It's like Sex and the Suburbs and 30 Rock all rolled into one…
For most of my life, I’ve always earned more than my partner. My parents made me work in high school to afford college expenses and I worked full time through the five years it took for me to get my bachelors. All that work experience landed me a decent paying job, and subsequently I’ve been able to move through the pay scales. This isn’t to say that I’m rich – I’ve got budget issues as pressing as the state! No one is made of money and there’s no money tree. (But wouldn’t it be cool if you could pick money?) As a woman in her younger twenties, I had absolutely no problem with being the “breadwinner”in a relationship. In fact, it was often a point of pride.
I suppose in some way however, this made me feel oddly uncomfortable accepting gifts. I’d tally up how much was spent and inwardly groan that our combined finances were diminished by the amount. It’s not that I supported my partners, many of them were completely and totally able to support themselves, but we often ended up pooling time and talent, resources you know, into our collective dating unit. Spending money on a gift meant cutting back elsewhere, perhaps on something I, selfishly, placed more value on and therefore thought was more important. My college boyfriend would often splurge on gifts for me, that playstation game I wanted or that season of Babylon 5, and then we couldn’t do things like go for drinks with our common friends, or take trips to see football training camp or go to the fair.
Of course now as the opposite becomes true – those guys who sacrificed pay before are earning more than me now – the same discomfort rears up. Because, I suppose, it’s engrained. An eighty dollar bottle of scotch as a gift makes me feel uncomfortable. This isn’t to say all gifts make me feel so. A friend of mine this spring brought me back a ceramic bird that was inexpensive. However, it was incredibly thoughtful – I collect birdie things. (My apartment is a shrine to the avian species.) A past boyfriend would consistently make me mix-CD’s to introduce me to great new music and I think perhaps that was the reason why I loved him so. He spent nearly nothing on me, and yet every song was a thoughtful expression of music he thought I would like to hear.
But perhaps, as I write this I realize, the answer goes beyond finances. So many partners bought expensive gifts that were grand gestures for larger issues. Jewelry I’d never wear bought to make up for being downright rude to my family or a designer dress to apologize for refusing to bring me to the ER when I broke my hand. It comes down to intent, and to thoughtfulness. Those small gifts were full of thought.
Flowers, on the other hand, are an entirely different matter. I don’t like them, especially if delivered at work. I know I’m in the minority here, but I like interactions between me and my partner to be private. True, there are certainly the cute stories you tell, or you relate the great place you got pizza, but flowers are a sign of intimacy, and it’s one thing I don’t like bringing into my work. Besides, flowers wither and they die. I’d rather have something that I can cherish.
But, there’s a flip side to all of this – I do enjoy giving gifts. Perhaps not conventional presents though. I buy things I think people will enjoy, like if a friend is coming over a fantastic bottle of wine for them. Stopping by to visit, I’ll make sure to bring beer or food. I like to buy people books, my father nearly always gets a book for holidays. One time I built someone a California closet for their birthday instead of giving them a gift card, or a sweater. Every year I like to give photos to my elderly relatives of me and my sister, preferably with Santa Claus.
You know guys, perhaps it’s not the gift, but the thought that counts.