A reader wrote in with the following suggestion: How about an article about how to deal with it if your metamour does presents but you don’t?
On the surface, it’s a fairly simple issue. So let’s say that your metamour really wants to give and receive presents. That it’s important to them. What you do in this instance is you thank them for the present you get from them and probably also get them one as well (especially if you’re close).
Similarly, your partner may very well exchange presents with that metamour even if you decide not to exchange presents between the two of you in your own relationship. (You’d do best not to read too far into gifting differences. Gifting preference differences are often a love language difference. If you’re comparing the value/size of presents and getting jealous or envious, then the issue at stake isn’t about presents per se. It’s torturing yourself with comparisons and best addressed by general jealousy/insecurity/comparison work.)
Approaching different people with different behaviors depending on what they prefer is essentially just meeting the other person where they are. Which is a normal, natural way of getting along with people.
When Lopsided Gift-Giving Situations Aren’t a Problem
Now what about situations that are lopsided… where one person gives a gift and doesn’t receive one in return? Interestingly, I have had plenty of lopsided gift-giving situations in my life that haven’t been a problem.
I have had close friendships (some of them metamours, some not) where one of us has given the other a gift and the other hasn’t. And it wasn’t a big deal. Because we had a strong friendship — and neither of us had the idea that the other person caring about us was contingent on them giving us a gift (which is a separate issue/idea than “I always give gifts on holidays,” although there can be some overlap).
In my own case, I’ve also been open to close friends and lovers that I am really weird about mandatory gift-giving (I had an abusive parent who gave me presents to apologize any time something really bad happened and was also big on holidays and made them as stressful as possible for everyone else). I love giving gifts but randomly, in situations where there’s no pressure, when I happen to find something that makes me think of the person.
But if I don’t know that someone understands how I am about gift-giving — or if I know that the person in question is incredibly into gifts — I usually will make a big effort to find a way to do it.
When Dealing with Other People, It’s Important to Account for the Possibility That They’re Different Than You Are
When dealing with other people — no matter what the issue — it’s important to account for the possibility that they’re different than you are.
But you can’t necessarily force other people to do that in return. And there are situations where people might not return that grace and instead will make all sorts of incorrect assumptions about you and/or project their own values onto you.
One example from my own past springs immediately to mind. And this was with someone who started out as a metamour but later became a partner (due to a triad that had developed organically — I had been dating one of them, they started dating each other, and after a while, the two of them pulled me into their lovefest — Vaudeville cane style).
Anyway, my other partner and I had both planned gifts for the mutual partner (who had other partners themselves; this wasn’t a closed triad by any means), but we didn’t do anything for each other (because we didn’t normally). And the mutual partner was really excited about their gifts… until they realized that we weren’t exchanging them between ourselves.
They never really explained why. But it really bothered them that we didn’t celebrate the same way that they preferred to (even though that other celebration — or lack thereof — had nothing to do with them). I could see if we had been negative or disrespectful or complained about the way they did things or something. But nope. It came up incidentally (because they asked what we had gotten each other). And what seemed to me like a perfectly harmless truth bothered them.
The relationship with that ex went on to have bigger issues down the road. Best I can guess is that it was some sort of issue with projection and boundary issues (based on other stuff that cropped up down the line).
But yes. You can be fine with other people being different. You can make great efforts to meet other people where they are.
But you can’t… uhh… force other people to be okay with others being different. Wouldn’t it be nice if it worked that way?
If You Can, Have a Conversation About Gift-Giving Before It Becomes Relevant
So, like most other things involving other people, there’s no way to have complete control over the situation. And so there’s always that one weird edge case where someone is different than you, you meet them where they are (by giving them a gift), and they’re still really upset because you’re different than them and they feel judged, even though you made an effort, that is pretty darn unworkable.
But everything else frankly isn’t too bad.
You can’t ensure that the one weird edge case won’t happen to you. (Again, wouldn’t that be great if you could?) However, I’ve historically found it helpful to talk to people about my feelings on gift-giving long before it actually becomes relevant (and subsequently before it becomes a heated thing, with all the holiday stress).
People familiar with the Love Languages framework will find the same approaches helpful in this situation. Simply treating it as a difference in the importance of Gifts between the two parties (what it usually is) will get you most of the way there.
With all that in mind, so long as people are extending grace to one another and diligently communicating in good faith, differences in gift-giving preferences between metamours (or anyone else, for that matter) shouldn’t pose major problems.
And if they do pose major problems, it might be an important sign — about bigger issues than presents.