Apparently I suck at giving gifts, need advice
July 3, 2013 2:22 PM   Subscribe

Fiancee blew up over my birthday gift-giving faux pas and can't seem to get over it, is this situation salvegable? Lots more below

My fiancee and I have been together about 1.5 years, engaged for about a month. GIft-giving has never been much of an issue in the past. Last year for her birthday, I bought her tickets for a ballet and probably spent $70 or so (prob double that when you consider that I took her out for a nice dinner too). For my birthday, she bought me some shirts and ties I said I wanted, and probably spent about the same ($70 or so). For Christmas, we both did Amazon wish lists for family and just went off that. There was some debate over how much to spend (she set a much higher limit than I did, I ended up having to buy a few things last-minute) but otherwise we were both happy.

Fast forward to the present: Unfortunately, this has been a hectic, stressful month for both of us which made it very hard to plan anything. She lost a relative (she's not too torn up about the death, but a little unhappy she couldn't attend the funeral) and the ensuing chaos ate up most of our attention. To make it worse, I'm leaving on a long-term work transfer to Europe in a few weeks - I won't go into detail about it except to say that we have discussed this in great depth over the past year and she is on board with it. She is a bit sad (understandably) that we'll be apart for a few months but has said repeatedly to me that she is "not mad at me" for taking the job - she knows this assignment is what I've been wanting to do for years, and will open a lot more doors career-wise. However, I'll admit that the move preparations have been keeping me extremely busy lately.

So the reason I wrote this: last week was her birthday. First, the cake. The bakery messed up my order and gave me a cake 3x the size of the "small round" cake I asked for. Since I wasn't sure I'd have time to get a second one made, I just took it. Upon seeing it, her first response wasn't thank you, but "dude, why the hell didn't you insist they make another one??". She also told me I was too "meek" dealing with it, not the first time she's called me that. Second screw-up was the gifts. I bought a DVD of a movie I thought she liked and a ring holder we saw in the store a few weeks ago that she commented was "very cute". I'll admit the gifts weren't expensive but I thought they were things she'd like. But all she said after opening the gifts was "Jesus, that's it?? What did you spend?? $20??". WTF? I know now that I made a small faux pas by not spending more, but it feels like she's looking a gift horse in the mouth. After all, I did spend a couple thousand of my savings on her engagement ring just last month, it's not like I'm flush with cash right now.

In the past week since then, she's been unusually cold and reminds me that she's still mad at me at every opportunity. This is very unusual - we've had our share of arguments, but most are short-lived and don't last more than an hour or so. She won't say much but did admit that she's just not good at "hiding disappointment", to me that seems like simple bad manners. I was hoping to spend the next few weeks enjoying our time together, instead I'm starting to avoid her and am almost looking forward to moving and not having to deal with this drama every day. I don't even know what to do now - tell her again that yes I screwed up, buy nicer gifts for her and hope she gets over it? Something else? Any insight appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (89 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I would seriously reconsider if you want to make a life with this woman. She sounds petty, cruel, and materialistic. I'm sure she has a lot of good traits that you aren't sharing - after all, you proposed to her - but this kind of behavior would be a total dealbreaker for me.
posted by amaire at 2:27 PM on July 3, 2013 [125 favorites]

Have you had a discussion with her in which you actually asked her what's going on? I feel like there is something else and she's transferring her emotions onto the birthday gifts.

Dude, though, for real, if I were involved with someone who had that kind of entitlement around what I should do for him on his birthday, I would opt out quickly. For every reason.
posted by janey47 at 2:27 PM on July 3, 2013 [40 favorites]

I would consider that she is giving you the gift of knowledge, though I suspect she's quite unaware of it.
posted by scody at 2:28 PM on July 3, 2013 [170 favorites]

It sounds like both of you are very stressed out, and also that she has different (cultural?) expectations about gifts than you do. I probably would have given my husband a hard time about a weird cake, not because I'm petty, cruel, and materialistic, but because a family member just died and I'm entering an LDR with my fiance and I'm super-stressed. I don't think it's fair to judge a person only by their behavior when they are being their worst self.

If you've already apologized (which you didn't mention) then just give her time to deal with her feelings. She'll either get over it or you'll break up. She'll probably get over it.
posted by muddgirl at 2:32 PM on July 3, 2013 [12 favorites]

Her level of disappointment seems high given the situation. I'm not sure what the problem with the large cake was, assuming you didn't pay 3x the price of the smaller one.

As far as I'm concerned, it's very tacky to ask about the price of a gift, especially right after opening it, and DOUBLE ESPECIALLY if the asker is unhappy about it.


In the past week since then, she's been unusually cold and reminds me that she's still mad at me at every opportunity.

This is a real problem. You should consider this a gigantic warning sign. Hopefully there is something else going on besides the gift and cake, because a person who reacts this way over something relatively minor is not someone I would want to marry.
posted by dubold at 2:33 PM on July 3, 2013 [8 favorites]

Since this behavior seems to be new, it's probably a good guess that she isn't this materialistic in general but something else is going on that's causing tension between the two of you. You should try to find out what that something is, asking might be a good start.

Wouldn't be surprised if she's more resentful than she figured she would be about the job, or you know, she's just really stressed and reacting poorly.
posted by zug at 2:34 PM on July 3, 2013 [12 favorites]

I'm a little worried that your fiancée is showing "contempt" by stating that you're too meek. That is a pretty well-known sign of a relationship that isn't going to last. I know that we aren't getting the full story of your relationship, but you may need to rethink getting married, or make sure that you don't get married too quickly.
posted by shrabster at 2:34 PM on July 3, 2013 [22 favorites]

On the other hand -- I mean, ARE you meek? You do sound a bit meek to me. There's nothing particularly wrong with that - I love "meek" men. But it sounds to me like your fiancée doesn't and maybe doesn't have the self-awareness to realize that she can't change who you are.

On preview, basically what shrabster said.
posted by muddgirl at 2:35 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't even know what to do now - tell her again that yes I screwed up, buy nicer gifts for her and hope she gets over it?

No way. She wouldn't be happy with the nicer gifts at this point anyway, and it will just reinforce her childish behavior. Tell her that given family loss, international moves, and engagement you are offended that she's making such a fuss about this, and that if there is something else she wants to tell you, now's the time.

Also if she doesn't like the way you deal with bakers, she can get her own cake next time.
posted by headnsouth at 2:35 PM on July 3, 2013 [23 favorites]

I doubt this is really about the value of the gifts. She was probably hoping you could at least find this one excuse to carve some time out of your schedule to make her feel special and loved, and you didn't. There's probably very little too make her feel that way these days. If I were you I'd give her a full do-over.
posted by bleep at 2:38 PM on July 3, 2013 [41 favorites]

Personally, I think that getting someone whom you're close to a DVD for a birthday is kind of lame, especially in this day and age when just about any film can be viewed on demand at the press of a button. So in isolation, my sympathies would be with the fianceé. However, it looks like it is all part of a pattern, like criticism of the cake (a normal person would have laughed it off), calling you "meek", not giving you what would effectively be a "do-over" with the birthday thing, etc.

If you want to give her the benefit of the doubt, take her out to a nice dinner and give her a nicer gift. It can't hurt. But the whole gestalt of the situation you describe sounds kind of worrisome, and you should talk about what your mutual expectations are.
posted by deanc at 2:38 PM on July 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

Apparently I suck at giving my fiancee sucks at receiving gifts


Your gifts sound like very thoughtful gifts to me. I would be THRILLED if my husband paid attention to what I thought was cute, whether it cost $20 or $200.

Her response was pretty rude. I think you need to ask her what's up.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:39 PM on July 3, 2013 [15 favorites]

"I don't even know what to do now"

Call off the wedding and run away fast!
posted by Perplexity at 2:42 PM on July 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

Upon seeing it, her first response wasn't thank you, but "dude, why the hell didn't you insist they make another one??". She also told me I was too "meek" dealing with it, not the first time she's called me that. Second screw-up was the gifts. I bought a DVD of a movie I thought she liked and a ring holder we saw in the store a few weeks ago that she commented was "very cute". I'll admit the gifts weren't expensive but I thought they were things she'd like. But all she said after opening the gifts was "Jesus, that's it?? What did you spend?? $20??". WTF? I know now that I made a small faux pas by not spending more, but it feels like she's looking a gift horse in the mouth. After all, I did spend a couple thousand of my savings on her engagement ring just last month, it's not like I'm flush with cash right now.

I'm notoriously bad at gift-giving. Like, terrible bad. Like, just forget to give people things bad. Regularly. I don't even remember the date more often than not. And I have never, ever, EVER gotten blowback like that. "Jesus, that's it??" is something I've literally never heard. Nothing like it ever. Even if someone was disappointed, they were polite or understanding or at least deferred their concerns until time had passed so they could see if it was a pattern. And that's without having just bought someone an expensive engagement ring.

If I were you, I'd sit down with her and let her know that I understand her disappointment that my gifts didn't measure up to gifts I'd given in the past, or to her expectations for gift-giving. Also let her know that I was listening when she said I was too "meek" in dealing with problems, so I'm hitting this head-on: her initial and ongoing responses to my gifts are completely inappropriate and over-the-top, and this doesn't bode well for our future together. I'd tell her I understand that she's really stressed out over the death in her family and my imminent departure for the job, and that I can understand her acting out because of that stress, but that our relationship is about being together, not about gifts, and that at the very least she owes me an apology.

If you do this, hopefully you'll get a response out of her that includes a genuine apology, and she'll agree to tone down the expense of gifts in favor of the thought being what counts, in both directions. For your part, going forward if you find yourself rushing to buy another gift or somesuch just to avoid making her mad, that's a red flag that you're still walking on eggshells to avoid her ire, a bad sign for your marriage.

If you don't get a response with an actual apology, well...this was over a gift, just once, shortly after getting an engagement ring that cost you thousands of dollars. What's she going to be like when you lose your job or have an accident or any number of other mistakes that a person might make in a lifetime? Partnerships should be about trust and support, not about expectations and demands.

Personally, if this had happened to me -- me, who for my entire life has done far, far worse regarding gifts, and has never gotten a response approaching this -- well, I'd call off the wedding. But that's me.
posted by davejay at 2:43 PM on July 3, 2013 [19 favorites]

I would consider that she is giving you the gift of knowledge, though I suspect she's quite unaware of it.

This, a thousand times this. Scoby, you are succinct and brilliant, and I will be using this statement many times in the future.
posted by davejay at 2:43 PM on July 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

Go out and buy her something shiny in the $750 range. It's the only thing that will work.
posted by zadcat at 2:49 PM on July 3, 2013

Sounds like she's mad about a lot more than just the gifts (I would guess the move, the stress of the family death, your recent lack of attention due to work demands, etc). That doesn't give her the right to "punish" you with her misery for weeks on end. You need to ask her what the hell is really the matter and what she wants you to do to solve it. Don't just avoid her- you need to take action here. If she can't articulate what she wants and still expects you to be responsible for how she feels, that's not fair to you and you should tell her so.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:50 PM on July 3, 2013 [38 favorites]

You just got the best present of your life. You need to break the engagement and back up. Because that will be much cheaper and much less traumatic than a divorce.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:51 PM on July 3, 2013 [14 favorites]

could she be picking a fight before you leave on your trip to not focus on how much she will miss you? maybe she has some unresolved feelings about your leaving? if not then her responses to you were quite rude and i'd take them as relationship red flags.

she has said repeatedly to me that she is "not mad at me" for taking the job.

she reminds me that she's still mad at me at every opportunity [about the gift].

yeah, i think she's mad about you leaving but doesn't want to admit it.
posted by wildflower at 2:51 PM on July 3, 2013 [14 favorites]

Her responses were pretty bad -- though if your "too meek" means "regularly just accepts bad service and never asks for things to be fixed" and it's something she's complained about, that's not meek, that's annoying (it's hard to tell from one anecdote and is irrelevant anyhow) -- but this is new behaviour for her, AND she's planning a wedding, AND a family member died and she couldn't be there, AND you've been distant/busy lately, AND you're going to be away for a few months, she's under a lot of stress and people often take it out on family members because they'll be there anyhow. (It's not good, but it's normal.)

This isn't to say she's right, but discussing how she seems to be under extra stress and is having trouble coping with it, and how it's not fair for her to keep bringing things up. Either she will apologise and explain that she was under stress and she's so sorry and she will work out how it won't happen again and she will learn better coping methods, or she won't, and then you get to make a decision.
posted by jeather at 2:55 PM on July 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think the cake thing is pretty funny, actually. It sounds like one of those things that normal people would LOL at and reminisce over, after trying desperately to finish as much as you can without wasting it, then get terribly sick and swear off the entire cake food group for like 4 months.

DVDs are kind of "eh," but I think it's very sweet that you remembered a ring holder that she pointed out. That thought trumps the price by a mile.

I can't say what's wrong with your fiance - it's possible that she's more bothered by your work commitment than she otherwise lets on. It's also possible that she's petty and materialistic. If I were you, I'd make a reservation at a restaurant that the both of you like, and have a good talk. If things haven't smoothed over by then, this doesn't sound like someone mature enough to handle even the inevitable benign disappointments and letdowns that are a natural part of life.
posted by raztaj at 2:56 PM on July 3, 2013 [16 favorites]

a. I have no idea if this is a sign of a serious problem with your relationship or a temporary weird aberration. If it's a pattern, you might reconsider this engagement. If not, you guys need to talk pronto.

b. Having said that, she's being really rude to you and the longer it goes on, the worse she is making it. My husband is not the best at gifts, but he is a loving person in every other way, so I decided long ago to buy what I wanted and not expect him to show his love by getting That Perfect Thing for me. Your fiancee may be operating off the Hollywood script that says you should always get her the Perfect Thing if you love her. This is a setup and a guarantee of stress at every gift-occasion, even if you suceed in getting what she wants, it puts way too much weight on the act of buying something. You guys need to talk about it.

In short: talk to her about this, because it is Not Ok. Do not just buy more stuff and hope that fixes it. It won't.
posted by emjaybee at 2:57 PM on July 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

Your life will be a lot happier if you only date grown-ups.

While grownups might misunderstand or have some kind of emotional brain fart and get upset about an awesome thoughtful set of gifts like the ones you gave, they realize how fucked up that is, become mortified, and apologize. You are not engaged to a grownup and you should totally not marry someone who is not a grownup.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:57 PM on July 3, 2013 [16 favorites]

I'll agree with others who are for giving her the benefit of the doubt. Everyone hopes that gifts can just be gifts, and the thought can count as much as the item, but sometimes gifts carry more weight than just gifts. I agree with bleep and ThePinkSuperhero, that there is likely more than the presents and the cake. You're leaving the country for job opportunities, how is her job and her job prospects going? Is she resentful of that? Did she want some big birthday bash, or something more in line with last year's ballet?

Her calling you "too meek" could be rephrased to say she thinks you should stand up for yourself more, which is generally a positive desire, but not a great way to phrase it.

So take this time to ask her about what she said, and how she feels about you being out of the country for a few months, and tell her that calling you "too meek" is insulting to you (if it is, or if it is hurtful, or whatever it makes you feel). It may be an unpleasant discussion at first, but you both need to sort some things out, or discuss calling off the engagement until you get back from your time abroad.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:57 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you're not at the point where you can stop and say, "Look, what the hell is going on here?" when something gets clearly blown out of proportion like this, have a nice long engagement. Not DTMFA, not "Run!", just... take your time.

Obviously the correct response is, "I'm sorry, I've been under a lot of stress, yada yada," but you need to both be at the point where you can at least get an explanation for irrational behavior after a week from the other one.
posted by supercres at 2:58 PM on July 3, 2013 [24 favorites]

I agree that this is about more than the gift here. You are about to be away from her, far away, for an extended period of time. She is separated from her family during a time she really, really wants to be with them. You guys just got engaged, which is really exciting, but also a huge stressful change. You admit that you haven't had much time to give her support with all of this. To me, it seems like she needed something from you that showed she's important and that she really matters to you. The gifts were a little on the impersonal side, I don't think that the cost is the specific issue since she's never seemed materialistic to you before, and you said yourself that you couldn't take the time to fix the error at the bakery. In her shoes I'd feel like maybe I wasn't so important given all the background. If I had to guess, I'd say that she feels scared and a bit neglected.

Make a point of carving out some time to really be with her and talk to her about all of this. Listen to what she has to say (don't debate, don't try to fix it!). Tell her what she means to you. I'd bet that goes a long way to fixing this.
posted by goggie at 3:00 PM on July 3, 2013 [14 favorites]

Despite what many people are saying in this thread, I'm inclined to give the GF the benefit of the doubt here and suggest that she may be extremely stressed out about your departure, and that stress is leaking out in inappropriate ways. It happened to me in a similar situation in a LTR, although not this extreme.

You need to have a serious talk with her, in person, and stay completely level-headed. Say "I understand these were not amazing gifts, and I apologize for not finding something better. But your reaction has been completely disproportionate. I want to enjoy being with you for the time we have before I leave, and your behavior has made that impossible. So is this all really just about the gifts themselves, is it about the fact that I'm leaving, or is it about something else?"

I suspect it's something else. If it's really just about the gifts, walk.
posted by adamrice at 3:01 PM on July 3, 2013 [31 favorites]

One more pinkish flag:

has said repeatedly to me that she is "not mad at me" for taking the job

sounds like she IS upset. The appropriate wording would be to say she'll miss you, but she's So Happy for you to finally get this opportunity. "Not mad" is a negative phrasing. I agree with others that it may be that she feels unimportant to you, and may be having recently-engaged thoughts about how this shows she no longer matters to you now that she's promised to you, and that you'll never give her nice presents once you're married, and and (negative) and...

So if she's generally awesome and not like this, yes, sit down and talk to her about why this has lead to the biggest meltdown in your relationship.
posted by ldthomps at 3:10 PM on July 3, 2013 [13 favorites]

If she doesn't have a pattern of tallying up how much you've spent on gifts, I'm going to go with "projecting her feelings about you leaving onto the gifts." I'm also wondering if they were gifts that she would like, use, or enjoy? For example, both of those things would be unwanted clutter to me, though I wouldn't express it in those terms to the gift giver.

In short, I think you need to talk to her.
posted by sm1tten at 3:12 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't even know what to do now - tell her again that yes I screwed up, buy nicer gifts for her and hope she gets over it? Something else?


Her reaction to the gifts was horrendously tacky. However, the aftermath is more troubling: it's been a week and she's neither apologized nor explained herself. Either it's about the gifts and she's shallow, or it's about something deeper and she can't or won't tell you what the real problem is. I suspect it's not about the gifts.

Talk to her and find out what's really going on. Is it the gifts? The perceived lack of attention? Other stress in her life, and her birthday just happened to be the last straw? When you talk to her, keep in mind that whatever she's upset about is not necessarily your fault. You may screw up sometimes - we all do - but if you're constantly tiptoeing or apologizing or trying to fix things you didn't think you'd broken, if you're always the one who has to make it better, it's not a healthy relationship.

And, you know, if down the line you find yourself having serious doubts about spending the rest of your life with her, it's okay to break the engagement.

(If I got an unexpectedly gigantic cake for my birthday it would be the best birthday ever, but that's neither here nor there.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:14 PM on July 3, 2013 [14 favorites]

Personally, I think that getting someone whom you're close to a DVD for a birthday is kind of lame

Yeah, but he didn't just get her a DVD for her birthday; he got her a DVD and a ring holder she specifically said she liked, to hold the ring he recently spent thousands of dollars on. I wouldn't be very interested in staying with someone who treated me in such a contemptuous and ungrateful way.
posted by John Cohen at 3:16 PM on July 3, 2013 [10 favorites]

I'm pretty pathological about gifts. They freak me out, and I've talked about that on here before. There are actually a bunch of us in the Anti-Gift Brigade, and we readily admit to being less-than-great about receiving gifts. So first things first, let's just acknowledge that there are some people out there who actually suck at this thing.

That said, we're not absolved of being decent humans simply by virtue of the fact that we don't handle gifting situations terribly well. We need to find coping mechanisms. And it sounds like your fiancée needs to work on that as well.

Like everyone else, I think you need to have a frank conversation with her about this. One of the best ways that I've found to start a conversation like this is "Hey, there's something I need to talk to you about, and it is kind of difficult for me to say. Can you help me understand ____________?"

That ought to frame this less as an accusation and more as something that you need to work on together - whatever it is. Then you need to listen. Carefully.
posted by jph at 3:27 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

So, she was disappointed and you may not be the very best at picking the *perfect* gift while there's a lot of stress and distraction in your life. She blew up and acted badly about it. Fine, we all blow up for unacceptable reasons now and then. Now we get to the meat of the matter.

In the past week since then, she's been unusually cold and reminds me that she's still mad at me at every opportunity. This is not ok. She blew up and should have, once she had collected herself, either apologized for her bad behavior, or invited you to calmly discuss this further. Some people fixate on gifts as a reflection of the truth of how someone really feels about them. If she's that type, she should have invited further discussion about what happened and shared with you that she's this type of person and you two could have come to an agreement about how to do gift-giving in the future so that no one is disappointed or feeling bad about what should be a happy occasion. Or (ideally) she could have apologized and elected to discuss a solution with you.

The totally unacceptable way to deal with this is to act like a petulant child for a week. She is telling you who she is with this kind of behavior. Namely, that she's inconsiderate, self-absorbed, and materialistic. Pay attention when someone shows you who they really are.

Repeatedly calling you meek? Wow. That's another problem all-together.
posted by quince at 3:29 PM on July 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is not about the gifts. This is about you leaving, and her hoping that you would do something to make her feel valued before you go. She was hoping you would take the opportunity of her birthday to plan something that made her feel treasured, taking into account the fact that she's far from her family and losing her fiance for while, and you didn't.

The $20 remark isn't about "how much did you spend" but "how much did you care."

I think all the "run from this materialistic bitch!" remarks you've gotten are way off base. If you love her, tell her so and tell her that her happiness matters to you and that you'd like to do a do-over. Doesn't have to be a lot of money - unless she IS a materialistic bitch, she'll understand you're short on money (unless this move to Europe IS to make you more money, in which case she is probably thinking "this move sucks for me, why don't you use some of its benefit to benefit me also?) But something that shows her that you do care about her happiness even when you're busy.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:30 PM on July 3, 2013 [30 favorites]

Another explanation is that, like the OP, she's having deep thoughts about the nature of their relationship and isn't handling it that well. She may, too, be "starting to avoid [him] and ... looking forward to moving and not having to deal with this drama every day."
posted by muddgirl at 3:31 PM on July 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Another explanation for the fiancée's "inconsiderate, self-absorbed" behavior, that is.
posted by muddgirl at 3:31 PM on July 3, 2013

Her response is, from what you're telling us, quite over the top. However, to play devil's advocate; I've been irritated by stuff like this from my ex (my kids' father), and the reasons are thus:

(1) He was generally being passive and uninvolved in the relationship at the time. I had told him repeadedly how much this bothered me, in various specific ways, and he couldn't seem to bring himself to put forth more effort, or seemed resentful of my feelings. I wonder, since you say you've been really busy with your trip and not having a lot of time for her, if this is a really serious thing that you're kind of brushing over as less than it is. She may in fact be at "dealbreaker" point with YOU, and the birthday shit is the final straw in "wow, I'm just really not his priority" kind of feeling for her.

(2) In my case, bf was generally pretty meek and passive as well; which can be a good thing in some cases, but a really bad one in others - it played out in him being very avoidant about me/issues in our relationship in general, and passive about doing things that needed to be done. If his cake was made wrong, he wouldn't have asked to have it changed, not for reasons of practicality but because he was just too shy OR because he couldn't be bothered or didn't really care - he was just in a rush to grab a cake. If you generally do things like this a lot, buy the wrong thing and get irritated because "it doesn't really matter, it's not a big deal" or don't correct issues at the get-go, then again, it's a cumulative effect, not a once-time irritation. In other words, "too much cake" isn't the problem; "my birthday isn't important enough to him to bother making sure he does it right" is the problem - from her perspective.

(3) On one birthday, he asked me what I wanted. I said I didn't want a gift, but I really really wanted to take a drive up to (parents' cabin 2 hours away in the mountains) because I'd been wanting to do that since before I gave birth to baby #2 and hadn't had the chance; if that wasn't possible I wanted to go on a nice dinner date and hire a babysitter. Friday before my birthday (Saturday) he mentioned his dad inviting us to dinner on Saturday; I gently reminded him, no, it's my birthday, we were going to go out to dinner right? Oh, yeah, yeah, sure, he'd tell his dad sorry we couldn't make it. Saturday: came and went, no dinner, no cabin. Sunday morning he gave me a throw blanket he found at target because I had really liked (another friend's really nice, different) throw blanket. That was sweet, sure, but he had obviously run in and grabbed it Saturday night, he had completely forgotten what I asked him multiple times for (the drive or the dinner) and was generally being clueless and careless. When I told him that I was disappointed, he worked himself into a self-pitying fit as if I were the coldest, pettiest ice queen there ever walked the earth, and made it all about himself.

If any of that rings true with you - I still agree that she's overreacting to this point; but I have a strong feeling we aren't getting the whole story, so just... think about it.
posted by celtalitha at 3:35 PM on July 3, 2013 [31 favorites]

Okay, seriously: When has too much cake ever, ever been a terrible, birthday-ruining problem?

I hope what is actually going on is that she is upset about the other things she has a perfect right to be upset about, like her relative dying and you leaving (it's perfectly possible for her to be upset about you leaving -- even mad about you leaving-- without being mad at you personally about it), and she is just venting her feelings over this incident because she doesn't feel comfortable right now talking about what's really bothering her.

Because if she really gets, like, a week's worth of silent treatment angry about you getting her too much cake and also a nice gift that she actually wanted for her birthday, that is not cool.

If you think it really is that she is reacting this way because of her general stress and unhappiness, then you might try offering her a birthday do-over day where you go do something nice together that you both enjoy to get away from all the stress you've both been facing. But I agree with others that if this is her normal attitude toward gift-giving and gift-receiving, that would be a deal breaker for me.
posted by BlueJae at 3:39 PM on July 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

I agree that this is probably about something other than money. It's okay for her to feel disappointed that you are leaving, and to try to work out what this means for her emotionally. Sometimes that's a little bit messy, especially if she hasn't done this kind of thing a lot. What isn't okay, and is probably a deal-breaker for many here, is how the disappointment is being handled on her end.

You need to decide whether getting the cold shoulder instead of being able to talk about feeling and needs and expectations is something that you want in a relationship. I think it's worth trying to talk this out with her, but I think it should be carefully balanced with a frank discussion about how this kind of behavior is a deal-breaker, and go from there regarding whether there is a long-term solution to better communication between the two of you.

No one get a pass on this kind of behavior simply because they are feeling bad. It's okay to feel bad, but the thing you need to figure out as a couple is whether or not you have the resources jointly to navigate those times that you feel bad. Because you know what, you will have lots of times that you feel bad about something. And if I thought that the response of your girlfriend was what I could expect every time something difficult emotionally was going on, it would depress me to no end, to the point of hopelessness, probably, at the thought of being caught in a relationship like that.

I wouldn't write this off yet. But I would be tread this road carefully with a very sharp eye towards whether you can talk through things like this as a couple. Not regarding the spending money on gifts thing (because if you take that situation at face value, that was just a really immature response to receiving a gift, I think) but whether or not disappointment in your relationship can be handled as between rational adults who love and want to communicate with each other, and who can also work through their disappointments when they aren't feeling so rational, either.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:43 PM on July 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm joining the group who thinks that since previous gift-giving went OK, her reaction was probably influenced by other things.

I've had some not-so-great reactions to birthdays before, but it's always been when someone did something they knew I wouldn't like. Like,my sister once got me an enormous cake, even though we've had ENDLESS conversations about how I don't like to have a lot of sweets around. Another time someone got me an outrageously expensive gift that A. I knew he couldn't afford, and B. he and I had discussed many times how much I didn't like them. (He ended up keeping it for himself, which was obviously his intention from the beginning.) Someone else gave me a set of scented soaps when they knew I was horribly allergic to perfume. If it's the thought that counts, you have to put some thought into it to begin with. But it sounds like the things you gave her were things you had every reason to believe she'd like, so I suspect it's not totally about the gifts.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:45 PM on July 3, 2013

I agree with everyone else: this is not about the gifts.

However, that said, this incident is still a HUGE RED FLAG.

She is handling disappointment and stress in a childish manner. She is either hiding her feelings from you, or isn't self-aware enough to even know what is going on in her own head.

Or, she really is that petty and materialistic. In any case, my advice is the same: DTMFA.

(It's very nice to say, "She's stressed out, blah blah blah, ask her what's wrong." No. Your job isn't to guess what's going on in her head. Her job is to tell you what's going on in her head. You shouldn't have to coax it out of her. That's fucked up, treating your partner like a cranky 3 year old.)
posted by peacrow at 3:50 PM on July 3, 2013 [8 favorites]

For Christmas...she set a much higher limit than I did, I ended up having to buy a few things last-minute

The fiancée kept dollar-value-based score before this particular incident. I certainly understand wanting a certain level of intent behind the gifts one receives, but she seems to have been solely focused on the price-tag. That this blow-up comes a month after their engagement makes me wonder if she feels she now has a greater level of control over the OP.

OP, I wouldn't have made it this far in a relationship with someone whom I felt expected me to match gifts dollar-for-dollar, so I'll just say this: don't buy more gifts. Is that how you want to live your life, feeding her sweets so she doesn't call you names? You could take her out for (or make!) a nice meal and specifically state that you want to make amends before you leave, but treat her like an adult and require the same in return.
posted by teremala at 4:00 PM on July 3, 2013 [10 favorites]

you don't say it, but i would guess you make substantially more money than she does. i think her behavior is not a good sign, regardless of what she's mad about.

She also told me I was too "meek" dealing with it, not the first time she's called me that.

it sounds like she's been bullying you with that word.
posted by cupcake1337 at 4:07 PM on July 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

When a friend proposed to his wife on her birthday, she said, "Wait, did you get me anything else for my birthday?" That was totally in character for her. Your fiance's reaction sounds out of character but then again, so does your gift-giving.

This isn't about the monetary value of the gifts. Do you ever surprise her with anything like flowers? It would be nice if you could take her out on a date. Don't be like, I am trying to redo your birthday, just do something nice for her. It doesn't have to be expensive, just a reminder that you love her, think she's special, and want to spend the rest of your life with her. Assuming that that is all true.
posted by kat518 at 4:08 PM on July 3, 2013

In light of the fact that gift-giving has not been an issue between you before, I would suspect that this is about something else, and that something else is you leaving, and her feeling left out and unimportant.

Look at it from her point of view.

You're getting ready to go to Europe. How exciting for you! You've got a new job to focus on, and you'll be meeting new people and sightseeing Europe (something she'd probably love to do) and basically having a grand old time, and what does she get? A hole in her life where you used to be, while she goes about her "same old, same old", with nothing particularly exciting in her life and nobody to share it with.

This very probably sucks tremendously for her, but she's trying to be cool about it because she doesn't want to hold you back from something you want, because that would be selfish. You, on the other hand, made the "selfish" choice to leave her alone to go pursue your dream job in Europe. This makes her feel like you are more important to her than she is to you, so she's feeling a little insecure.

Add to this the fact that you seem to already have checked out mentally. You're all about Europe now! So much to look forward to! So much to do to get ready! So little time for her! It sure would be nice if you'd cool your jets a bit and reassure her that she's important to you, that you love her and will miss her, but there's no time, you've got all this important stuff to do.

She's likely feeling pretty fragile right now. Insecure that you are willingly leaving her for several months, feeling left out of the super-awesome fun thing you are about to go do, not looking forward to the lonely months at home waiting for you to get back.

And on her birthday, which would have been the perfect occasion to make a bit of time and effort to make her feel loved, you show up with a cake that was obviously a mistake that you didn't bother to fix; and a couple of gifts which, while not horrible, are more like something you'd have gotten your mom when you were 19, certainly not the sort of special thing you'd give the love of your life from whom you are about to be parted for a long period of time.

In contrast to last year, when you gave her a nifty gift... a romantic evening with you, a special dinner and an evening at the ballet. So she knows you're not clueless about gift-giving, it's just that you couldn't/wouldn't make time to do it right this year.

Can you see how she probably feels brushed off and unimportant?

The thing is, she may not even be conscious of what her reaction is all about. She's got all these conflicted feelings about you leaving, feelings she's trying not to have because she doesn't want to be selfish and needy, and so when these lackluster gifts made her feel like crap they sort of became the focus of how bad she feels. So every time she feels bad, which is often, the gifts are what pops into her mind and that's why she's still giving you shit about it. She doesn't feel like she can "blame" you for going to Europe, but she feels more justified being mad about the bad birthday and so all that anger is being transferred there.

I just say all this because there seems to be a growing consensus in this thread that the most likely explanation for her admittedly awful reaction to your gifts is that she just revealed herself to be a materialistic, rude, entitled person and you'd best break your engagement and be glad you saw her true colors before you tied the knot. I think she is just hurting, and maybe confused as to why, and assuming that up until now she's been an awesome enough person for you to propose to, that it would be good to give her the benefit of the doubt and make the effort to figure out what is wrong and how you can make it better before your escaping to Europe to get away from her "drama" creates a rift in your relationship that may be impossible to fix.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:14 PM on July 3, 2013 [71 favorites]

If she were five, I'd say she was acting out her fear about a big change in her life that's coming up soon.

It's not about the gifts. She's looking for reassurance that things will be OK even though you're heading abroad soon.
posted by orange (sherbet) rabbit at 4:16 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm with the folks who say she was really upset about you moving away (and possibly the recent death and other things) and that her reaction to the gifts was really more about feeling undervalued than it was about her being greedy. (I think Goggie put it best.) If she was always pitching fits like this I'd call it a red flag, but since this seemed to come out of nowhere I don't think we can call her a bad or greedy person because of it. I'd suggest doing something with/for her that demonstrates that you care. It doesn't have to be expensive. This could be a good time to take her to a picnic at the site of your first date, for instance.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:27 PM on July 3, 2013

I'm surprised not to see part of my gut reaction here in this thread, which is that she may be worried that now that you're engaged you may be taking her for granted and phoning in the birthdays since you've already got her committed to you in a way you didn't before. Last year you really went all out for her birthday, and she may have been thinking, "Wow, if he did such nice stuff for my birthday last year when he was just my boyfriend, think how lavish this year will be now that we're engaged!" From that perspective, I can see how this birthday would have been a letdown, though obviously she has not dealt with it all that gracefully.

I have learned in almost a decade with my husband that if a gift-giving occasion is deeply important to me, I have to tell him that in advance. He always rises to the occasion when he knows my expectations are high. It took me a while to learn that, though.
posted by town of cats at 4:31 PM on July 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

She may be upset about you going away, but what is she, 14? Don't accept that kind of behavior. A mature grownup says, "I'm feeling emotionally vulnerable about you going away," and then you sit down, and talk with each other, using, you know, language.

And then you say, "MOAR CAKE? AWESUM." Seriously. I'm a 20-something female and this behavior sounds atrocious.
posted by Unangenehm at 4:34 PM on July 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm not saying that there's nothing to worry about with her reaction, but I think if it was me I'd probably give her another chance. If the same thing happens at the next holiday, then I might worry.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:40 PM on July 3, 2013

She's upset that you're leaving and you gave her a DVD. I wouldn't break it off over this, but ya'll need to have a come-to-jesus talk.
posted by wrok at 4:41 PM on July 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

Please: call off the wedding, there are way too many red flags (heck, giant red banners!) flying around here.

* She apparently has a history of keeping track of the amount you spend on her, and feels justified in sulking of she doesn't think you spent enough. This is WAY wrong: a gift is supposed to be something from the heart, not a financial tit-for-tat. You got her gifts that you felt she'd enjoy, and she had the bad manners to act like a spoiled brat.
* The way that she's brow-beating you and name-calling worries me. It's at a very minor level, but it sounds like the beginning of abuse.
* The cake was too big.... wtf?!? There is NO call whatsoever for that kind of behavior, unless you'd tripped with it, smashed the cake into her face AND tromped it into the living room carpet.
posted by easily confused at 4:44 PM on July 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

Have you made plans for her to visit you in Europe and perhaps travel together there? If not, add that to the stack of other matters about which this might be really about. And regarding your engagement, did you discuss getting married together? You haven't been together very long. If you just popped the question out of the blue, you have much to talk about and those conversations may not be happening given the last month's many dramas. Any chance she's feeling like "get engaged/tie down Fiancé before departing on solo fun times trip" was just another item on your things to do list? Maybe she hoped the birthday would be a chance to connect together about the future, to breathe. Instead, she got neither significant substantive nor material confirmation that you care, particularly, and focused on the latter because the former is too scary.

Note: I think the gifts were fine, but your relationship, at only 1.5 years, is new enough that it hasn't yet attained sufficient tensile strength to deal with event clusters like what you've been experiencing.
posted by carmicha at 4:46 PM on July 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

For the love of God, do not marry this woman. Dump her. Leave. It will not get better. Anyone so crass to complain about how much you spent on her is not a worthy partner, not a worthy wife. This has nothing to do with her being sad you're leaving, this has to do with her being petty, small, mean, and materialistic. Your leaving for Europe should actually weigh in favor of her liking the presents even more than she otherwise might, because she should cherish these remaining days, should still be delighted with the engagement and the ring, and should be looking forward to your lives together.

But no, she had to be petty and torment you because you didn't spend enough to suit her. Please leave this woman and call off the wedding. You'll regret it one day, if you don't leave her.
posted by Unified Theory at 5:14 PM on July 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

So, on one hand, I agree with the side that says "Cake is awesome NOM NOM" because seriously who doesn't love cake? And yeah, a major holiday came after I got engaged, and we celebrated with romantic sandwiches because it made more sense than splashing out another event.

On the other hand, having done a lot of LDR and time in Europe-- sometimes the fear of losing the person who like and the life you have is really scary. It threw a lot of doubt and pain into our lives, and there wasn't an easy way around that. We'd put all this effort into things beforehand and it was really hard to get on that plane, unsure of where it was going to go.

Bottom line: you need to talk this through. Maybe she's secretly a cruel person! Or maybe she's scared and angry and trying to deal with your move without communicating it to you, but it's coming out in other ways. You're not a bad person and those weren't bad gifts. There's something else underlying her response.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:34 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

OP, i have a weird question for you. would you have proposed to her a month ago if you hadn't been leaving on this 3 month trip? or, would you have waited until later to propose?
posted by wildflower at 5:36 PM on July 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

In the early days of a Very Important Relationship, we would fight every time one of us had to make a trip. We didn't even realize we were doing it. And they'd be big, stupid fights. And this was a person I loved very much and got along very well with. We figured eventually that it was something to do with distance and anxiety and having a lot of strong emotions and sadness about leaving.

In a normal situation, of course this would be crassly materialistic - but she's just had a death in the family and you're going to Europe for months. I've been the Gone Abroad partner, and it can be really hard and really stressful and really lonely, no matter how excited you are - and more so for the stay at home.

Honestly, why not have a two-fold strategy: tell her that you were upset by the whole "you should have spent more" thing and it made you feel bad when you were just trying to show that you love her and say "let's put this birthday gift situation aside and go do [things] that are special and cherishing before I leave". And tell her "I hope that you don't judge my love for you by gifts, because I can't live like that" and then before you go pick out something small-but-fancy (jewelry? food treats?) to give her. I mean, basically, she acted badly and that's a drag, but at the same time, there are mitigating circumstances.

Also, if this is some kind of death knell, believe me - a long separation will do wonders to clarify that. No need to toss the whole situation out now.
posted by Frowner at 5:37 PM on July 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I once dated somebody who gave me shit for getting the wrong birthday cake early on and OMG I so wish I had seen it as the bright, blazing, red flag that it turned out to be. FWIW.
posted by Wordwoman at 5:38 PM on July 3, 2013 [15 favorites]

I have very little patience for people obsessed with the gifts they receive, but I do have to say that you suck at gifts. It sounds like she normally would deal with that fact, but it pushed her over the edge. Up to you to figure out why.
posted by yarly at 5:39 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sounds to me like you are very thoughtful in your gift selections. Something else is going on there.
posted by michellenoel at 5:43 PM on July 3, 2013

I see my much much younger self in this woman, and the memory isn't pretty. I had issues that were purely mine to deal with but I took them out on my gentle, thoughful, accepting fiance while I was demanding, aggressive and prone to outbursts. I reamed him out once for burning my toast which he had thoughtfully brought to me in bed with a cup of tea: "What the hell! Don't you know burnt toast causes cancer? Don't you care about me!!?!"

I was all about ME in those days and he was mildly passive and never stood up to my demands. Over the three years we were together his passivity in the face of my increasing self-focus reduced my respect for him until I called off our engagement because, ya know, a Mr Powerful had come into my life via work. When I called the family to let them know I was leaving him, my mother said "Good. You would have eaten him alive."

What I am trying to say, in my self-focused way, is that this woman is probably not a good match for you. She doesn't respect you (calling you meek as a slur is a big red flag), she does not value your thoughtfulness, and she thinks she 'deserves' better than you are giving her now. This will not improve.

I understand why some posters are giving her the benefit of the doubt regarding your immanent trip OS but, again, that is her being all about HER, and it is neither mature nor loving to be passive-aggresively mad about the monetary value of a gift you gave her instead of talking through her sense of loss.

OP, if you are both as young as I was then (mid 20s), please realise that there are fish galore in the sea who would love and treasure a thoughful companion who believes in the intent of the gift, not the cost.

Try and talk to her. See if she apologises and sees the error of her ways. Discuss the Five Love Languages often referenced here on Metafilter and see if that gets you anywhere. But if a discussion is too hard or doesn't resolve anything, use your trip abroad to spend some real thinking time about whether this is The Woman you want to spend your life with.
posted by Kerasia at 5:43 PM on July 3, 2013 [18 favorites]

It sounds to me like she's trying to passive aggressively push you away. Maybe she isn't ready for marriage, but can't bring herself to tell you, or even admit it to herself.
posted by Asparagus at 5:58 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Interesting what Kerasia said above about encountering a Mr. Powerful. OP, if you truly want to stay with this woman, you may have to learn "game", ala the Pick Up Artist community. I'd recommend you seek out a partner who's not going to require so much maintenance, but here's an alternative. You seem a little beta, and that's certainly her critique of you (calling you meek, showing you disrespect and you take it). If you want to keep her, you'll have to alpha up at some point. I hate recommending PUA, but here you go:

Alpha Game Plan: Why We Sh** Test
posted by Unangenehm at 6:00 PM on July 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

hmm, yes, it does sound like she's "negging" him.
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:13 PM on July 3, 2013

Materialistic, crass etc she may be, according to most answers, but I think you're showing some flags too.

You have added up gift $ too and it sounds rather vacuous and immature that last Christmas you went n bought more crap to make up some ridiculous $ notion rather than, say, feel secure that you'd bought her something lovely that she'd appreciate. ie gift giving, not transacting. You sound immature to be $ and playing that whole way of seeing gift-giving. Gift giving is an important thing to calibrate in a relationship - it's an opportunity to show love and deep care of the other. You might not think so. Lots of people out there might not think so. But you know, lots of people (maybe women especially, who may get less emotional language from their male partners?) DO care.

Your fiance has shown great love of you in supporting your long term goals. Dare I say she sounds like she's done her best to maturely demonstrate her love - supporting your life goals, even though she will suffer the lack of you in her day to day life. That is something to really reflect upon.

You gave her cheap, mumzone stuff because you were too busy thinking about yourself to put in the effort for her. Someone died recently, you're leaving and it seems like you did the bare minimum for her birthday and came here to get your WTF on. Great, you got validations for the cheap view of your gal's upset. SHE'S a dud. And your vibe has been harshed. She constructed you as 'meek' but maybe you're self involved and lazy - which is how you sound to me. Seriously - she loved the ballet and dinner (to which YOU assigned a $ value n parity - it's your ideology that's about the bucks) what makes you think she's crazy not to be all happy about supermarket aisle Last minute fob off gifts.

You even think that an engagement ring should give you a free pass on bothering with her birthday this year. How many years do you reckon you can throw that around as a reason not to bother beyond cruising the supermarket aisle for her birthday?
posted by honey-barbara at 6:20 PM on July 3, 2013 [31 favorites]

Mod note: Constructive helpful ON TOPIC answers please folks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:32 PM on July 3, 2013

Her behaviour may not necessarily mean she's greedy and materialistic in the strictest senses of these words, but attributes a monetary value to consideration and thoughtfulness. In other words, her perception may be the more expensive and extravagant the gift, the more considerate and thoughtful you've been.
posted by Nibiru at 6:34 PM on July 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think your gifts were definitely thoughtful; maybe not so much the DVD but the ring holder a month after you spent thousands on a ring? For sure. Jeez.

But I also think this is definitely about you leaving, and her anxiety. Maybe she just knows what buttons to push when she feels anxious or scared. But the one thing I have learned about having an adult, good relationship is that you never, never push your own partner's buttons.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:40 PM on July 3, 2013

I can't believe anyone thinks it's all right to say "it's the wrong cake and you are a doormat" when presented with a fucking birthday cake. What is it, her fourth birthday?

I think your relationship will not survive the separation and that this is a good thing. Sorry, it sucks.

Extended explanation:

Look. There is nothing wrong with giving her a DVD and a ring tray based on your observations of her tastes. It does not matter that these items are obsolete (DVDs are still being sold and I like them over Netflix sometimes because of subtitles, etc), or inexpensive (she said she liked the ring tray and it is to hold her HONKING EXPENSIVE ENGAGEMENT RING, SYMBOL OF YOUR DEVOTION AND COMMITMENT).

You got her a birthday cake and as you rightly point out, she criticized you instead of thanking you.

And, it doesn't matter if you're meek or not. It's okay to be meek. People who call you meek never actually want you to stand up to them, ever.

And critiquing the monetary value of your gifts while swearing at you? Absolutely clinches it for me.

I'm sorry if she might be upset that you're going away, or that she recently lost a relative, or that she was displeased by the spirit in which the gifts were given. She needed to say those things if that were the case. Things like "Well, I'm disappointed that you're going away for several months and it seems like you're not really focussed on the little time we have left," or "it's lovely, I am just too bereaved to be cheerful right now" or whatever.
posted by tel3path at 6:48 PM on July 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

If it were obviously the wrong cake I would absolutely be upset that you didn't try to fix it. Her birthday became a standard "oh, uhm, any cake will do, a DVD, and a trinket" right before you get to go to Europe for an extended period of time.

Look, it's entirely possible that she's just a spoiled brat, but I think she's feeling neglected. All she wanted was for you to show her how special you think she is and how much you are going to miss her when you move, instead she got the wrong cake and a DVD (a DVD? Really?). The ring holder can either be cute or super super cheap, depending, but she is probably feeling... overlooked and abandoned.

If you're tired of the drama, break up and do both of you a favor. That should not be your first reaction to a very upset fiancée, regardless of what is causing the upset. Talk to her, be attentive, and try to figure this out before you leave or there likely won't be a relationship between the two of you by the time you get back.
posted by lydhre at 7:38 PM on July 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

She is going to continue to say she's mad at you and act distant until you cough up what she considers to be an expensive enough gift. Whether or not you are ok with her communicating in this way is up to you.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:46 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Clearly she's really, really, really upset you are leaving. And it's probably that much more acute because you just got engaged.

Then you really half assed it on her birthday. I mean she's acted atrociously. Like she better look back years from now and go wtf was I doing. But to me this is a really bad fight in a highly emotional time so I'm not quite at call of the wedding like everyone else. She's really upset you are leaving but can't articulate it because she knows this is something you need to do. She may not even be conscious of how upset she is about it. Also she is probably subconsciously picking a fight so that she's less upset when you leave.

So sit her down and (lovingly) call her on her bullshit. This isn't about the gift. She is treating you horribly. Clearly this is about WAY more than the birthday gifts and is almost certainly about you leaving. Get it out there and talk about it.
posted by whoaali at 7:54 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing that I haven't seen mentioned yet: I really don't like that she's specifically called you meek, both in reference to dealing with the cake and on other occasions.

Maybe it's true that this is an area you could work on, but there are so many other, more respectful ways to express this to someone you care about. Honestly, it's such a demeaning word that I can't get past that to deal with any of the other issues you've brought up. (And to the point that this is about you leaving for a few months, I was in a coast-to-coast LDR that was very sad and painful at times and neither of us ever acted out this way. Ever.)
posted by Room 641-A at 8:02 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I suppose the conventions around giving and receiving create a wealth of opportunity for the giver to fail. Do you live in an environment where you exchange gifts with relatives, in-laws, friends in your inner circle, peripheral friends, workers, and service folks? Some circles have more formal conventions about this than others. You failed to observe some sort of standard that she feels to be important. You may accord some of her rudeness to stress: you guys are parting for a while. Maybe this upsets her, or makes her feel insecure, perhaps on the "out of sight out of mind" theory of romance, and this is her way of telling you she's afraid for the health of your relationship. Okay, that's a stretch, but people are funny that way.

Nevertheless, this is her explaining her priorities to you. She may have left some of the bark on it, but she is giving you a lesson in the way her world works. Whether you are meek or not isn't the issue. Whose side she's on is the issue. Doesn't look like it's yours. I suppose she has some attractive qualities, otherwise you wouldn't have been entertaining mixing the stream of your lives together. Those good qualities, whatever they are, ought to be tempered with this more or less uncensored preview of the world she lives in.

What she says to you is important--because words cause pain--but not as important as what she thinks of you. I don't believe she could have more eloquently expressed herself.
posted by mule98J at 8:16 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you're not bad at gift giving, she's bad at being gracious and grateful no matter what the gift.

Break it off and for the love of god, get the engagement ring back.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:53 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

People who call you meek never actually want you to stand up to them, ever.

This is so true.

What she wants you to do is grovel and buy her a new gift. It's your choice whether you want to do that and remain the person that she calls "meek" and does whatever she tells you to do, or whether you want to stand up for yourself and tell her you care about her in a different way, by communicating like a healthy adult.

There are plenty of red flags in your dynamic beyond the "meek" comments (she's harboring resentment, you're avoiding her, neither of you are communicating), but if she can communicate back and explain what's really bothering her, there may be hope. I've never heard of a relationship that was saved by an expensive gift.
posted by emoemu at 10:41 PM on July 3, 2013 [8 favorites]

People who call you meek never actually want you to stand up to them, ever.

I don't think that's true at all.

Sometimes it can just be really frustrating to deal with someone who passive/meek/doormat-like - you always have to guess whether or not they need standing up for, they never stand up for you, and you never really know what they want. It can be startling or even shocking to have them say, "Hey, this isn't OK." and confront a problem head on (if you don't often have these conversations, I advise you to be assertive, not aggressive - serious, not angry). But it's also GREAT because it feels like you are finally being taken seriously and not half-ignored.
posted by Lady Li at 1:08 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Another voice on the side of thinking it's a poor reaction to a perfect storm.

That said, whatever anyone else thinks about her apparent focus on the costs of gifts, you had some evidence of that from times past so either she gets away from that, you deal with it and file it under the broader, nobody's-perfect heading or there will be trouble.

Independent of that, it would have been a really good time to step it up for her birthday......

I can live with her stress at the moment, know that things like you moving, which sound okay or good in the abstract, seem less good when push comes to shove.

On some level, you are choosing a job over being with her, and it's challenging to imagine that there's not at least a tiny bit of discomfort with that.

I'm not Mr. Assertive or close to it, and it's not clear how she came to know you ended up with the wrong cake, but I would have insisted on the right one, and I can see how it comes across as cavalier.

With all that said, best approach strikes me as letting her know that y'all really need to talk this through, see what comes of that.
posted by ambient2 at 1:49 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I get what people are saying about the recent storm of stresses in her life (the relative's death, you going away to Europe for three months, etc.) and how that's possibly why she's upset, but even so, that does NOT give her the right to act as she has: it's more like those events have merely revealed stress fractures in your relationship that were already there.

ALL relationships hit rocky times, whether they're caused by external events or internal ones --- how a person handles those inevitable hard times, how they treat their partner during them, is extremely revealing. How she is treating you now is how she will continue to react in the future.
posted by easily confused at 2:22 AM on July 4, 2013 [10 favorites]

I am not at all materialistic, but I've been deeply hurt when someone's gift to me was a clear afterthought, when I had put a great deal of time and care into theirs, and had helped them put time and care into other gifts. This was with someone I felt rather insecure with, and the idea of the gift was important - I wanted it to show me that they cared and had thought about me.

I can imagine being a bit freaked out if I had just made a huge life-altering commitment with someone and they were about to leave me for a long while, hadn't been paying much attention to me in the time leading up to their departure, and then I started to see signs that they weren't making much of an effort where I was concerned. I'd be acting in a not-normal way. Especially if you put in more effort before. I'd be wondering if this is the new normal - now that I'm locked in I get less of you, your time, your thought.

I think the thing about the cake is less about the size and more that you had a choice to put more effort or less into it, and you chose less - and it seems you chose less effort in the other areas as well. Within the context of her (maybe) feeling that she is getting short shrift right now, that doesn't help.

How does it come up that she says she isn't mad at you for leaving? Does she act weird when you talk about leaving, and you say "are you mad" and she says "no"? Or do you say "How you do feel about me going away?" and she says "I'm not mad." Either way, the takeaway is not that she is fine with you leaving.

The meek thing sets off alarm bells for me.

I think you need to talk. Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 7:24 AM on July 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

You need to talk. Her behavior is off. WAY off. The cake thing is silly. Who complains about MORE CAKE? It's funny.

The gifts were fine and thoughtful, they just weren't expensive. Why does it matter how much you spent? It doesn't.

You set these expectations in a relationship. I love to give gifts and I'm the hardest person in the world to shop for. Husbunny and I agreed that our gifts to each other would be about $20. I usually shop for my sister in the dollar section of Target. We're grown ups. Dinner is a nice enough gift for fuck's sake.

You need to sit down with her and TELL her "It seems to me that you're overracting to your birthday and I want to understand why. I got you a cake and some gifts I thought you'd like. Not only were you ungracious about them, but you continue to be angry about it and talk about it to me. I find it hard to believe that a grown-assed woman would be THIS put out about this, especially since I just spent X on your engagement ring. So what's going on?"

If she won't tell you what the real problem is, you need to seriously reconsider marrying this person, as you and she are going to have communication issues, BIG TIME.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:45 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

she is "not mad at me" for taking the job vs. being supportive of you while you start a new job.

The bakery messed up my order and gave me a cake 3x the size of the "small round" cake I asked for. Since I wasn't sure I'd have time to get a second one made, I just took it. Upon seeing it, her first response wasn't thank you, but "dude, why the hell didn't you insist they make another one??". She also told me I was too "meek" dealing with it, not the first time she's called me that. You got her a cake, and you were a nice guy to the bakery who screwed it up. Plus, more cake. Do you want to be more assertive? Do you stand up for things that are important?

Second screw-up was the gifts. I bought a DVD of a movie I thought she liked and a ring holder we saw in the store a few weeks ago that she commented was "very cute". I'll admit the gifts weren't expensive but I thought they were things she'd like. But all she said after opening the gifts was "Jesus, that's it?? What did you spend?? $20??". WTF? Her 1st concern was what you spent, not the fact that you paid attention and bought something she liked. You may have taken her out for dinner, as well.

You didn't say what you love about her, or what makes her awesome. If her awesomeness balances out the materialism, criticism, petty behavior, sulking, etc., great. You likely have a flaw or 2, tiny ones only, of course. But I would be thinking long and hard about this behavior.

she's been unusually cold and reminds me that she's still mad at me at every opportunity. This is who she is and this is what she's like. It's an excellent indication of what marriage will be like.
posted by theora55 at 8:22 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know if there's enough information to draw conclusions about the roots of her behavior from what you've told us. While it would certainly be understandable for her to have an out of proportion reaction to your gifts given the stress of your leaving, there are enough warning signs that her behavior reflects larger issues that would only get worse over time-- that she's excessively materialist, lacks a certain amount of respect for you because you're "meek", and that she's been much more resentful about your decision to leave than she's let on. Irregardless of what caused this fight, the result raises a big fat red flag that makes me seriously question whether your relationship can survive going long distance. LDRs require much more open communication than when you live in the same area. If this is how she's reacting to stress in the relationship a month before you've left, how will you two ever resolve conflict when you're on different continents?

You guys need to have a serious talk about where your relationship is at and how you're going to deal with things once you go abroad. I know this isn't what you want to hear (or what you'll probably do), but if you can't get things figured out before you leave it would probably be better to end things. Trying to save a failing long distance relationship with a partner who won't communicate while simultaneously adjusting to a new job in a new country a) sounds like a recipe for crazy making and b) probably is still going to result in the relationship ending.
posted by fox problems at 8:58 AM on July 4, 2013

There is more going on here than just the gifts. Your framing "apparently I suck" sounds ironic to me and suggests you are already convinced she is in the wrong. And yes, the way she talked was petty and against US norms (you don't complain about gifts, no matter what). But there is something out of whack with the communication between the two of you. Is there really a duality between she's mad at you/she's not mad at you that operates in your relationship? That sounds awful for both of you. Maybe she's felt she had to say she is "not mad at you" for moving to Europe but feels the cake is something she can allow herself to express being "mad" about. Either way, these dualistic terms are not conducive to a nuanced view of the issues between you.

All of that said, the whole gift-giving dynamic can take on a life of its own and create a lot of pressure. Some families seem to be OK with spending a lot of money and getting an ulcer over shopping before holidays. Others (sensibly in my view) draw some kind of line about gifts between adults. I do think that (US) culture is kind of screwy about this. We say it's the thought that counts but we behave very differently. And no question, people give hostile gifts-- including deliberately cheap or mean ones-- taking advantage of the fact that it is very taboo to comment. Plus, birthdays bring up a lot of history and feelings for some people. Some people I know do something for themselves on their birthdays to avoid a feeling a disappointment that seems almost inevitable if you still have birthday expectations as an adult. I think you should bring up the gift issue separately to see if you can come to an agreement about what to do in the future. Then see what else is going on, e.g. is she trying to get you to break it off rather than deal with the separation?
posted by BibiRose at 9:25 AM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Seconding that calling you "meek" and showing signs of contempt is a serious problem. Are you sure she is "on board" with the "long-term work transfer"? It could be she is already building a false image of you she can safely argue herself into breaking up with. I would absolutely seek an in depth discussion about her feelings towards you and your future together. If you get more signs of contempt (which is the single most important factor in predicting relationship failure) this may not look good. Another feeling that makes people really stupid is fear. Maybe she fears losing you and wanted some flashy proof for your commitment. That's for you to find out, and soon.
posted by Nightwind at 9:29 AM on July 4, 2013

I can imagine being a bit freaked out if I had just made a huge life-altering commitment with someone and they were about to leave me for a long while, hadn't been paying much attention to me in the time leading up to their departure, and then I started to see signs that they weren't making much of an effort where I was concerned. I'd be acting in a not-normal way. Especially if you put in more effort before. I'd be wondering if this is the new normal - now that I'm locked in I get less of you, your time, your thought.

This. If I were her I'd be reconsidering marriage. It's possible she's thinking things over again and doesn't want to talk til she's figured some stuff out- like whether or not this is a relationship I want to be in, and whether the OP's new distracted and taking-for-granted-style behavior is a one-off or is his actual default.

However, by now she (and the OP) should be having conversations, even if it's only about where each of them are at in their ruminations.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:17 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

One of the most important parts of gift exchanges is that the person receiving a gift is obliged to act like its great unless the giver was deliberately trying to slight or insult the recipient. I worry at least as much about whether I seem to like my gifts as I do about whether people like gifts I give them.
posted by Occula at 6:03 PM on July 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

TL;DR but I wanted to share that my husband and I have developed a script for situations like this: "I understand that you are upset, and I know why [restate your responsibility if you feel that is appropriate.] That said, it seems like your reaction is out of proportion to the conflict we're having. I wonder if there is something else going on?" And then she has an opportunity to share whether there are other, bigger issues bothering her.
posted by TrixieRamble at 9:36 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, this has been a hectic, stressful month for both of us
She lost a relative
I'm leaving on a long-term work transfer to Europe in a few weeks


Last year for her birthday, I bought her tickets for a ballet and probably spent $70 or so (prob double that when you consider that I took her out for a nice dinner too). For my birthday, she bought me some shirts and ties I said I wanted, and probably spent about the same ($70 or so).
Last week was her birthday.... I bought a DVD of a movie I thought she liked and a ring holder we saw in the store a few weeks ago that she commented was "very cute".

You got engaged recently: stress.
She lost a relative and isn't able to attend the funeral: stress.
In the near future you're leaving for a few months: stress.
It's her birthday (she's getting older): stress.

Last year you got her a good present and a nice dinner, and now she might be looking for something similar in scale/ value/ whatnot. And/or she might be looking for something to show that she's still important now that you'll be going away soon. And/or she just wants to feel special on her birthday. But you came home with a giant cake and small presents. And she's stressed for a number of reasons.

Her freak-out is not great, but not totally without reason. Her prolonged response is even less great, but maybe not without reason. How have you replied to date? Have you blown it off like she's crazy and unreasonable, hoping it will blow over? Have you asked her how you can make it better? We don't know, so we're making assumptions.

From my experience with my family, my friends, and my wife, the prolonged annoyance sucks, but it's not unusual for someone who wanted a special night with the person they love, but instead they get small present(s) that don't convey a lot of thought. I'll bet that the cost doesn't matter, but the fact that DVDs aren't particularly special is what matters. In my family, birthday and holiday gifts are times to get things for others that they wouldn't normally get for themselves.

This doesn't mean you need to woo her with something big and expensive. Maybe it's just a nice dinner at somewhere special. Maybe it's a surprise at her work. Find or make something for her that reminds you of her or you think would be suitable for her. But by not addressing it, you could be blowing it off and making her feel like her experience and thoughts are valid. This comes from personal experience with my wife. Talk it over. The talk might suck, but it needs to happen, one way or another.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:09 PM on July 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

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