How do I become a considerate gift giver?
June 1, 2010 5:10 AM   Subscribe

I bought my girlfriend an iPad. The result was explosive (in a bad way). Can you help me figure this out?

[A little back story is needed. She was looking for a fur coat around about December last year. The price of the coat she wanted was about £500, and I said I would be happy to pay for half as her birthday present. She saw a coat but thought it was too expensive, she said she would look at prices in the USA where she was going to holiday in January.]

So I pre-ordered an iPad (UK) which was specifically for her. I presented her with this device on Sunday. Initially, she expressed flattery at having it. In the next five minutes she said "but this is not what I wanted, I wanted a fur coat and you know that". I replied that yes I did but I hadn't heard anything since she talked about it last so I had assumed she has decided not to buy anything or postpone it.

She then asserted that by giving her presents I am controlling what she likes (i.e. she should only like what I think she should like) and that in fact I should have spent this money on helping her buy the coat. At this point I pointed out that this gift was independent of the coat and that I would be happy to pay for half the coat.

She then asserted if I was going to spend so much on her I should have just paid for the full coat and not the iPad. This statement floored me. I see her point though. I replied by saying "OK, you're right. I'll pay for the whole coat". She replied it was too late as it's now spring/summer. I offered to give her the money but she refused it.

She spent a lot of time telling me that if I actually cared for her I would have helped her get the coat and not got her the iPad. She then went on to say that I try and control her with my gifts (control her being) and only ever give her gifts that I would like. I profess that yes, if I see something I think she would like I just get it - I don't ask her about it - but I don't ever force her to keep or use the gift if she says she doesn't like it.

She was really really really angry and upset and kept on telling me the same thing in different words for over an hour. I ended it by apologizing for not being thoughtful and caring enough to have seen she wants the coat but this is totally confusing me. Am I wrong? should I have asked her about the coat instead or got her a coat? In my defence, I had totally forgotten she even wanted the coat past January.

I don't think this is about reciprocity; she has access to much more than me in terms of money and she also knows I expect nothing in return. The feeling I came away with, which bothers me a lot is "well, if I ever want to buy her a gift, I'll need to check with her first". However, I also acknowledge that gift giving and receiving is totally personal. I guess I'm looking for some advice as to how to proceed and try and resolve this without hurting her or myself any more.
posted by gadha to Human Relations (148 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I suppose if you date trash like this, this is the sort of response you'll have to expect. Really, there isn't good advice to be offered here beyond "get a new girlfriend."
posted by kmennie at 5:15 AM on June 1, 2010 [78 favorites]

please hurt me, gadha and send me an ipad! completely irrational; time for a new girlfriend.
posted by elle.jeezy at 5:16 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

She is looking a gift horse in the mouth. Nay, staring it.

If one is given a gift, and one gets angry, one is simply very very likely to be wrong.
posted by krilli at 5:16 AM on June 1, 2010 [16 favorites]

I can't believe someone would get angry over such a lovely gift, but I guess I would stop buying her things that she didn't specifically ask for (or mention) for a while. Not very romantic, but gift giving can be a strange thing in relationships.
posted by getawaysticks at 5:16 AM on June 1, 2010

I guess I'm looking for some advice as to how to proceed and try and resolve this without hurting her or myself any more.

Take back the ipad, and write her a cheque. Happy Birthday!
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 5:17 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seems like the best solution - if you really want to stay with her - is to never buy her any gifts (she doesn't deserve them!).
You say she has more money than you so if she wants something then she can more easily afford to buy it for herself than have you buy it for her. If the only way to get her a gift is to check with her first what she'd like then what's the point?
posted by missmagenta at 5:20 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Take back the iPad and DTMFA.
posted by electroboy at 5:20 AM on June 1, 2010 [16 favorites]

Ok, so I'm going to try and see this from her perspective.

You two discussed a very specific gift that she wanted. You said it was too expensive and she said she would see if she could find it cheaper elsewhere.

You then go and buy what appears to be an equally expensive gift that was not the gift you two specifically discussed, which seems odd. If the money wasn't the issue in the end, why didn't you get her what you know she really wanted? Were you judging her for wanting an expensive coat instead of something that could be seen as more useful like an ipad? I don't know, but it does seem odd to spend a lot of money on something you don't know whether she wants when she has told you exactly what she wants.

That being said her reaction was uncalled for and childish. At the end of the day you can give her whatever gift you want for her birthday. She should have handled it much more graciously, however I have to ask is this part of a pattern with you two? Because her extreme over reaction sounds like the type of thing that was a reaction to far more than just the ipad. I, of course, could be wrong and I'm not trying to excuse her atrocious behavior, but there sounds like there is more going on here than just the ipad. Talk to her.
posted by whoaali at 5:21 AM on June 1, 2010 [34 favorites]

Yes, people view gift giving/receiving differently. But your girlfriend was cruel to you, disrespectful of your feelings, and you should by all means stick up for yourself. You apologized for not listening to her - now it's her time to apologize for behaving like a child. If she doesn't apologize, or doesn't understand why her reaction hurt you, then the two of you have larger issues. It's possible she does have a weird history with boyfriends buying her inappropriate things and using those gifts to control her. It's also possible she's a paranoid, spoiled brat. But you've got to try to figure out which one it is - if it's the former, there's hope. If it's the latter, then I'll be waiting for your next AskMe question.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:21 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

It strikes me that her response is probably not about the gift in question but about something else.

The course of events you describe make her sound like a pretty unpleasant person - you got her something exciting that you thought that she would like and her major response is to complain that you didn't get her something she wanted six months ago. That's just not cool. My immediate response was, "What an ungrateful bitch!"

I think you should ask her if there's something else bothering her.

The only thing that I can think of that might provoke this sort of behavior other than other issues is perhaps she feels that a fur coat is extravagant and therefore not something she can purchase for herself without guilt so she is relying on you to get it for her.

Ask her if there's something else that is bothering her.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:21 AM on June 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

Is she going through some stress in other parts of her life, are you guys having other problems in your relationship? Sometimes stress and frustration build up until a tiny little thing sets it off and then all of a sudden the dam bursts.

Alternatively: She's nuts.
posted by atrazine at 5:22 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

She sounds extremely insecure, which is sad. I have people in my family who behave similarly, and it's always like walking on eggshells with them. Try to come at it with a sense of compassion - i.e. "What is going on in your life that can make you turn a positive gesture into a negative one, and what can we do to make that better?"

You're going to get a lot of advice here to ditch her and move on, so we need to know: Do you love her? Do you want to stay with her enough to work through this?
posted by jbickers at 5:23 AM on June 1, 2010

This is extremely rude behavior from your girlfriend and a super huge red flag for this relationship. You may have been a bit inattentive to her hints (not exactly unknown guy behavior) but it also seems like she wasn't explicit in expressing what she expected of you.

Make sure you try to get the iPad back before you break it off.
posted by chillmost at 5:26 AM on June 1, 2010

Just to point out - I'm not looking to ditch her.
posted by gadha at 5:27 AM on June 1, 2010

She's apparently being totally honest with you about how she feels, which is one ingredient of a good relationship, so you guys have that going for you.

Given how strongly she feels about this (which must be pretty strongly, given the very powerful social convention that one should not be a complete asshole about a £500 gift), I get the feeling you need to just ask her what she wants you to do and then do it.

I know you're not looking for a pile-on, and I know we're in the tree of trust here, where we encourage honesty rather than rush to judgment when people clearly express their honest feelings. But another ingedient of a good relationship is not being an awful, self-absorbed person, which based on this incident, I'm not sure she has going for her.
posted by caek at 5:30 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm with whoall here - she reacted like a spoilt little madam but she may have a point in that the iPad was actually for you rather than her. Has she ever mentioned an iPad? Is she interested in technology at all? If it's something you've been raving about for the last 3 months and she's indifferent, I can see why she might react negatively when you buy one "for her".

Imagine that 6 months ago you'd both talked about getting you an Ipad as a present and then 6 months down the line she gives you a lovely 500 quid leather jacket. You probably wouldn't react in such a dramatic way but you may well have feel a tiny bit disappointed and bitter. She knows I like gadgets more than clothes! Goddammit!

She obviously has issues more than 'I wanted a fur coat" so try to look further and figure out what they are.
posted by jontyjago at 5:30 AM on June 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

I ended it by apologizing for not being thoughtful and caring enough to have seen she wants the coat but this is totally confusing me.

It is totally confusing you because she is acting in a totally confusing way. This isn't about whether or not there's some relationship gift-giving etiquette you're unfamiliar with.

You bought her an iPad; she got angry because you did that instead of paying for half of a fur coat. You offered to pay for half of the fur coat; she remained angry because you should have offered to pay for the whole coat. You offered to pay for the whole coat: she remained angry because it's now summer and too hot for fur coats. You offered to just give her the money, then; she remained angry, because this isn't really about what percentage of a birthday coat you should be paying for, at all, and it doesn't sound like anything you said would have been satisfactory.

People who get irrationally angry at you are bad news. Partly because they have a tendency to be so sure in that irrational anger that you end up questioning yourself, apologising, and working out how to avoid disappointing them in the future, just as you're doing here. But the thing about irrational anger is that there's no way to avoid it through the means that you'd usually use - just an awful lot of walking on eggshells and beating yourself up for, effectively, not having psychic mind-reading abilities. Watch out.
posted by Catseye at 5:30 AM on June 1, 2010 [49 favorites]

If you're not inclined to the DTMFA route, you could try asking

- are there other things that make you feel I am too controlling?
- what do gifts mean to you?
- how do your family do gifts? - including long-term ex-boyfriends, if any
- what kind of things make good gifts for you, besides fur coats?
- You seem really angry about this. Are you really only angry about this gift or is there something else that you are also angry about?

I'd be quite grumpy about being surprised with expensive electronics that I don't really want, so I sympathise. I hope I'd be a lot more polite about it, and I do ask people in advance not to buy me expensive presents.
posted by emilyw at 5:31 AM on June 1, 2010 [12 favorites]

How do I be a more considerate gift-giver?
-Being a considerate gift-giver is about giving gifts. That is really all there is to it, in my opinion.

So, reading your post, my first reaction is that there was a disconnect between her desire and your reaction:
Her: "Ooooo, look! A floor length sable!"
You: "Well, I guess it is time to buy an iPad!"

But that doesn't change the fact that you bought something rather nice for someone you care about and she threw it in your face. It seems a little manipulative. No... No: it seems resoundingly manipulative and a little abusive to me.

See, you were a considerate gift-giver. This isn't about your gift, but rather about her expectations and couth.

My opinion would change if maybe you left something out and have been buying gifts that were hints about this-or-that, or if you would have bought something really sexist or gross, but from what you have written it sounds like you were maybe a little misguided, but in no way deserving of the lashing she gave you.

One shouldn't demand gifts.

On preview, I am pretty much with Whoaali.
posted by Tchad at 5:33 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Has she ever expressed interest in an iPad? I know I couldn't care less for one, and if someone dropped like 500 bucks on me for something I didn't particularly want, I would be completely weirded out, like the present was more of a conspicuous display of material than a genuine act of affection. The coat itself may just be a red herring here -- an alternate gift she's bringing up not because she really wants the fur coat right now (it is, as you say, summer), but as a way for her to express her frustration that she feels you don't listen to what her desires are. It's not about iPad versus coat, it's about whether she feels like you actually listen to her.

I mean, if I got an iPad, my general response would be an extremely kind roll-with-the-punch "Wow! That's so nice!" but I would most definitely be telling my friends, "Yo why the fuck he did give me this thing, I am not a man of electronic tablets." The best gifts I've received have just been small, inexpensive things that reflect my personality and wants -- I'm theorizing that the existence of the coat, and price of the coat (while easy to fixate on because a fur coat is, in my opinion, a totally unreasonable thing to be keening for) are not even the problem here.

On the other hand, if she's been like, "OH MAN I WANT AN IPAD SO MUCH" all the time, well then she's just a raging crazy person.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:34 AM on June 1, 2010 [8 favorites]

Maybe I should point out my impetus for getting her an iPad - she travels a lot and has a rickety old laptop that is barely together. She expressed interest in having a lighter, more flexible device for web access mostly. Thus, when the iPad came out I realized it's perfect for her and even said as much when giving it to her.

This was not a gift for me.
posted by gadha at 5:34 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

In circumstances where there are large misunderstandings in a relationship, I tend to go with the tack of "what can I do to make this right?" ... I also like to point out that I am not a mindreader, I am not psychic, and if you expect me to be then there will be other problems down the road. Keep the lines of communication open. If a person is unable to respond to plainspoken reasonableness across those lines of communication when they're in a rational state of mind, then it's possible that the relationship just doesn't work at all, and won't ever.

You say:
She was looking for a fur coat around about December last year. The price of the coat she wanted was about £500, and I said I would be happy to pay for half as her birthday present. She saw a coat but thought it was too expensive, she said she would look at prices in the USA where she was going to holiday in January.
And what was the result of that?
posted by artlung at 5:35 AM on June 1, 2010

There are two sides to every story, but on hearing your side I am inclined to believe that she is being a rude bitch. I myself am quite tolerant of people's attempts to shower me with iPads and expensive coats, but I'm sure that in the rude bitch culture, people view gift giving differently. Oh, well.

I also notice that she is accusing you of trying to control her. There is nothing in your post that would lead me to perceive this. On the contrary, the whole post is a description of her efforts to control your gift-giving - a process which, by definition, is out of the recipient's control.

I could go on, but, really, unless this woman is incredibly heroic in other ways, I don't see this ending well. Sorry.
posted by tel3path at 5:35 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I presented her with this device on Sunday... she said "but this is not what I wanted, I wanted a fur coat and you know that"...

You offer to buy the coat, but..

...She replied it was too late as it's now spring/summer.

So Sunday wasn't too late, but it's too late now? That shit doesn't make sense.

Why don't you just tell that you'll buy her a goddamn coat in the fall and count it as an early Christmas* present?

*or whatever season-appropriate gift giving situation applies to you.
posted by mullacc at 5:36 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you're not looking to end the relationship, then you need to talk to her about this, obviously.

From what you're saying, you knew exactly what she wanted and chose to get her something else. She responded honestly (albeit rudely) of her disappointment.

So maybe lesson learned here is when she tells you what she wants, just get her that. Don't get creative, don't think outside the box.

Some people can be rigid in what they want; she sounds like she maybe had her heart set on a fur (and on a sidenote here...fur?) and your surprise was perhaps your way of minimizing her desires ("I know you had your heart set on this, but I know you'll like this better.").

Yeah, she was wrong here in her response, but I'm wondering why you didn't just do what she wanted.
posted by dzaz at 5:36 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're not wrong for not getting her a fur coat at the start of summer - for all you know, if you had got her the coat she'd have complained it was too late now (as she did when you offered to buy it for her) and you should have got it for her for Christmas/or an early birthday present.

If you're really set on sticking with such an ungrateful person you need to stick up for yourself. Unless she has no interest in/use for an iPad, you did nothing wrong and you should not have to be apologising and offering to spend an extra £500 on top of the cost of the iPad nor putting up with such abuse. After this, I would not buy her any more gifts but if she throws that kind of tantrum again, leave the room/house/go home(if you don't live together) and don't put up with it.
posted by missmagenta at 5:38 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

You have to decide if this is a deal breaker for you, because it would be for many people.
posted by lobstah at 5:38 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

She is looking kicking a gift horse in the mouth.

She's being nasty and immature. (Plus, who in this day and age wears fur coats other than little old ladies?) It's your choice whether you to ditch her, or go through the rest of your relationship walking on eggshells, waiting for the next explosion, and ready to apologize for things that aren't your fault. Seriously, that's pretty much the options here. I'm sure she's great in every other way, but you have to decide how big a problem this one fault is.
posted by Forktine at 5:39 AM on June 1, 2010

You say: She was looking for a fur coat around about December last year. The price of the coat she wanted was about £500, and I said I would be happy to pay for half as her birthday present. She saw a coat but thought it was too expensive, she said she would look at prices in the USA where she was going to holiday in January.

The net result of this was that she came back with nothing from the USA and we discussed getting one she saw in London. She said however that the one in London seemed to expensive and that she would wait until it went on sale. That was the last I heard of the matter.
posted by gadha at 5:39 AM on June 1, 2010

Really this isn't about the iPad/coat and you know that. Her behavior isn't excusable but you're not looking to ditch her, in which case I'm not sure what you're really looking for here except for some validation?

What else is wrong with your relationship? And can it really be answered in a mefi thread?
posted by bitdamaged at 5:42 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

There are a couple of issues here. One of them is not that since your girlfriend wants a fur coat, she's obviously a Bad Person and you should DTMA, although I'm sure that advice will be along shortly.

First of all, there is an Ask/Guess thing with couples and gift giving and it's really, really important to figure out how your partner operates. Askers are all "I would like a rabbit, a sock, a gift card and the 2nd WooWoo album on CD." And that really is what the Ask person wants. The Guess person is like "Surprise me! Whatever you get, I'm sure it will be thoughtful and fab." Guessers don't want to know; more than anything they want to be surprised.

Your girlfriend is, apparently, an Asker. Congratulations, you have purchased critical data for the price of an iPad.

Second of all, when you have one person who is gadgety and one person who isn't, their ideas of what makes a great gift can be problematic. I say this as gently as possible, but had I been looking forward to a handbag/bracelet/coat (or half a handbag/bracelet/coat!) and had opened an iPad, I'd be kind of bummed. Even if it's a great match for my needs, technology does not make for a meaningful gift for me.

It's not a Dyson but I can see her point.

Third, your girlfriend is being kind of a twat. She's behaving in a demanding and ungracious way. Having a frank, calm and careful conversation about this sort of conflict a few days after the event without throwing a tantrum would have been a better way to address this.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:44 AM on June 1, 2010 [6 favorites]

Just to point out - I'm not looking to ditch her.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't. This isn't how good relationships work.
posted by monkeymadness at 5:45 AM on June 1, 2010 [5 favorites]

I replied by saying "OK, you're right. I'll pay for the whole coat". She replied it was too late as it's now spring/summer.

This is more drama than season tickets to the Met. Drop like a bad habit. Maybe her body will grow a clue by the time her brain is finished developing.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:46 AM on June 1, 2010

Last year, on our anniversary, Mr Bardophile bought me an incredibly beautiful piece of calligraphy. I was really really disappointed. There are many things he knows of that he could have bought me that would have made me MUCH happier. I did not throw this kind of fit, however.

It sounds like you're not the gadha in this, unless there's something here that you're not telling us. And it really does sound like there has to be more to it. If she really did just pitch a fit over the iPad, and those are the complete facts, then I am perplexed by your ongoing desire to remain in a relationship with this woman. However, you are obviously the better judge on that issue.
posted by bardophile at 5:49 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

My theory: she's partly mad because she didn't want you to spend so much money on her - an iPad AND a fur coat is really over-the-top.

Also, you are only suggesting you'll buy the fur coat now because she's so upset. It's to appease her, which isn't really a very satisfying way to receive a gift. It's tainted now.

And finally, she wanted you to hear her, understand her, *get* her. She seems pretty clear about wanting a fur coat. That's not something I would value, and probably you don't either - it's a big expense for something kind of frivolous. For whatever reason, she values it. It's her priority. Gadgets are not her priority, so your gift reveals this disconnect in values. And that's what's upsetting her.

Obviously I don't know you or her, but that's what I'm getting from the situation as you explained it.
posted by valeries at 5:49 AM on June 1, 2010 [12 favorites]

Initially, she expressed flattery at having it. In the next five minutes she said "but this is not what I wanted, I wanted a fur coat and you know that". I replied that yes I did but I hadn't heard anything since she talked about it last so I had assumed she has decided not to buy anything or postpone it.

Some people have confusing ideas about gift-giving; for example, some people prefer it when effort has gone into considering gifts, and so don't like specifying a gift then receiving it. Some people treat gift-purchasing as a way to display your understanding of the needs and desires of the recipient. Other people have an in-between view where they can hint at what they want but not explicitly specify it; or where they can mention something off hand some time in advance but prefer not to talk about it repeatedly. Some people don't want to know what the other person spent. Some people won't ask for anything because they can't think of anything they want. And so on.

In most cases these differences don't lead to friction because gifts are gifts, and are not normally received as if they were an obligation on the part of a gift-giver (even when they effectively are); many people are taught from childhood to appreciatively accept that itchy knitted jumper from grandma, regardless of how itchy it may be.

As such, I would say that your girlfriend's reaction was unconventional.

She was really really really angry and upset and kept on telling me the same thing in different words for over an hour. I ended it by apologizing for not being thoughtful and caring enough to have seen she wants the coat but this is totally confusing me.

Perhaps she had had a bad or stressful day, and/or was upset about something else?

I guess I'm looking for some advice as to how to proceed and try and resolve this without hurting her or myself any more.

You could return the ipad, go to the store that sold the coat she liked and get her some gift certificates and a bunch of roses, and hope that next time you see her she has had time to realize how unreasonable her reaction was.
posted by Mike1024 at 5:51 AM on June 1, 2010

And finally, she wanted you to hear her, understand her, *get* her. She seems pretty clear about wanting a fur coat.

Its something she really wanted nearly 6 months ago but hasn't mentioned since January. Its not unreasonable for him to have forgotten/not realised that she still wanted the coat. Also, its June, she will have no use for a fur coat for several months.
posted by missmagenta at 5:56 AM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

She is upset at something completely different, or dissatisfied with some aspect of the relationship and using the gift giving as a scapegoat. You need to sit her down and try to get her to open up to you about what is really bothering her. From her reaction it sounds like she might not have a lot of experience in connecting with whats truly bothering her, and you may need to execise some patience in getting to the bottom of it.
posted by newpotato at 5:57 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

i'm shocked at the dtmfa comments. some people have difficulty articulating really hurt feelings in the heat of the moment, especially on their birthdays! jeez.

as many have said, this seems like one of those times where this incident is actually just a *symptom* of a structural problem in the relationship -- hence the "was really really really angry and upset and kept on telling me the same thing in different words for over an hour."

i tend to do this -- like, if i say things enough times, i'll eventually identify exactly what's pissing me off -- i get so frustrated when i can't put my finger on what the *actual* problem is. it's not fair for you, and i know it sucks to listen about how you've failed for an hour. your gf can work on getting better at waiting, thinking it through, then accurately telling you exactly what's upsetting her.

as suggested by others -- ask her if it's just about the coat, or about gift-giving in general (it seems like she's feeling a lack of thoughtful affection in general, which seems fair). then ask her for a list of her top 20 super specific caring things or presents you could do/get for her. it may seem contrived at first, but fuck it -- she'll get what she needs from you to feel loved, she will see you're totally willing to make the effort so long as you know what you're supposed to be doing, and it'll make your target a lot more obvious! :)
posted by crawfo at 5:58 AM on June 1, 2010 [6 favorites]

All right, here's a theory:

She wanted a fur coat. She also wanted you to buy it for her. You offered to pay for half, which was okay, but also not the grand romantic gesture it could have been. Compare "my boyfriend bought me this lovely coat" to "my boyfriend chipped in for half." Not quite the same gesture, there. So she felt you were being a little stingy or accountant-like, but tried to be reasonable and swallow the disappointment. After all, you have less financial resources than she does. Then, you went and got her a gift that cost as much as the full price of the coat! So clearly you were capable of spending that much money, you just didn't want to spend it on the coat. Therefore (a) you were passing judgment on the worthiness of her desires and the extent to which you were willing to support them; (b) if you really loved her you'd just buy her what she wanted, immediately, romantically, without calculation or evaluation.

Note: I am not endorsing this point of view or claiming it's accurate. Nor am I expressing any opinion of her behavior given her feelings. This is just my guess based on the scant details above and partly tinted by my negative opinion of people who buy things like fur coats.

I will say this: a considerate gift is often one that the recipient already wants or needs and either cannot buy or will not buy (because they consider it a luxury or something). Sounds like you did a decent job paying attention to her needs; sounds like you could have done a better job giving weight to her clearly expressed desire.
posted by trig at 6:00 AM on June 1, 2010 [28 favorites]

Okay. So.

Maybe six months into my current relationship, my partner bought me an iPod for (I think) my birthday. This is obviously not the same thing as an iPad, although we were broke college students at the time so maybe a $100 iPod shuffle (it was a long time ago) is kind of equivalent to an iPad for people who actually have incomes. Anyway, I had pretty negative feelings about this (which, unlike your girlfriend, I'm not sure I ever fully shared with my partner -- um, hi partner, surprise!), which I had a really hard time understanding (and felt really guilty about) at the time. If I attempt to deconstruct the whirlwind of negative emotions I was feeling at the time, it went something like this: "I didn't want an iPod. I have no use for an iPod. I've never mentioned wanting an iPod, and I don't go to the gym or really even listen to music all that often. It's like my partner doesn't know me at all. And he spent so much money on this! It's like he thought spending lots of money on me would make up for not putting any thought into a gift. Worse, it's like he thinks I'm the kind of person who would be happy with any random expensive gift! And I don't deserve anything this expensive anyway. He doesn't have enough money for this! I wouldn't spend this much on a gift for him."

Because I had never shown any desire whatsoever for an iPod, it felt like the kind of gift an executive would give his secretary -- impersonal and kind of insulting. But this was compounded by guilt, because, I mean, he had gotten me something nice! It's not that I was opposed to iPods, there was just something really wrenching about receiving it in this particular context.*

I agree with sciencegeek that there's probably something else going on here. Her response, as you have described it, sounds completely irrational, which could mean:

a) She's acting seemingly irrationally because this is "really" about something else
b) Her thought process is rational but she's not explaining herself clearly
c) You're not understanding her, either willfully or unintentionally
d) She really is crazy (I would only go with this explanation if she has a history of acting crazy)

Honestly, I think the fur coat specifically might be coloring the replies you're getting, not because of moral issues but because it's an object that comes with a lot of stereotypes (spoiled rich girl, superficial, etc). And I'm not sure I agree with the whole "You're spending money on her! She should be grateful and like whatever you give her!" attitude. I certainly think her response, as you have described it, is not constructive or conducive to a harmonious relationship, but I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt (barring evidence of similar behavior in the past) and say that there's probably more going on here than you're letting on.

*Postscript: I asked him to return the iPod because I had no use for it. He said he would, but he didn't, and it sat around for about 3 years until I started going to the gym and actually had a use for it/had gotten over the weird emotions I had towards the thing. Now it's 2010 and I'm using a first-gen iPod shuffle. Nobody wins in this story.
posted by pluckemin at 6:05 AM on June 1, 2010 [66 favorites]

Oh, and for those saying it's natural to forget a gift idea if it hasn't been mentioned for half a year: I entirely agree, but it's also a very nice and romantic gesture when someone remembers a months-old desire. And, if romance is the real issue here, it might feel unromantic to keep having to mention your desire.
posted by trig at 6:06 AM on June 1, 2010

Nth-ing asking her what is really bothering her (without sounding like a pussy).
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:06 AM on June 1, 2010

Fur coat is fine as long she's prepared to kill the animal herself- but seriously. This is very ungracious behaviour. You should apologise for getting her the iPad and do penance by returning it or putting it on eBay- then spend the money on something nice for yourself. Like a big expensive leather jacket - fur lined.
posted by the noob at 6:11 AM on June 1, 2010

She said however that the one in London seemed to expensive and that she would wait until it went on sale.

She wanted you to either buy it when it went on sale, or buy it anyway if it didn't go on sale. Either way, you were presumed to be buying her that bloody coat whether you knew it or not, and you failed that task.

As others have said, that's tainted now: you will be set a future gift-giving task through heavy hints wrapped in equivocation and will be expected not to fail next time. So while I'm not going to join the DTMFA chorus, the phrase "fur coat and no knickers" can't help but pop into my head.
posted by holgate at 6:14 AM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

1. When someone I love(?) gives me a gift that they perceive to be thoughtful and caring, I am gracious, even when it is not something that I want. So yeah, your girlfriend was way out of line.

2. "Controlling?" There is definitely something bigger going on.

3. To specifically address gift giving, in the future I would buy all gifts with her present, on a shopping trip taken specifically for that purpose.
posted by gaspode at 6:14 AM on June 1, 2010

I think even more backstory would have been helpful. I agree with others that the way she handled this was not very mature. But--when she says that you have a history of doing this kind of thing--not picking up on the hints of what she does want, and instead getting her gifts of things that YOU like or reflect a different set of values--is that a valid complaint? Are you unintentionally judging her desires by your choices in gifts?

I would suggest attacking this from both angles: yes, you could probably do a better job in the gift department, but she also needs to think more maturely about how to communicate her desires to you and stop with the "if you really cared about me, you'd..." bullshit.

"The Five Love Languages" and "His Needs, Her Needs" are a couple of books you might take a poke at to get some insight into her perspective. They both can be a bit stereotypical in their gender roles, but frankly, she may be a bit stereotypical in her identity, and that may be part of what is fueling this "you're trying to control my being" complaint of hers.
posted by drlith at 6:16 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

A fur coat is warm, fuzzy, cozy, luxurious, tactile, and real. Your girlfriend values and craves these qualities, enough that she's been thinking about buying one for months without actually doing it. She even considered the indignity of allowing you to chip in for half (trig is right).

An iPad has none of these qualities. It's cold, slippery, hard as glass, small, rectangular. It's a tool, pretty in a certain way, but that way is all about potential and tool-ness. It's fun if you _use_ it. It's not hug-like at all. It's devoid of warmth, and there's no emotional investment in picking one out.

(for the record, _I_ would rather have an iPad than a fur coat, but I'd also rather have a plate joiner than an iPad at this moment).

You bought her something useful, like a new washer and dryer. Does she even like the job for which she travels so much?

I think the iPad was a very very thoughtful gift, and you are clearly a caring and clever boyfriend, gadha. It's also wonderful that you care enough to ask, here, what's up. I think she was probably just hoping for a more hug-like, beautiful gift, and was upset, and couldn't express herself well in the heat of the moment. I'm sorry that so many people are saying unkind things about the woman you love. We're all a little selfish, a little insecure, a little inarticulate. Maybe, after reading all this, you can have a really good conversation with her and learn more about what makes her smile, and remind her how easily she can hurt your feelings.
posted by amtho at 6:18 AM on June 1, 2010 [21 favorites]

My first Christmas with my now-husband, he bought me a rabbit fur coat at the advice of his mother. I am not a rabbit fur coat kind of lady. I accepted it graciously and wore it out to a few dates, because I know he was trying to make me happy, and it would be assy to pretend otherwise. As Greg Nog says, I was a bit like, "wtf fur coat?" to my friends at the time--and the husband and I have laughed about it since (it was later stolen out of my car, which was a bit of a relief!), but really, what she did was totally bratty and terrible.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:18 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Since everyone else has already weighed in about her reaction, and I suspect there's more going on there than can be encapsulated in your post... so I'll stay away from that. The question in the header for this page is "How do I become a considerate gift giver?"

I think this may be one of those Mars/Venus things... for me (a woman), gifts are highly personal things. Not items of a personal nature, but I agonize over gift selection to find something just right for the recipient. In my mind, a gift shouldn't say "hey, I spent money and bought you something of x value". I want a gift to say "Hey, I selected this because I know you so well... and I know you will *love* this x". In my experience, men focus more on $$ as the value of a gift. This is quite understandable, especially with the expected male role of "provider" in a relationship.

So how do you become a more considerate gift giver? Write a paragraph about your girlfriend... either literally or just in your mind. Think not just about her hobbies and activities she likes, but also her philosophies, hopes and dreams. Highlight the parts of that paragraph that connect her the gift you're thinking of. The more highlights, the better. A good gift will relate to one of her hobbies or something she likes to do. A great gift will get her closer to one of her dreams. Sounds kind of sappy, but that's the only way I can think of to explain it.
posted by kaudio at 6:19 AM on June 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

1: She appears to have been expecting you to buy a winter coat, despite the fact that it's now the summer. The coat should (logically) either have been bought in December, or left until the end of this year, when the shops will once again be brimming with mink and baby seal. Fur coats aren't the ideal summer birthday gift.

2: She hasn't mentioned this coat since the winter. This is reasonable grounds for assuming that she'd dropped the idea, particularly since it's a winter garment. And anyway, she can't seriously have wanted you to go out and make a major fashion-related purchase without her involvement - you would have picked something hideous.

3: Based on other conversations you've had with her, an iPad or a new laptop seems a reasonable and useful gift, if not one that shows your romantic or sensitive side.

4: She doesn't want to let this lie. She's side-stepping your attempts to find a remedy for the situation.

This really isn't about the coat. It's probably something that's been brewing in her mind since the coat issue first came up in December. It might have something to do with gift-giving (I, like others here, have noticed that gift-giving can really bring out the weird in people). Or it may be something completely unrelated, and she's using the coat thing to let you know that there are issues that she's unable to bring out into the open directly.

The two of you really need to sit down and have a quiet, calm, non-accusatory chat about all of this, and work out what the real problem is. Because the issue really isn't her disappointment at not being able to wear chinchilla on the beach this summer.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:22 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

pluckemin's response is great. Please listen to her.
posted by amtho at 6:22 AM on June 1, 2010

Gift-giving is tricky.

I don't know how she approaches gift-giving, but for me, it really is the thought that counts. And I don't mean, you thought in that single moment that I would like it. I mean, you thought about me and about what I like and how you think of me and the thousand other details that are meaningful around our life/friendship/relationship/whatever, and tried to choose something that fits into that whole picture. Which sounds complicated, and means that sometimes, particularly for my close friends or my husband, I am late with my gifts because it takes a long time to find something that is just right.

If she is this kind of gift-giver, someone who puts a lot into trying to get something that you want, something that is about YOU, and personal, and not about HER, and impersonal, then getting an iPad that she had never expressed interest in is going to hurt.

People who are encouraging you to be vindictive against her are distracted by the details of what you chose to get her versus the item you guys had previously discussed as a gift. However, since we have those details, is it possible that she sees your purchase of the iPad as a judgement? iPad=good, fur coat=bad? If so, that doesn't help.

Overall, however, this is probably about something else - how she feels you don't listen to her or actually take into account anything that she says or wants beyond this one item and probably beyond all material things, perhaps. I'm not intimating this is your intention, but it's easy to coast along and sort of make assumptions that are well-intentioned, but still end up in this kind of hole. Long story short, you should talk to her, let her know that you hear her about the gift, and that you want to talk about and resolve whatever is going on beyond that.

Alternatively, she might be crazy and unreasonable, but none of us knows that. It's best to assume she's a normal person with some frustration, not a cartoon harpy.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:23 AM on June 1, 2010

I should point out this was not in lieu of her birthday present; it was just something to make her travelling life easier. It was a parallel gift.

Thanks for your input everyone, ill talk to her tonight.
posted by gadha at 6:25 AM on June 1, 2010

I ended it by apologizing for not being thoughtful and caring enough to have seen she wants the coat but this is totally confusing me. Am I wrong?

I don't understand what is confusing you, I think she's being perfectly clear, and I think a lot of the posters in this thread are being way too harsh. She wanted something expensive, but instead of buying it for her, you bought her something else equally expensive that she had expressed no interest in. Sounds like that hurt her feelings, and then her response hurt your feelings. Clearly, there was a breakdown in communication in the gifts department. I don't agree with anyone saying she should just accept the gift and get over it- I would feel that way if this was anyone else (friends, cousins, co-workers), but I think when it comes to romantic partners, it's good to get down to the dirty truth of what your partners wants so you can make sure they get it. Here what I think you should do: apologize for the misunderstanding, sit down together to figure out what to do with the iPad and set some general rules on gift-giving. Discuss topics like: do I need to be surprised or would you rather I get you something specific? If it's the latter, how should we communicate with each other on what we want? If it's the former, what's a good way to communicate if the gift is unsatisfactory?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:26 AM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Receiving an expensive gift can be stressful. There's a lot of pressure; depending on what the gift is or what it does, it demands a response that's somehow equivalent to its perceived value. Suppose my gf got me a really expensive mountain bike, to take one example. Now I have to ride it a lot and like it. Or suppose I spring a ten-day Italian vacation on her -- imagine the pressure of having to enjoy fantastically every moment of that trip! It would kill me, let me tell you.

Having some say in an expensive gift can help defuse this kind of stress.

While I don't think her reaction is very nice, I do understand the frustration of not being involved in the choice of expensive gift. Some people just like to participate in any expensive gift-giving. She may also have ideas about what makes for a romantic gift. A coat -- something you wrap around yourself like an embrace -- may feel to her like more of a gift from her significant other than a plastic thing she uses while she's traveling for work.

One question I have about you: is there anything about the fur coat that you disapprove of? Was this ever expressed, even as a joke? Coats of real fur are controversial, as you must know, and i have to ask whether she thinks you might disapprove or your buying another gift could be read as a sign of your disapproval.

The other question is: her accusation of you being controlling seems over-the-top, though I can understand it (in terms of the examples in my first paragraph, you can see that some gifts do suggest control). Are there other ways where you think you come across as controlling? Do you ever fight about something where the fight is, basically, that you think some interest of hers is frivolous? The coat could end up being a potent symbol of that. I mean no offense by these questions, but you seem very willing to think candidly about this situation and I have only so much to go on.

I wish you luck. This is a difficult situation to unravel or reverse the effects of. Open lines of communication are your only hope, though.
posted by Philemon at 6:30 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I should point out this was not in lieu of her birthday present; it was just something to make her travelling life easier. It was a parallel gift.

Which does make a difference, IMHO (although, honestly, I'd say her reaction was disproportionate and unreasonable even if you had bought her the iPad instead of a coat). This isn't about coat-vs-iPad.

There's "I know you wanted a coat, but I bought you an iPad instead!" - and then there's "I know you wanted a coat, but you haven't decided yet which one you want, so I'll hold off until you've made that decision yourself before paying for it/half of it. As well as that, here is an iPad that I thought would help make your work travel easier."

This is an unreasonable thing to yell at you for.
posted by Catseye at 6:33 AM on June 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

I don't think this is just about the gift, so let's strip that away. I hear her saying that you don't focus in enough on what she wants and you try to impose your will/control her, and I'm also hearing that she thinks the two of you could communicate better.

Maybe she is just upset about something else in her life, and maybe this gift incident is the result of other problems she feels in your relationship.

I would talk to her about it, and I'd start by telling her that you appreciate her being honest with you about how she was feeling, and that you really want things between you to work and it is helpful if she tells you when something is not working. And I'd use that as a springboard to a larger conversation about why she felt that way and how she would have preferred you approach it.

Yes, it's easy to say that she was being awful, and maybe she was - you would know better than us. But it's obviously out of character for her, or you wouldn't be this puzzled, so I think you kindly and calmly talk it through with her. I'm not saying that you should let her act however she pleases or walk all over you, but I am saying that if this is unusual behavior it is worth figuring out what she needs and wants from you - if in the end it's not something you can give her then fair enough, but it sounds like you at least want to get to that point.
posted by mrs. taters at 6:36 AM on June 1, 2010

. I don't agree with anyone saying she should just accept the gift and get over it-

There's a huge difference between "accept the gift and get over it" and "yell at the giver for an hour and accuse them of controlling you with their gifts". Her reaction was completely unacceptable regardless of the gift (or desired gift) or occasion.

Tell her if she doesn't want the iPad then you'll return it, if you're feeling really generous, ask her what she'd like instead but since this was a specific gift for a specific purpose (rather than a birthday/christmas gift) it doesn't seem appropriate - unless she wants you to get her a Windows tablet/laptop of a similar value instead.

Out of interest - when you gave it to her, did you explain the reason for the gift? eg. Did you present it to her and say something like "hun, I know its not your birthday but I know your laptop is on its last legs so I got you this..." or did you just give it to her as a random surprise gift?
posted by missmagenta at 6:37 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just to point out - I'm not looking to ditch her.
If I had a girlfriend who reacted that way to a generous gift, I'd think she was looking for a way out of the relationship. This behavior screams, "Dump Me!"
This is up there with not returning your phone calls and being MIA for extended periods of time.

She's giving you a reason to end it. Take the hint before you find out that she's balling someone who she respects even less than you.
posted by Jon-o at 6:45 AM on June 1, 2010

Just wanted to give another point of view. Does she give you as much presents as you are giving her? Is it possible that she does not want all those presents?

You say that you get things for her that you think she will like without consulting her. Is this common? This would get me quite overwhelmed as I would not know how to respond and perhaps feel guilty that I don't give as much back. Maybe she be happier if she just got a few thoughtful presents? My feelings do sometimes rush to my head and my response to a gift I feel are way to much and that I don't really want would probably make no sense until I calmed down again.

Another possibility is that an iPad would be part of her "work" account while she want gifts to be from the "play" account.

Her reaction is indeed over the top but the only way to really know is to talk to her and ask what meaning she attaches to gifts.
posted by furisto at 6:45 AM on June 1, 2010

Am I the only person to see this from the girlfriend's point of view? Although your motives are genuine, I think you were insensitive to buy her this gift. I know you spent a lot of money on it, and I know you wanted to make her life better, but generally speaking people don't work that way. (It also alarms me how many people are pointing out the "logic" of the situation here, as if logic has anything to do with human relationships.)

Gifts are personal things. You can't just fling them at somebody and hope they stick. Unless she specifically asked for an iPad, or made hints, then don't be surprised if she isn't over the moon. And don't be surprised if she's resentful that you didn't buy her a gift that she DID ask for.

She's right. There's an element of you attempting to impose your personality and wishes onto her here. You love Apple products. She may too. But she wanted a fur coat. Is that so difficult to understand?

I'm totally on her side here, although I see both sides of the argument.

FWIW I'm male, British, and vegan. Therefore I'd also add that you might try educating her against a fur coat. Really, in our day and age we have better things to wear that don't involve cruelty.
posted by humblepigeon at 6:46 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is this the same woman who slapped you? If so, this childish and abusive behavior seems like a pattern for her. If not, picking these types of women seems like a pattern for you.

This isn't about a fur coat.
posted by desjardins at 6:48 AM on June 1, 2010 [16 favorites]

You offered to pay for half, which was okay, but also not the grand romantic gesture it could have been. Compare "my boyfriend bought me this lovely coat" to "my boyfriend chipped in for half." Not quite the same gesture, there. So she felt you were being a little stingy or accountant-like, but tried to be reasonable and swallow the disappointment. After all, you have less financial resources than she does. Then, you went and got her a gift that cost as much as the full price of the coat! So clearly you were capable of spending that much money, you just didn't want to spend it on the coat.

Thirding this. She's acting like a brat about the whole thing, though, she should have clued you in that the "chip in for half" thing was awkward at the get-go.
posted by desuetude at 6:50 AM on June 1, 2010

And further, is this the same woman? The rest of my earlier comment still applies. No one should have to put up with this, gadha.
posted by desjardins at 6:50 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

She spent a lot of time telling me that if I actually cared for her I would have helped her get the coat and not got her the iPad. She then went on to say that I try and control her with my gifts (control her being) and only ever give her gifts that I would like.

Obviously many people have already commented on her reaction, but I think a million more could comment and it still wouldn't be enough. Putting requirements on love (if you loved me, you'd do this. Since you're not doing this, I think you don't love me. I know it bothers you to have me think that I don't love you, which is why I said this) is emotionally manipulative and never, ever cool. Telling a partner that he is trying to control you (when in reality, she is the one trying to control you) is emotionally manipulative, too. Going on an on for over an hour about how much you don't love her and how you're trying to control her sounds like more than emotional manipulation, it sounds like brainwashing.

There are two issues here: her completely and totally age-inappropriate reaction to disappointment, and the mismatch between your gift-giving styles. Both need to be addressed. Since it sounds like the 1+ hour lecture you got doesn't really bother you as much as it would bother an average person, I think you should really address that first, because if you don't really care all that much, and you don't call her out on it, it's basically a recipe for her thinking she can treat you this way in the future and have it be okay.

The gift-giving thing is easy: just tell her that left to your own devices, you get her gifts that make her really upset. Tell her that she should just tell you what she wants for every major gift-giving time, because you don't like seeing her as upset as she got when you got her the iPad.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:53 AM on June 1, 2010

You know I think responses here may be colored by the fact that it's probably hard for the average MeFite to imagine that anyone could be that disappointed by an iPad. So let's imagine the reverse scenario -- you've expressed a desire for an iPad to your boyfriend; he offers to pay for half of it. Then a few months later he buys you an expensive fur coat (that you have expressed no desire for) and seems to have forgotten all about the iPad you mentioned wanting. In a way the fact that this is not your girlfriend's birthday almost makes it worse -- if you could afford to plunk down that much money on a whim, why didn't you just buy her the fur coat when she wanted it? This makes it seem to her that you are willing to spend money on things that you see as worthwhile but not on things that you consider frivolous or unnecessary.
So I think your girlfriend could maybe have chosen a more gracious way of expressing her disappointment, but I can kind of see her point.
posted by peacheater at 6:53 AM on June 1, 2010 [9 favorites]

It sounds to me like this is all tied up in a convoluted and complicated way in Money Itself. For your girlfriend, Money Itself is strongly linked to feelings of control - being in control, being controlled, control in general.

The iPad wasn't at all a thoughtless gift - you put thought into it, you explained your thoughts to her, you really honestly believed she would like it. The problem wasn't thought. The problem was the sticker price.

Here's my theory: if you bought for your girlfriend a much *less* expensive gift on her birthday (if it was something that had an obvious sticker price), she would have been gracious about it and tried in a more genuine way to see the value of it for herself personally. In short, she would have appreciated it more. If you had bought the fur coat, she would have been angry too. It's not the right season now, she can't wear it, she wanted to pick out a specific one... so on and so forth. The coat was not a winning move for her birthday.

In fact, after the money issue came up, the coat was not a winning move, period, as you discovered in the birthday discussion. I think what you really need to talk about with her is how each of you view Money Itself and gift giving in relation to Money Itself. If you don't get this cleared up, every gift giving occasion will be a mine field of one sort or another, and you don't want that.

Here's how I'd go about it: sit down with her when she seems to be less angry and more on an even keel - not after a bad day at work for either of you. Tell her that you've been doing some thinking about what she said regarding the iPad and her birthday, and you wanted to talk about it with her, but not about the specifics. Tell her that you understand that the money spent is a large part of why she was upset, and you'd like to talk with her about her feelings and views on money. Does she feel awkward asking for financial things from you? Does she feel awkward accepting items from you that she knows cost you a lot? Would she feel more comfortable if the two of you set a spending limit for holidays, to keep things lighter and keep the focus on small but thoughtful surprises?
posted by lriG rorriM at 6:56 AM on June 1, 2010

You've gotten a lot of good advice in this thread. I haven't seen you answer whether this was out of character or not for her, which I think would be an important point.

You say things like:

She then asserted that by giving her presents I am controlling what she likes....
She spent a lot of time telling me that if I actually cared for her I would have helped her get the coat and not got her the iPad...
She was really really really angry and upset and kept on telling me the same thing in different words for over an hour.

In general, an easy way to make someone a less considerate and far less enthusiastic gift giver is to treat them badly on receipt of a gift. You need to tell her this. It sounds like you spent a lot of time apologizing for giving her something out of the kindess of your heart. This is backwards, and should not be the case.

If this is a consistent pattern (or becomes one after this), you are going to resent her, probably very strongly. No matter how many times you shrug it off, eventually you are going to just feel terrible and unappreciated. If she doesn't recognize how unfair it was that she treated you this way, then you may have a serious problem in this relationship.

She's clearly free to like or dislike any gift you give her, but she's painting you as a really awful person for giving her a gift. That's not at all ok. Best of luck with the impending conversation.
posted by dnesan at 6:57 AM on June 1, 2010

To the people saying "why didn't you just get her the coat that she asked for" - she's already explained that a) he forgot she wanted the coat because its been nearly 6 months since she mentioned it and b) the iPad was not instead of the coat

He was not just intentionally getting her an iPad instead of the thing she wanted because he thinks iPads are cooler/he thinks fur coats are immoral/he doesn't think she should want frivolous expensive things
posted by missmagenta at 7:02 AM on June 1, 2010

she's already explained that
posted by missmagenta at 7:04 AM on June 1, 2010

Am I the only person to see this from the girlfriend's point of view?

I can understand (and even get behind) the argument "You bought me something other than the thing that we both know I wanted. This confuses and upsets me."

But the girlfriend's point of view isn't just that, it's "You bought me something other that the thing we both know I wanted. This confuses and upsets me, so and going to get extremely and visibly angry and tell you that you don't love me and that you are trying to control me for over an hour."
posted by 23skidoo at 7:04 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm stuck on the cost: you were willing to pay X to chip in for a coat, but then spent 2X outright for an iPad? Why? She handled this poorly--very poorly. She may be upset about something else, or maybe she's just reacting to this situation in a very immature way. However, while I don't think I would scream at my husband for buying me an iPad, I might feel a little... unsettled, let's say, if he'd balked at the price of a fur coat as a gift for me but then spent the same amount on an iPad.

When you're talking about big or expensive gifts, it's actually a really tough thing to handle emotionally when the expensive gift you receive is not the one you expected or wanted. I know that sounds just awful and selfish--and you feel just awful and selfish. Sometimes when you're feeling guilty like that, it's easy to lash out and find ways to blame the other person--i.e., "You were trying to control me, weren't you?" It's not right, and it's not appropriate, and it's not kind, but it's human.

(That said, on preview, if this person is the same as the woman desjardins asked about, she sounds emotionally unstable and you probably shouldn't guage your ability to do things like thoughtful gift-giving based on the reactions of someone who is extremely emtoionally immature.)
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:05 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

My guess, with the limited amount of information I have:

Your girlfriend had expected you to be psychic and to pick up on the 10,000 nonverbal, unspoken hints and cues she's been dropping. You didn't pick up on them, even though she thinks they were blindingly obvious, and this really annoys her! This is generally more a female thing*, but of course some men do it, this expectation that "You should already know what I want without my having to ask you directly for it," or "I DID tell you! (in a roundabout way, months ago, but you should still have figured it out and remembered)."

She said however that the [fur coat] in London seemed to expensive and that she would wait until it went on sale.

But how did she say it? Was it like this?: "Ohh...I don't know. (long sigh) I love it, but it still seems too expensive...(disappointed shrug) I suppose I'll wait for it to go on sale." (gazes bravely toward the horizon)

Because if she said it like that, to her that is the equivalent of holding up a giant flashing sign saying HINT HINT HINT BUY ME THE COAT. I am guessing she expected you to go buy that coat immediately, wrap it up, hide it, and present it to her on her birthday with a cute story about how you've been so excited for six months waiting for her to open this!

That also unfortunately gave her several months to dream about this fantasy scenario "gasp! oh darling, my fur coat! how lovely, you DID buy it! you know me so well!" -cue the swelling violins- and it came to a screeching halt when she opened up an iPad instead. And now she's all disgruntled about her fantasy being ruined (which is very rude of her, but others have said this).

So why doesn't she want you to fix it by buying her that fur coat? Because now you're just getting it because she's demanding it, and that removes the special romance of the gesture (no gasp of surprise, no swelling violins). Only she doesn't know how to say that, either, so she blames it on the seasons.

I could be wrong, but either way, you two need to talk. You've got to lay it out that you are not psychic and she's got to be more direct in telling you what she wants and what she's thinking, because if she says "I'll wait for it to go on sale," you interpret that literally as "I'll wait for it to go on sale." (which is perfectly reasonable of you). If she isn't willing to alter her communication style, you're going to have a rough time of it. This "I shouldn't have to ASK" mentality has poisoned relationships since the beginning of time.

*of course not all women do this, myself included, and it drives me batty when I see it in others.
posted by castlebravo at 7:19 AM on June 1, 2010 [12 favorites]

OK, I've had boyfriends who did what she accused you of -- control through gifts. One broke-ass boyfriend got me a computer (!) for my birthday, then later started to whine about having no money and tried to hit me up for the price. This is not you.

You bought her an expensive, fancy new Ipad as a just-because gift. You explained to her that it was a gesture you decided to make based on her lifestyle and what you thought would make her life easier. You pointed out that it was not in lieu of an actual birthday gift you intended to buy her. She acted like a petulant, spoiled child.

I get that you don't want to ditch her, because you sound like a stand-up guy who is generous and thoughtful. But if she is the same woman who you've posted about before, I urge you to evaluate the amount of time, pain, and angst you pour into a relationship that keeps hurting you. It doesn't have to be like that.

If you want to stay in the relationship, I suggest an honest, painful talk. Be prepared to get dumped for pointing out any flaws with her or the relationship. I wish the best for you.
posted by motsque at 7:22 AM on June 1, 2010

Trying to find a way that doesn't lead to DTMFA; some people just do not like Steve Jobs.
posted by Some1 at 7:29 AM on June 1, 2010

I had a thought while cleaning the bathroom sink. I've had misunderstandings with boyfriends in the past about house chores. In my house while I was growing up there was a division of labor between my mother and father. My dad took out the garbage and cleaned the bathroom among other things. So I grew up thinking that it was a male chore (no, I don't really think that men have a specific list of things that they are responsible for because they have a Y chromosome, I was just used to it being a guy thing) to clean the bathroom. Apparently most people don't think this. So at one point I was annoyed at a boyfriend because he didn't automatically clean the bathroom. I don't remember yelling at him about it, just being irked because he was supposed to know that it was his job (I never said I was being rational, right?). The subject came up a while later and we talked about the house chores that our respective parents did and how they differed from the industry standards. It was a good conversation.

Perhaps your girlfriend feels that fur coat acquisition is the job of the boyfriend/husband? I think that women sometimes expect men to make certain purchases: certain types of jewelry, flowers and maybe this fur coat. Maybe for her, having to buy the coat for herself is a red flag because it means that you're falling down on your job as a boyfriend.

Note that I don't think that this is acceptable; if you want something and it isn't going to be forthcoming from your partner, suck it up and get it for yourself. I'm really just trying to figure out where she's coming from.

That said, you want advice on gift buying. Talk to her and tell her that you're not good at this and that you don't want to screw up again. Tell her that different people have different expectations based on their experiences. Before gifting holidays, ask her for a short list of things she'd like. Make sure to get at least something from her list. Oh, and here's my advice in general: if you have the money to do it, get her flowers once a month. I'm not a girly girl and I still like that quite a bit and it makes the house happy too. It doesn't have to be expensive - roses aren't the only plants out there.
posted by sciencegeek at 7:30 AM on June 1, 2010

I can't/choose not to address most of the question, but I will say that noticing this:

She [ . . . ] kept on telling me the same thing in different words for over an hour.

was very perceptive of you. When I get into conversations where I say the same thing over and over again in different words, I do it because I feel like the other person doesn't understand, and I desperately want them to understand, so I keep trying to explain it. While it won't necessarily help you understand the point, 'mirroring' back the statements to her will get her to stop explaining it.
posted by MeiraV at 7:38 AM on June 1, 2010

Lot's of questions, here are some answers.

1. The price differential is because I had less money in Dec and more now. I would happily pay for the whole thing today.

2. I have no strong feelings one way or another about the coat. The iPad was not a substitute.

3. It does not seem in character with her; but there have been other flags, relating to other events, which I haven't discussed here.

4. I got the idea for the iPad because she specifically said "something like just a screen would be nice" - I have no strong fanboi feelings for or against Apple, it just seemed like the right tool.

5. She generally likes (or even loves) technology.

Also, humblepigeon, while I appreciate your input I'm not about to act as a conduit for you to impose your moral principles onto her. Nice try anyway.
posted by gadha at 7:45 AM on June 1, 2010

How do I become a considerate gift giver?

You can't because you already are on any normal standard, and you can't because she profits off making you feel guilty. Nothing you do will be right to her. She's manipulative and controlling. She convinces you've done something terrible when in fact, you've done something incredibly nice. But she runs a niee game- she's probably going to get an entire coat and an iPad out of this.

Assuming this is the same woman who slapped you, there is quite a pattern here. You either like this abuse, or refuse to escape it. As long as you (insanely) choose to say with this woman, the only way to avoid it is to do exactly as she says. Clear anything you do for her with her. Or leave.

Am I the only person to see this from the girlfriend's point of view?

I really hope so.
posted by spaltavian at 7:45 AM on June 1, 2010

Oh, and this isn't *that* woman.
posted by gadha at 7:46 AM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

At a guess, this has nothing to do with the iPad or the fur coat.

She feels that you don't listen to her. There have probably been a lot of other occasions where she didn't feel her words were heard, which you probably didn't notice because, well, you weren't hearing her.

She was really really really angry and upset and kept on telling me the same thing in different words for over an hour.

is what happens when someone has no fricking idea how to get you to HEAR her - because in her experience of your relationship, she says things and they go right through you and then you do whatever YOU want to do. So she's frustrated and trying to find the secret combination of words that might make it stick this time.

I say this as someone with a "mm-hmm" husband myself. Took us a while to work that out, because there is nothing more frustrating than not being heard and for him, he was bewildered by my anger because he really HADN'T heard me - so had no memory of those experiences in which I felt unheard.

Talk to her. Ask, gently, if this is because she feels like you don't listen to her. I bet you'll get a long earful and a view of your relationship that will be new to you. Which is the first step to trying to fix it.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:48 AM on June 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

I can understand being disappointed at receiving an expensive gift that wasn't the thing you really wanted and had asked for.
I can understand how, in that situation, someone could interpret the different gift as "this gift is a better use of money than that thing you wanted," and I can kind of get to "controlling" from there, though that's a bit of a stretch.
I can understand how offering to pay for the whole fur coat after the fact is not really the same, since then it doesn't really feel like a gift.

That said, her reaction was over the top, especially considering that this was a spontaneous just-because gift.

Maybe she'll have cooled off in a few hours, and you can both have a quiet conversation in which you each tell each other how you're feeling and where those feelings are coming from, and what you would each like to happen and what you're willing to do and how you can make this better for the future of your relationship, and you both understand each other and agree to meet somewhere in the middle and neither of you feels controlled or manipulated. Sometimes things blow up and both people need to get their initial reactions out of their systems, and then later you can figure out what's really going on and work together to fix it.

If you can't have that sort of conversation, you are in trouble.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:51 AM on June 1, 2010

You may have way too many answers already, but this struck a nerve with me, so I'm tossing in my two cents worth:

Um, you know, she might have a point. And considering how upset she got, I'd say it's a point that's been unresolved between you for quite a while. Giving a present is not about transferring something from the store to the loved one. It's about paying attention, caring enough to pay attention. She obviously feels that you don't do that, and that you want her to respond to your unexpected, unasked for gift as if you were paying attention.

This can be a HUGE issue in a relationship, but it's not a dealbreaker unless you want it to be. My husband and I could not resolve it, so we've sidestepped it. We don't exchange presents, period. Not Christmas, birthdays, nada. Sometimes we buy ourselves presents: $50 comic books, another adorable hat -- and the other person is always, always delighted and supportive. We love each other dearly, and we're about to celebrate our 30th anniversary, but we. don't. exchange. presents.

And a side comment: did you stop to consider the implications of an iPad? Learning a new electronic tool, transferring information -- not so easy. What does she use now? If I had the money I'd get one right now, just for the fish pool, but we are not all Gadget Girls. Giving something like this is indeed controlling, or the very least interfering, and you going all big-eyed and "what did I do?" doesn't help.
posted by kestralwing at 7:55 AM on June 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

One other thought: I know my dear one would sort of be happy if I bought him an iPad, but he's also be disappointed that he didn't get to pick out the specific one he wanted. He's told me not to buy him techie gifts (even though we both have CS degrees), because the act of figuring out the precise specs he wants is part of the fun. Also, people like to know their tools intimately.

This may not apply here -- I know that there aren't that many different iPads -- but I thought I'd mention it in case it's a factor.
posted by amtho at 7:57 AM on June 1, 2010

It sounds like she fears you look down on her for wanting things like fur coats and that you wish she was someone who would want an iPad instead, or more generally, that you don't respect her for who she is. That's what she means when she accuses you of trying to control what she likes. She seems insecure and emotionally immature and she lashes out at you instead of doing something more helpful for your relationship or for her own self-esteem.

To me her behaviors are unacceptable, even if I can kind of understand where she's coming from. I'd strongly consider breaking up with her, but if I didn't, I'd be steeling myself for years of manipulative drama. Maybe you could make it better by trying to convince her that you really aren't trying to control what she likes or by just buying her whatever she wants in the future, but I doubt it. She's got serious issues and you're somebody she takes them out on.
posted by callmejay at 8:04 AM on June 1, 2010


People are sane as they need to be. How sane does she need to be?
posted by effugas at 8:04 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I imagine she knows she's behaved badly. Everyone has their bad moments. For what it's worth, I think she's accusing you of judging her based on the things she buys. She may feel like she's trying to live a lifestyle she doesn't care to for your sake. However, I would chalk 80% of this up to a temper tantrum that's best quickly talked about and then let go of.
posted by xammerboy at 8:06 AM on June 1, 2010

first--i think gifts are for the giver to decide. i listen to my loved ones to hear of any obvious hints, but ultimately it's my idea that makes the gift. in the case of your girlfriend, i'd hear the request for the fur coat and file it away for the right moment to surprise her with the coat. i think you were pretty thoughtful to get an ipad, and i'm guessing that she'll be a lot happier after she's used it for a week or so.

see ... i did this once with my wife. i bought her a brand new lcd monitor for her home workstation back when they were the *new thing*. snuck it into the house and set it up while she was sleeping. she woke up, came down stairs, saw it and freaked. went through some of what you detailed above.

a few weeks later, she told me how much she liked it and how she was glad i got it.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 8:09 AM on June 1, 2010

It sounds like she doesn't really believe that the iPad is a wholly separate gift and doesn't affect her fur coat in any way. She probably feels like she's getting something she doesn't want instead of something she does want. Tell her you're going to keep the iPad for yourself and that she can borrow/use it any time she wants, and if you're really OK with getting her 100% of the coat purchase then go ahead and do so. Be wary of similar behaviour in the future, though. If this is more than an isolated incident you are in for a world of problems.
posted by rocket88 at 8:18 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, she definitely doesn't look good in light of taking this as a single isolated incident, and she probably could've reacted better. However, playing devil's advocate here in thinking about this being just one visible fissure in the overall relationship, my question I guess is, what has the pattern of gift-giving been before? Or how have you reacted to things she's interested in? I agree with an above poster in that I don't think she's mad about getting an iPad or is necessarily ungrateful. Especially her delayed reaction to the gift is kind of a tell that something else irked her, and the gift of an iPad was a trigger that made her explode at you.

It seems like a case of bad communication here more so than gift giving. It's that metafilter favorite of Ask vs. Guess happening here. It sounds like she feels like you don't really know her that well or care about the things she cares about. An iPad is aweome and great, but to her realizing that you went through the trouble of meticulously planning (as in having the forethought to put aside the money, preorder and surprise her with the iPad without her asking for it), as opposed to the "Well, I'll pay for half of it" and sort of forgetting or not following up with her actual desire for a furcoat because SHE didn't bring it up again is probably one of many examples to her where you've come across as much more enthusiastic about what directly interests you, to the point of sort of forcing them on her, while her needs, desire and interests are just her thing and you're just meh about them. Not to say you're against them or don't support her, and not to say you're a crappy gift-giver, but just your attitudes in general, I mean. Like, based on descriptions of the events above to break it down in how she might've seen it: she said she wanted a coat and you sort of were all "Ok." Then took a sort of passive role as she went around looking for one. Then was all "whatever" when she said she'd find one less expensive elsewhere and left it at that. But then for the iPad you were all "Oh, hot DAMN, gotta get one of those!!"

And while an iPad is totally rocking and awesome, I have to say, as someone who works a lot on the computer and travels with one, I would not want one as a travel work computer. What kind of work does she do? If she does a lot of paperwork/usual office desk job type of work, I'm not really sure how exactly helpful an iPad would be as opposed to just a netbook or new regular laptop. I don't know, maybe she also realized that the more she played with it and it was just another reminder of "Ugh, he doesn't know ANYTHING about me!"

Either way, you BOTH need to get over this incident and actually start talking about how you two interact a what you want from each other in this relationship. You can't keep focusing on this one incident as her asking you to be a considerate gift-giver and she needs to better voice what her actually displeasure is in the relationship without throwing a gift back in your face because this isn't helping.
posted by kkokkodalk at 8:20 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Because I think about these things logically, I would sit your girlfriend down and say, "OK, clearly we had a miscommunication about the ipad/coat. You wanted the coat, and I misread or misunderstood the clues you were dropping. But you need to understand that I'm no good with hints; I need a neon sign pointing me in the right direction. Can we discuss a way that you can convey what you want, so that the next time comes for me to buy you a gift, we don't do this dance?"

Then suggest that she write down things she wants on scraps of paper and put them in a jar (her wish jar). Then, you draw a scrap of paper from the jar and buy her the present. She's still surprised (because she doesn't know what she might get), but still gets something she wants.

Good luck!
posted by LN at 8:20 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

[few comments removed - jless of the judgeme and more of the helpful please?]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:29 AM on June 1, 2010

Do you have a pattern of not getting her what she asks for, or something you've said you'll get for her, but instead giving her something else you think she might like? That could lead to an explosion, when the frustration builds up enough.
posted by telophase at 8:59 AM on June 1, 2010

There are two questions here. In one, you ask about best practices for becoming a good gift giver. In the other, you ask for interpretations about what happened in your specific gift-giving case.

I don't really know about the second. That's something that you should talk out with your girlfriend, not with AskMe. I'll address my comments to the first. I can speak to the first. I used to be (to my surprise, actually) a not-that-great gift giver, but I've improved.

Until about five years ago, being bookish by nature, I pretty much exclusively gave books as gifts. After all, books are what I'd want as gifts. And I'd spend a lot of time picking out the right book too. Either matching interests for non-fiction, or finding fictional narratives that complemented someone's obsessions, background, situation, etc. I put a lot of time & care into picking what I thought was *exactly* the right book. And yet, it turned out that for a great many people (family, friends, and romantic partners alike) the *perfect* book was, in the end, still "just a book." Who knew?

I think you've got the most important part of good gift-giving down, and that's putting some thought into the matter -- thinking about the person you're giving it to, their needs and desires.

For me, I had this part down too. So, it was a matter of expanding my ideas about what gifts can be. What I ended up doing was adding a bunch of design blogs to my RSS reader -- a wide variety of blogs that focus on neat stuff like whimsical clocks, wooden toys, handmade bags, letterpress stationary, etc. etc. I tried to add some from a bunch of perspectives: urban, rural, masculine, feminine, etc. And if I saw something that sparked an idea, I'd save it in the RSS reader, and maybe make a note. Now, I only give books to friends who are as bookish as I am, and, even then, not all the time anymore.

As my ideas of what made a good gift expanded I became attuned to more possibilities and could make better decisions based on what I knew that the people I cared about liked. Now -- I've just recently found out, as a graduation gift for a cousin went over quite well -- I've got a reputation for picking out great gifts. Or so my sister tells me. Again, who knew?

All in all, this advice may not be precisely for you. I don't know if you tend to skew toward tech gifts like I did books. If so, then maybe there's some concordance. But even then, it sounds like the second question is the one you really want to work out. And, man, I hope it all works out well for you. Nevertheless, all this may help some other future MeFite who's searched for this title question and found this thread.
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:06 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have been seeing my boyfriend for almost three years and I would never expect him to buy me anything that expensive. I'd also never date someone who wanted a fur coat, but that's not the issue here. I too earn more than my SO (although I live somewhere much more expensive) and if he had bought me an iPad I'd give it back to him - so he could use it himself. Incidentally, when he asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told him, and then gave him a money off voucher I had for the store.

"Perhaps your girlfriend feels that fur coat acquisition is the job of the boyfriend/husband? I think that women sometimes expect men to make certain purchases: certain types of jewelry, flowers and maybe this fur coat. Maybe for her, having to buy the coat for herself is a red flag because it means that you're falling down on your job as a boyfriend."

Yes, some people are like this - the same people who think engagement rings have to be diamond and cost two months' salary, or that perfume and flowers should never be bought by oneself. Is your girlfriend this type of person, and are you happy with that?

I've sometimes given relatives a list of suggestions when they *asked* me what I wanted, because we don't see each other often, and sometimes didn't get one item on that list. It's disappointing to get something that'sn not useful to me, but only because someone has spent their time and money picking something out, which makes me a bit sad. The correct response is either to thank them and pass it on in private, or say that you're grateful but would rather exchange it for X.

"She then asserted that by giving her presents I am controlling what she likes (i.e. she should only like what I think she should like)"

I can see why someone might get upset if this was the case - if someone had asked me to get them a £500 coat I'd think I could be spending that money on something more useful...and I find feeling like someone is telling me what I ought to do/be/like is immensely upsetting. My SO and I argued for ages when he kept trying to convince me to get a netbook instead of the laptop I wanted, ebcause he fervently thought it would be easier for me. But it sounds like it very much isn't. I think this is what you need to work out. Given that she isn't three, there may well be a deeper issue at work...but she isn't addressing it properly.

Oh, facetiously - it's never ever cold enough to wear a fur coat in London, especially on public transport. I have a near full length wool coat and I can wear it for about a week per winter.
posted by mippy at 9:12 AM on June 1, 2010

"The net result of this was that she came back with nothing from the USA and we discussed getting one she saw in London. She said however that the one in London seemed to expensive and that she would wait until it went on sale. That was the last I heard of the matter."

You also say you have no strong feelings about the coat. Could that not be part of the problem? That you are simply not interested in what she cares about? That she might have the impression that you are not interested in getting to know her and to genuinely listen? Listening includes asking questions. You should have kept on asking about the coat. Finding out about her desires. Furthermore you could not have bought the coat on your own but you could have done so together and than made sure you admired the result. This girl also does not seem to like surprises so don't buy any other expensive gifts on your own without asking her first.
posted by Mrs Mutant at 9:16 AM on June 1, 2010

While it sounds like your girlfriend did not express herself well or with any thought to your feelings I can understand the core of what she is saying. All judgments of her behavior aside here's my take on what she wants from you.

Your girlfriend has enough money to purchase the ipad for herself and she sees it as a practical gift. She sounds to me like she is challenging you to go out of your comfort zone. She wants you to get her something that you can't possibly say "well, I would like this so she will like it too."
She made this a training round, telling you exactly what she wanted this time around. If you want to make her happy (again, all judgments on her behavior aside) you should listen for little hints that she'll drop throughout the year. Things like, "X is my favorite perfume. I'm going to need a new bottle soon since I am almost out." If you pick up on this and gift her with something like that she will feel like you really tried to guess exactly what she wanted. And if you give it to her, saying "I know you love X and I saw that you were running low. It smells so good on you that you should always have a bottle."

And you can still save the fur coat situation. Get the darn thing for her as a birthday present and tell her that, cost be darned, it looks so good on her you HAD to get it for her in the summer so that at the first cold snap she'll have it ready.

(I can't believe I just wrote that!)
posted by tinamonster at 9:28 AM on June 1, 2010

My mother does this pretty much every single time with everything my father's ever given her, as far as I can tell, and it's been going on for at least thirty years now. "Why did you even get me this? It's too expensive! Oh my GOD we had LIMITS agreed upon about how much to spend this year! I'll have to take it back."

Nothing's ever gone back. She eventually admits after a few hours that it's great and he put a lot of thought into it and whatever, and I think my dad perversely enjoys watching her get horked off at whatever it is this time around. If you are also the sort of guy who can perversely enjoy your SO being horked off at what you can think up in terms of gift giving, this might work out well for you longterm.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:40 AM on June 1, 2010

She spent a lot of time telling me that if I actually cared for her I would have helped her get the coat and not got her the iPad.

There are perhaps a million possible ways to thank you for the gift and then gently and sweetly ask if you would be offended were she to return it because she was still so enamored of that coat.

The fact that she could not be bothered to come up with one of them speaks volumes about how much she really cares for you.

Unless there are some details we don't know, your tale makes you sound a bit like a doormat to a tyrant. Do you normally spend such effort tiptoeing around her moods? Think hard about whether that's a life you want in the long run.
posted by bunji at 9:51 AM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

She was ungracious and probably could have expressed her disappointment diplomatically, but I think she has a valid point about your behaviour:

She wanted a fur coat at the beginning of winter. You offered to buy her half a coat for her birthday. What the hell? Are you her dad, or her boyfriend? Then you turned around months later and bought her something she never expressed an interest in and spent (probably) more money than the coat would have cost. That certainly looks like you disapprove of her choices and want to impose your own values.

Then when she complains, you offer to buy her a fur coat that she can wear this summer and your confused that she no longer wants it.

Here's how to fix this: take the iPad back (you want one yourself anyway, don't you?), ask her what she wants and then get it for her. If she doesn't want to do that (and she may not) you're going to have to knock one out of the park at the next gift giving opportunity.
posted by timeistight at 9:59 AM on June 1, 2010

You are dating an emotional 5 year old. If you want to stay in that unhealthy relationship, do as others have said. Take the iPad back, and give her cash or a cheque.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:00 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Re-reading your question, I realize that I'm unclear on when her birthday was and whether you got her a present on her birthday. I her birthday was Sunday, then I'm being a little harsh, though you should still encourage her to return it and get herself something she wants. On the other hand, if her birthday was in December and you got her nothing because the present she wanted was too expensive, then I still think you were out of line.
posted by timeistight at 10:11 AM on June 1, 2010

The "it's too late" response is just plain petulant. However, it does sound like a case of two different gift-giving/receiving philosophies. There are hint droppers, there are explicit "this is what I want"ers (to which camp it would appear your honey belongs) and then there are those who value surprise gifts as being more thoughtful. It strikes me that you may have expected a gift out of left field to be more valuable because you thought of it yourself, and she may have felt 'controlled' because she thought you were discounting or overruling her preference.

Not really what you're asking for, but perhaps this is a way to frame the conflict without condemning any one side in the argument.
posted by Lisitasan at 10:13 AM on June 1, 2010

I agree with those that said her reaction was less than acceptable.

But, I'm also with those who understand where she is coming from.

She asked for something. You said "okay, fine." She may have expected you to ask her about it again, instead of the other way around. You got her something else.

You gave her some time to think about the situation. When you talk to her again, say:

I realize that it was not what you originally wanted. I never heard back from you about the fur coat, and when I went to look again for a gift, I wasn't so sure that the fur coat was the best option considering the season. I regret not asking you about it. However, I *did* think long and hard about what would be a great gift for you, and this is what I came up with. If you disagree, I'd be happy to exchange it for something you'd like better.

I always prefer to receive something I'd never buy for myself. That is, I could never justify buying, let's say, a pair of diamond earrings or a designer handbag because I'm busy spending my money on the things I *actually* need. I can understand that she wanted something "frivolous" as a gift if she already researched and planned to buy a replacement for her junk laptop.

Here's a sad (and kind of funny/cute, now that I look back on it) example of something that happened to me: My fiancé (then boyfriend) wanted to "surprise" me with his gift idea, but didn't want to make the mistake of buying something I wouldn't like. So, I followed him to a store (on our bikes). He led me to a kitchen supply store and pulled me over to the knife section. Now, I love cooking, and I didn't own a proper knife. However, we'd just agreed to move in together, and HE had two wonderful and fancy kitchen knifes in his kitchen, so this gift idea seemed kind of futile. I hope (and think) I was gentle about it, but I'm sure he was still let down that his idea wasn't what I wanted.

It's probably best you don't surprise your lady with gifts any more, and just let her point out what she wants. Good luck!
posted by Lizsterr at 10:42 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


A non-expensive (and more realistic) type of thing I normally wouldn't buy for myself but would love to receive as a gift: A cute/nerdy/silly teeshirt or a movie/video game.

I have never and would never ask for diamond earrings for a gift :D
posted by Lizsterr at 10:49 AM on June 1, 2010

In this order:

1) Take back the iPad.

2) DTMF.

3) Tell her she can buy her own damn fur coat.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 10:50 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

She then asserted that by giving her presents I am controlling what she likes

As much as the rest of the ungracious behavior strikes me, this in particular sends up a red flag for me. Lots of the other upset could be just garden-variety emotions playing through someone who hasn't learned to think through things and consequently act graciously yet. But this kind of statement you just quoted there: those are words from someone who's definitely learned to think, particularly through constructing chains of cause, attribution, and motive. And what conclusion have they arrived at? A rather negative motive for you.

You might do a little bit of probing introspection and check to see if you think you might really be trying to shape her, OR see if she's had a history where men really have been buying her things to control her. But the last time I heard this "you're trying to control me!" line, it was from a woman with some pretty deep issues, one who I'd bet made that little accusation because she's not at all above manipulation herself.

if I actually cared for her I would have helped her get the coat

Grownups don't put things that way -- they don't line it up as quid pro quo like that, even if/when they do say "This is how I prefer to be treated."
posted by namespan at 10:59 AM on June 1, 2010

My ex-wife had the same issue. I got an Official List of Acceptable Gifts a month before each major gift-giving occasion. I maintained a list of Jewelry She Needs, just in case. And getting yelled at for buying her a wacky sushi pillow -- not for a birthday, not for Christmas, just because I thought it was cute -- was one of the last straws in our relationship.

She is not upset over you trying to control her -- she is upset because she isn't controlling you. You have two options:
1 -- Tell her flat out, "Look, when I get you a gift, 'This isn't the right thing!' is never, ever the correct way to say 'Thank you.'"
2 -- Check with her before all gifts for the remainder of your relationship.

I realize that I'm coming at this answer from a very bitter place, but I genuinely believe that she's only going to get better if you get just as mad at her.
posted by Etrigan at 11:10 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

It may be a simple mis-communication in an Ask/Tell or Mars/Venus style. However, you've mentioned she thinks you are trying to control her with gifts; conversely this could be her trying to control you emotionally. Do you want to be the person that's constantly tip-toeing around their partner for fear of doing/saying the wrong thing?
It may not be a DTMA case, but this is another flag to add to the ones you've seen before.
I think the choice of gift was fine, you'd obviously thought about her needs before buying it and I think she's being ungracious.
posted by arcticseal at 11:24 AM on June 1, 2010

Didn't read all the replies, but here's my 2¢.

She told you what she wanted, and you didn't get it for her.

You bought a gift she didn't ask for, that could also be seen as a gift for you, that you probably wanted.

Obviously she's disappointed in the gift and let you know. Actually a good thing to be able to have such discussions. You don't want a partner that says that they like the gift, when actually they hate it. Sucking up such emotions is bad. She may have handled it poorly, but at least it's honest.

If I get a gift for my wife where she hasn't expressed something that she wants specifically, follow these guidelines:

1) Only an item that I would never want/use - jewelry, bath things, perfume, spa gift certificate, etc.
2) Something that is returnable
3) Something in line with a previous 'good' gift
4) Nothing that runs on electricity

You failed all four.

And after she opens it, I mention something like "I went a little off the board here, I hope you like, but if it's not your style/you want to look at something else, feel free to exchange it..."

Again, she's being honest, a bit harshly perhaps, but you'd much rather have honest feelings rather than her sucking up her frustrations. Gift giving is about showing how much you care for someone, not logic, not reasonableness, and especially not about cost. You didn't have to put much effort into getting an iPad. If you had gone to a fur store and bought the wrong damn coat, she would have been happy because of the EFFORT you put into getting her the gift. From my experience, it's always about how much thought, planning, and effort you put into a gift for a women that makes it good or bad, it's rarely money. Men, on the other hand, are completely different...
posted by Argyle at 12:06 PM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

It's probably best you don't surprise your lady with gifts any more, and just let her point out what she wants. Good luck!

This can really, really work. My husband is terrible at remembering that I like to be surprised, and not too confident about being in line with my tastes. So he told me flat out that it might be best if I picked out any presents myself, to be sure of getting exactly what would please me most. And it works! Usually if I see something I want I'll buy it for myself, but if I see something... gifty... and the timing feels right I'll bring him right to it and and say "that would make a great present if you felt like giving me a present!"

This only works if you can strike the balance between never asking for anything and asking for too much. But I find it just as sweet to have him give me a gift I chose, because I appreciate that is how HE feels happiest about making me happy.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 1:08 PM on June 1, 2010

Whoa, wait....this is just a random gift, and not for any special occasion?

Then she is indeed being very ungrateful. I could see if it was her birthday or some other occasion and she had her heart set on something, but if you just out of the goodness of your heart bought her the iPad to make things easier for her when she travels because her current laptop is rickety, then she really is out of line with her reaction.

I'm agreeing with the many others who have said something else is going on here. You did a very kind and unnecessary thing and she behaved badly. Hopefully when you talk to her, you can get things straightened out.
posted by NoraCharles at 1:16 PM on June 1, 2010

I guess I'm looking for some advice as to how to proceed and try and resolve this without hurting her or myself any more.

There is no way to do that. Here's why:

[She] kept on telling me the same thing in different words for over an hour. I ended it by apologizing

Game over.

It's too bad there was a misunderstanding. It's too bad she got upset. But you allowed her to abuse you for over an hour and then you apologized. Now you want to "resolve" it? Don't be ridiculous.

I replied by saying "OK, you're right. I'll pay for the whole coat". She replied it was too late as it's now spring/summer. I offered to give her the money but she refused it.

If it were possible to resolve this, then that would have done it. This has little to do with a coat or an iPad. It would have been trivially easy for her to simply tell you, at any point, what she wanted. And if somehow there was a miscommunication, anything you bought could be returned or exchanged. This conflict was so easy to avoid, that it could not have happened unless someone actually wanted it to happen.

She likes being upset -- the thrill of anger, the sheer pleasure of completely giving in to one's emotions. There aren't a lot of opportunities in life to do that. You've given her one. She will look for that feeling again because she enjoys it.

She then asserted that by giving her presents I am controlling what she likes (i.e. she should only like what I think she should like)

People who are interested in resolving conflicts don't make assertions like that. How on Earth do you resolve that? How could anyone discover whether it's true or untrue or do anything about it?
posted by eeby at 1:23 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

"You also say you have no strong feelings about the coat. Could that not be part of the problem? That you are simply not interested in what she cares about? That she might have the impression that you are not interested in getting to know her and to genuinely listen? Listening includes asking questions. You should have kept on asking about the coat. Finding out about her desires. "

Sorry, but that's making excuses. I don't expect my partner to care unduly about the new pair of sandals I'm interested in, or the eyeshadow I want to buy. I do expect him to care about less material desires.

If I get a gift for my wife where she hasn't expressed something that she wants specifically, follow these guidelines

That's *your* wife. The best present I got was a piece of jewellery - even though in the past I thought it was tricky for someone to get something I'd like - because it was well thought out and meaningful rather than a Generic Lady Thing. I've wanted a DSLR for ages - I wouldn't complain if someone bought me one of those, either, or a hand-mixer, or even a tool set because I don't own one and probably should. Basically, there's no proscribed list of presents. OP thought an iPad would be a good gift for someone who travels and decided to get her one. That seems quite thoughtful to me.

The worst present I got was a book about irritable bowel disorder, because my then-boyfriend had a conversation with me once and then thought it might make a good Christmas present.

You didn't have to put much effort into getting an iPad. If you had gone to a fur store and bought the wrong damn coat, she would have been happy because of the EFFORT you put into getting her the gift.

I disagree. she may well have threw a fit because the coat was just something she'd never wear, and maybe he's trying to turn her into the kind of girl who likes that kind of coat?? Also, the exchange policy at furriers probably isn't very accommodating.
posted by mippy at 1:29 PM on June 1, 2010

Thank you to everyone who commented. It's been a long day so I'll keep this short.

1. I mentioned that the last I heard of the coat was January. This was NOT in any part due to my lack of trying. I actually went to the store, checked it out, talked to her three or four times in January until she told me she was too busy to deal with it. Which is when I dropped it.

2. It seems I was unclear on the purpose of the iPad gift. When she told me she was too busy to deal with it my specific words were "OK, but please do let me know when you're ready!" - The iPad was completely random in response to her laptop being almost unusable. There was no other reason for it. It's not for me (I got myself one too), it was not because I disapprove of her fur coat, it was not because I was trying to impose the cult of Jobs onto her. It was a pure, simple action-reaction reflex "Oh, A was looking for something like this, let me get her one!"

3. I'm not an idiot. I did not buy her a huge expensive gift as an indication of effort. I understand the concept of effort being independent of price and was not using one as a substitute for another. So compartmentalizing it in those terms isn't correct.
posted by gadha at 1:31 PM on June 1, 2010

4. I'm tired of comments saying I only did this because it was of interest to me and if I have some latent subconscious fear of fur or whatever because I didn't offer to pay for the entire fur coat. I've said it before -- my net worth changed between Dec and the end of January. Whereas it was difficult for me to pay for the whole thing before -- it isn't now.
posted by gadha at 1:56 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

What are you looking for here? What do you want us to say? You don't want to dump her and you don't think you did anything wrong (therefore there is nothing to change). Are you just looking for people to agree that you're a good and loving boyfriend who gives crazy-expensive gifts?

While I think your girlfriend's behavior was wrong, I can see why she doesn't feel heard. I answered above and *I* don't feel heard.

What do you think is the problem? What do you think you did wrong? What would you do differently next time?
posted by valeries at 2:37 PM on June 1, 2010 [8 favorites]

Yes, off-topic, but must relate: my family developed a hilarious form of passive-aggressive gift-giving that went like this:

(3 months to gift date): "NT, what would you like for ?" NT: "I would really like an X." "Okay, great."

(1 month to gift date): "NT, what would you like for ?" NT: "I would really like an X." "Oh that's right."

(gift date): [NT opens a gift that is a Y, not an X.] "Yes, you said you wanted an X---but what you really *need* is a Y. [Long pause] But, if you reaaaalllly don't like it, I could return it."

For my high school graduation, X = trip to Maui and Y = a manual typewriter.
Needless to say, I can't wait until my nephew's high-school graduation next year!

posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 2:49 PM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Maybe it did have something to do with the money as well. Does she keep track of your money situation? If not it seems to me an easy assumption to make that you are more interested in spending money on practical things than nice things and she may have a thing against people who throw money around. I am just guessing. I love my iPad :-). It is a very nice thing.
posted by Mrs Mutant at 3:03 PM on June 1, 2010

You say you want to stay with her, but your Best Answer choices make it look like you're operating from a place of anger right now. Please don't stay with her just to be angry at her - that's a relationship about winning, not partnering. Maybe you need to take some time to think about whether you want to be right or if you want to be happy... sometimes being happy means letting go of being right.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:10 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

As someone who used to like to impulsively buy things for people and come up with grandiose gifts, I sympathize. I cut down on it over the years when I learned how uncomfortable it is to receive gifts you have no intention of returning in kind. Overly generous gifts have a weird way of making a friendship seem like it has a dollar/time value, even though the point of the gift is to say "I care about you and want you to be happy". Even though you say, "hey, I really, truly, honestly don't want anything in return, absolutely don't get me anything", the recipient will still feel like they need to give you something back, because so much money/time was spent. Sometimes they give a gift of equal value back; if they can't or won't they feel like they MUST be nice to you and do what pleases you. This might explain the comments about feeling "controlled". If they do not want to be even nicer or more generous than they have been, they might be angry that you've changed the terms of your friendship.

Also, as others have mentioned, some families create unhealthy dynamics where lavish gifts become a (resented) replacement for genuinely getting to know someone and a way of controlling the recipient. This can make the normally light sense of obligation to return a gift feel much more controlling and toxic. You mentioned she's you think she might have grown up this way? Could you talk to her about it and whether or not she thinks it's something that should change?

Either way, you do need to talk to her about how she feels about money, gifts, and control. Not just in relation to this issue, but in general, to see where you might differ and how you can overcome those differences. It might help to ask if she could describe the most perfect way to receive a gift --not this particular one, but just in general. Then you can talk to her about how you can indulge your generous impulses in a way that would make you both happy. Good luck.
posted by millions of peaches at 4:00 PM on June 1, 2010

The iPad was completely random in response to her laptop being almost unusable. There was no other reason for it. It's not for me (I got myself one too), it was not because I disapprove of her fur coat, it was not because I was trying to impose the cult of Jobs onto her. It was a pure, simple action-reaction reflex "Oh, A was looking for something like this, let me get her one!"

Um, it seems to me that the source of conflict here isn't your intent so much as how your actions were perceived by your girlfriend and how you can address that. Sure, you may know that your intentions in getting her the iPad were pure, but it seems strange that she'd overreact so severely if she were perceiving that for herself. So I'd caution against dismissing the people who are making these suggestions. I don't think anyone is suggesting anything totally out of the realm of "normal" human perception, here.

You've said that she expressed feeling like you were being controlling with your gift-giving. Other people have suggested that it may seem a bit like you're being controlling with your gift-giving. Alas, simply saying "I wasn't trying to be controlling!" doesn't fix the situation or necessarily make her understand your lack of desire to control her. If you genuinely want to patch things up, I think you need to realize that your girlfriend may not be the only person whose behavior was uncalled for here. It seems from your defensive reactions like you might be seeking validation for your anger. That's fine, but AskMe isn't really the place for it.

My suggestion for smoothing things over: if you can, give her the receipt for the iPad and tell her you won't hold it against her if she returns it for a cash refund (the decision to return it or not really should be up to her; after all, it is hers), as long as she uses the cash refund to get herself a gift-type thing that she wants for herself. The catch: you have to actually mean it when you say you won't hold it against her. Also, as millions of peaches said above, you have to have a good, long talk about your boundaries and expectations re: gift-giving. Good luck.
posted by ellehumour at 5:01 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Look, I think she behaved like a total brat in this situation. She had absolutely no right to react that way. I'm actually pretty horrified.

However, that isn't even the important part.

The important part is that she said you "try to control her with your gifts."


Here is what she is saying. "I hate it when you do really nice things for me, because you're trying to crush my spirit."

That's not ok to accuse somebody you love of. Absolutely not. There are about 80 conversations that need to come before an accusation like that. And they all involve why the hell somebody would think that, and what you can do to keep that person from thinking that (if that's even possible).

I understand you said you don't want to break up with her. But this is horrible. This will be your whole life if you stay with this woman. Nothing will ever be good enough.
posted by dithmer at 5:12 PM on June 1, 2010

She is not upset over you trying to control her -- she is upset because she isn't controlling you.


She sounds like a horrible & thoughtless person from what you have described.
posted by Windigo at 5:37 PM on June 1, 2010

I would have liked a typewriter for my graduation and even better typing lessons. It would have helped towards financing further holidays. More importantly you cannot force other people to give you certain things. It is their money to spend. If you don't know that by the time you graduate a good time to learn as any. If you really want something you're far better off buying it yourself anyway as preferences differ so any help towards that goal (envelope with money, voucher) can only be greatly appreciated.
posted by Mrs Mutant at 2:25 AM on June 2, 2010

So have you spoken with her yet? What happened? What do you want to happen? Will anything anyone says here actually have an impact on your relationship/the way you behave, or did you just want to vent a bit because it seems a nerve has been hit in the community!
posted by lilyflower at 2:30 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Gifts are personal things. You can't just fling them at somebody and hope they stick. Unless she specifically asked for an iPad, or made hints, then don't be surprised if she isn't over the moon.

This may be true for you. It is not true for everyone. The best presents I have bought for my wife are the ones which, to paraphrase her, "are things I didn't realise I wanted or needed." The chain of logic gadha offered as to why he got the present is a perfectly reasonable one. Please don't assert the universality of your personal preferences.

I will join in with those pople who say that whatever else, your girlfriend's reaction was completely ridiculous and obnoxious - it is she, gadha, who owed you an apolofy at the end of an hour of shouting at you for daring to attempt to be generous and thoughtful.

I'll also add that from a gift-giving perspective you seem fine to me: you saw something you believed would make your girlfriend's life happier and better, you could afford it, you bought it. You've spent time and effort paying attention to her life, and come up with a gift based on what you thought was a reasonable premise. That's a pretty sound basis for gift-giving. From the comments here, that obviously doesn't work for everyone, and it appears there are some folks who want the equivalent of a wedding registry for their life; the only way you'd make them happy is by churning your way through their must-buy list.

I have to say that She is not upset over you trying to control her -- she is upset because she isn't controlling you has a certain ring of truth about it - but whether it is or not, well, there's obviously something else going on here. And *she* needs to learn to communicate it in a grown up manner.
posted by rodgerd at 2:35 AM on June 2, 2010

I'm writing this purely for those who want to know what happened.

I talked to her about it at great length early this morning.

The end result is this:

1. She feels that if I want to spend any amount of money on her it should be on what she wants because ultimately that's the only thing that is important to her. She is not interested in anything outside what her specific requirements are.

2. She does not believe in the concept of letting me know about 3-4 or even 1-2 gifts in advance that I can buy her as gifts. She says she will let me know when/if she wants something. She specifically said I am never to buy her gifts spontaneously, no matter how small because I cannot be sure of her tastes. Even if I'm OK with the gift going to waste I am not to do it because buying something for her knowing this imposes my will on her. In short, I should never every buy anything for her unless she OKs it beforehand.

3. I am never to book any theatre tickets, concert tickets, etc for the very same reason.

I guess that's where I stand.
posted by gadha at 4:23 AM on June 2, 2010

Oh and her reasoning for not wanting this stuff was exactly what I said previously "I feel if you buy stuff for me or do stuff without consulting me you are imposing your will on me and controlling me".
That is as much as I could get out of her about it. Asking her why she felt that way or whether there was any way I could continue to do nice things for her spontaneously didn't really get me any coherent answers.

I have some thinking to do.
posted by gadha at 4:26 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have (repeatedly) freaked the fuck out about large and expensive gifts being given to me. I walked out of a shop in tears because my father kept talking about buying me a stupidly expensive glider chair thing. I was admittedly a few weeks post-partum but similar things have happened throughout my life. According to him it was a great idea - my mum had a rocking chair, he could afford it, it would be a great gift! Problem was that I didn't want one. He ended up buying something cheaper but he still bought me a rocker because he apparently knows better - never mind what I said I wanted or didn't want, never mind what I need, he decided that I needed a rocker so he bought me one. Your gf obviously doesn't have the same problem with money (although she might - I know I've probably said something like "the money would have been better spent on X" when spending it on X would have upset me as well because I really mean "don't spend money like that on me without consulting me"). More than one Christmas was tainted by this sick feeling because someone had spent a lot of money on a present - it may or may not be a bad present, simply spending a huge amount of money on something makes me uncomfortable. There's no way the other anachronism would get me an ipad, but if he got me something similar I would be seriously discomfited. Not because I need a registry for the rest of my life, but because it's a serious amount of cash for something I don't have a need for. Hell, I've felt awkward an uncomfortable about a book as a gift, an ipad would be even worse. Add in to that having said that if you were going to spend that sort of cash this is something I am guaranteed to like? I'd probably be upset. Particularly if it were out of the blue and phrased as "this is what I think you need" because it directly prioritises what you think over what I've said.

Would I be a total dick about it? Probably not. I have had arguments that if phrased uncharitably would probably come across similarly though.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:44 AM on June 2, 2010

Gah, on preview I still kinda find myself aligning with your gf, just not being so much of a dick about it. I could see myself being that kind of a dick if I had a partner like my sister's fiance who not only gives gifts but expects to see them used. In that situation (or if I'd become inured to that situation in a previous relationship) I probably would be that much of a hardliner about it. As it stands I don't like gifts as a general thing and if I could get away with not getting any I would. Your gf should learn to be gracious but she's clearly stated her needs and wants and I can agree with them. If I could avoid all gift giving situations I would - instead I've taken to saying "this is what I want, nothing else" and hoping people listen. Luckily the other anachronism does so I rarely get gifts from him unless we've discussed it beforehand. Instead he does nice things (backrubs, time alone, time 'off', nice dinners) and tries to head off the worst of the gift giving from family etc. That's not to say I hate any and all gifts, but when I get something I don't like it feels fucking awful and I'd much rather avoid that and go to a nice dinner/donate the money/avoid the whole situation.

I think you're underestimating the sheer load of guilt one can feel for not wholly and completely loving a gift and how that could result in the kind of bad tempered, terribly phrased and impolite behaviour of your gf. If giving someone stuff is vitally important to you, this relationship won't work. If you can step back and respect her wishes, it might go somewhere. There's some communication issues happening though.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:55 AM on June 2, 2010

Gadha, thanks for talking to her and getting back to us.

My first reaction to your post was "jeez, whatta [deleted] that chick is!" - but then I tried to look for reasons why she might have behaved that way for reasons that could be invisible to you, and projected a bit from my own relationship to give the answer I did.

Now I'm back to "jeez, whatta [deleted]! that chick is"
I hope she's a very nice person in other areas of your relationship, because JEEZ.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 5:07 AM on June 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

She sounds really unhappy. That would be difficult to live with, for you, I think. Bless your romantic heart, that sounds a little depressing. I bet two sessions with a really good couples counselor would be illuminating. I don't usually recommend counseling, but if you want to be happy, that seems the best option. And it's not like it's awful torture.

I guess surprising her with concert tickets and a trip to the psychologist's office wouldn't be a good idea :) I hope she's willing to go with you. I'll be thinking about you guys... good luck.
posted by amtho at 5:53 AM on June 2, 2010

Gadha: Thanks for the update. Good luck with your ruminations and whatever course of action ensues. Can't help thinking "Abai kitni bari gadhi hai!" After some pause though, I feel sorry for how insecure she must be that if her significant other buys her a gift on his own she finds this controlling.

I really hope you can sort things out to mutual satisfaction. All the best.
posted by bardophile at 6:47 AM on June 2, 2010

I understand the perils and complications of gift giving, but I don't think I could be with someone who was just so...unappreciative. Part of being a couple, for me at least, is doing little things that--I hope--make him happy or feel loved. Most of the time I get it right, but if I bought him something he didn't like or need, I would at least hope he would recognize the good intent behind it. And then we could have a calm conversation about it. Otherwise, buying presents for your partner goes from being a loving gesture to something that is selfish and purely materialistic. And where's the fun in that?

I hate to criticize your relationship, but you sound like a good man at heart. There will be someone who will appreciate your generosity and care about you enough to have a mature discussion when things go awry. This does not sound like a happy life or an equal partnership. You will constantly be seeking her approval and I don't think you'll ever get it. I hope you can work it out.
posted by janekate at 6:56 AM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to clarify that my comment about gift giving becoming "selfish and materialistic" was in response to:

She is not interested in anything outside what her specific requirements are.

She specifically said I am never to buy her gifts spontaneously, no matter how small because I cannot be sure of her tastes. Even if I'm OK with the gift going to waste I am not to do it because buying something for her knowing this imposes my will on her.

I don't have enough energy this morning to address the "imposing your will" issue, but that's another minefield. Relationships shouldn't be this hard.
posted by janekate at 7:12 AM on June 2, 2010

After reading this, I would rephrase the question thus: Do I want to be in a relationship in which spontaneous material manifestations of affection are viewed as an insult or a threat?
posted by lalochezia at 8:19 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

After seeing the update I'm even more inclined to recommend leaving. I'm glad others in the thread are trying to see things from her perspective, but people mature enough for relationships don't act like this. Sorry.
posted by monkeymadness at 9:17 AM on June 2, 2010


Are you sure she's not asking you to break up with her?

I'm serious, this isn't another DTMFA comment. The canonical example of a situation in which you are not imposing your will on her, is one where you have broken up with her. She's quite clearly uninterested in any influence you might have on her. At the point where she's banned consideration of concert and theatre tickets, she's basically declared abject distaste for any culture you might be interested in.

I mean, the natural response from everyone at this point, once we get over the sort of revulsion that makes it difficult to type, is pretty much "Christ, What An Asshole". But I think, really, she's just done, and this is how she gets out of these things. Makes it your fault, makes her the victim, etc.
posted by effugas at 9:25 AM on June 2, 2010

I have (repeatedly) freaked the fuck out about large and expensive gifts being given to me.

I'm sort of like this. Not the "freak the fuck out" part but someone who grew up in a family where there was definitely a sense of "Hey this is a GREAT GIFT for you and if you don't think so you are UNGRATEFUL" Gift giving and receiving became a chore because people were always watching me for signs of not liking something so they could, again, remind me that my responses were not okay and that the gift was GREAT, so clearly it was me who sucks. Bitter? Not at all :)

So, really, this is my issue to deal with. I've been in relationships where I've gotten hollered at for not liking a gift enough. Literally, a boyfriend made me a cake and when I said "hey that's great, thanks. Let's have it later it's a little rich for before lunch" started some "bla bla you're ungrateful, all my work, bla bla this is a GREAT cake I made for you, all my hard work, etc" I think I am probably a little defensive now about gifts. And yet, it's not okay with me to go the route your girlfriend did and overmanage the situation. I'm aware that it's me who is broken in this regard, for the most part, even if it's for "good" reasons [long history of bad situations that made me giftshy] and so I should be able to give some guidelines and then realize that all people are different and most people don't give gifts as a way to find a reason to yell at someone.

So the general gift give/receive thing in my family [and with the boyfriend] is that I don't expect gifts and tend to not give them [or give them somewhat randomly]. We don't do family holiday stuff so that's not much of a big deal. Usually me and my boyfriend get each other token-of-affection things and if for some reason there's something that I do want ["I would like a valentine on valentine's day"] I'll just ask. I'm bad at receiving gifts but I'm generaly able to see through the thing itself to whatever the intention was. And sometimes my Mom gets me terrible gifts that sort of show that she doesn't really "get" me and I say thanks and then sometimes complain to my sister about it and we have a good laugh about it.

This is one of those thigns you need to work with your partner on and it sounds like your girlfriend is sending you a bunch of unilateral dealbreaker-sounding rules that not only seem to control your behavior [while telling you not to control her] but also seem to read your intentions poorly. I get that this sort of thing can come from a place of feeling out of control or anxious, but if she doesn't really come down from there at some point and be like "wow I was really worked up about that, sorry hon, let's work together on making this go smoothly in the future" I would be worried about future interactions with her.
posted by jessamyn at 9:32 AM on June 2, 2010

For the people following this palaver, I offer this final instalment.

After much back-and-forth it turns out it really wasn't about the iPad the coat or gifts at all. It was ultimately about money.

Without going into details, my financial status changed from "muddling by" to "doing well" at the end of January. Turns out she has a problem with this and is finding it difficult to cope with the fact that financially I'm almost at her level. The iPad was a reminder of that, and in her own words, the fur coat would at least let her feel she was in control of how I spend my money.

I will be fixing this problem. Permanently. Thanks to all who participated.
posted by gadha at 10:38 AM on June 2, 2010 [15 favorites]

I will be fixing this problem. Permanently.

Well, there's another one for the "resolved" tag.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:54 AM on June 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have to agree with effugas, it sounds like you are being set up to be the victimizing dumper. You've been clear in this thread that you won't dump her, but I imagine that determination is going to be tested. I bet she's decided she won't dump you either. I hope I'm wrong about that, otherwise it'll just be a contest of stamina.

In the original question, you depicted yourself as quite the doormat (albeit super reasonable in counter-point to her). The follow-up sounded like she has put you in your place pretty thoroughly, severing that line of intimacy completely. It won't be long before there are other ways that you are "imposing your will on her" and she'll let you know about those. If you want to avoid that, just try to imagine if what you are thinking of doing affects her in any way. If it does, don't do it. Get her permission first.

To answer the question about being more considerate, I don't think you need to worry about it. She has given you the formula, here, so all you need to do is ask "In the matter of X, what is your will?" If you can't see yourself doing that...well, I don't blame you.
posted by ServSci at 11:21 AM on June 2, 2010

Sorry to hear that Gadha, but I wish you well in your future. Sad situation to find yourself in.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 11:58 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your future is going to be much happier than it is now.
posted by mippy at 12:40 PM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

A respectful, loving relationship of equals is where one partner is happy and joyful when the other partner achieves something - like perhaps bettering their finances, for one example. It's good that you realize you are not in that sort of relationship and also realize that's not an acceptable situation, when your partner is mostly just worried about how they can now control you & your money.
posted by Windigo at 8:40 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really respect your attempts to work through all of this with your (ex) girlfriend, gadha. I know that I would not have been so patient. Wish you the best.
posted by gaspode at 6:55 AM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

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