What’s wrong with getting gift suggestions?

gift box
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I’ve been thinking lately about asking for gift suggestions first. A friend recently told me about her oh-so-thoughtful gift of a washer and dryer. Apparently, there’s a phone connection that lets her use the Internet of Things to start her dryer if she’s forgotten. Did she need a new washer and dryer? Nope. Does she care that it works with her phone? Nope. Much like the clothes steamer that is bigger and better than the one she already had, and consequently takes up more space in her closet, she’s forced to focus on the “it’s the thought that counts” mantra.

My mother shared a similar story of a sewing machine. It was a top-of-the-line sewing machine with all the bells and whistles. Just not any bells or whistles she would actually use in her sewing practice. So, more money was spent on stuff she didn’t need to “surprise” her with something she didn’t actually need.

I am guessing many women have anecdotes like this. My most recent comparable is asking for a weighted blanket after discovering at a massage the relaxation they can bring. I got jewelry instead. I know, who can complain about jewelry. But I spend a lot more time on my couch looking to de-stress than I do out in the world wearing a glitzy necklace.

Thoughtfulness is asking for gift suggestions

To give the givers of these gifts credit:

  • They’re trying to be thoughtful.
  • They wanted their gifts to be a surprise.
  • They are making the effort to get a gift.

OK, that said. I’m going to take this blog to suggest that what’s really thoughtful is asking the receiver for gift suggestions: “Hey, honey, your birthday‘s coming up…what do you want?”

Especially when it comes to something that’s going to take up space in the home. Something that the giver is going to expect the recipient to use day in and day out. Like an office chair, which makes sense during #WFH days, but sucks as a gift if the recipient finds it really uncomfortable.

I come from a family of practical gift givers who exchange gift suggestions of what we want from one another. Of course, I probably actually annoy the others because I tend to go off book (literally, since that is what all of them want) and try to also add something thoughtful. Yep, I guess I’m a hypocrite. (I typed that as hippocrite and wanted to leave it because of the fun image it brings to mind, but I don’t want you all envisioning me as a hippo). But, I do stick to the list and give them some of what they asked for; I only go AWOL for one item.

I know the ask for gift suggestions first perspective isn’t going to be popular with everyone. I’d love to hear the counter arguments. In the meantime, if you must go out on a limb and buy expensive gifts that don’t appeal to the actual recipient, can we at least agree you’ll be better tempered about exchanges and returns?

Birthdays ready made for relationship drama.

Example A: The other day on campus I heard a guy ask his girlfriend to skip class for his birthday. She pointed out he hadn’t skipped on her birthday. He said she hadn’t asked. Me, I was just glad neither one was my student!

Example B: Recently I saw an advice columnist weighing in on what it means when a guy prefers to spend his birthday with his bros rather than his girlfriend of a year. The headline on the Ask Demetria column read: “Spending His Birthday With His Boys Instead of Her Proves She’s an Option, Not a Priority.” Happily, Demetria’s answer was more measured than the headline suggests. 

However, these two examples return us to the idea of the birthday trump card. When it’s our birthday we want everything to revolve around us (example A), or we’re miffed when not included in someone’s special day (example B).

And neither of these examples even touch on the etiquette of gift giving in a relationship. Avoiding that potential pitfall involves consideration of duration of dating and seriousness of intent as well as thoughtfulness, budget, and demanding nature of the present recipient!

To don my own relationship advice cap for a moment, I’d say the answer is to always speak up about expectations. Save the birthday disappointment for when your great aunt Irene sends you a fruitcake.