Christmas Betrayal! Or not?
December 25, 2009 6:29 PM   Subscribe

I have a problem with a broken Christmas promise. My girlfriend and I agreed that since money was tight, we would not buy gifts for each other. We would purchase gifts for family. Children, parents, siblings. But we would only buy for others. Not for us. Then my girlfriend bought me an iPod Touch. While I certainly love the gift I feel that I should now buy her something, even though she insists that I do not. I'm thinking that since the agreement was broken (granted with love) I have the right to purchase her a gift. (With love) But OTOH, would that be loving, or tit for tat? Am I overthinking this? Is it a given that I get her a gift? Or should I just accept my gift and leave it alone, and in my mind maybe be missing some signal of some sort? While money is tight, it isn't so bad that I couldn't get her something. It doesn't have to be the same amount, but I'd feel like crap if I didn't get her a gift now. Help!
posted by Splunge to Human Relations (51 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would do something really nice for her - breakfast in bed? Foot massage? Some special treat to show your thanks that doesn't involve buying anything.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:33 PM on December 25, 2009 [9 favorites]

I was on the same end of partner-gift-inequity today too, I know it feels awkward. If you can think of something that you know she would LOVE, it would be a nice surprise for her (a new years eve surprise?) and will make you both feel good - awkwardness resolved. Running out to the mall and getting the first thing you find is probably not going to accomplish that.
posted by amethysts at 6:36 PM on December 25, 2009

Give her the massage or something now. And get her something in the Christmas sales, and put it away. Make her promise not to get you anything for Valentines Day.... and bob's your uncle... you've got a gift. And you're even. Valentine's Day is only about 6 or 7 weeks away so not too far off so as to be forgotten.
posted by taff at 6:37 PM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't get her anything, and actually I'd be pretty irritated that she broke your agreement.
posted by amro at 6:43 PM on December 25, 2009 [12 favorites]

Unless you think your girlfriend is being somehow pesty or limit-testing in purchasing you a gift, I'd let it go and not feel like you have to participate in quid pro quo.

If you're feeling awkward about it, you could make some grand [and cheap/free] gesture that would indicate in some way that you're grateful but at the same time okay with honoring the initial agreement. Only you know what the spirit of the "no gifts" agreement was.

This year I got my boyfriend sort of a gift (something he needed, but since it was around holidaytime I wrapped it) even though we have a general no-gifts policy. He got me something that was basically a non-gift and I loved it totally and completely and would have felt very weird if he had gotten me something just to get me something.
posted by jessamyn at 6:47 PM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

A gift in no way obligates the recipient.
posted by trip and a half at 6:52 PM on December 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

skip giving her anything until she needs a gift (feeling down, something she's always wanted goes on sale, whatever). a gift without a reason behind it's pretty rad, and a heck of a lot more meaningful than a christmas present, because everyone expects gifts on christmas.
posted by patricking at 6:56 PM on December 25, 2009


You're girlfriend agreed not to buy you a Christmas gifts, you agreed not to buy gifts for one another, and even so you still didn't get your girlfriend a Christmas gift? Just because "that was the deal"?

You're new to this, right?
posted by humannaire at 6:59 PM on December 25, 2009 [32 favorites]

I know how you feel - I got a 7-week burlesque course and I gave him a book (maus, but certainly not in the realm of the gift I received). You can show her you love her and are grateful in other ways...
posted by goo at 7:01 PM on December 25, 2009

I agree with taff... save some money, make plans, and make Valentine's Day really great.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:12 PM on December 25, 2009

Don't get her anything. Next year she's take the agreement seriously.

(I don't understand the "Oh, did you really think I meant that? Here's your $200 gift! Where's mine?" mindset. Where I come from breaking a promise like that is called "being a jerk".)
posted by Ookseer at 7:41 PM on December 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

I think I would also be annoyed that our agreement was broken, and I would not get her something just for the sake of reciprocating. You can't undo any awkwardness you felt in the moment, and if she expected you to buy her a gift despite your arrangement, well, it's a good lesson in saying what you mean, and will encourage frankness in the future.

Instead, as many above have stated, do something especially nice and unexpected for her that isn't material in nature, and I think anytime between now and New Year's (or Valentine's Day) is a good opportunity. For example, put a special playlist on that new iPod, cook her a nice dinner, maybe have an impromptu dance around the living room, and follow with a lengthy, relaxing massage. Those particular activities might not be yours & your girlfriend's kind of thing, but I'm sure you get the spirit of what I'm suggesting. If you can come up with something that is truly about her and her likes, and isn't something you can purchase in a store, it will mean a lot to her, and should alleviate any weirdness you feel for not having a Christmas gift for her.
posted by katemcd at 7:42 PM on December 25, 2009

Giving is for christmas, and expecting NOTHING in return. Accept thr gift. The gift is in giving. If you cannnot.....
posted by raildr at 7:58 PM on December 25, 2009

Best answer: My wife did this to me once- Just know that she wants YOU to know that she cares about you, not that she expected something nice in return. Yeah, it feels a little weird. Do something really nice for her- Picnic in the park, breakfast in bed etc etc. It'll return the care and love that was the real point of that gift
posted by GilloD at 8:08 PM on December 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

For future notice, Google "mary schmich no gifts".
posted by asuprenant at 8:13 PM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I told my mother that we were only buying gifts for children this year, so we were surprised when she sent a big box with lots of presents for my husband and me. I called her up to say the box had arrived and she giggled and said Oooo I knew you would be mad at me but I had so much fun.

I was a bit miffed, but I got over it. I am not mad at her and I told her so. I, too, would love to shower her with gifts, but it just isn't possible. I know how much fun it is to give and I don't begrudge her the pleasure.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:14 PM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

A copy of The Gift of the Magi seems in order here. You might want to make a present of reading it to her.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 8:21 PM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

My parents made this arrangement (between themselves) while I was still living in their house.
What did my dad do?
He bought her a gift and wrapped it up all nice and pretty. (This is very out of the ordinary for my dad.)

She got all excited, even giddy unwrapping it. You know what it was?
It was a brand new vacuum cleaner.
Mom was livid. For months. You could hear her cursing to herself "hrrmph. what does he give me? a vacuum!"
She still talks about it sometimes.

The next year, same agreement, no gifts. What did my dad do?
Wrapped up another box, pretty and neat and my mom was so excited.
When she unwrapped it her face immediately went from glee to sour.
It was her very own alarm clock.
When she went apeshit, he goes all casual, "but you like the buzzer and I like the radio."

The next year, same thing, no gifts. What did my dad do?
After all the hubbub died down he handed her a very plain box. She started opening it, with a sideways glance at him,
and she squeeked when she saw the diamond tennis bracelet inside.

Many years later, the vacuum cleaner is still "the best one she's ever had."
She never talks about the alarm clock (and I prefer not to know about their bedroom life)
and the diamond tennis bracelet was lost long ago when the hasp broke and no one noticed.

In your situation, the roles are reversed, but as far as I know, year after year,
my mother never gave my dad any gifts (and I prefer not to know about their bedroom life).
posted by at the crossroads at 8:23 PM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

On preview, Gift of the Magi is a better story.
posted by at the crossroads at 8:32 PM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I sympathize - I have this problem every year. It is simple if I think about it like this:

1. When you say you will do [or not do] a certain thing, you should keep your word. Receiving an unexpected present does not change this.

2. You cannot make someone else follow rule 1 if they don't want to. Don't try!

3. Anytime you receive a gift, accept it graciously and say thanks.
posted by fritley at 9:00 PM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

(Sorry--got interrupted before I could finish my answer.)

Accept her gift graciously in the knowledge that she enjoyed giving. Try not to ascribe negative motives to her giving. In a month or so, when the Christmas gift-giving frenzy has faded away, talk to her about what happened. Don't be judgmental or confrontational-- just ask her as if you are seeking information. Tell her that you felt funny about the whole incident and ask her what her ideal outcome would have been. Did she really think that you had planned a surprise gift for her? Was she disappointed? Impress on her that you were confused and caught off-guard. Hopefully she can explain what she was thinking and the two of you can walk away from this with a better understanding of each other.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:05 PM on December 25, 2009 [6 favorites]

if she is miffed at you for not reciprocating, then you have every right to be miffed. otherwise just say thanks and be happy -- however, next time consider doing something non-monetary. f'rinstane, one year we had this deal and not even a tree [we were broke, it was our first Christmas, and she's Jewish.] the day before i bought a crap artificial tree, ornaments and lights in a package for less than 20 bucks, and when she was asleep I set it up. she LOVED it when she saw it Christmas morning and it turned out she'd never had a tree before.

more than a decade later, we set up the tree and she suddenly tears up, mentions it and says 'you gave me some of my childhood.'

so now you know for next time.
posted by davejay at 9:29 PM on December 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

In my experience, when people tell you they they don't want to exchange gifts,
it's a secret code that really means they hope for something special.
posted by at the crossroads at 10:01 PM on December 25, 2009

I would get her nothing and would probably convey how hurt I was that she put you in this spot. And firmly say that if there was (not saying that there was in this case, but) some sort of underlying message that you were supposed to get her something, then please say it straightforwardly in future.

(when we started dating, I spent a lot of time convincing my now-husband that when I said "I don't like Valentine's Day" that wasn't actually code for "buy me candy and flowers and jewellery on Valentine's Day". He'd been burned by that sort of thing before.
posted by gaspode at 10:32 PM on December 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

I would sit her down and say (something like), "You got me a present. And it's great! It was sweet of you to get it for me. However, I'm confused in/re our agreement. I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I also want to honor the agreement we made, because I take that kind of thing seriously. So what's the expectation you have for situations like this?"

People communicate in different ways. Right now you're unsure of what was communicated. Just clear that up and you'll know what do.
posted by clockzero at 12:32 AM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

2nding Secret Life of Gravy - at some point have a conversation that curious, not critical. Ask her to help you understand why she decided to do it, how she thought you would respond and how she felt about how it turned out. Give her the feeling that you are asking because you know people are different and you want to know what makes her happy.
posted by metahawk at 12:38 AM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Two points, maybe conflicting but nonetheless important considerations:

(1) Gifts are an important part of human interaction. Pretty much my favorite book in the whole world, the Odyssey, is just about gifts: giving gifts to strangers, giving gifts to friends, when you should give a gift, when you shouldn't give a gift. An important point to keep in mind, especially in the world as it is today, is that there is no social convention that requires reciprocation; if there were, gifts would be the same thing as money. Gifts are not money; they're tokens, signifiers of the value another person's simple presence in the world has to you. One of the beautiful things about the Odyssey is that it really praises people who have a knack for non- reciprocal giving - for example, people who lavish gifts on destitute strangers who appear on their doorstep and seem to need some help and a good meal.

From this perspective, it may be healthy for you to simply take this as an exercise in the proper giving and receiving of gifts; resist your urge to treat the tokens and representations of personal esteem which gifts are as commodities for exchange and accept with joy the gift and what it means: that she thinks you're of value as a person.

(2) Lying and stubbornness are an important part of any relationship - knowing when to lie and knowing when to be stubborn. They're delicate things, but handling delicate things boldly is a sign of mastery. A partner who can pull off the trick of lying that they will not buy a present and stubbornly insisting to buy the gift anyway, and pull it off correctly, can often thusly demonstrate both that the person they're giving the gift is of high personal value and that the person giving the gift is stubborn and valiant in refusing to go without acknowledging their partner's worth.

However, all students are advised that this is an advanced partnership technique, and that they should not attempt this without a certain amount of experience unless they're willing to take the risk. Telling the truth and sticking to agreements should indeed be the rule within relationships.
posted by koeselitz at 2:13 AM on December 26, 2009 [5 favorites]

Oh, and one more thing:

The reason that last one is an "expert technique" is because it very often is simply the result of a partnership between a person that is ridiculously coy and a person who's savvy to the other's coyness. There are certain people, people who I tend to refer to as insufferable, who love to play an annoying game in which they test their partner's savviness by flatly lying to them and saying they don't want anything when they actually want something very much. Despite the popular conception, my experience is that there are just as many men who do this childish crap as there are women.

There are a lot of people who have relationships like this - relationships where one partner just sort of figures out after a while that a particular lie from the other is always a lie, and should be treated as such - but I don't think that's generally a good thing. Even more unfortunately, I think there's a really silly and unfortunate popular notion that "oh, women are just like this, and if you're a man, you have to learn to play the game." No, women aren't like this - any more than men are like this. It's a really stupid myth that women always want something but always say they don't; and although men do the same thing just as often, it's just as weird when they do it.

There's no indication that she bought this with the hope that you'd buy her something, so don't assume that she did. But if she does act hurt, and it turns out she really wanted something, please don't be fooled by a lot of the people in this thread. You're well within your rights to tell her: "Fine. But be honest next time. There's no reason to be coy about things like this. We're on an equal playing field, you know."
posted by koeselitz at 2:27 AM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

koeselitz: "
(2) Lying and stubbornness are an important part of any relationship - knowing when to lie and knowing when to be stubborn. They're delicate things, but handling delicate things boldly is a sign of mastery. A partner who can pull off the trick of lying ...

This makes me want to jump off the roof.

And I'm not saying that you're wrong, just that I so lack subtlety maybe. Maybe. Is it mastery, or subtlety, or just each person handles things differently, or what?

And that is what makes me nuts in this, and where I get all left-footed and backwards when an agreement is made and then broken, especially in close relationships.

It seems to me that it's black and white. I make an agreement like this and I mean it, and do all I can to honor it, even if it causes me pain to do so, even if I really, really want to buy a present(s) for whoever it is I'm making this agreement with.

That said, I 'favorited' the comment upthread asking if the guy is new to this relationship thing. I can see both sides here. But damned if I can live both sides easily, if at all....
posted by dancestoblue at 2:55 AM on December 26, 2009

Umm, in our house "no gifts" means "no gifts." We are, apparently, funny like that.

In your position I would shop after Christmas sales to buy her something fabulous for Valentine's Day.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:09 AM on December 26, 2009

dancestoblue: “This makes me want to jump off the roof... Is it mastery, or subtlety, or just each person handles things differently, or what? And that is what makes me nuts in this, and where I get all left-footed and backwards when an agreement is made and then broken, especially in close relationships. It seems to me that it's black and white. I make an agreement like this and I mean it, and do all I can to honor it, even if it causes me pain to do so, even if I really, really want to buy a present(s) for whoever it is I'm making this agreement with.”

Everyone lies constantly. Relationships tend to minimize lying, and that's a good thing, but it's still there. Moliere's fine little play Le Misanthrope is a brilliant illustration of how disastrous it is when we set out to tell the unvarnished truth; it's about a man who decides that he despises lying, and will from henceforth forever tell the truth; needless to say this doesn't work out too well for him. To put it another way, being honest isn't always in the words you say; it's in your whole expression, your actions as well as your words. A partner who can give a gift in a fitting way, despite prior agreements, has done something honest: she has expressed a true sentiment in a fitting way.

Of course, the world is unfortunately filled both with dishonest people who aren't able to lie except with the intention of deceiving, and with passive-aggressive people who insist that they don't desire a gift out of some silly sense of self-consciousness or embarrassment when in actuality they really do want a gift. And, unfortunately, things being the way they are, it's really often best not to complicate this stuff. As I sort of tried to add above, I find these kinds of people insufferable, and a man or woman who says, "oh, really, you don't need to get me anything at all - really!" and yet clearly wants something is beyond annoying to me. Frankly, I didn't favorite humannaire's comment above asking if the guy is new to relationships, because I can't stand the stereotype that says that women always want something, particularly when they ask you not to get them a gift.

I share your uncertainty about this, though. I think it's just something that differs from couple to couple; in some partnerships, this kind of thing, which pretty much says: "fuck you - I think you're awesome, and I'm gonna show it!" - can be really great, whereas in some partnerships it's just a pointless indulgence or worse.
posted by koeselitz at 3:16 AM on December 26, 2009

Over the course of the year if you see something that she'd love, get it for her as a gift. I'm a firm believer in giving things to people when you come across something that they'd really like (and is affordable and so on). For this reason I sometimes don't get people anything on the major gift giving holidays - I haven't found anything that they'd really enjoy. This has been okay with my family and boyfriends in the past, but YMMV. Some people are sticklers for getting the etiquette appropriate gift on the day of the holiday. If your girlfriend falls into this category, really do try to follow the social mores.

Specific suggestion: get her flowers once a month for the rest of the year. Don't do it for any reason other than making her happy. Don't do it on any predefined day, just do it.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:42 AM on December 26, 2009

Ah, this happens most years, or something very like it, with Mr. Llama. And oddly, twice it's involved surprise iPod gifts.

No big deal, buy her something special if you see it, take her out someplace nice or do something nice for her--something meaningful to her. Don't make a big deal out of it, don't argue about it, and don't run out to the store so that you can present her something of equal value within twenty-four hours.

Experiences are very nice gifts -- music she'd like to see that you're not always on board with, etc. The idea is to in some way, give something of yourself that acknowledges something special to her.

Some people sort of can't help themselves in this regard. Say thanks and be nice.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:03 AM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your relationship is not a competition. You don't need to catch up or even beat her in the gift round. Just be happy with the surprise she gave you. Anger or irritation of any kind will spoil the sentiment, as will "Well, I only bought you this gift because I pretty much had to after you bought me a gift."
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:25 AM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Perhaps she would like an iPod Touch?
posted by mr. strange at 6:06 AM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'd second taff's valentine's day suggestion, likely more meaningful to her too, plus gives you time to think. Btw, you might also find some turn based games for the iPod Touch, that let you both play the game together by taking turns without having two iPod touches.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:52 AM on December 26, 2009

I have a point for those of you who are frowning at the girlfriend for "breaking the agreement", or accusing her of having a "here's your gift, where's mine?" mentality.

Because that may not be it. I personally get a bit of a chiding from my mother every year because "oh, you really don't have to give your cousins and aunts and uncles anything, relaly, and we'd understand because you can't afford much, we know..." but I honestly, and sincerely, can't NOT. The very act of selecting a gift and giving it to someone makes ME happy. It's like it's a puzzle I get to try to solve every year, and seeing how they react to it tickles me.

And I honestly and sincerely wouldn't give a shit if any of them gave me anything in return. Giving is fun for me.

And if I had a boyfriend with whom I agreed to not get anything, it would be utter torture every time I went out and saw "oh, that'd be awesome for him -- aw, CRAP!" and I'd probably end up getting him something anyway, because I want to do little things that would make him happy. That is just the way I am wired. And I honestly and sincerely wouldn't expect anything in return; that's not the point for me.

Just offering that data point that there really are people like that out there, and perhaps the girlfriend is one of them.

I've learned, though, that not everyone is like this, and I try to have the "so....what is your take on the gift situation this year?" conversation first, wherein I explain that I prefer TO give, but if it would truly make them feel obligated to reciprocate, we can come up with something else. Yes, I know that OP and his girlfriend did have this conversation, but I'm wondering how deep they got into it as opposed to just "let's just save money and not exchange gifts this year." "Okay!" If I were the girlfriend, I would have come to him with another conversation about "okay, look, not being able to get you something is kind of bumming me out, and I've seen something I really really relaly really really wanna get you -- can we rethink that?" to have a deeper conversation about this. But I honestly get the read that she just really, really wanted to get something purely out of a sense of generousity and because she wanted to make you happy and she knew you'd dig that and so there you go.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:46 AM on December 26, 2009

A thought: if you break an agreement (or expect an agreement to be broken) to your own benefit, you're a douchebag. If you break an agreement to what you see as the benefit of the person with whom you had the agreement, you may or may not be a douchebag depending on whether you and the other person both agree that they were the beneficiary -- that's why it's risky to buy a gift after a no-gift agreement, because the other person may well suffer from guilt and a feeling of betrayal to a larger degree than they feel good about receiving your gift, in which case you're a douchebag (albeit a well-intentioned one.)

This is why communication with your partner is so important, because you need to know how they really feel about these things, and you need to trust that when they say "no gifts" they mean it (or know them well enough that "no gifts" means "surprise me.")
posted by davejay at 8:52 AM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Over my shoulder, my wife makes a more succinct case: if you say "no gifts" and you mean "surprise me", you're a douchebag; just say "surprise me" instead.

she didn't actually say douchebag, but I have a theme going here
posted by davejay at 8:55 AM on December 26, 2009

Everyone lies constantly.

No, they don't. I haven't told a lie in over 40 years.

Having said that - if I were in this situation I would enforce the original agreement & insist that the gift be returned for a refund. When money is tight the last thing that should be done is going out & spuriously spending money on expensive gifts - especially when you've agreed beforehand that this would not be done. This is dishonest behavior & by accepting it you are unwittingly establishing a pattern of deceit & deception in your relationship. Which do you value more, honesty or ill-gotten trinkets at the expense of honesty in your relationship? For me, this would be Big Deal.
posted by torquemaniac at 9:14 AM on December 26, 2009

...a Big Deal.
posted by torquemaniac at 9:15 AM on December 26, 2009

Why does this have to be so complicated? You say money isn't so tight that it's critical so it's not like her gift is taking food off your table.

I buy my husband gifts at random simply because I love surprising him. I'm not playing games, I don't expect anything in return, and I get disappointed a bit only if he doesn't love it when I think he will. Not everyone is gifting with an agenda.

If you think she bought it in a game of one-up-manship, that's different, but otherwise thank her, express your excitement and don't make her feel bad for wanting to make you happy. If you want to make her happy in return do something cool and romantic, even possibly free. If she is the type that loves to surprise others then she probably likes (but not necessarily expects) to be surprised herself.

For those who seem to think gift-giving is some art of manipulation - FYI - there are a lot of people out there who get a rush simply from making someone else's day a bit better.
posted by scrute at 10:16 AM on December 26, 2009

The iPod touch can be considered a shared tool. It's a gift to both of you! You could even pay her back for half of it. Now use it together to find travel directions and listent o audio books together (great for long trips).
posted by jander03 at 10:49 AM on December 26, 2009

Just chalk this up to naivete. No one (especially a woman) wants "nothing" for Christmas. Maybe don't go all out if money is tight, but never come empty-handed--ever. Ever.
posted by GeniPalm at 10:52 AM on December 26, 2009

I am so surprised no one has mentioned the five love languages. Maybe buying gifts is her favourite way of showing her love. Whose idea was it originally to not buy gifts? Maybe she agreed to something she wasn't keen on to make you happy but then felt awful about not showing her love through gifting.
posted by saucysault at 11:12 AM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is "dishonest behavior"? Seriously? No, seriously?

Don't assume that just because she's a woman that Valentine's Day, that made-up Hallmark holiday, has special significance to her. One of the most liberating moments of my life is when I said to Mr. Micawber our first year dating, "I don't care about Valentine's Day, unless it has any special significance to you please DO NOT do anything, I hate the day." That wasn't a signal. That wasn't a hint. I hate to break it to you, but not every woman on the planet is a manipulative fool or unable to discern her true emotions.

No one (especially a woman) wants "nothing" for Christmas.

You are a sexist fool, even if you are female.

People are complicated. People are flawed. This year we decided on on no gifts, because we had a trip planned earlier this month for our anniversary, and because we spent some savings on a mutually-agreed upon once-in-a-lifetime experience which was unplanned. Part of our agreement there was, "We're not doing presents for anniversary or Christmas and we're not going out for New Year's Eve, we can afford this if we agree to do that."

I'm sitting here on Boxing Day and I imagine that you'll be shocked that I'm not rolled up in a ball comatose in the corner, crying because there were no gifts for me from Mr. M. I didn't buy him anything either. We LOVE buying each other gifts. We LOVE surprising each other with small things or even big things - one easter I got him a gift certificate to the manly-men haircut place (where you get a drink and your nails done and a shave). Sometimes it's as small as a package of the pens I happen to like and cost $5 and that I am perfectly capable of procuring for myself.

However, Mr. M. bought me a spur-of-the-moment present for no reason except that he felt like it when we were on our vacation. I was in the store looking to buy something, and he got his credit card out faster than I did. That didn't mean I had to run out and get him something. That didn't mean that he broke our agreement and therefore I should be holding a grudge or accuse him of manipulation or lying. HE JUST FELT LIKE IT SO HE DID IT.

On preview, I'll stop being irked and point to Saucysault's comment.
posted by micawber at 11:31 AM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

She shouldn't have done that, because it puts you in an awkward situation, so much so that you have to ask a question here to figure out how to deal with your discomfort. But she wasn't thinking about that when she did it. She wasn't doing it to manipulate. But the reason you're having trouble is because of the deep rooted meanings, functions, and expectations of gift giving. No, there is no socially stated rule that gifts must be reciprocated, but psychologists and economists have had a field day studying gift giving in different cultures. It's powerful stuff. Marcel Mauss studied it - here's an excerpt from his Wikipedia page:

The giver does not merely give an object but also part of himself, for the object is indissolubly tied to the giver: "the objects are never completely separated from the men who exchange them". Because of this bond between giver and gift, the act of giving creates a social bond with an obligation to reciprocate on part of the recipient. To not reciprocate means to lose honour and status, but the spiritual implications can be even worse: in Polynesia, failure to reciprocate means to lose mana, one's spiritual source of authority and wealth. Mauss distinguished between three obligations: giving - the necessary initial step for the creation and maintenance of social relationships; receiving, for to refuse to receive is to reject the social bond; and reciprocating in order to demonstrate one's own liberality, honour and wealth.

That's a little clinical for this setting, but you're right that you're going to feel like crap, because there's an unspoken understanding about how gift giving works and it's tied to some primal things beneath the surface. But rushing out for something equivalent right away does indeed look like tit for tat. That would provide you relief, but could sort of suck the spirit out of the whole exchange. You could power through that, and she probably wouldn't do it again after that experience, but maybe a surprise dinner as some have suggested or something less tangible would be less tittatty. I think you deserve some kind of relief.

What you might try if you find yourself approaching this sort of situation again is to set a price ceiling. Exchanging gifts is good - it strengthens social bonds and it feels good - so do it. And in order to prevent an uncomfortable situation, agree to exchange but to keep them below $X. She could always violate that agreement too, but I think your chances are better this way.
posted by Askr at 1:15 PM on December 26, 2009

No one (especially a woman) wants "nothing" for Christmas.

There are exceptions to ever rule, and I can assure you that I am one of those, so you know.
posted by davejay at 8:44 AM on December 27, 2009

Best answer: From my perspective (I'm 49, with a grown son), many of these answers sound like they come with some built-in spin of agendas involving autonomy, the setting of personal boundaries, and the delicate (perhaps inevitable) balance of power in relationships - "competition", as one responder mentioned. Unless her broken promise is yet another example of other boundary/intimacy issues in the relationship, rather than an isolated event, I say why get in a lather over it? Such incidents may loom large in the short-term but end up being but minor bumps that are typical in any relationship. Appreciate her gift as a heartfelt gesture on her part that shows she loves you. Instead of feeling guilty and "caught out", imagine that maybe it was FUN for her to surprise you with it. With a similar level of ingenuity and thoughtful foresight on your part, you can reciprocate that gesture and strengthen your bond instead of letting this gift drive a wedge, however small or temporary, between the two of you.

I have to agree with others who said that (1) the expediency of giving her any-old-thing to assuage your (understandable) feelings of guilt or imbalance isn't a good response, and (2) a well-thought-out surprise gift later down the road says MUCH more about how you care for and about her. And since finances are an issue, I'll point out that a single expensive gift isn't the only way to go; little things, prepared ahead of time and given (as one person mentioned) at unexpected moments - such as when you NOTICE she's feeling a bit blue, and you REALLY WANT to do something to cheer her up - demonstrate that you're not just giving her something because it's expected, it's because you're paying attention and you care about her, and that's far more important in the long run than a big-ticket doodad given on an Official Present-Exchanging Day.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:25 PM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: A few things. Firstly I feel that I have received yet another gift for Christmas, the multitude of answers to my question. Thank you all.

As well, it has taken me a couple of days to reply here because I feel badly about picking one or two favorites. You've all given me insights, even you snarky folks.

Finally, a couple of comments. No I am not "new to this" I'm 50 going on 51 and my girlfriend and I have been together for about 15 years. But thank you for your concern.

I chose the answers that I did because they basically explain to me what I knew deep down inside. My girlfriend has no hidden agenda. She honestly wanted to surprise me and just as honestly expects no gift in return. She's like that. It's one of the myriad reasons that I love her so dearly.

OTOH, I do not believe that a reciprocal "love strike" is out of the question.

And, as described upthread, does not entail a full on reciprocation. Perhaps just a little something here and there, now and then.

She loves me, I love her.

We'll work something out.

Again, thank you all that replied here.

Warmest regards,

posted by Splunge at 4:20 PM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

One other factor I didn't see mentioned - perhaps she came into possession of the iPod Touch for very little money. For example, my company gives away a few dozen consumer electronic products (by random drawing) at our holiday party. My mother-in-law goes to a lot of conferences and often wins things like an iPod as a door prize. Often you can choose a "free" gift such as this using points accumulated on credit card usage. Or maybe someone she knows ended up with an extra one and gave her a very good price. And so on.

Since you entered into the agreement to save money, she may have felt giving you an inexpensively-acquired item kept to the spirit of the agreement if not the letter.
posted by mikepop at 6:20 AM on December 28, 2009

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