You're too generous.
September 24, 2019 9:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for anecdotes of where a person's insistent or excessive generosity causes stress or anxiety for the recipient. Can be fictional, nonfictional, from essays, television, literature, movies, etc. Thank you!
posted by Rora to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I just saw a column in The Cut about someone who was worried about the long term repercussions of her more well-off friend paying for both of them when they went out to do things.
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:49 AM on September 24, 2019

This short story from a collection of the desert fathers comes to mind.

(Rather than post it completely here, I've pasted it into a gist - hope that's OK. It appears in other places, but weirdly cited or not cited at all).
posted by jquinby at 9:50 AM on September 24, 2019

In the most recent season of Barry, the main character gives his girlfriend a brand new Macbook as a gift, which she describes as a "weird Tony Soprano move."
posted by Chenko at 9:56 AM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

There is an episode of the BBC show The Detectorists, where one of the characters meets his daughter from a summer fling he'd had many years ago. He gives her gifts that he's saved up from each Christmas and birthday they were apart, and then finally a check for her child maintenance "plus interest". This (understandably) causes her some anxiety.
posted by brentajones at 10:23 AM on September 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

Parks and Rec has Leslie Knope frequently giving her loved ones the most thoughtful gifts ever which causes a variety of reactions. It's a running gag on the show. Most notable are the reactions from Ben and Ann as they try their best to reciprocate. Especially in this episode.
posted by acidnova at 10:35 AM on September 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

Oh dear, how many personal examples from my life do you want? My father's idea of doing a favor is to go far overboard with generosity beyond the person's expectations or comfort, and then feel hurt when the recipient doesn't seem sufficiently grateful. He's an electrical engineer, so a light switch on the fritz can quickly turn into him deciding to rewire all the light fixtures in the room and insist on putting them all on dimmer switches while he's at it.

When I was about 20, he bought me a car -- insisting on it being a new vehicle for safety because you never really know how people treated their cars before they sell them -- but he insisted on my following a hyped-up car maintenance schedule he invented, and then micromanaged me to the point of upsetting absurdity. Yes, very generous and he meant well, but it took me quite awhile to realize that this type of behavior is a form of severe anxiety where he catastrophizes and then sets up systems that he believes will control the output. He is unwilling to recognize this about himself. I'm 45 now and have long since stopped accepting gifts from him, but he still expects me to manage his irrational fears under the guise of being considerate and grateful for his advice/offers of help/prior gifts.
posted by desuetude at 10:51 AM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

My people have made this an art known as taarof. This BBC travel article and Wikipedia can get you started.
posted by exogenous at 12:03 PM on September 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

Ask a Manager letter from last week.
posted by matildaben at 12:43 PM on September 24, 2019

I just watched an episode of "Mad About You" guest-starring Jerry Lewis as a billionaire who puts Paul and Jamie in this situation.

Same episode also featured Stephen Wright.
posted by Fuego at 1:10 PM on September 24, 2019

On the fantastic podcast The Jackie and Laurie Show, Jackie and Kyle (their audio guy) bought Laurie a birthday gift and she got flustered and then the following week Laurie gave them both gifts in response. Then Jackie joked something like “Oh, now we have to get you something to reciprocate...” and Laurie was like “Noooooo!”
posted by blueberry at 1:22 PM on September 24, 2019

This was a running gag in the comic strip Bloom County. Opus the penguin got his friends absurdly thoughtful gifts. I remembered the phrase “belly button lint” to find this one. I found a second one on the next day.
posted by FencingGal at 2:52 PM on September 24, 2019

In Brideshead Revisited, Sebastian Flyte fills Charles Ryder's rooms with flowers after vomiting in through his window the night before, which certainly gives him some social anxiety, though it ends up being the opening overture in a, um, friendship.
posted by praemunire at 3:11 PM on September 24, 2019

There’s an entire episode of The Office where Dwight and Andy engage in an epic etiquette struggle. Both men wish to be the politer, more gracious colleague.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 3:11 PM on September 24, 2019

Fun fact: the discipline of anthropology is basically founded on this very problem! The founding text in anthropology is a book by Marcel Mauss called 'The Gift'. The basic argument is that gifts are always ways to bind people together in relationships, because giving a gift always creates an obligation. If the receiver can't or won't reciprocate, the relationship conventions are flouted. This concept of 'reciprocity' as the central glue that holds together all human relationships is pretty much the center of all subsequent anthropological theorizing.

If you are interested in finding readings on this topic, David Graeber is an accessible and contemporary way to start. But one of my favorite accessible and enlightening anthropological writers on this topic is a guy called Daniel Miller. He writes about working class neighborhoods in London, particularly women, as they worry about things like 'what is an appropriate amount of money to spend on a wedding gift for a middle-class relative?'
posted by EllaEm at 3:34 PM on September 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

In the series The Good Place, the character Doug Forcett is so obsessed in doing good deeds to get to the good place that his life gets totally ruined by it.
In Chapter 35, Michael and Janet visit Doug in Calgary, thinking that he may provide the model for how people can reach the Good Place.

However, they discover that his revelation has led him to a life of solitude and self-sacrifice in which he is terrified to do anything for his own benefit because it may lead to him ending up in the Bad Place. [from fan wiki]
posted by TheGoodBlood at 4:09 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

A distillation.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:02 AM on September 25, 2019

I don't have an example from a TV show, book, etc., but from what I'm told, any act of unsolicited kindness (a free cigarette, food, protection) between inmates in prison is a red flag. It's often a ploy to set the receiving inmate up to "owe" the giving inmate something down the line.
posted by Rykey at 4:28 AM on September 25, 2019

The whole of Great Expectation is about this!
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 8:01 AM on September 25, 2019

> from what I'm told, any act of unsolicited kindness (a free cigarette, food, protection) between inmates in prison is a red flag. It's often a ploy to set the receiving inmate up to "owe" the giving inmate something down the line.

This is a truism for pretty much any group of people living under a strikingly unbalanced power dynamic, not just prison. It's why we teach children not to take candy from strangers. It's why, as a teenage girl, I wasn't allowed to let any boys give me a ride home from school (unless my parents knew them.)
posted by desuetude at 1:33 PM on September 25, 2019

The episode of The Office ("Christmas Party") where Michael buys an iPod for the $20 gift exchange.
posted by velocipedestrienne at 2:08 PM on September 26, 2019

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