“He gives little who gives with a frown;
he gives much who gives little with a smile.”
–The Talmud

Coming out of the holiday season, I’ve heard many stories from friends and clients about giving and receiving gifts. One significant lesson I learned is the importance of taking personal responsibility for your own happiness — or lack thereof — in the gift giving arena. When we place our material and/or emotional happiness in the hands of others who may or may not be willing or able to deliver, we put ourselves in a very precarious position.

Some married women (who are not gold-diggers) share a common concern despite their best efforts to explain their point of view to their partners. Their stories boil down to the fact that they really want to receive thoughtful gifts from their partners who profess to either not want to be bothered or dismiss gift-giving as commercialism. Some of these partners, in an effort to do the bare minimum, will run out to the store at the last minute and grab something with little attention to her particular likes and dislikes — i.e. they go through the motions, but their hearts are not in it. Yet, these same men enjoy receiving and using the thoughtful gifts they receive. In the meantime, these women come up with some very interesting and sometimes not-so-nice ways of handling their disappointment.

One friend told me that on her first Christmas with her husband, they lavished each other with gifts. Then, her birthday came two months later, and she looked forward to what he would do to acknowledge her day. Nothing. No “Happy birthday, honey.” No card. No flowers. No presents. She was deeply hurt and red-hot angry. The next day, she went to a jeweler, picked out a necklace, called her husband from the store and announced that she had just found his birthday present to her and handed the phone to the store clerk to get his credit card information. Most women will make their partners pay one way or another, reasoning, “Why should I give you what you want when you obviously don’t care what I want?”

I’ve spoken to a few men about this. I am struck by what seems to be a common posture of not wanting to be forced to do something they don’t want to do. Some of them, more specifically, are reluctant to let a woman tell them what to do.

Not all women feel the same about giving and receiving gifts. However, if you are a man in a relationship with a woman who would be disappointed and hurt if you didn’t give her a thoughtful gift, you might want to reframe your perspective on the situation. This is more about listening to what the woman you love is telling you about what’s important to her and how she would like you to demonstrate your love than it is about her telling you what to do. If you give a woman red roses and later find out that she prefers white lilies, next time give her white lilies — not because she is telling you what to do, but because she is telling you how to put a smile on her face. You might say, “She knows I love her.” That is not the point. She needs to know that you are willing to make a fuss over her — to demonstrate your love for her in a way that is meaningful to her. Whether you are giving her a diamond necklace or a teddy bear, it really is the thought that counts. So, guys, Valentine’s Day is coming — see if you can find a way to come at it from your loving and caring for your woman rather than from resentment or obligation.

Now, let’s talk about female friends who are on unequal footing in the gift-giving department. First of all, don’t be too quick to judge a friend who misses the mark. I have a dear friend who prides herself on how thoughtful she is in selecting the gifts she gives, yet I have rarely received anything from her that I have kept and usually have a difficult time finding sincere words to thank her. I have tried a number of times to steer her in the right direction or to suggest we make donations in each other’s name instead of gifts, but insists. She is making an effort, just missing the mark. Not wanting to offend her, I thank her, and then off to Goodwill the gifts go. While it is really great to get something you like, it is the thought that counts.

Then there are the friends who re-gift things they do not want or give generic, cheap gifts — like a candle from the drug store. The whole point of giving is to express your fondness for another person — to let them know you love them and consider yourself blessed to have them in your life. Don’t insult your friends with meaningless presents. Take the time to show you care, and give them something that will be meaningful to them. If you aren’t good at gift giving, find someone who is, and ask them to teach you.

“The manner of giving is worth more than the gift.” –Pierre Corneille

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