Gift Challenged, or Why I Always Blow Birthdays

I received a perfect gift once — a dried beetle in a jar. R had found it on her windowsill where it had died, and it had dried out perfectly.  Even its antennae were preserved intact, and I was overjoyed. She brought it for me on one of her visits, for no particular occasion. I still have it 25 years later.

The best gifts, for me, have three qualities. They are unexpected, they are thoughtful, and they are things that I didn’t even know I wanted.

The problem I have with birthdays, holidays and other occasions is that a gift is expected — something, anything, but you can’t not give something. And it is that expectation that throws me off every time. It’s possible, of course, that not everyone has the same list of qualities for a gift. But right off the bat, if there’s an expectation, then there’s pressure to perform, to get the perfect gift.

Unfortunately, gift-giving is not a habit with me. If it were — if I was one of those people who spontaneously gave gifts — then maybe the lack of a gift on a particular important occasion could be overlooked. As the big day looms closer, I come to realize my yearlong lapse and then I am trapped — I must give, or else.

Or else — that’s the big question. Just as I have trouble empathizing with obese people because I have never struggled with food issues, I also have trouble empathizing with people’s burning desire for

The main problem with being involved with a woman for at least a year is that you will undoubtedly be called upon to give her a gift. I can be really good at gift-giving, but I can also be really, really bad.  While I never forget the birthdays of those closest to me, I have a tendency to freeze up as the Big Day approaches.

First, I suffer from Perfect Gift Syndrome — you know, the condition where I expect that when she opens my gift, she will swoon, or laugh with insane joy, melting into my arms, kissing me with gratitude.  She won’t be able to bear being separated from her Perfect Gift, which is how special it really is.

Ok, so there might be something in the universe that works like that, but the thing is, I can’t imagine what it is for myself, so how could I possibly imagine it for someone else? What kind of stupid plan is that, anyway?  I once spent an hour circling a jewelry display table at a store that was hinted at as a place where I could not go wrong. Nothing seemed right, so I picked one of the more expensive items, thinking that she could just return it if she didn’t like it.  Until that gift-giving experience, I’d never actually witnessed someone burst into tears upon opening a gift.

Second, I rebel against schedules of any kind. At every job I’ve ever had, I come in late. In school — late for class. Deadline? Let’s push that out a bit, ok? I don’t like someone telling me that I have to do something on a certain date. Some days I feel very generous, and would spontaneously give gifts if it weren’t for my other issues with gifts.  Other days, not so much.

Third, I have an almost non-existent relationship with stores and shopping.  Christmas is a revelation for me, because it’s one of the few times during the year that I actually go out into stores, and I feel like someone who has arrived here from a third-world country, or from Russia. I’m amazed at all the stuff and by around December 23rd, I’m really starting to get the “Christmas spirit,” which for me essentially means that I want to go deep in debt so I can give friends and family things that they never asked for and never knew they wanted.  

That’s part of the problem — there’s too much stuff, too many choices. Even a simple thing like choosing flowers is fraught.  Think about it — think about all of the appropriate birthday gifts you can buy in this country for, say, $100. I’m kind of sick of stuff, personally. When I think of the Perfect Gift for myself, for example, I draw a blank. There’s nothing I want that I or anyone else could buy that would get me all excited. At my age, I’ve purchased everything I wanted to purchase. I understand that the thrill won’t last. I realize that this makes me a threat to society. It’s possible that I may need to go on medication.

They say it’s the thought that counts. Turns out that execution matters.

About David

Prone to musing and to being prone. Father to two, writer, engineer.
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