I dated this guy once who had the weirdest habit: He’d spontaneously talk about presents he was going to get me. Aloud. In front of me.
And then time would pass, and he never would give anything to me. Not what he said, not something else.
It would happen over and over again. “You know what I should get you?” based on something I said or something he’d seen. Or even, “Oh you know what I’m going to get you?” And he’d tell me. I might say something like, “Aww, that’s sweet,” or whatever.
But yeah. It would never happen. None of those things. One time, he even did followup conversations, like he was working on getting something for me that he’d talked about — like it was some kind of project that I needed status updates on. And yet… it would never arrive.
It was bizarre to me.
I’m Not a Big Gifts Person
To be honest, I’m not a big gifts person. It’s my lowest love language of the bunch. I don’t expect gifts for my birthday or holidays or anything like that. When someone gives me something and it’s clear that they’ve put a lot of thought into it, then I always appreciate that. But I never expect to get gifts from people.
You could ask my husband, and he’d tell you: I’m more of a random gift giver. Because I had a sudden idea or found something that made me think of him. Typically, when this happens, I acquire the item immediately (or at least order it), and it’s agony until it actually arrives. I don’t hold it until a special date (birthday, holiday, anniversary, etc.), I give it as soon as I can. Because I hate waiting, I hate keeping it secret.
But I nearly always do keep the gift secret because it definitely hits most people (including my husband) a little harder in a good way when it’s a surprise like that.
My husband is similar (I think I rubbed off on him). Random gift-giving regardless of the actual date. Sometimes if a gift is close to another special date, we’ll joke that it’s for whatever that coincidental date is.
We’ve had big holidays pass between us with no gift-giving. And other times we’ve done holiday trips in the past when we could get time off and got a good deal on the travel, and that’s really my favorite thing.
Some years we have given each other a lot of small gifts throughout the year. Some years we may have given one gift between the two of us. It really depends.
The Pattern With This Ex Wasn’t Something I Thought About Much Until After We Broke Up
So yeah. I was dating this guy back in the day. And he was always telling me that he was going to buy me all these presents and then never did it.
And I gotta tell you… even though I’m not big on gifts, not a gift-motivated person, this pattern of behavior from him was weird and super annoying.
It wasn’t the reason why we broke up. (We had bigger incompatibility issues that doomed us.) But it was always this baffling aspect of our relationship. It almost felt like he was doing it on purpose sometimes. Like he was trolling me.
I kept thinking he’d do better not to tell me about his gift ideas at all. Either get it or don’t. Don’t tell me you’re getting it and then not do it. Over and over again.
I had considered many times actually pointing this pattern out. But each time he’d announce a gift he was going to get me, I thought the lack of eventual gifting was probably going to be an isolated incident. That he planned to follow through. The last time it happened during our relationship, and I started seeing the pattern clearly, I made a mental note to say something the next time he was like “I should get you X” to the effect of “aww, that’s a nice thought, but it’s probably better to surprise me than to tell me.”
(These never-given items weren’t grand extravagances for what it’s worth. One gift was a food item that cost less than $2 but was linked to a story I told him about my past. He was better off financially than I was, out-earned me, and had way less debt than I did.)
I was hesitant to say, “Why do you keep talking about giving me things and then never give them?” Because it’s very easy to come to the conclusion from that question that I was being greedy, materialistic. Or that I was more gift motivated than I was.
And again, it was a small issue in our relationship. Something I barely registered as annoying. We had, as they say, much bigger fish to fry. And a few in particular that ultimately fried us.
“It’s the Thought That Counts” — “But You Thought It & Never Gave It”
Anyway, I was watching something the other day — from the “nonfiction or close-ish to it” genre of TV (news, talk shows, etc.) — where two cohosts were joking in a quick throwaway exchange about the holiday presents they never gave one another. I use quotes here, but this dialogue is a paraphrase:
“It’s the thought that counts,” one said.
“Yes, but you thought it and never gave it,” the other countered.
And they both laughed.
(For those curious what I was watching, I believe it was a YouTube clip from James Corden’s show, but I was distracted at the time, it was more on in the background, and I am not 100% sure.)
Is It Really the Thought That Counts? Or Is It the Follow-Through?
Anyway, this TV joke got me to thinking about my old ex-boyfriend. The weird pattern of telling me that he was going to give me a thing and then never doing it (note: I actually gave him some surprise gifts when we dated, in my normal gifting pattern). I started to wonder — was that what it was?
He was giving me the thought without the gift. And doing it aloud so he could get praise back.
If it was the thought that counted, that shouldn’t have been as annoying as it was. But it was very annoying. I would have much rather he never said anything about those gifts.
And so it occurred to me: Maybe it isn’t the thought that counts.
Of course I know that this phrase is normally used to mean that it’s kind to give a gift even if you don’t do a good job figuring out what the recipient would actually want. That the fact that you had a kind thought is what’s important.
But that’s the thing. Maybe it’s not so simple. Maybe it’s the fact that you had a kind thought AND you followed through and did what you set out to do. And maybe that’s what makes a gift meaningful. Not just the thought of getting it. But that you went through all the trouble.
And you know, I don’t suppose I ever would have really thought about it if I hadn’t dated this one particular person. (I’ve met no one else in my entire time alive who does this, not in that pattern, announcing gifts that they’re going to get me and then never giving them.) I don’t think I ever would have been this aware of gift-giving thoughts without follow-through if he hadn’t announced it so regularly.
But because I have had that experience, it’s very easy to ask the following question: When it comes to gift-giving, is it really the thought that counts, or is it the follow-through and the fact that you tried?
(Doesn’t just apply to gift-giving of course.)