Help me quell my irrational response to someone's pity
October 29, 2011 10:38 AM   Subscribe

How to handle unwanted pity and an irrational perceived slight?

My boyfriend and I have been together for 5 years. We're 23. The past 4 years I've always gotten his parents something small for Christmas, when they have me over for Christmas Eve big extended activities/Christmas day smaller family gathering where gifts are exchanged.

This previous year, because I am making more money than I have previous years, I got them "bigger" presents and filled stockings for the three of them.

They've always (all 4 years) had a stocking for me as well as presents that cost exponentially more than the ones I gave them even last year (not to say I think cost matters, but it seems like it does to them).

They seemed very happy about the gifts at the time and thanked me and things seemed great. Cut to last weekend, where we went out for their anniversary dinner. I got them a card and a giftcard ($50, really the least expensive one available) for the restaurant we were attending (my go-to present in most situations, one I've given them multiple times before without them saying anything other than many thanks).

Apparently his dad was bothered by this, saying they're the adults (hey! I'm an adult too!) and that they don't need gift cards. This was said afterwards to my boyfriend, not to me, but when my boyfriend told me he made it pretty clear that he'd been told to pass along the message.

Ok. Message received. No more gift cards! Problem solved, right? Not so much.

Last night, my boyfriend said that his parents said I was not to get them anything for Christmas, except for candy, and that they felt weird about me giving them big presents.

I'm a hugehugehuge Christmas person, and they know this. I understand they have the right to ask for me not to give them anything, and I'll totally honor that, but still....I feel a) somehow embarrassed for myself, this came out of nowhere b) sort of insulted, because it feels like they're pitying me and my financial situation (they made it clear this was about money, how they don't need me spending it on them, etc) even though I'm definitely not financially unstable!!! And the way they don't see me as an adult (I live on my own, I pay my own bills, I work full time, I am an adult damnit!).

So, how do I get myself over this? I realize I really shouldn't be taking this so personally but I can't help feeling like they're pitying me and I don't like it. I'm also feeling really embarrassed (though I don't know what about, my presents? I know that I haven't really done anything wrong but I can't help feeling like I have) and at the moment am not even sure if I feel comfortable going to their home this holiday because I'm feeling so embarrassed, which is so silly.

What would you say to yourself in this situation/when you're irrationally blowing up a situation in your mind? How would you get over it?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If I was an adult that had an issue with another adult, I would talk to them about it.
posted by TheRedArmy at 10:53 AM on October 29, 2011 [6 favorites]

I think you're over thinking this. You're young and they're probably thinking that you don't have anywhere as much as they do. It's not about you not being an adult it's about being a younger, less established adult. I wouldn't take this as a dismissal but as a concern that you not over-reach what you can do. And I wouldn't give them gift cards - focus on personal things where it's about the thought that went into it rather than the dollar amount.
posted by leslies at 10:54 AM on October 29, 2011 [13 favorites]

They just see gift-giving differently than you do. Roll with it. Make them a nice card and let them celebrate Christmas their way.

I can relate a bit. My SO comes from a fairly traditional Chinese family. They do not accept gifts from younger people, and when it's a family member's birthday, they take *you* out. If I *were* to keep insisting that I should give them presents on their birthday, or that I should give them red envelopes on New Years, then I'd be an Ugly American, insensitive to how they operate.

Your parents probably want you and your boyfriend to spend your money on yourselves. What's so bad about that? Just roll with it and put your effort into a nice Christmas card for them. Be creative with the candy choice. Give them something handmade which is not overtly flashy.

If you find that you have excess Christmas cheer to spread, splurge on your boyfriend, some other friend or family member, or on a complete stranger who could use the cheering up.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:55 AM on October 29, 2011 [7 favorites]

So they've known you since you were 18? You are still a kid to them. My parents to the same thing to me and I'm 31! I think some parents are just like this. If you're crafty at all, it might be nice to make them gifts instead of buying them gifts where the price tag is very obvious (like a gift card). Don't fret about this too much.
posted by jabes at 10:56 AM on October 29, 2011 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I would just let it go. For all of my twenties, I made decent enough money but my parents (who are well off and generous to me and my brother), and my parents just didn't see my buying them expensive presents as something that was necessary. They're more, "your presence is gift enough" people.

That said, I don't think we have enough information to know why they might be uncomfortable...maybe they don't have a great financial situation and they feel like you're giving charity. Even at 33, I wouldn't give people a lot older/more established than me gift cards, because it feels like I'm saying they need cash. Not that you're doing that, but some people see it that way.

Also, not to be too shmoopy and I'm sure you know this, but being a hugehugehuge Christmas person isn't strictly about buying lots of prezzies.
posted by sweetkid at 11:03 AM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Let it go. Bake them big plates of homemade xmas cookies instead.
posted by kestrel251 at 11:08 AM on October 29, 2011 [6 favorites]

I wouldn't take this personally. They see you as one of the kids - and don't take that personally either - that's just how lots of families work. I'm in my early thirties and my parents still insist on paying for my ticket when I come home for holidays. It seems silly to me (since I now actually make the same amount of money - adjusted for inflation - as my parents did when I was a kid!) but it makes them happy to do so, so I roll with it and show appreciation for the gift.

If it's appropriate and makes you feel better, maybe you could make something nice to bring for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas dinner?
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 11:09 AM on October 29, 2011

Really really expensive candy :-)
posted by meepmeow at 11:14 AM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm 41, and my dad is still like this with me. This is how I think of it: Parents want to do for their children. Their need to provide and protect does not end when you turn 18, or when you graduate from college, or really ever. It's a forever thing. Take this as a sign that your boyfriend had really caring, nurturing parents and that they are seeing you as one of "their own" -- truly a compliment.

The best gifts for them are for you to be happy and successful, for you to bring joy to their son's life, and for you to acknowledge when they've done something that's been meaningful or helpful to you. Instead of a gift card, write them a letter telling them some of these things and see what a dramatically different reception your gift gets.
posted by Houstonian at 11:14 AM on October 29, 2011 [8 favorites]

Maybe when you gave them the bigger gift, in addition to repaying their generosity you also wanted to show them you've come into your own as a money earning responsible adult. That would explain why their reaction disappointed you; they seem to take it exactly the wrong way, as if you were splurging needlessly and had to be stopped!

I can understand that. But you know, making gifts is about making the other person happy. Make them happy: you will have plenty of opportunity to prove by the way you live and handle your choices that you are an adult.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:18 AM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Let it go. Make them something. That way it doesn't cost much AND it's from the heart. Christmas is supposed to be all about the love anyway.

I agree with Houstonian. They probably think, "we're the parents, we're supposed to provide"
posted by Neekee at 11:21 AM on October 29, 2011

Oh and maybe next time you guys are having dinner out and the boyfriend's parents are buying, you can bring a nice cake or dessert over to have when you get home. Then you can feel like you are helping to celebrate the event without all the gift card stuff.
posted by jabes at 11:21 AM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

My parents are like this and I'm a lot older than you. My ex's parents were the same way. My dad has explained this clearly to me -- he wants me to build a nest egg and use money on things I need. He has everything he needs or wants. It's quality time he really wants from me. I bet your in-laws feel the same. Also, they may be hoping you two will start planning a future together, and use the money for your life together. Maybe they don't want to be too explicit about this, because they don't want to put pressure on you. They sound sweet.
posted by xenophile at 11:22 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree that you shouldn't take it personally, it's no big deal. But at Christmas when I gave them the homemade Baileys or truffles in a hand-decorated tin or whatever, I would be outspoken about it and say something like "I'm so glad you suggested something like this to bf instead of gift cards! Homemade gifts are fun to make & feel so much more special! I hope you like it!"
posted by headnsouth at 11:30 AM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't worry! It's not pity! If you were 50 and they were 60 and they told you this, THEN it might be pity, but that is clearly not operative here. It's what the other commenters said--they want you to spend your money on YOU at this point. When you're their age, you'll have lots of chance to be generous to younger people.

If you really, really don't want to go the food/crafts route, then you can "defy" them a little, I say it in quotes, and wrap up something like a cookbook and a coffee mug, just a fun little token that's in wrapping paper, to put under the tree.
posted by skbw at 11:55 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another angle to look at is that they really just don't need any more stuff. They are adults, if they need anything, they will get it themselves. So they may be feeling bad because they feel you are spending money on things they don't need/want/use. Obviously, I'm speculating here, but it's how I feel about Xmas gifts (I'm 31) and how my dad feels about Xmas gifts (he's dad-aged). I've taken to asking for really specific gifts when I'm asked "what I want" (like, a good knife! a particular book! dried fruit instead of candy! nothing with hazelnuts because oh my god, i've been telling you every year since i was 18 that i'm allergic to hazelnuts, why do you keep giving me hazelnuts!) and to giving food gifts like saucisson, cheese, mustard, and homemade pickles. Dad's happy, I'm happy.

Don't be embarrassed. Gift-giving is a really difficult topic to talk about. Everyone has their own customs and ways of showing affection, and some people are just really, really uncomfortable accepting gifts, particularly in situations like this where there is an age gap. Tell yourself that the best gift you can give your bf's parents is to not make them feel awkward or uncomfortable with having to accept a "big" gift from you (even if they didn't exactly return the favour to you by not making you feel awkward or uncomfortable as a gift-giver). What they did sounds a little gauche, but maybe they expected their son to be a bit more subtle in conveying their wishes.

Now make them squirm just a little by giving them a variety of interesting, expensive candy.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 12:16 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

You are a grownup, but you haven't been for long. You guys were kids fairly recently, and as a mom of a 25 year old, I can attest that it can be a pretty tough adjustment to see your child become an adult. It is awesome and everything, but it's a little jarring and weird.

My son also makes good money--I'm unemployed now, so he's making lots more than I am--but I still have some privileges he doesn't. I have more stability, more savings, a house, etc. I'm a little uncomfortable, too, when he gives me something extravagant*. Partly out of feeling really old and pathetic, like the tables have finally turned and now it is time to start looking into care facilities; partly because I know things are tough out there and I want him to be prepared to weather problems; and partly--not gonna lie--in a sort of "AWWWW Look at the little baby! It thinks it's people!" sense. There's still a little of that, through no fault of his own, and I'm sure through no fault of yours. It's like a little kittycat wearing a bow tie or something. It's adorable and all, but you should probably take that tie off before it gets caught on something. Not because it's accurate. Just because they've spent the last twenty years of their lives in that mode, and it's going to take a while to adjust.

Haters gonna hate, and parents gonna parent. It's not you. It's them.

* I LOVE it, though, when he does something thoughtful. My boyfriend and I do some pretty laborious volunteer work on a regular schedule, and my son has gotten into the habit of showing up when when get home with a big pizza so we can just sit right down and rest our aching old bones.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:23 PM on October 29, 2011 [11 favorites]

At different times in my life, I've been in both the roles: the person uncomfortable about "too expensive" gifts, and the person giving the gifts that make others uncomfortable.

Of course you're going to honor their wishes in the future. But right now you're feeling bad, wondering if what you did was actually wrong, feeling misunderstood, and feeling sorry that they were uncomfortable about what you bought them. You weren't wrong or unreasonable and neither were they. It just happens so easily that people get sensitive about things that are done in a spirit of good will. Try to be glad that at least you know about it now, and can make a change.

The good thing is that as soon as you give them cupcakes or some such, they're going to feel relieved and happy, and they'll forget about that cringy feeling they used to get at gift-opening time.

If you can manage it, I'd talk with the boyfriend's dad privately and just sincerely say, "I'm so sorry you felt uncomfortable about the gifts." This will signal that you care a lot about your relationship with his family -- and possibly that, in the future, he can speak up instead of suffering in silence. I do agree with TheRedArmy that it's best if people talk about issues, but that it's often not easy at all.
posted by wryly at 1:01 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I see where you're coming from, and I'm given to various "perceived slights" myself. But really, I'd just be thankful that your boyfriend doesn't have one of those families where every holiday is a pointless giving contest, and appreciate keeping the money you're not supposed to spend on them. Maybe spend their "share" on better stuff for the people in your life who love getting gifts from you?
posted by Rykey at 1:01 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding homemade cookies or candy - you like Christmas and you want to show that you care about them, and that's great. Older people are going to be weird about getting expensive gifts from younger people, even if the younger person is a financially stable, self-supporting adult, and there's not really much you can do to change that any time in the next, like, decade, I don't think - Ernielundquist's "parents gonna parent" is so true. And giftcards are just a weird institution and should be avoided when possible anyway.
posted by naoko at 1:03 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think you're being irrational. It is a slight. The way the handled it just makes it that much more so. I don't think you should be embarrassed. Your gifts were not inappropriate or over the top. Their reaction was irrational and ungracious.
posted by whoaali at 1:25 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Giving a gift card (essentially, just money) to an older, more successful person is a faux pas and you should stop doing that. They don't need your money, and the gift doesn't express any personal sentiments whatsoever. It would have been better to just give a card and no gift at all.

Expect your Christmas gift from them this year to be $50 more expensive, to compensate for it.
posted by hermitosis at 1:32 PM on October 29, 2011 [24 favorites]

Parents often feel weird taking gifts from their children, no matter how old and well-off the children become. This feeling extends to the people their children date. :) It's not that they pity you, it's probably that they feel warmly enough toward you that you're like another of their kids and they feel like they should be taking care of you, and not accepting things from you. My mom is very much like this, where she will spend money she can't afford to buy me and my husband things, but she feels overwhelmed if we return the favor, even though we make more than twice as much as her. She just feels like we're her babies, and she's such a giving person, that it's psychologically odd for her to receive gifts from us. I think she has been like that for so long she just feels impels to give anything extra to us, and it jars when she receives something extra and it would be rude to give it to us because we just gave it to her! Aside from that, we are absolutely adults in her mind, so it's not an insult, it's just people think of resources as something to be given to the younger, not received.

So to get around this, I do a couple things. When I come home for Christmas, I try not to spend too much money on her, although once I bought her a camera she really needed to help a side business along. Mostly I stick to around $50 or slightly less. And then I do a lot of baking, or if I can think of something handmade, I will make something. Generally, thoughtful handmade gifts are a good bet when someone has difficulty receiving expensive gifts. You can also get them something for the home, like flowers or plants that are intended to be decorative then die; these don't feel as much like something for them, plus temporary things are easy to forget cost money. If you are visiting for Christmas, flowers are for everyone who sees them. (Make sure they don't have pets that will eat them and get sick -- no poinsettias for those with birds, for example, if the birds are allowed out -- and make sure they don't have allergies or hate certain smells.) A nice flower arrangement can easily cost over $50, but few people think about that when someone brings them over as a centerpiece. You just leave them there and let them keep the vase; if they try to give it back, you can say you'll bring more flowers for it next year, or take it back if you have to. Vases are another thing it's hard to price by looking at it; a given vase might have been $15 or $80.

Also, fwiw, I have trouble accepting gifts from anyone, and I don't pity them at all! I have learned to simply thank them and not protest, but some people are just stunned that you are doing anything for them. It's not that I think people *need* the money, but if they spend $50 on me I know they could have bought themselves something fun too, and I have trouble accepting that my enjoyment is any more important than theirs when it's their money. But growing up with someone like my mom, and knowing how I like giving stuff to others, has forced me to realize that giving really is better than buying stuff for myself, and they like giving me things. It sounds like you know that too! It's just hard for people like me to keep the giver in mind when receiving sometimes.
posted by Nattie at 1:42 PM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

The good news in all of this is that you are the last person who should have to short circuit all of this. The bad news is that, right or wrong, it's now up to you to short circuit all of this.

Gift recipients have the responsibility to to accept gifts graciously and to interpret the sentiment behind a gift in as generous a spirit as possible. It goes without saying that they should never complain about the gifts they receive. If they felt awkward about the gift, they should have kept it to themselves. They did not do this.

Also, while on the surface saying "no gifts" may seem like a nice thing to do, it really robs someone of the pleasure of giving and the ability to be generous. They may have the right to ask this in the technical sense, but it reinforces the implication that you're the kid and they're the grown ups - especially if they still intend to give you gifts. I can't help but wonder it it occurred to them that it might make you feel good to be able to reciprocate their generosity.

Enlisting your boyfriend to relay messages and requests to you is a tad passive-aggressive in my mind. If they really really felt they had to speak up, they should have done it themselves. Said differently, if they're going to be rude, at least they should at least do it themselves. You and your boyfriend have been together long enough to have earned that consideration.

It was your boyfriend's job stop this ridiculousness. A very simple, 'hey folks, you're over-reacting and I'm not going to hurt Anon's feelings by bringing this up to her' was very much in order. If he wanted to be deft about it, he could have then gently steered you towards presents that they would enjoy without feeling awkward. Buuut...they passed the rude baton to him and he passed it right on to you. Now you're in the position where it's very difficult for you to address this directly, even if it is simply to say that you did not mean to have insulted them.

Sooo. As for you. Handle this more maturely than they did. Write them an email. Tell them you did not mean to insult them - sometimes its good to apologize even if you did nothing wrong. Butter it up with something about your respect and affection for them. Tell them that it would mean a great deal to you to be able to partake in Christmas gift exchanges. Tell them Christmas just isn't the same for you otherwise. And yeah, no more gift cards ever - for anyone. Taking gift cards and cash off the list of possible presents leaves room for lots more creativity and thoughtfulness in the presents you pick.
posted by space_cookie at 1:53 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is clearly not about them pitying you. It's not. Really. Put that out of your mind.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:02 PM on October 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

You're young and you don't even live with their son yet, you shouldn't be buying them exponentially expensive presents every year. At least not in their parent view point, and it's nothing personal. They've just finally cut you off at the point where they feel uncomfortable, knowing it will continue to escalate beyond what they, at least, are comfortable with, so you should honour that cut off and stop pushing their boundaries.

I like the idea of handmade presents, and fancy cookies went down very well with my extended in-law family when I could no longer get away with buying them stuff. It shows I still care while also not being an ostentatious show of wealth to them (no matter how small it seems to you/me) and also is not giving them more than they're uncomfortable with, while still showing I care (cookies or whatever don't cost much except time and attention). Plus it shows I'm saving my main money and whatever for my immediate family, i.e. their son and his potential offspring (totally fictional in our case), rather than splashing it around to people I'm not even related to.

Don't feel slighted because other people have different perceptions and celebrations than you. They care enough about you and your family unit with their son to not want to use you for every cent, so respect that and find some other way of expressing your love of Christmas and them. I have a great oatmeal cookie recipe if you need it.
posted by shelleycat at 2:24 PM on October 29, 2011 [8 favorites]

The fact that you perceive their distaste for your presents as indicating pity may shed some light on why they may have felt manipulated by your presents in the first place. It may be that you were giving these presents more to communicate your position and influence, than it was to show them that you cared about them as individuals.

+++ what shelleycat said.
posted by macinchik at 3:47 PM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also...I know it's really, really hard, I'm sensitive to things like this, too, but try to just LET THIS SLIDE and not spend any more energy on it. I do not agree with some other commenters who said it was rude of his parents to say something. Also I do not agree that you should bring it up any further. The ONLY thing they were trying to convey, from my perspective, is "save your money for your own future."

What if they had said nothing? And next time, after you'd gotten a still better job, your gift to them was a $100 gift card? They certainly couldn't RETURN the card to you (or regift it to your BF) without embarrassing you even more. But yet, reasonably successful people in middle age are allowed to say, no, we do. not. need. $100 cash from the younger generation.

Take the long view: if things work out between you and him, you'll be able to repay their kindnesses to you many times over. And if things don't work out, then you can use the unspent money to take care of some OTHER set of in-laws in their old age.

But, really, really, if you think any more about this, much less DO or SAY anything else, it has a lot of potential for unnecessary hurt feelings and awkwardness. Leave it be. Maybe it's just that I'm very slightly (about 10 years) older than you and have just a smidge more perspective. I probably would have been offended, too, just out of college, but let it go.
posted by skbw at 4:18 PM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

They handled this badly. Really. And your boyfriend should not become a diplomat. I would also be incredibly hurt, and I'm not much of a present person.

But do try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Anything else will just lead to more misery.
posted by kjs4 at 5:05 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

What would you say to yourself in this situation/when you're irrationally blowing up a situation in your mind? How would you get over it?

"Everyone has weird hang-ups, and this particular hang-up of theirs isn't a judgement on me and doesn't really have anything to do with me (more about their feelings about their son growing up perhaps?), and 5 years from now, we will *all* have entirely different problems that will seem at least as serious as this one, so really everything is fine, and I just have to wait until it feels like everything is fine, which will happen much faster if I don't dwell on it, so what else can I focus on right now?"

Rinse, repeat.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:20 PM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

People equate gift cards to cash, so they might have been uncomfortable with receiving 'cash' from a younger, technically unrelated person. They might have perceived an unintended slight, just as you did.

I vote for something handmade next time, and let the rest of it go.
posted by Vaike at 6:43 PM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Coming from a "please don't give me any gifts" person, do not hedge it and get a trinket, do not get an expensive something else, do not try and dodge the request. Because as much as we "rob you of your generosity and the pleasure of giving gifts"; when we receive them, it is actually unpleasant. I have had more than one occasion ruined because of this insistence that people must give me something (gift cards, trinkets, books, flowers, anything). It is somewhat about the money, but for me it's about the tediousness of it all. I am an adult, I have a lot of what I need and want. When you purchase something for me it is often neither of those things. It may be a lovely thing, it may be a good gift, but rarely does it actually make me happy to receive it. Uncomfortable, put upon, expected to participate in your display of generosity is more how I feel. Exacerbated by shame and embarrassment that I feel this way and an excruciating sense of discomfort when I think about the expense and that I really sincerely wish you had spent it on yourself. Or a charity. Or someone who enjoys getting gifts. Anything but something that forces me to participate in a capitalist display that I disagree with (ESP. Christmas).

If they don't want gifts, bigger and better gifts are not the way to change their mind. More gifts isn't either.

Disclaimer, if you check my posting history I'm viciously anti Christmas and hate the whole damn season. So my comments are probably not in line with your inlaws ideals, but I thought I'd throw that out there.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:42 PM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

No slight was intended and you're displaying a weird lack of empathy. They do not want your money, and feel awkward that you have forced their hand into taking it by buying them these gift certificates. This isn't the time to puff your chest and demonstrate your financial well being; this is the time to be thoughtful and make them feel good.

How to quell your irrational response? Realize that there is no "pity" here, just an understanding that gift cards are basically cash, and cash is not an appropriate gift for your boyfriend's parents. Make them some truffles (or other edible thing they'd enjoy); put some care into it; and be a great girlfriend. That's all they want from you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:26 PM on October 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

They also probably think of you as a unit with their son. It might be weird to them to get large presents from you individually. I'm guessing they give couple presents, right? It's from both of them, correct? So your gift to them should/could be more of a token rather than something extravagant. It matters not that you get individual presents from them.

Also, are you spending more than your boyfriend? Because that could feel awkward.

But, yeah, you haven't done anything wrong. And please do honor their wishes.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:45 AM on October 30, 2011

Gifts are an expression of affection. Make them a nice Christmas ornament or something else that's nice, but not obviously expensive. Make fudge, peanut brittle, cookies. Show your affection with a nice card, and sincere thanks for any gifts you receive.
posted by theora55 at 7:49 AM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

A Christmas ornament is a GREAT idea! Good show, theora55! I'd been out of that particular loop too long--never thought of it.

If you want to get a little bit creative with the food present, you could bring over something that's supposed to be warmed up/baked for Christmas morning, I mean, for the actual breakfast itself, just them two (or whatever kids are still at home). Cinnamon rolls already risen, cheese strata...or a pound of coffee, if that's what they're into.

But DON'T bring a basket of food or anything that resembles one, or (as someone above suggested, but I respectfully disagree) an assortment of expensive candy. They will not be into being "outsmarted," however much love is behind the gesture.
posted by skbw at 10:59 AM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

And here's a concrete way to channel the restaurant gift card jones. (NOT with his parents--leave that far behind--but the next time it comes around.) As a rule, I would not give a gift card to anyone older than you.

BUT is a cool resource for people who enjoy eating out. Wait until they have a coupon code circulating, as they do frequently. Once, along with a bread-and-butter thank you email, I sent my much older, much richer brother-in-law a discount to a place I knew he liked. It was in the spirit of "hey, look at this groovy online discount," rather than "hey, let me buy YOU dinner next time."

I did the same with (much older) close family friends after a stay at their house. Who doesn't want to save a few bucks? They always have the pizza coupons on the fridge (and use them).

Obviously you can't do this with a stranger or a straight-up superior (say, a boss), but with close friends for whom a gift card would not be appropriate, it's a nice little token. Perhaps the parents of your closest female friend, something like that.

But as for this recent thing with them? You know how some things Just Did Not Happen? This has to become one of them. Onward!
posted by skbw at 11:09 AM on October 30, 2011

I hate receiving presents. When I say don't give me anything, I really mean it. Not even for my birthday! Make me brownies or cupcakes, that's okay. No presents. I do not want you to waste your money on something I am almost guaranteed not to want. I do not give presents to any adult in my family for holidays. They know this, and I request that no one buys me anything. My husband and I don't even give each other presents. If we want something, we buy it. That's it. For some friends who are really into gift giving, in addition to telling them directly, I'll say to their partners, hey, it's so thoughtful of Marge but there is really no need to give me a gift and hope that they will also relay the message.

Just keep it in mind that not everyone is as "yay Christmas gifts!!" as you are, and please don't feel bad about it.
posted by crankylex at 9:47 AM on October 31, 2011

Christmas ornaments can be great. You can start a tradition of giving them a new one every year. Inexpensive (unless you try super hard), could be homemade, super Christmassy, and always sparks that..."Oh, remember when..." type awesome cuddly memory type stuff when you see them.
posted by sweetkid at 4:04 PM on November 1, 2011

Keep the peace, but feel free to roll your eyes privately.

They don't pity you at all. But they're being condescending and a bit defensive with their sniffy "kids don't get to buy the grownups presents" attitude.

What does your boyfriend think?
posted by desuetude at 9:18 PM on November 1, 2011

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