Help with this fictional situation?
December 24, 2023 8:02 AM   Subscribe

Part of a story: a young man and woman, first year university students, are in the same art class. The young man praises a piece of work by the young woman, which is objectively good / talented. She has a crush on him, and insists on gifting him the (self referential) piece, which he was not expecting. He (not a jerk) likes the girl (to the degree that he knows her, which is not much) but does not have romantic feelings for her. He now faces a dilemma ...

He would like to acknowledge the gift in some way, without encouraging further ideas of intimacy, and also without embarrassing her ("I gave him a part of my heart, and he gave me a book / a gift coupon to [whatever]"). He's rejected the idea of giving her one of his works, because he's mainly worked on a single project, which is related to someone he has a crush on, and he also feels his work is not on a par with hers and doesn't want to seem to suggest it is, plus he doesn't want to establish some sort of giving works back and forth pattern, under the circumstances.

An older friend gives him some advice about what to do. What is the advice?

(just fyi, this story is not for publication, so if you happen to read something that resembles this at any point, it's not mine!)
posted by taz to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"When you receive a gift you are receiving the giver. Do so with grace and kindness in the same way you would offer help or a give a gift to that same person. Rejecting their gift is rejecting them. Accepting it doesn't mean you're accepting their advances just that you accept them as they are"
posted by chasles at 8:29 AM on December 24, 2023 [8 favorites]

The response is to do nothing immediately, but in perhaps two or three months find a reason to reciprocate and give her something less personal. The time passed will demonstrate his lack of interest and the later gift will be an offering of friendship.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:37 AM on December 24, 2023

He arranges for the work to be displayed in the library or cafeteria for some time.

This acknowledges that he thinks her work is excellent and should be seen by others outside their art class/his dorm room, and she gets some recognition from her classmates.* But the public nature of the gesture (sharing it with everyone) forestalls thinking of it as intimate.

*This can be a further plot complication if she doesn’t want wider recognition—or if the piece is so personal she’s aghast it’s being displayed. But his intentions were honorable!
posted by ejs at 8:45 AM on December 24, 2023 [8 favorites]

"Don't lead her on, bro. You can't accept this. You gotta let her down gently."

(Older friend's advice may send the advisee into more of a tizzy.)
posted by heatherlogan at 8:50 AM on December 24, 2023 [2 favorites]

“Clearly you need to leave school, change your name, and maybe give up art altogether. But really, you can just do nothing. Plan nothing. Be a foster home for the piece until you find someone who loves it or needs it more. If someone else gave you this, someone where there couldn’t be any hint of romantic implication, how would you handle it? Don’t treat her special, just treat her human.”
posted by itesser at 9:56 AM on December 24, 2023

You don't mention whether he knows or suspects about the crush or not, but anyway: the advice he gets is to watch 100 hours of kdrama. He will be confused, but take the advice, turning to piracy for the first time in his life (because he is broke and doesn't feel comfortable leeching his friends' Netflix), and ultimately find himself meeting in person with her in a cafe or gallery, returning the gift to her very gently, expressing his great respect for her and for her work, and (if he knows about her crush) explaining very gravely that he is deeply honored by her feelings but cannot accept them, or (if he doesn't know or isn't sure) explaining very gravely that he is very, very honored by her gift, but cannot accept it. Then he will leave. She will understand, and deal with it.

Everyone will be very well dressed despite being broke art students, or because of being trust fund babies whose parents are secretly very corrupt, and the lighting will be impeccable.
posted by trig at 10:11 AM on December 24, 2023 [5 favorites]

Be a foster home for the piece until you find someone who loves it or needs it more

Be sure she doesn't know the person you give her gift to. Well, I guess it would be a good plot twist--you could spend two or three chapters unraveling the ensuing drama.

If you don't want the gift to complicate your story, tell her thanks and put it on an end table in your apartment or, preferably, on a shelf with other tchotchkes.
posted by mule98J at 10:25 AM on December 24, 2023

Acknowledge the moment, whether it's one hour or the length of the class. Acknowledge the vividness and comfort of the connection, the peek into each other's selves, the intensity, but only and exactly to the extent that you feel any of this. Understand your own feelings, and say them.

Those feelings may also include the bittersweetness of knowing that the moment and the closeness must pass. They may include anticipatory nostalgia.

But this is art, and you can see some of her in it. What do you see? Sadness, love, joy, anger? Say those feelings too; this is the greatest compliment an artist can receive.

Then you can say, "this gift is special, but this moment is more than that. We will go our separate ways soon enough -- which is a good thing, because we are both still looking for someone who fits us, and I can feel that we're not that fit for each other -- but now we will always have this moment, which is some of the best part of each of us, when we are creators experiencing life fully. And now I have this piece, in which you've succeeded in creating real, meaningful art, this exquisite visible beautiful artifact, to keep this moment alive for me for the rest of my life.

"Thank you."
posted by amtho at 11:10 AM on December 24, 2023

The advice is to thank her really warmly, no gift or gesture, but to phrase the thank you to make the point that they will not know each other in future.

He comes out with a semi incoherent thank you statement, going on about how when she is famous (and he is not) he's going to own an early *girl's name, and how everyone is going to be impressed and it is going to be worth a lot of money "Maybe I'll sell it to pay for my future kids education or something... Because your WORK is so wonderful. Your WORK is so really great. Uh, yeah."

He's gauche, the speech bombs, although it gets across to her that he doesn't like her that way. She is not only upset at being given the message that he would never go out with her, but feels shame for having given him her artwork when his feelings were lukewarm and the gift was inappropriately generous. She spends the rest of her time in art school feeling like a fraud, and gets into a relationship with one of the art professors who sets her up with a gallery show and introduces her to all his art world connections - which is what he does with every one of his art students that he sleeps with, a new one every year.

Happily before his connections in the art world can pass her around as this semester's fresh meat, sex-toy protegée, she realises that the professor and his circle are abusive, breaks up with her teacher and backs off from trying to break into the fine art world. She continues on doing her work privately, relentlessly spending many hours over the next few decades refining it and improving it.

The guy takes his fine art degree and gets a job working for a marketing company making decisions on what their graphic designers put on web sites. He doesn't continue doing art.

Much later she gets killed (probably a traffic accident, probably in her forties or fifties) and the fine art world swoops happily down on her art and lauds it. Her art sells for seven figures. He realizes that piece of art she gave him, which he never got rid of really COULD be worth a fortune. When he finally figures out where it is after so many years, he brings it out of his brother in law's garage in fear and trembling, thinking that the damp will have destroyed it.

It has not. But now that he is in his fifties, and not a beginner art student with very little experience, he realizes objectively it's pretty bad - adolescent, derivative and technically mediocre. If it is worth anything at all it will only because of her name, and would be bought purely as an investment because it can be sold to collectors who only buy by reputation and not by artistic merit.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:50 PM on December 24, 2023 [2 favorites]

Stories happen when things go wrong. If everyone behaves admirably, everyone will be a little sad and rueful, but they'll get over it.

Maybe the next thing that happens is that the young guy's roommate comes home in a bad mood, slams the door, and the statue falls to the floor and breaks.

Now, working backwards, what's the old guy's advice? Naturally, to enter the work in a local art fair, which he can arrange.

Hijinks ensue.
posted by zompist at 1:25 PM on December 24, 2023

Response by poster: (just as a possibly helpful clarification: the story itself is not about this situation in particular; it's only a small part of a larger story, and when I got to him being sort of lost about what to do, and getting helpful advice, I couldn't think of the best practical / wise advice to gracefully navigate the incident without causing pain ... or as little pain as possible without misrepresenting his feelings, and Ask Metafilter is the obvious choice for the practical and wise friend! There *is* an internal reason this happens, but the main story is not about the relationship between these two, and nothing critical hangs on the outcome plot-wise. Perhaps another story will pick them back up, but this one is not about that.)
posted by taz at 1:40 PM on December 24, 2023

"You can't control someone else's feelings, you can only be kind and do what feels right to you."

"What will let you feel like you have acted with integrity and compassion, regardless of the outcome?"
posted by Lady Li at 2:26 PM on December 24, 2023 [1 favorite]

I tell him to let the artist know how much he and his girlfriend/boyfriend love it. That they feel very spoiled, and will enjoy looking at it every day. They have also been talking and they understand the way the art world works so if she ever wants it back for any reason - a big show, for example - they will be happy to return it. They consider the gift a loan.
posted by Cuke at 5:21 PM on December 24, 2023

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