" because I'm not totally sure a creep didnt technically buy it for me. And I'm not sure I did the right thing.

If your goal is to spread more joy in the world and not to increase your personal level of fantasy-women adoring you in secret, do something else. Otherwise, go do what you want, but don't kid yourself it's anything other than an exercise in misguided self-pleasure, as many people here see it.
posted by jessamyn at 3:50 PM on December 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


What makes this different from that metafilter thread (I can't remember which) where that girl was saying she received roses anonymously for a year, and didn't find out for years that it was her best friend?

What makes it different is BANJO.

You started this thing by imagining she'd get an anonymous musical instrument and be confused and delighted, buy a banjo case, find a banjo instructor, take months of banjo classes, and find a tree under which to ultimately live out your banjophiliac fantasy. The fact you've run the odds on this and come up with something less than infinity is a clear indicator your judgment is impaired on this matter.

If you asked her for actual advice rather than just to gear yourself up, then tally all the "creepy!" responses here, compare with the number of "delightful!" responses, and then throw that piece of paper away anyway because seriously, man, no banjo.
posted by spinn at 3:50 PM on December 12, 2009 [44 favorites]


With your responses, you seem to be really holding tightly to this idea despite the overwhelming response to the contrary. So let me ask you: What do you foresee happening from this grand gesture? You anonymously ship the girl a banjo . . . and then what?
posted by KathrynT at 3:50 PM on December 12, 2009


I really doubt this gesture is about making the world a better place for the serendipity-loving people and their penchant for maidens playing banjos under trees.

Your past relationships have ended formally because you're not seeing your girlfriends as actual people who would open an unmarked box and say "wait, why the fuck did someone mail me a banjo?", but as caricatures in your personal reality black hole. Nearly every girl has dated this guy (you guys usually come out of the woodwork in college and then grow up into normal men by 27) and it's really tiring to have to convince your boyfriend that you are, in fact, a real person and not an amalgamation of fantasies he's harbored since puberty.

I don't know why this is an almost uniquely male crisis in relationships, but I've never heard a woman discuss her boyfriend as a mist-swathed figure whom she imagines to be riding horses across windswept heaths. In any case, walk outside your head and imagine this woman's predictable, mundane, utterly unromantic human reaction to an unbidden banjo at her doorstep. She'll be less likely to play it under a sunny tree than to inspect its belly for a bomb or a hidden camera.

Your fantasy is benign and I'm sorry everyone is coming down so hard on you, but you simply must see the correlation between 1.) a women cheerfully having lunch with you, no signs of broken hearts or old emotional connections in sight, and 2.) you, still bummed, planning on blindsiding another unsuspecting ex with a banjo because you think it'd be neat if she played it under a tree. Stop grafting your impersonal distortions of grandeur on a regular old people.
posted by zoomorphic at 3:51 PM on December 12, 2009 [71 favorites]


Can't this be that?

The fact that you're so unwilling to let it go when tons and tons of people are telling you a bad idea means it isn't that.
It's a creepy gesture, and your inability to see it (or listen to the people trying to tell you) makes it even MORE creepy seeming.
posted by Kellydamnit at 3:52 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


To tone down the creepy factor, try toning down the idea of a 'Grand Gesture'. Roses for a year is sweet, and anonymous banjo is odd. If you really want to boost this girl's self esteem think smaller scale. There is nothing wrong with sending her flowers and a note that says "Hope these brighten your day!" or "I thought you might need a boost." even if you send them anonymously. Flowers have meaning. They can mean friendship, love, condolence, or even "Have a nice day!". A banjo doesn't have any social meaning. It is really expensive, and rather odd. Also, flowers have no resale value so you won't have to worry about them showing up on CraigsList the next week.

I think it's great that you want to be generous, but I think maybe you can find a better way to do it.
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:53 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can't this be that?

Difference is, she finds out it was her best friend who sent her the flowers. Your recipient finds out that it's either an ex or a near-stranger. Changes the calculus.

Also, yeah, those were flowers.
posted by amro at 3:54 PM on December 12, 2009


Also speaking as a bad banjo-player, it's a really hard string instrument to play even if you are interested in it. I think more than almost any other instrument, there's a high likelihood that this will just end up as an expensive paperweight, collecting dust in a corner.

This.

Dude, banjos are hardly on the super-easy end of the musical instrument spectrum. I got one (as in, I bought one) and it was NOT good for my self-esteem.

Also, this. The Christmas banjo that I got from the ex because she knew that I wanted one? I never learned to play it.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:55 PM on December 12, 2009


Don't give a banjo to someone with self-esteem issues unless you're entirely sure they have the time and ability to learn how to play what is, in fact, an instrument requiring pretty good manual dexterity to play. When feeling particularly shitty, there's nothing worse than getting an expensive gift that will just constantly remind you of your own inability to do something.

I'm all for making the world a stranger place. Just don't try to make it stranger by impressing responsibility to learn and play a musical instrument on someone.
posted by griphus at 3:56 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do what you will. But you should be aware that people who find it creepy are responding to the magic pixie dream girl trope of it all. It's like a pretty crappy movie, what you want to do here.
posted by birdie birdington at 3:58 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Really, anything this expensive and this specific is going to be creepy to pretty much anyone. I would recommend against any banjo-giving, except to a school or a charity. Perhaps reading this Onion article might put the situation into perspective. It's the sort of thing that seems charming in fiction but works out very poorly in real life.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:59 PM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Sorry, it's just as creepy to send it to this other girl. In fact, you know what? It's creepier. In terms of creepiness:

sending it to a complete stranger < sending it to an ex < sending it to someone you just barely know

I get the feeling that nothing will dissuade you from your banjo machinations, so I recommend you send it to someone you've never met. For good measure, make it someone you are unlikely to ever meet.
posted by decagon at 4:00 PM on December 12, 2009


Oh, shit. GenjiandProust's Onion link is the exact thing I was thinking of when I started reading and got all caught up.
posted by griphus at 4:01 PM on December 12, 2009


*I’ve been thinking about the word serendipity lately, how it’s supposed to be the hardest English word to translate and all that jazz. I love that word, what it means, and would like to craft a moment of serendipity for someone.

Let me assure you that sending an expensive anonymous gift to someone's parents -- whom you probably have never met in real life, whose address you got out of the phone book -- will most assuredly not create even a nanosecond of this serendipity of which you speak.

A likelier response will be to contact the authorities; the phrase "restraining order" will probably come up at some point in the conversation.

Finally, and most selfishly, I can think of nothing in this world more beautiful than this girl playing the banjo. I mean, Christ, just that mental image of her sitting under a tree in spring sunshine, picking a banjo. That is something I would keep until the worms picked it from my rotting brain.


You know what you need to do? You need to channel that image into some kind of artistic expression. Draw a picture of that image. Write a short story about it. Whatever medium you work in, turn that image into something beautiful that works for you and you alone. Because that's your moment of serendipity. Not hers. It never will be hers. A ham-handed attempt to impose that serendipity on someone who doesn't share it cannot end well.
posted by jason's_planet at 4:01 PM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Bummer. You guys are probably right, I have a lot to think about.
I just wish i lived in a world where this wasn't creepy.
It just felt like such a great idea. That's all. Forgive me for being idealistic or romantic or narcissistic at the expense of strangers.
posted by Archibald Edmund Binns at 4:02 PM on December 12, 2009 [17 favorites]


Another thought: this is so not likely to let you leave the impact you're hoping for. I had a friend who sounds a bit like you in college (he was really into romantic comedies--there's no chance you're into serendipity because of the John Cusack movie of the same name, right?). He started chatting with another friend of mine from work after seeing her on my myspace. They were planning to meet when she was home for Thanksgiving, and even though they'd never done more than flirt, he told me he was planning on buying her a digital camera. I told him it was creepy. He said that, if they didn't date, then at least she'd have good memories of him doing something nice for her.

Well, they didn't date. She told me at first that she meant to give him back the camera, but ended up keeping it. A few years later, she asked me what happened to "that weirdo who gave me the camera."

Don't be that weirdo.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:04 PM on December 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


You're not a bad guy.

I just think you need to work on the empathy and personal boundaries a little bit more.
posted by jason's_planet at 4:05 PM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


(That being directed at the OP, of course, not Mr. Kenobi)
posted by jason's_planet at 4:05 PM on December 12, 2009


Forgive me for being idealistic or romantic or narcissistic at the expense of strangers.

You don't have to stop being any of those things. Just don't purchase, package, stamp, and anonymously mail any banjoes at the (emotional) expense of ex-girlfriends.
posted by griphus at 4:05 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's wonderful that you're trying to make other people happy. It's wonderful that you're trying to be selfless, and share what you have with others.

What's not so wonderful is that the particular method you've chosen to convey these things is what most people consider to be creepy. From the sounds of it, your ex is living her life and has a totally normal relationship with her ex boyfriend (you). She sees him every now and then, doesn't harbour any feelings for him any more, and rarely thinks about him in any meaningful way. This is quite normal, and I'm sure all of us have exes who think of us in the same way. The way for you to make her happy is to have the same relationship with her. The way for you to be selfless is to put your own desires of overblown romatic gestures aside, and respect her enough to simply be her ex, who she gets along fine with, but doesn't see or think about all that much.

As for your other friend- again, it's wonderful that you want to help someone who's struggling with self esteem issues. Your first response, however, is to... send her an anonymous banjo? That seems to reflect more upon some desire of yours than upon a wish to make her happier. If you truly want to help out, then there are many ways to do so without being creepy: compliment her on something, spend more time with her, take her out to a special dinner or show or something she'd enjoy (warning- the correct choice here depends entirely upon your relationship with her. If you 'don't know her well at all', then the best thing you could do would maybe be to say 'hey, I love that dress' WITHOUT BEING CREEPY next time you see her).

Again, don't feel bad for wanting to do things that make people happy. The weird thing here isn't that you want to help out, it's that you want to do it in such a strange way (and when the recipient of your help changes, you want to help them in... exactly the same way?). This is not about your having an opportunity to do something romantic, it's about them. Giving them a banjo makes it about your desires, not about their needs.
posted by twirlypen at 4:06 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whoops, should have previewed.

I just wish i lived in a world where this wasn't creepy.

The world we really live in is so much better, though. It's a world where we can get to know people and appreciate them for who they really are. Someday, you'll find some totally unique person and fall in love with them for all their weird complexities and warts. They might not want to play a banjo, but one day you'll figure out something really great to get them based on their own interests and be able to do so openly and the impression you'll leave will be so much better than the impression you'd leave for being a banjo-fairy. Promise.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:09 PM on December 12, 2009 [38 favorites]


Look, I'm female and live in another country, so I don't mind how creepy this is. Send me the banjo and I'll take romantic shots of someone who isn't me but could be sitting under a tree (probably a jacaranda) playing it, or at least pretending to. Please include an instructional DVD. Then we can both be happy.
posted by b33j at 4:25 PM on December 12, 2009 [28 favorites]


It's cool you're trying to make other people happy. Something to consider is that you can't wrap up happiness or self-esteem in pretty paper and give it to someone you want to be happy. A gift can make someone happy, but only when you buy it because you know it's something that they, personally, will like. The roses example works because presumably that girl knew her friend and knew she'd enjoy roses and not be creeped out.

I had a boyfriend who would constantly buy me presents (stuffed animals, flowers) to "make me happy". Despite the fact that I didn't want any of those gifts. When I broke up with him I tried to convey to him that hanging your own self-esteem on making another person happy is just really, really stressful and pressuring for that other person.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:26 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


One way she could find out it's you:

By typing "anonymous banjo gift" into google, and clicking the first link, which goes to this thread....
posted by ManInSuit at 4:26 PM on December 12, 2009 [27 favorites]


To save you some time and money, here's some images of girls under (or in) trees playing banjos. Overrated, really.
posted by b33j at 4:32 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


n+1 for 'creepy' and 'don't be that guy.'

I came in here to find out why a banjo, specifically, and now I am leaving, taters in hand, disappointed.
posted by rokusan at 4:37 PM on December 12, 2009 [15 favorites]


I don't think this would be creepy so much as bizarre, and baffling, particularly if she doesn't play the banjo. I don't see how this could be seen as grand. Maybe writing it out like this has at least satisfied the urge somewhat.
posted by Askr at 4:38 PM on December 12, 2009


On the other hand, you could buy yourself a musical instrument. MAYBE NOT banjo - those steel strings are hard on the fingers, to the point of making them bleed till you build up callouses. Maybe a nylon string guitar, or even a recorder flute. (I was completely charmed by a young man who played a recorder when I was in college, to the point that I took up the recorder while recovering from an automobile accident, and could play some prettty decent Bach in a few months ) Basic guitar is relatively easy to get the hang of, and you can accompany a lot of songs with a few chords and a relitively small amount of technique. This might even give you a hobby where you could serenade a girl under that tree, and maybe expand your horizons
posted by path at 5:06 PM on December 12, 2009


See, the thing is, banjos unfortunately have a kind of NON-cachet aura about them. Roses have a certain cultural meaning. Banjos have a meaning, but it sure isn't romantic. Giving someone a banjo is like giving them a Billy Bass or a vacuum cleaner or toenail clippers. Maybe if your ex and you had a history of attending Renaissance Fairs, or of discussing Shakespeare into the wee hours, then a lute or mandolin or something might have a grand meaning, but a banjo is a down-home, workaday, leave-your-delusions-of-grandeur-at-the-door kind of instrument. Not suitable as romantic gestures, unless you already know someone is interested.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:07 PM on December 12, 2009


ok, excuse the derail, but I had to comment on this:
why this is an almost uniquely male crisis in relationships, but I've never heard a woman discuss her boyfriend as a mist-swathed figure whom she imagines to be riding horses across windswept heaths

sigh, we just have a different way of doing this - I bet most girls have dated that guy that we think is so wonderful, and just misunderstood, but in reality is a lying cheating jerk, and we just didn't see it because of the stars in our eyes.

love can do weird things to the head, for sure

It just felt like such a great idea. That's all. Forgive me for being idealistic or romantic or narcissistic at the expense of strangers


once you get over this being a bummer, you'll be happy you posted the question and got such frank answers. good on you for listening, and thinking.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:28 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I can think of nothing in this world more beautiful than this girl playing the banjo. I mean, Christ, just that mental image of her sitting under a tree in spring sunshine, picking a banjo. That is something I would keep until the worms picked it from my rotting brain.

That in itself is weird. Funny as hell but weird.

Imagine how you'd feel if an anonymous person sent you an accordion.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 5:55 PM on December 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Thanks guys, I really came pretty close to doing this. Dodge a bullet i suppose.
I still think it's a good idea, at least from my side, but as you have all pointed out, my pompous idealism has repercussions that have nothing to do with me. I won't do it.

I just didn't think it through, and thinking back, I've done stuff kinda like this in the past. Never really thought about it. It makes a lot more sense now.

So sincerely, thanks.
I just joined and metafilter continues to open my eyes
posted by Archibald Edmund Binns at 5:57 PM on December 12, 2009 [30 favorites]


I can be kind of heartless, but if an ex-boyfriend gave me a banjo knowfing full well that I had no interest in learning to play, I'd gloat evily that he'd wasted that kind of attention and money on me. Then I'd tell my friends.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:10 PM on December 12, 2009


You know, it would be a very beautiful gesture to give a musical instrument or two to a needy but talented schoolchild. Call up a local music teacher or two, or a music teachers' alliance in your area, and see if there's a child that could use something like this. Throw in a few lessons and you're golden.
posted by amtho at 6:16 PM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


You know this could be a lovely whimsical thing if perhaps you heard from a friend of a friend that your banjo loving ex had just broken her banjo is some particularly tragic banjo accident and had no money to buy a new one, but it was the big battle of the banjo players next week and after practicing for months she could no longer compete. Then I think an anonymous banjo gift truly could be a beautiful gesture. Short of those exact set of circumstances, then no.

I also think you need to look deep inside and realize that even though you "want" this to be anonymous on some level this is really a way for you to get back into contact with her. You know this is not a good idea rationally, but you are so attached to this grand gesture of serendipity because it lets you get back into her life without having to admit that that's what you really want. No judgment, I think we've all done this (ok not with banjos, but certainly with a random email that we "had" or "needed" or was "thoughtful" to send). It's sad when someone leaves your life that you really care for, even if it's for the best, but holding onto a fantasy of that person just makes it that much more painful in the long run.
posted by whoaali at 6:45 PM on December 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


Send me the banjo, and I'll learn to play it, and then record a song, and then send that song to her anonymously. If you want, I'll work in your name or something. Or I'll sing you a song about her. I promise I'll play it under a tree in the sunshine sometime.

And, really, this is a serious offer. I play guitar (and ukulele) already, and have shopped for a banjo. Thinking about getting one for myself for Christmas.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:00 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Giving anything monetarily significant or significantly symbolic is going to get an emotional reaction that connects the recipient with the giver.

I love the idea of a grand gesture, but keeping it anonymous is problematic, as is making a grand gesture on behalf of an ex or another person with whom your relationship is complicated. A big, unexpected or whimsical gift from my husband or a dear friend would be utterly welcome and delightful, but a similar gift from an ex or an acquaintance would be or at least seem manipulative--I'd be suddenly connected to this other person in a way I didn't choose or foresee (or want, particularly in the case of an ex).

So, if you still think it's a good idea, that's great, but wait for someone in your life--girlfriend, friend, relative--with whom you have an existing emotional connection to have a wish or interest that you can fulfill or support with an awesome, whimsical gift.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:20 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Because of this thread, I (female, not the OP's ex) just bought a banjo on Amazon. Even though I will know I was the one that sent it to me, the image of playing outside in the summer does seem charming. Thanks to the OP for being whimsical enough (though a bit misguided in his affections) to post this.
posted by timpanogos at 8:18 PM on December 12, 2009 [17 favorites]


Leaving aside the banjo question in general:

craft a moment of serendipity for someone

This cannot be done.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:27 PM on December 12, 2009 [9 favorites]


Archibald Edmund Binns, good on you for listening and keeping and open mind when faced with what must have been some very difficult comments to read. We can be a tough crowd to please, but you showed good character here. This was probably a harsh "official welcome", but welcome nonetheless.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:09 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's not at all creepy.

However, I'm a person who has done many things like this for people in the past, never thinking them creepy. I've been wrong every time.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 10:25 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hey look, you just essentially bought timpanogos a shiny new banjo that she will enjoy! That's kind of serendipitous, right?
posted by Juicy Avenger at 10:28 PM on December 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


"...and I’d like to do something truly grand, both to make this world a better (albeit stranger) place.."

"Yes" to that always.
posted by vapidave at 10:56 PM on December 12, 2009


Aside from the banjoness of it, this is simply too expensive a gift for anyone other than a very serious girlfriend. Do you know that Violent Femmes song, in which the archetypically creepy character singing the song says "Can I buy you a dress or something? Can I buy you some jewelry or something?"

The gag is how absurdly too big and expensive the gift is, for someone he doesn't really know that well. The scale itself suggests goals or desires unspoken and inappropriate, an attempt to leapfrog into a level of connection and obligation that is clearly not in the cards.

So unless you worked at a banjo factory and got seconds cheap, or found a great one at a thrift shop for a few dollars, and more importantly the object of your giving knew that, it would be creepy -- whether it's chocolates or flowers or banjos. It's like the difference between making a mix-CD for her, or giving her the Neil Young Archives Vol. I (blu-ray version) at $300.
posted by msalt at 12:46 AM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Does it diminish the creepy if it's not to an ex? I talked it over with some friends of mine and I'm thinking about giving it to another girl i don't know well at all.

It wasn't that creepy until you decided that the giftee was replaceable. Now it's about the banjo? Obsessing over an ex isn't all that abnormal (pretty sure that's about as old a concept as the human race).

Obsessing over gifting a banjo: absolutely and terrifyingly abnormal. Stop. Seriously.
posted by wrok at 5:38 AM on December 13, 2009


What makes this different from that metafilter thread (I can't remember which) where that girl was saying she received roses anonymously for a year, and didn't find out for years that it was her best friend?
I'd just like it to be a mystery, a happy mystery, a grand gesture.


Hi, I'm the person who go the roses for a year.

The reason that i considered anonymous roses for a year to be a grand romantic gesture is that there is something inherantly romantic about roses -- but there IS nothing inherantly romantic about a banjo. Just about the only person in this ENTIRE thread who thinks there is something romantic about a banjo is you.

Now, there's nothing as such wrong with the idea of thinking a banjo is romantic, or being the only person who thinks one specific thing is romantic. We each have small individual things we each personally think are romantic - but those are things that spring up in the context of a relationship with someone, because of shared experiences. But those very specific "romantic tokens" do not translate to other people, because they didn't share in those experiences. That's why the secret admirers fall back on things that just about everyone likes, like flowers or chocolate.

And that's the other thing -- the secret admirers in the world don't try to give gifts that go along with what they themselves like, they try to find out what the object of their affection likes. My friend wanted to cheer me up -- but she also made an effort to find out what I liked rather than just falling back on what she liked. Because even though a years' worth of Bruce Springsteen albums would have absolutely made her swoon, I didn't give a damn about Bruce Springsteen, so it would have been a year of random albums that I would never listen to just cluttering up my locker, and it would have been an annoyance.

People have been pointing out to you that the banjo is the problem -- but it's actually not. The problem is the fact that YOU HAVE NOT BEEN PUTTING ANY EFFORT INTO FIGURING OUT WHETHER THE OTHER PERSON EVEN LIKES BANJOS. The whole idea behind a romantic gesture, even an anonymous one, is "wow, someone out there wants to make ME happy." And in order for you to make THE OTHER PERSON happy, you have to figure out what DOES make them happy. If you are doing something to make YOU happy, you run the risk of your gesture being interpreted as, "someone wants me to bend to THEIR wishes," and THAT is why it is creepy. A romantic gesture should not carry any hint of, "someone wants to see me do something I don't want to do."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:41 AM on December 13, 2009 [15 favorites]


Though I don't find the idea particularly creepy, I do think it's self-serving and wouldn't achieve the affect you're looking for, plus you'd only ever get to imagine what the outcome of the banjo being delivered was. For all you'll know, it will get thrown in the trash. As a musician myself, that'd be truly sad. But reading these responses really brings up this question: a few people have outright said, "Hey, I'd like to have a banjo [or other instrument] - buy it for me and I'll [write you a song, take a picture of me with it, etc]. I'm thinking this might be something to consider. This way, you take all the creepy out of it, an instrument goes to someone you are SURE wants it and you are SURE will appreciate it, and you know, directly, the affect that its delivery had on the receiver. Good feelings all around. A truly grand gesture. Think about it.
posted by FlyByDay at 6:48 AM on December 13, 2009


I just want to chime in and thank you, Archibald, for actually listening to the responses here -- so many of these questions wind up with people selecting "best answers" that just mirror what they wanted to hear in the first place. Good for you.

I also want to disagree, slightly, with those who say "you can't craft a moment of serendipity." You can too, and it's a great impulse and a wonderful thing to do now and then and it can make the world a better place.

And I have the perfect guide to how you can judge whether it's creepy or not:

Don't do it for a woman. Do it for a man. Do it for someone you like or respect but for whom you have absolutely zero romantic attraction.

Once you remove the element of sexual attraction, you'll very quickly be able to see whether the gesture you have in mind is creepy or not. If it seems like an excellent idea to give a banjo to a beautiful woman, but the idea of giving it to a guy so he can sit on a hill under a tree seems kind of meh or even icky, well then you know it's more about giving you a hit of vicarious romance than about helping the other person.

You can apply this to any grand magnanimous gesture, even non-banjo-related ones.
posted by ook at 7:42 AM on December 13, 2009


Take out an online personals ad. Most online dating services have some sort of "what I'm looking for" area, where you describe your ideal mate. In that area, write this:

"I'm not sure why, but I can think of nothing in this world more beautiful than a girl playing a banjo. I mean, Christ, just that mental image of her sitting under a tree in spring sunshine, picking a banjo. That is something I would keep until the worms picked it from my rotting brain.

"I'm not sure if she wants a banjo, or just shares my idea of how romantic it would be to get one. Maybe she can help me find the end to this story, help me understand what the universe has been trying to tell me about the two of us by planting this image so firmly in my mind.

Are you that girl?"
posted by bingo at 7:43 AM on December 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


This, from dirtdirt, deserves emphasis:

Leaving aside the banjo question in general:

craft a moment of serendipity for someone

This cannot be done.


Mr. Binns, you don't seem deliberately creepy as much as clueless—but most creepy gestures are like the one you proposed, failed attempts at romance or serendipity or le grande gesturé.

You do seem like someone who exists almost entirely in his own head, living your life as a movie written by you, directed by you, and starring you. To a certain extent, that's how we all live but most of us have learned to recognize and work with other people's movies, to acknowledge their own internal realities, possibly even collaborate in a production or two. Your ex may be playing a certain minor (but crucial!) role in your movie, but she's got her own star-vehicle going and at this point there's little to no overlap in those roles. Faux-serendipity—or any act of yours—will never change that. It's not up to you.

Don't be bummed out about this. The world is far stranger and more interesting than anything you can possibly craft or engineer or whip up in your secret lair. Learn to recognize the serendipity all around you. You'll be much, much happier.
posted by dogrose at 7:51 AM on December 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


A few weeks ago, This American Life aired an episode on "Mind Games." One segment in that episode concerned the creator of Improv Everywhere's efforts to create "moments of serendipity" (to use the OP's terminology), and chronicled two instances in which these moments went horribly awry, one with lasting negative consequences for a random guy.

These were random acts of "kindness" (YMMV), not targeted at people the Improv Everywhere people knew.

Listen to the podcast, if it's still up. Then imagine that the recipient of any of the "missions" described is one of Charlie Todd's exes.

Creepy. As. Hell.
posted by Alterscape at 10:37 AM on December 13, 2009 [8 favorites]


I don't understand your intentions to create a serendipitious moment for anyone.

I mean, actual sernedipity is something that, by definition, just happens and isn't orchestrated.

These girls (either one, no matter how low their self esteem might be) will realize that this instrument did not materialize out of thin air like a rainbow..
posted by marimeko at 10:43 AM on December 13, 2009


[few comments removed - maybe enough fo the "send me a banjo!" comments?]
posted by jessamyn at 10:53 AM on December 13, 2009


And that wasn't snark. Also, I see that that point was alredy made.

I will say it's "creepy" because I once had a boyfreind who similarily gave me gifts that made me feel like I could have been anyone he was currently involved with (with the subtle understanding that this was his way of playing out his fantasy, requiring only that I be present and willing as I participant).

Casting people into roles to fit your fantasy might be creepy in that it's a form of use.
posted by marimeko at 11:04 AM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Possibly what's missing in your pondering of serendipity is that for a serendipitous event to occur it has to be something the recipient is capable of recognizing the value of. It's the thing that you didn't know you were looking for. So if there's a musician wandering around and he's on his way to his girl's house, and he's thinking about asking her to marry him, and he's maybe going to do it today, and he's humming a little tune, and suddenly... hey! free banjo! And he takes it and the tune inspires words and he proposes with a spontaneous heartfelt song as his girlfriend opens the door... BOOM. That's serendipity.

In either of your proposed cases, chances are slim that a difficult to learn musical instrument is going to turn out to be the thing that these girls didn't know they were looking for. Think smaller. (And think about practicing this on random strangers, not ex-girlfriends.)

The postage stamp left of the counter at the post office. The quarter on the ground by a parking meter. The sign in the window that says "Everything is going to be all right" and is noticed by someone only when they really need to see it. This is serendipity that you can make happen in the world. Go forth and do so.
posted by MsMolly at 3:14 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Serendipity and unexpectedness are not the same thing. I think you're mistaking one for the other.

Receiving a banjo out of the blue is unexpectedness, not serendipity.

Serendipity is when the UPS guy delivering the banjo to your house tells you he just made a delivery to your twin on the other side of the city, and upon investigating, you find out you have a long-lost twin you never knew about. It's something that would have never happened but for a chance event or chain of events.

By definition, you can't plan for someone to have a moment of serendipity. By definition, it happens by accident.
posted by Ashley801 at 3:29 PM on December 13, 2009


AEB, have you read Jane Austen's "Emma"? Anonymous gift of an expensive musical instrument was a major plot point in chapter 26, and you might find the different reactions of various characters in the novel enlightening. (And in that case, the recipient plays the instrument already.)
posted by of strange foe at 3:35 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


As a bit of an aside, I've gotta say that wishing things like this weren't creepy misses the point. People are all different. No matter who you are, whatever the circumstance, I would be dreadfully uncomfortable with anyone buying me a banjo (or any other expensive frippery). Hell, even if it were a washing machine and mine had just broken down, unless you share my finances I would be terribly uncomfortable. This isn't a failing, or a terrible gouge in my psyche - I simply prefer to buy my own stuff. If you've got that much money to waste, donate it. Gifts shouldn't be about what you want someone else to do, or be.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:56 AM on December 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Gifts shouldn't be about what you want someone else to do, or be.

This, right here, distills everything everyone else has been telling you into one conveniently-remembered sentence.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:35 AM on December 14, 2009 [18 favorites]


"Does it diminish the creepy if it's not to an ex?"

Yes, but it's still a horrible plan. If I was given such an expensive gift I would track down the person who gave it to me and then avoid them for the rest of my life.

"could do with just the idea that someone thinks she's special"

What makes her special? Do you even know her well enough for this compliment to mean anything? Start a conversation with this woman and find out what she actually cares about. A completely random, expensive gift from a casual acquaintance does not make a woman feel special.

When I receive expensive gifts from men I barely know I feel like they expect me to sleep with them in return. I do not feel special, I feel bullied into thanking someone for attempting to manipulate me with money.
posted by feelingcold at 3:19 AM on December 15, 2009 [9 favorites]


Thirding spending the money on therapy for yourself. You deserve to have better, longer-lasting relationships with women that are a better fit for you. I think you'd find that much more satisfying than dong anything with an anonymous banjo.
posted by exphysicist345 at 11:37 AM on December 20, 2009


Oh my god, you are my freaking ex from college. Who I reconnected with years later, was happy to be friends with, only for him to start making very definite moves - which I in my friendly way just tried to ignore, until male friends of mine unequivocally said HE IS TRYING TO START A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOU, THERE IS NO DOUBT HERE.

And as soon as I was firm about not wanting something ever again, and started to refuse the rides home or random evenings out, I got the whole "oh dearie me, can't someone just be gallant/sweet/well-meaning, oh my gosh and golly, the world is so cruel to poor me" and I felt like crap as a result. So I continued to stay in contact with him despite my instincts to put up a wall and never see him again.

There was an incident later which I will not detail here that made it clear enough to me and scared me enough that I was able to just cut him off. And that was more or less that.

It's funny, I would run into him in the oddest circumstances and always do my best to stay far away. And a year or two ago he wrote that he still read my writing and followed my artwork, and "oh, I'm married now with a baby, I'm not stalking you"

Yeah. Right.
posted by micawber at 9:26 PM on December 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Now that it's no longer a spoiler, I can share this: I bought my wife a banjo for Christmas less than 24 hours before this question was posted. I've felt weird about it for almost two weeks. Now that she's unwrapped it, I can relax. Buying your secret crush a banjo, out of the blue: creepy. Buying your wife a banjo because she's been talking about learning old-timey clawhammer: awesome.
posted by hades at 11:14 PM on December 24, 2009 [11 favorites]


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