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December 7, 1998   CONTINUED e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


Dear Breakup Girl,

Okay, un petit dilemma. It being the festive, gift-giving season and all, I thought you might be able to help with a somewhat topical question: What do you do about boyfriends who give lame presents?

Let me elaborate:

I love my boyfriend dearly. We have our ups and downs, but on the whole things are great. We've been together over three years.

Just one itty bitty li'l problem surfaced -- it was my birthday. Now, my boyfriend used to give utterly lame presents for birthdays and Christmas, but he's been steadily improving. This year, I got a pair of garnet earrings for my birthday -- doubly great when he'd sworn never to buy me jewelry until I agreed to get engaged to him (whole 'nother story).

The problem is that he thinks he was being really thoughtful and sweet and getting me something great. I already have one pair of garnet earrings -- with nicer stones, even -- and I never wear those. He just didn't think, I guess. (He also helped his folks pick out a present for me, which was a dismal book I have no interest in reading, and really isn't "me" at all.)

Trouble is, he gets all enthusiastic about stuff and thinks "Wow, that's so great, must buy that for my girl!" without stopping to think whether or not I need or want it, or would even like it. The garnet earrings would not have been cheap, either, and it pains me to see him spending so much money on a present which, let's face it, fails to hit the mark.

And I just don't know what to say when he hugs me as he gives it to me, I pretend valiantly that the present is great, and he beams proudly "Do I know my girlfriend or what?!" I hate having to lie to him, and I really really hate trying to pretend enthusiasm for a present like that, especially when I'm feeling hurt and disappointed. But I can't exactly turn around and say "No, you obviously don't because this sucks."

How do I nicely steer him in the direction of more thoughtful presents, or tactfully let him know that past efforts have failed to hit the mark somewhere -- or is this a boyfriend quirk I'll just have to put up with, and resign myself to having lots of expensive stuff that I'll never like or use? I really don't want to seem greedy or grasping-- I'd be just as happy with a $5 present that really had thoughtfulness behind it -- but it just sort of hurts to see him so consistently (and expensively) getting it wrong.

What do I do, BG?

-- Moogirl

Dear Moogirl,

You're gonna lose the readers' sympathy vote unless I go back and underscore a key distinction. It's not that you're like, "Boo hoo, garnets are so five minutes ago! I want ruuuuuubies!" It's that in your world, "good" gifts are the ones that show a particular kind of practical yet creative premeditation, perhaps even a wardrobe inventory and other background research. You think that a gift is a wrapped manifestation of precisely how well someone knows you and how profoundly they think and feel about you. All of which is fine.

When you're shopping.

But do you remember what I told Carrie? "Some people can carry a tune, some people can't. Some people can cook, some people can't. Some people can make that funny shamrock shape with their tongues, some people can't. And -- you know where this is going -- some people can buy gifts, some people can't. Buying The Right Gift is a high-pressure situation in which not all of us display grace." In Carrie's case, there were other ways in which Santa wasn't coming through for her; his less-than-commanding presents were not an aberration, but an indication ... that he may not exactly have been God's gift. I told her to trust her gut, and to trust me on this one: that to find someone who finds his own way to come through for you, no matter what -- well, you can't put a price tag on that.

And that, Moogirl, seems to me to be what you've found in Earring Boy. You said it yourself: "He gets all enthusiastic...he hugs [you] ... he beams proudly." What that says to Breakup Girl is that the garnets are not a clueless copout -- nor, more importantly, is trying to buy you off with baubles, hoping they outsparkle an otherwise dull union. You're right about this: he is not thinking about what's already in your jewelry box when he hands over his gold card.

He is thinking, "My girlfriend is a rare gem. I will buy her two."

Now that's a gift.

So there are only two things you are allowed to say in response. One is: "THANK YOU!" The other -- if you're still stuck on this idea that he's "getting it wrong" -- is this: "How about we try something different next Christmas -- like, instead of giving each other, like, stuff, we plan and go in on something together: a dinner, a trip, some other treat?" Just a thought. But whatever you do, Moogirl, you better be wearing those earrings.

Breakup Girl



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