Can I ask an ex to return my gift?
March 11, 2011 9:59 AM   Subscribe

How do I ask for my gift back? Complicated relationship back story inside.

Last year I had a short but intense fling with someone in the city where I grew up, now two plane rides away. It started on Facebook, via IM and email, the L-word was mentioned even, first by him then me too.

When I went to visit him for a week he was more guarded towards me than in our correspondence though we still had a great, sexually intense time together. I showered him with gifts, some expensive (an iPad). He expressed only mild interest in them, mostly not even that. For his part, he gave me a perfume and took me to restaurants with his buddies. In a fit of love-struck generosity, on my last day there I retrieved an oil painting from storage that I’d had for 20 years, which was probably worth several thousand dollars now. That was my parting gift to him, though again he didn’t seem excited about it.

Only after I actually left and we spoke on the phone on my layover on the way home, did he express how much he truly cared for me, crying on the phone for over an hour, telling me I was the woman he’d dreamed of his whole life and never thought he’d meet, and that he could finally open up after being mistrustful of women for years due to past hurt. I was incredibly moved, I wanted to keep giving him the world and continued mailing him presents.

He soon shut down again though, overwhelmed by my constant need for contact. We broke up a couple of months later when it became obvious the relationship wasn’t working. There was some acrimony initially but it all fizzled out. We didn't email for several months.

I am going back to his city on business soon and wrote to ask how he was doing and also to let him know I was coming and that it’d be nice to have lunch together. He sounded happy about it, even said he’d just been talking about me to his friend who had some antique furniture to sell, suggesting I might know someone who might be interested (I do). He mentioned he was doing well, and had met someone and they were now in a relationship. He also indicated he may be out of town when I am there. I responded that I was really "happy for him, knowing how picky he is about women".

And now to my question.

I regret gifting him that painting. I think I would like it for my house. He is not into contemporary art and I’m now certain he doesn’t care for it.

How do I ask for it back?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Overthinking. Just ask him. No frills, just, "Hey, That painting has sentimental value for me. Would you mind giving it back?"
posted by December at 10:04 AM on March 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

Wikipedia defines a gift as: "a present is the transfer of something without the expectation of receiving something in return."

Keeping that in mind, it's totally reasonable given the circumstances to ask for the painting.
posted by aniola at 10:06 AM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Call him or write him and ask. It's kind of an impolite request so there's no need to try to be polite about your phrasing. I don't mean that in a derisive way - it's something which most etiquette mavens might frown upon but practically you're entirely in the right here. Say what you said here. "I kind of regret giving that painting away, I was hoping I could pick it up sometime."

Don't make him foot the bill for sending it to you. Other than that, have at it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:07 AM on March 11, 2011

I would simply ask for it back, but not put up too much of a fuss if he's decided to keep it. It was a gift, after all.
posted by xingcat at 10:08 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dear so-and-so,

I was so glad to hear back from you, it sounds like you're doing so well. It's a shame that you won't be in town when I'm there, but perhaps that's for the best.

I do have a rather odd request, though. Do you still have that oil painting I gave you? At the time I was so excited to get to know you that I'm afraid I went rather overboard in my gift-giving; over time I have come to greatly regret parting with it. There's really no graceful way to ask you about getting it back, but it means enough to me to risk it. I hope we can work something out.

Very best wishes,

posted by hermitosis at 10:11 AM on March 11, 2011 [44 favorites]

"Do you still have that painting?"
"Would you mind if I took it back?"
posted by KogeLiz at 10:23 AM on March 11, 2011

I am a fan of the lying in a way that makes it not your fault. Hey, can I have that painting back? My mom gave it to me a long time ago, but it turns out it was really my grandmother's and she was pretty upset I gave it away. He'll never knowwwww.
posted by banished at 10:25 AM on March 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

If he didn't like it initially, he might not have it any longer.

Kogeliz & banished combined give you a plausible and polite way to discover the painting's whereabouts and the odds of getting it returned!

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 10:46 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hermitosis is good.
posted by jon1270 at 10:50 AM on March 11, 2011

I'm afraid I'm going to go against the flow here and say that you don't ask for gifts back. Ever. A gift is a gift, and you gave it. The fact that you were over-generous is your fault; not his. The fact that you wish you hadn't done it is your fault; not his - and hopefully a lesson for you for future occasions when you feel overcome with largesse.

I regret giving my adulterous ex-wife a lot of nice stuff too, but I have not the slightest right to ask for any of it back and it would be a thoroughly dick move to do so. Oh - and giving "gifts" in expectation of something in return is not a good way to give. A gift is a gift, not a trade.
posted by Decani at 1:11 PM on March 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Nope. You gave it to him. It belongs to him now. Sorry.
posted by Sara C. at 1:42 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

It belongs to him now.

I agree, but since it belongs to him I think it's reasonable to let him decide whether he wants to give it back or not. Personally if I had been given a gift by someone and they regretted giving it to me after the fact, I would want them to let me know that they would like me to give it back to them rather than silently feel bad about it while I remain oblivious.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:56 PM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

That would be an incredibly boorish and tacky thing to do.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 2:53 PM on March 11, 2011

To summarize, then:
"I know this is an odd and tacky request, but what would you think about giving back that painting I gave you? I know it's yours now, and I feel bad about asking. But if it's not too dear to you, what do you say? I'll give you [whatever you care to offer] for it."
posted by Rykey at 3:13 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

My answer is a combination of several contradictory answers here already.

Truly, Decani has it right. You really shouldn't ask for it back. Learn from this experience, and I would even say you might want to talk to someone about why you feel compelled to give and give and give when so little is given back. This combined with your admitted clinginess ("... overwhelmed by my constant need for contact ...") points to problems with future relationships unless you take this opportunity to nip them in the bud now.

Also, as jbenben mentioned if he didn't care for the painting, it's entirely possible that it is no longer in his possession. If this is the case, it is NOT HIS FAULT, he is not to blame. We are free to do as we please with gifts. That is the nature of gifts or should be. Another possible life lesson here.

If you still can't get over the loss of this painting, then weasel out and do as banished suggests. However, let me repeat, if for any reason he is unable or unwilling to comply, this is your problem, not his, and is again, NOT HIS FAULT. Accept the outcome graciously, whatever it may be.
posted by marsha56 at 3:24 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just ask for it back. Say you want to display it in your house. Make clear he's under no obligation to give it back (which he's not), but that you'd appreciate it if he would.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:58 PM on March 11, 2011

Several Thousand Dollars? Who painted this painting?

Right now, the painting is worth $0 - you just gave it, for free, to someone. And not even to a collector, or a museum, or a gallery.

The whole showering of gifts thing is a bad move. I'd be a little weirded out by that.
posted by alex_skazat at 10:36 PM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
I went with hermitosis' advice and this is the response I got:

"Sorry but I am taken aback with this, I can't believe you're such an asshole as to ask me to return a gift I already hung up... It even fits really well in my living room! I am so shocked by your request that I will throw it in the trash! Feel free to look for it at the junk yard! Good bye and all the best!"

So I guess he did like it after all.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:06 PM on March 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

That sucks, but really, to me it sounds like it was more about the specific dynamics between you two than the actual request. It also sounds like he liked the painting more than he let on.

Or maybe he just wants to be mad at you. Either way, sorry this turned out the way it did.
posted by Rykey at 5:47 PM on March 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

OP, I am terribly sorry that you got that response. Obviously there's stuff going on with him (or with you two) that we don't know about, but honestly my initial instinct to reading it is:

He doesn't actually still have the painting. He's lying his ass off with this bluster, trying to make you feel bad for asking so that he doesn't have to admit that he got already got rid of it.

Honestly, it's the only thing I can think of that would result in such a response. Anyhow, my sympathies.
posted by hermitosis at 9:20 AM on March 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
Hermitosis, I think you're spot on. His disproportionately hostile tone gives the game away.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:12 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

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