Carolyn Hax: Gift giving implies more than gift itself
Carolyn: How do you tell your boyfriend he got you the “wrong” gift? I guess the real problem is, I don’t think he knows me well enough. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it, I actually enjoy cards better than gifts. It’s just that if he were to get me something “special,” which was his intention, it would have to be something very different. The gift he got was not me at all. Do I just keep pretending I like it, or should I tell him the gift was a “miss”? – Unsure
If your face didn’t already tell him it was a “miss” when you opened it, then you have a future as a diplomat. Or its modern incarnation, celebrity-entourageur.
One argument for telling the truth more directly is that it could lead to a conversation on what you do like. At best, though, that means having to spell out for him who you really are, hardly the outcome you want. At worst, it’s just shopping by proxy.
You’re right, the real problem goes beyond the gift itself, so the real solution has to reach beyond the gift, too. But where?
If you’re reticent with him, or still new to each other, then this one’s on you; hoping someone will read your mind is self-defeating for you, and unfair to him. To give is to receive, so maybe this is your cue to give more, in the way of insight into your character. Speak up when you’re choosing movies or restaurants, for example; make distinctions clear among things you care about, blow off, wonder about; don’t be afraid to share your wrenching tale of whatever.
If, on the other hand, you’ve given openly of yourself and you two are well past surprising each other, then this one’s on him. Great partners can give bad gifts, certainly – stage fright, I guess – but so can those who buy what you “should” want, partners who see only the person they want to see, instead of who you really are.
Actually, that’s also true of wanting someone to read your mind. Unrealistic expectations thwart intimacy, too, since intimacy is really just knowing and loving someone fully, as-is. Gifts are one way we reflect that knowledge, and so unhappiness with them can be a deceptively important problem – one that a lot of people dismiss as pouting. Please don’t make that mistake.
Finally, for what it’s worth, some ways to deal with the gift itself: If there’s still a receipt, be tactful about exchanging it. If no receipt, kindly tell him the truth; his taking the news well would mean you have a gem on your hands, of a quality that more than makes up for whatever well-meaning paste he gave you. If the romance ends shortly after a pricey gift, you offer to return it; if the price is low or possession time high, you help it find a happier home.