Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Brief Treatise on Gift Guilt

Obligatory attention-grabbing stock photo!

'Tis the season . . .

If you've known me for any length of time, you know I am about the least gracious gift recipient of all time. Not that I'm rude or ungrateful about it, or at least I try not to be -- I just overthink gifts and make the exchange awkward for everyone involved. When I'm the recipient, I either feel wildly unworthy of this great gift I love or horrible if I don't end up liking or using it. As a giver, I assume I'm burdening the recipient with clutter and guilt.

Gift exchanges just do not make sense to me, especially when they're prescribed. Don't get me wrong -- there are few better feelings than coming across something, thinking "So-and-so would love that," and seeing So-and-so genuinely delighted to receive it. This does happen, but I'd argue it's the exception and not the rule. How often do we scrimp and save hundreds of dollars for birthday and Christmas gifts because we have to, only to pick up something vaguely pertinent and present it to the recipient because we have to, only to have them fake a smile and stash the gift somewhere out of sight because they have to? What part of this makes anyone feel good?

I know a number of people who dread the holiday season because of the socially prescribed level of planning, commitment and investment involved, and I don't blame them. You're either in the Christmas spirit or you're a Scrooge, Grinch, etc. There's little recourse for folks who just want to spend time with friends and family without the burden of investment -- no one wants to be the only guy who didn't bring presents, nor the only one who did. There's no winner in this scenario except people who sell things that people give to other people (and bless their sorry asses for putting up with the rest of us).

This year, I'm trying to overthink this less (and clearly failing by about 500 words and counting). I'm trying to tell myself that if I can just make myself want to give gifts, it will feel less like an obligation, and if I bring gifts, I'll feel less like a schmuck for receiving gifts. Currently, my plan is to make everyone gifts. While there is a very, very large and very loud part of me that says this will backfire -- that I'm not only burdening my loved ones with storing this homemade crap they won't use, but fishing shamelessly for their validation like a kid who needs his fingerpainting mounted on the fridge -- I'm trying to tell myself that they will probably neither use nor like what I make them, and that that's okay. I'm not foregoing any better or more expensive gift just to make them something cheaper, so they're not missing out in that respect. What I will be giving them, and myself, is the knowledge that I put forth focused and tailored effort to make something I thought maybe they would like, and right now as I figure out how to be authentic without being a massive bitch, that's the best I can do. I can apply myself and not expect the gratification of affirmation.

As for receiving gifts, let me first say, to anyone for whom this is pertinent: I am seriously perfectly content without gifts. I will feel like much less of a shitty human being if you leave me off your list, so win-win for both of us. YOU DON'T OWE ME SHIT. I love you and don't want you to agonize over pleasing me. Since I know there are those who insist on gifts, thank you I guess? Enjoy your wacky potions in thrift store bottles, because I know you, as a good human, wouldn't want me to agonize either. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

As a footnote, I for one do not believe it's at all cheating to drop less than subtle hints as to what kinds of gifts you'd get the most use out of, with the caveat that they are not requisite to your affection or good graces. I labor under the assumption that anyone giving a gift wants the givee to like it, so why not make this easier? Wishlists, ideas and expression of voids you'd like filled (heh) all help everyone involved come out of the exchange smiling. No, the person shouldn't know you well enough to read your mind. Cut that shit out. If you want something, say so. If you don't want something, or anything, say so. If someone says so to you, do your best to respect it. This "but I HAVE to get her something/but he HAS to get me something" attitude needs to die.

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