Gifts suck, actually

Saturday, February 20, 2021 - 2:24pm

NOSELL

Design by Erin Ruark

I really hate gifts. Not just getting them or giving them, I hate the very concept of gift-giving. There is nothing as simultaneously stressful and guilt-ridden as being asked, “What do you want for [insert cause of celebration here]?” I freeze. My pits start to sweat, and my brain sprints trying to find some sort of item of monetary value that I haven’t already bought myself that this person can purchase for me. 

Yes, I buy myself things when I want them. Yes, I know I’m a terrible human being for doing so. And since, for some ungodly reason, it is considered poor taste to ask for money — which I then use to buy myself things when the fancy strikes me — I always wind up asking for socks or books. Lo and behold, after this holiday season, I am stocked up on Barnes & Noble gift cards and have more than enough socks to fill eight dressers. 

It’s not like I’m bad at giving gifts either; I just tend to go the small and meaningful route over large, extravagant mega-statements of love. Therein lies the issue: Which person (read: capitalist) decided that the more grandiose the gift, the more the person means to you? 

The idea of gift-giving has become conflated with showing affection, so when the holidays come around like they somehow always do — even though I swear they just happened — everyone scrambles to grab a tissue-wrapped obligation from their local superstore. Sure, it feels great to exchange gifts in the moment, but the next day, you gotta throw out all the wrapping paper and prepare a bag for returns because your aunt got you oversized jeans again. The post-orgasmic realities of actually having to use said gift rarely measure up to the price paid for it. Sometimes, even the best-intended gifts go unappreciated by, say, a partner. 

But my partner loves getting gifts. Her face lights up whenever I even hint that I got her something, and honestly, I put up with my hatred of gift-giving just to see her smile. But one day, she crossed the Rubicon, and to this day, I don’t live it down. She was spending the semester in London and, after working my ass off all summer being a busboy/waiter, I had purchased a ticket to visit her during fall break. The timing was perfect, as our two-year anniversary was a week after my visit, so I had planned the entire trip around little surprises and cute date spots for us. For the first time, I felt like I finally understood this whole gift thing; it felt wonderful to plan four special days full of surprises for her. But in my joy, I made the fatal mistake of buying her something a little extra. 

Knowing I was spending a lot of money to see her, I searched high and low for a tiny, inexpensive, but cute gift to reflect our time together. Well, I figured since a lot of the time we spend together is in the kitchen cooking and baking, I’d buy her some kitchen utensil. I found the perfect item and shipped it her way. Two weeks later I got a text: 

Partner: Did you send me a package?

Me: I did. It’s something small.

P: I’m sure I’ll love it. Can I open it? I’m with my friends.

M: Of course weirdo. 

M: What? Do you like it? :)

P: You sent me a f****** GARLIC PRESS???

Oh shit.

Indeed, dear reader, I sent her a garlic press. You know, one of those things where you stick a whole clove of garlic in and crush it so you have easily crushed garlic. It even came with a tube to roll the skin (is it called skin?) off the garlic. I have to be honest, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I truly believed it was a good addition, some small amenity to be included on the fact that my trip to see her was, in my view, a gift in and of itself. She did not see any of it that way. 

Now, over a whole year later, I still do not live it down. She relentlessly brings it up when I have to go shopping for her birthday, the holidays or our anniversary. It’s become such a running joke between us that not even a week after my visit in London, her mother sent me my own garlic press so “we could be matching.” In all truth, I’m pretty sure I use mine more than she uses hers, so I can’t complain.

The whole Garlic Press Fiasco™ didn’t ruin our time together, and we still managed to have a lovely trip. But it definitely has raised the stakes for gift-giving; it’s more stressful than ever to wrack my brain and find the gifts that are above garlic-press-quality. And this stress and anxiety are just for my partner, the love of my life. It doesn’t include my immediate family, extended family or a dozen different friend groups. I swear, if someone tries to initiate a short notice game of Secret Santa again, I will lose it. 

Allow me to propose something new and interesting, something that some people may find shocking and vulgar: Let’s stop giving gifts. 

Maybe not entirely, but let’s stop giving gifts nearly as often as we do. I may sound like the Grinch but I’m more of a Sheldon Cooper. If you get me a gift, I will feel intensely obligated to now spend the rest of my day(s) thinking about the perfect object in return for you. Trust me, neither of us want that. So rather than wasting our time and money on tchotchkes and overpriced sweaters, let’s stop the gift-giving and do anything else instead. Let’s bake some cookies together, cuddle on the couch, watch a movie or just chill out together doing our own personal things while being in the same room. 

There are so many more ways to illustrate your love, platonic or romantic, for someone without breaking the bank. Take a cue from the perennial classic rom-com “Love Actually.” These people don’t fall in love because they’re given the biggest rings or silkiest clothes; their love is based on their actions and the time they’ve spent together. There is no greater love scene than Colin Firth marching to tell Aurélia that he wants to marry her in broken Portuguese with the whole town behind him. I’d KILL to be Keira Knightley standing at the doorway while Andrew Lincoln silently declared his love for me via cue cards. I’d run away with him in a heartbeat — sorry, honey! 

All this love and not a gift bag in sight. Whodathunk?

Believe it or not, I am a romantic at heart. I denied it for many years, but facts are facts. But if I could throw gift-giving out of the window and never have to awkwardly unwrap another gift, I would. 

Love is so much more than that to me. It’s the memories we share together, the ups and the downs, the little acts that show we listen and remember what’s important to one another: that’s a true gift. Not some wrapped and tied Macy’s box containing yet another overpriced, ill-fitting sweater. I know I can’t convince you to never give another dollar to our consumerist overlords and stop buying gifts cold turkey, because just like my partner, some people really love getting that perfect gift. I will gladly put up with the occasional stress of spending money on some all-important but ever-elusive perfect item if it means that next time, we do things my way instead.

All I ask is that whenever an occasion that may need a gift arises, rather than racing to Target, you pop a squat and truly take stock of what else might mean more to someone than a mass-produced object. That makeup will be there for them to pick up for themselves tomorrow. The same goes for that book, those shoes and especially for that necklace. 

What’s important is determining: What can be special about the here and now? There is an endless number of answers to this question, but take my word for it when I tell you that a garlic press is not one of them.

Digital Culture Beat Editor M. Deitz can be reached at mdeitz@umich.edu.


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