“Hey Page,” he says, “can you take a look at something for me?”
“Sure,” I reply.
And then 8 screenshots shoot into our chat lightning quick.
“What do you think?” he says.
“Reading, sec,” I reply.
“Okay,” he says. “Take your time.”
It takes me a second to orient to the chat bubbles because it’s not a program I use. A few moments to figure out which side of the conversation is his. But once I do that and read, a basic story appears: He’s given his fiancée a gift and is asking her what she thinks about it. From the chat, it sounds like she really, really liked it. She says she likes it and more.
To me, especially knowing her well (she tends to be a little understated and reserved all the time), it sounds like she’s gushing.
“I think that was very sweet of you. Good job with the present,” I say to him.
“No, that’s not what I’m talking about,” he says. “It doesn’t sound like she appreciated the gift, and it makes me worry about how she feels about me.”
Sitting on my couch, I sigh heavily. I shake my head. I know this spiral well. It doesn’t do you any favors. I tell him as much.
“I guess I just expected more of an enthusiastic response,” he continues.
“This is very enthusiastic for her,” I reply.
“I guess,” he says.
We talk for a while longer. He is a little suspicious of my reassurance. Later after he has a chance to talk to her about it, he says, “You were right. Thank you for talking me down.”
We talk for a little while longer. And then I realize I’m exhausted.
If You Give a Gift to Get a Certain Reaction, the Gift Is Actually for YOU
This is exactly why I’m not a big fan of sanctioned gift-giving. You know, the kind where you have to give gifts because it’s a holiday, anniversary, or birthday, etc. I hate how people can read way into it on both sides. My mother always used to view the gifts my father gave her as a referendum on how much he actually cared about her. So if he gave her what she wanted, he was a good husband who loved her — but if he didn’t… forget about it.
Similarly, my mother tends to check in with people she gives gifts to and make sure they appreciate them properly. If not, that’s a sign about how they feel about her.
Sometimes this appreciation is about thanking her in a specific way (are you enthusiastic enough? do you expound upon why it was a good gift?). Other times, it’s about checking back in later to make sure you’re using the object. And heaven help you if you return, regift, or sell something that she gave you.
I can’t stand any of it. And it always makes me sad to see stuff like this.
If you give someone a gift, there shouldn’t be an obligation on the other side. It shouldn’t be about what reaction you get out of them. Because if you give a gift to get a certain reaction, the gift is actually for YOU. You’re giving yourself the gift of their appreciation, validation of their love — whatever it is that you’re hoping to get in return.
And when that happens, it’s not a gift anymore. It’s some kind of intricate emotional bartering system, one with high stakes if the exchange rate isn’t quite what you bargained on.