Help me be a better giver
January 4, 2012 11:44 AM   Subscribe

Love Language Filter: I want to become better at expressing affection to people in nonverbal ways, but I find it difficult.

I'm the Words of Affirmation type, but a number of my friends and relatives are the Acts of Service/Gifts type. Problem is, said people are picky and hard to buy for. In the wake of a substandard Christmas, I'm trying to figure out how to be better in time for their birthdays and to overall express my caring toward them. I'm generally effusive with the "I love you's" but I seem to have a lot of people in my life who are more like "show me, don't tell me, talk is cheap!" Some of them don't even like compliments!

I'm looking for ways to suss out peoples' secret wants and needs, not just what I might think they need if I were them, without being too obvious about it. I want to really delight the "show me" people and have them know I love them. What are some good ways of really pinpointing things or gestures they might appreciate?
posted by xenophile to Human Relations (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Having frequent meaningful conversatins with them. It is hard to get to know someone if you don't know anythig about them. And of course ask them about what they want or need at times that not obvious.
posted by JXBeach at 11:51 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have multiple ways of approaching this type of issue. Maybe one or a combination will work for you.

A: straight forward: Do they need the gifts or acts of services to be surprises? Maybe you can just ask them to give you a list and you can buy/give based off of that.

B: listen and converse: I agree with JXBeach. When talking to your friends they may drop hints about their interests. Take note of their interests and write it down somewhere. Then hopefully when their birthday comes up you can look at your list and buy something off of it.

C: subtle hits: A lot of this type of gift giving really comes down to perception. If say the person is a new mom and if they look or mention needing time off, then maybe offering to babysit would be a good gift. Also look at what other people are giving them. Did your friend love the jewelry that someone else gave her? If so maybe jewelry is a good gift for her. I would also look at what they have a lot of in their house. Do they collect anything? My mother loves smashed pennies and collects them. So it is one of the cheapests gifts I can get her on vacation yet she loves them.

D: Ask someone else: Another way to approach this is to ask other people close to them. So your friends SO or your cousins Mom. Someone who is close to the person may be able to offer suggests or insights to what they may want and you can still keep the element of surprise.

As a note: I find this stuff hard to do too. I lack good perception sometimes and I have a bad memory. My solution has been to get people giftcards to really cool places that they would not normally go to like a nice restaurant or an awesome movie theater with reclining seats. I think this is working for me so far. Unless I am perceiving this gift giving wrong haha.
posted by Jaelma24 at 12:07 PM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

For people that I have trouble with, I've found the most effective method has been to cheat and ask people who know them better than me what they think I should get them. That also helps with not accidentally buying people the same thing that they are getting from someone else, or buying a piggyback gift that goes with a gift that someone else is giving.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:07 PM on January 4, 2012

I think Christmas/birthdays/holidays are the times for big, showy presents. But the presents that people really love/feel cared for by are small, unexpected ones that appear for no reason other than that you were thinking about them on a Wednesday afternoon and saw this little thing they'd really like. Like, I was in the dollar store and saw these $1 motivational stickers that I just knew my friend would think were hilarious/thoughtful. I knew she'd like them because we'd been having conversations about how she wasn't happy in her program right then but knew she needed to truck on through. So I bought them and mailed them to her (the postage was more than the gift) and she was so happy!

Also, homemade things show love well. Cooked foods, or crafted items.
posted by vegartanipla at 12:17 PM on January 4, 2012

If they are the kind of people who have Etsy or Amazon gift lists, find or ask to see those. You don't have to get something off the list, but you could use it as a guide. Then again, some people specifically want you to pick things they have set out that they want - they often put things on wishlists that they wouldn't buy for themselves. Friend of mine is a prime example of that. I'm good at buying her stuff, but her mom stinks, and she would be THRILLED and feel heard and loved if her mom would just get her stuff from her list.

YMMV, etc.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:29 PM on January 4, 2012

xenophile I secretly wonder if my previous thread got you thinking about this? ;)

My wife is a gifts/affirmation person, and it doesn't mean monetary gifts, but listening to what they are saying and acting on it. For example my wife couldn't find the lint roller to de-fur her winter coat the other morning. On my lunch break I bought her one and just sat it on the counter for her to find. Cost me $.89 cents but the fact that I remembered something so small and took action meant a lot to her :)

Good luck!!
posted by Hellafiles at 12:31 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am also not naturally a gift person.

The only successful way I've found of buying presents is as follows:

Every now and then, a friend will say "Oh I love this artist!" or "I always did love the idea of a proper afternoon tea" or "That's such a beautiful vase". At this point you must take note, and at the first possible opportunity, buy this thing and put it in the Presents Cupboard. If it's an afternoon tea, you can't put it in the cupboard, but you can do all the research necessary on afternoon tea venues, write a note to yourself with all the necessary details, and put that in the Presents Cupboard.

When you gift the item, you get extra brownie points either for your great memory or for your psychic powers, depending on whether the friend remembers the original conversation or not!
posted by emilyw at 12:35 PM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think Christmas/birthdays/holidays are the times for big, showy presents. But the presents that people really love/feel cared for by are small, unexpected ones that appear for no reason other than that you were thinking about them on a Wednesday afternoon and saw this little thing they'd really like.

Exactly. Or something like -- your boyfriend/girlfriend is on a business trip and asks you to feed their dog/water their plants/whatever while they're gone. While you're feeding the dog, you notice that s/he left a bunch of dirty dishes in the sink because s/he was in a rush to get to the airport. So you spend a little extra time and wash those dirty dishes, and then wipe down the counters and the sink while you're at it, so they have a nice clean kitchen when they come home exhausted.

(I speak from experience. That thrilled him.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:59 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm definitely an Acts of Service/Gifts type, and I think that you should focus more on ways to bring (unexpected) small gifts or kindnesses to your friends and family rather than stressing about getting the perfect birthday gift. This year my partner didn't give me a Christmas gift and it was not at all a big deal or hurtful when he suggested that we skip gift giving this year--in fact, I was relieved to not have one more thing on the list. However, the stuff I do find distressing is the little stuff, like when for the millionth time he puts away his own hiking stuff and just leaves my backpack on the floor while I'm in the shower.

For people you live with, little acts of kindness should be easy: notice when they're tired or down or had a bad day, and offer to cook dinner or suggest going out to a stupid movie you know they've been wanting to see or bring them a cup of tea. Little stuff like that once a week, which don't require ESP to figure out, go a lot further than really nailing a perfect birthday gift. As cheesy as it sounds, it's more about making someone feel pampered than it is about buying them something they'll love.

For people you don't live with, it's a bit tougher, but still very do-able. If you're meeting for a walk, show up with their favorite coffee in hand. If you're going shopping, offer to come and pick them up so they don't have to circle the block to find parking, even if they're 15 minutes out of your way. Again, it's about little things that people wouldn't presume to ask you to do, but that make them feel special and taken care of--and not about buying them the perfect book for Christmas.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:59 PM on January 4, 2012

In casual contact, do you show your love by sharing? Offer products of your recent cooking binge, or a taste of your delicious dessert order. Don't just show off the crafty thing you learned how to do, but offer to make them one. Don't just talk about the new bar you went to or new game you played, offer to take them there. Pay attention to how they respond - these are all opportunities to learn what a person likes.

Little gifts can better for expressing affection than big ones - in some sense the smaller the present the clearer it makes it how well you know someone. Many people would be impressed with a gift of a Kindle, but would be touched by the gift of a $2 paperback from the used bookstore that was something you'd talked about last month, and you thought of them immediately when you saw it.

Helpful hint - while doing a surprise favor for someone (picking up coffee), or while buying a little gift, imagine how excited and pleased that person will be. Not just HappyGiftYay! but why are they happy, what are they excited about, what do they say they'll do with the gift, etc. Imagining the responses you want, and considering whether that's reasonable for that person, and comparing that with the responses you get, helps you gauge what kinds of things really do work for that person. Also, if you can't imagine what that person would say when opening a package to find a shiny new X, maybe you're projecting your love of X onto them. Or, you can too-clearly imagine them saying something polite sounding "Oh, a metal elephant... for my elephant collection - how sweet." maybe you're projecting their love of X onto them.
posted by aimedwander at 1:35 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm an Acts of Service/Gift type (on both sides of the equation), too. The thing that makes gifts special to me is that they're evidence that a) Someone I care about was thinking about me when I wasn't there, b) They know me well enough (or have listened to me closely enough) to know how to choose something thoughtfully for me, and c) That they were willing to make the effort to do it. And yes, while big showy gifts on obligatory holidays can be great, little ones for no particular reason are also wonderful, and make me feel very loved. It's not at all about the monetary value; it's about thoughtfulness and effort and care. Examples of stuff that's gone very well for me and my partners:

-One day I brought lunch to my volunteer shift but had no utensils to eat it with. The following week one of my partners presented me with a tiny pouch that contained a small titanium spork and folding chopsticks, perfect for slipping into the pocket of my bag so I always have something to eat with. It filled a specific need and fit in with my interest in everyday preparedness. This remains one of the most awesome and thoughtful random gifts anyone has ever given me.

-When one of my partners comes back to town after being away for a few days and I see him on the day or day after after he gets back, I pick up a bag of his favorite coffee beans to bring over, because I know he'll be needing some.

-Whenever another of my partners happens to stumble across Dr Pepper made with cane sugar (my favorite), he gets some for me.

We also cook meals for each other and bring each other coffee without being asked, which are both wonderful, demonstrative acts of service.

You might also want to consider that a handwritten note or card could be a great compromise between your skill at Words of Love and their desire for non-verbal demonstrations of affection. You get to tell them how much you care for them, but they get something that obviously took effort and care to write, and is more special than daily "I love you"s or affectionate text messages.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:47 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh man. I hear you on this one. I am an acts of service person, and to a lesser extent love receiving gifts. But I am...picky about gifts.

If I say I want a green woozel, I mean it and purple will leave me thinking you were only half listening. Same goes for receiving a green woozbang. I'll be happy that you tried, and I will never say, "But I wanted a green woozel!"

If you keep telling me you are going to get me a snerfle and I keep saying "that's really sweet of you, but I'll never wear/eat/drive/whatever a snerfle" I'm telling you not to get me a damn snerfle. If I open a snerfle I will be sad and I will feel like you want me to be a snerfle wearer/eater/driver because that will mean you want to change me. Or you weren't listening. Both are unpleasant things to think about a person.

If I mention that I hate walking through parking lots, it would mean the world to me if you'd meet me at my car, or even the edge of the lot, instead of waiting for me to trudge up to the door. (Yes, this seems petty and totally inconsequential, whatever.)

If I mention looking for a bowl scraper and you just simply send me a few links to three or four examples of bowl scrapers with a little note that says, "Hey, we were talking about baking the other night, and you mentioned wanting a bowl scraper, are any of these what you had in mind?" You could probably stop right there if I said, "thanks, I'll order the one I like!" But if I respond "oooooh, that one from Company Zeeeee is exactly what I dream of!" You have found a gift for me. A $3 pick me up that just would melt my heart.

For me, acts of service are more of an every day or just "I was thinking of you" kind of things. Packing my lunch, helping me carry things, reminding me to pick up the dry cleaning if it's on my way to something else, etc. Ideal gifts are things I've mentioned needing or wanting. Be wary of things I admire in passing (as in, "oooh that's pretty." this is not equivalent to "ooooh I want that!"), unless I say, "I'd love to find that in my Christmas stocking," or whatever.

As for big acts of service, not just suggesting an outing, but a specific outing with time and etc all figured out, and then, buy the damn tickets in advance so we don't have to wait in the awful line. If you suggest a picnic, pack the picnic and remember napkins, blanket, foods, beverage, etc, and tell me specifically what I should bring - a dessert, drinks, whatever.
posted by bilabial at 2:17 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

A very difficult gift to give is one that they do not know you've given them.

Maybe get some windex and clean the inside of their car windows. Or shovel the snow off their sidewalk when they're at the theater late. Or maybe fix the mailbox door that sticks and squeaks loudly and awakens them on Saturday mornings when the mailman drops their mail. Or sew new buttons on their pajamas, to replace the buttons that've gone missing.*

It's damndably hard to be helpful and then not say "Hey there Punkin' Pie, I fixed that damn dripping faucet for you, don'cha think I'm grand?" so as to get credit for your time and effort. But if you can keep quiet, two good things will absolutely happen.

One: If you do a helpful thing and don't tell anyone, it sortof bounces around inside of you and the good of it rubs around in there, and it makes you warm and happy, and a better person, and blah blah blah blah. I know that you're thinking I sound like a hallmark card here and I know that I do, but facts are facts, even if we'd rather be all cynical and fussy and unhappy and gaseous about how life really works.

Two: You will eventually get found out. They will come home just in time to see you scurry off with the snow shovel, or they will think "Hey! These pajamas were missing those damn buttons, and all I did this morning was wash them and then toss them into the dryer, so, like, wtf?" or whatever it is that they notice. And now you have become this mysterious person, and they will be wondering just exactly what in the hell else you are up to, and they see you differently, and they will begin to watch you closely.

I'm not terribly good at this—it really is a difficult discipline. But it does work, for a fact; one of my brothers is killer at it, he's all the time doing all these cool things and not saying a damn word, and by now he gets credits that aren't even due him, or that's what I tell him anyways.
*Unless of course they've helpfully removed the buttons to facilitate ingress, in which case you could perhaps remove a couple more...
posted by dancestoblue at 5:30 PM on January 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

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