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See humor of wife’s lousy gift ideas

Washington Post

Dear Carolyn: I’m a stinking ingrate. Every Christmas or birthday I give my wife a list of things I want or need. She completely ignores my requests and tells me it’s bad manners to request a gift, and that a gift should come from the heart of the giver. She knows tech gadgets frustrate me, but she continues to give me expensive ones I don’t want. And when I show no interest, she gets angry and says I am ungrateful.

I’d much rather create art and music or do outdoor activities than play around with electronic stuff. How do I communicate this without disrupting domestic tranquility? – Frustrated in the Heartland

Define “tranquility.”

Never mind. It sounds as if your only path to satisfaction is one that runs through your wife’s idea of the Way Things Are Supposed to Be.

That’s because your wife is a bully. It seems almost perverse to level such a strong charge in the context of gift-giving (“Did she give you an iPhone?” doesn’t appear on many emotional-abuse checklists). But the bones are the same in any context: You pretend you’re the husband she wants you to be, or you get punished.

About that punishment: For the record, it’s ill-mannered to hover over people to see if they’re using a gift, and even more so to berate them if they don’t register the desired level of enthusiasm. Not to ripple the waters or anything.

If this punishing attitude of hers crops up only in the form of the semiannual from-the-heart farce, then you might as well surrender yourself to the humor of it all. You can start populating your lists with gadgets that might have artistic or outdoor applications; you can make your lists nonspecific enough not to trip her “etiquette” sensors (picture me making air quotes); you can float the idea that you and she exchange experiences, like tickets, lessons or trips, instead of gifts; or whatever you think might outmaneuver the problem – but for the sake of your peace of mind, your baseline expectation needs to be set to “complete resignation to a lifetime of lousy gifts.”

On the other hand, if this transaction reflects the way things generally and not-so-harmlessly go in your home, then please give careful consideration to that whole dynamic. There are long-term emotional consequences to living in an environment where you’re given no leeway to be yourself. Those consequences don’t stop at bad gifts, and so your concern shouldn’t, either.

Dear Carolyn: My parents had a lot of money. I was spoiled in that I had numerous “things” and could pursue whatever after-school activity floated my boat.

Things are a little different now … my husband and I are in our mid-20s and just starting out. I am more than happy with the life we live. However, my husband believes he needs to give me things and is always feeling bad that he can’t “provide for me” like my father could.

I try to tell him that I don’t need for him to provide for me, that we give to each other. But this doesn’t seem to help. Any ideas? – Maryland

You already have a daddy, and would like a husband. As in, an equal, partner, friend. Please tell him this explicitly; don’t just “try.”

E-mail Carolyn at, or chat with her online at 9 a.m. Pacific time each Friday at
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