20 Dec Exercise: Does getting the perfect gift mean you care?
Ok, for this exercise, I really want to talk about one of my pet hates: the stress of buying presents. Surely gift giving is not meant to be about the pressure of getting it right. We all say things like “it doesn’t matter what you get me, it’s the thought that counts”. Well if this is true, why does gift buying become such a source of stress? Think about it, when you want to buy your partner a present, is this something you look forward to? Is it something you have to do otherwise your partner will sulk? Do you buy something so you don’t get in the bad books? Do you do it as some sort of gesture to show how kind and wonderful you are? And what about the gift itself, do you effortlessly find something or do you spend hours and days finding a present? Do you choose something that means something to you two or do you get a society approved generic present?
Now think about buying a gift for a best friend, what thoughts go through your head? Is it something you look forward to doing? Do you do it effortlessly? Do you do it with zero fear of getting it wrong? Is it easy to think of a good present? When it comes to partners, I often hear people talk about presents as if it’s a chore, a must, an item on the to-do-list that you need to get out of the way so you can relax. For most, it is not really something that is associated with fun.
Of course we can’t ignore the fact that we live in a world where consumerism is shoved in our faces wherever we look. We are bombarded with messages pushing us to buy more things. Whether it’s Christmas, birthdays, Valentines or anniversaries, the message we get is to buy. We have become a society where we think that showing someone you care is best expressed through a purchase. If you take this fact, and couple it with the fact that so many relationships are built on the image of being close loving friendships rather than the reality of being so, the result is an endless exercise of stressful gift giving to somehow either score points, gain acceptance, prove that you care or simply avoid being told that you don’t care.
We find ourselves in a catch 22 situation where we know what we really want cannot be bought, at the same time, we know that if we don’t buy, we’ll be in trouble. These are the rules of the game as defined by society. This leads to the endless pursuit for getting that perfect gift that can magically lead us to the promised land. We want to give a gift that somehow buys us acceptance or even just a reprieve from the usual functional existence or bickering routines. Perhaps what is really needed is for us to pause, and actually ask some better questions.
Maybe if we speak to each other and reveal all our thoughts and worries and truths, in other words, reveal the real person inside instead of just hoping that a gift will make the bad man go away, we might bring more love and relaxation and acceptance into our relationships. Imagine telling your partner this, “I don’t have a gift, my gift is me, I give you me, I hope you love your gift”. If this leads to a smile of acceptance, a knowing comforting feeling that says “yes, what I want is you, your brain, the joy you bring into my life simply by the effortless exercise of doing nothing more than being you”, what a wonderful feeling that would be. There is no gift that can compensate for not having that.
A little tangent… When I had a restaurant, the night I hated the most was Valentine’s night. The restaurant would fill up with couples that will go through the routine of standard box ticking: flower – tick, glass of champagne – tick, card – tick, gift – tick. By 9pm, the staff and I used to take bets on which couple would start yawning, who would go on their phone and communicate with people they actually want to talk to, who would argue first. It was extremely rare to see a couple actually have fun.
After a few years of this, I changed the theme and called it Valentine’s Day Massacre. This involved first having dinner, then all had to get up and mingle as we turned the restaurant into a casino, a games night with a band in the background and a dance floor. Some games involved couples splitting up and talking to others, as well some fun money gambling and dancing. It became one of the best nights of the year and the reaction was always the same, relief, joy and genuine enjoyment. And it hit me even back then long before I carried out any real relationship research, the couples that were bored of each other when it was just a standard Valentine’s night were not out of love, they just hated being generic, impersonal, box-ticking robots. The minute it became something different, something new, something where their mischievous childlike real personalities can actually come out and play, the smiles came back, and by the end of the night, far more couples left loving, intimate and truly happy to be with each other. Therefore, what we as humans hate most is knowing the ending, being in a repetitive routine, playing according to big brother’s idea of what is right with zero individuality.
And this brings us back to gift giving. Jewellery and chocolates and bags and watches and scarves and sweaters and …etc. are generic impersonal gifts where the only thing that can add value to them is literally their value. The ‘thank you’ becomes something that is directed towards the price tag, not towards some sort of acknowledgment that the gift giver loves what is unique about his or her relationship with the gift recipient. We fall back on society’s generic suggestions and slowly but surely kill what we once found unique about our relationships. We hide and edit and behave in a way where the aim is to minimise pain, not to maximise pleasure. We suppress thoughts in our everyday lives. We present an image on the outside that is not actually how we feel on the inside. We become a product of the ‘just get on with it please and don’t complicate what is already a stressful life’ production line.
We continue this cycle of ‘getting on with it’, demonstrated so eloquently by our generic gift giving, because a) we are eternally hopeful therefore we will keep hoping that the perfect gift will give us what we’re after, and b) because we think there is no real alternative. Well, this is not true because there is a very achievable alternative: allowing the real you to come out and play with your partner’s real counterpart.
So for this exercise, I would like you to use the next occasion as an opportunity to give something that would make you and your partner wear a cheeky smile. Give something that refers to some unique experience between you two, something that is of no functional use and let the price tag be irrelevant. If even just thinking about this makes you exhale and look forward to getting a gift, this is a wonderful sign that your relationship is truly a fun friendship and that perhaps you were subliminally ticking boxes because you thought that was the right thing to do not realising that making gifts about perfection and correctness and price erodes love.
If, on the other hand, you’re thinking that this is way too complicated, it’s just a gift, you want to buy something and get it over with, then please pause, you may have a good relationship now, but these are the very bad habits couples fall into and months or years later find themselves mentally living separate lives not knowing where and how it started to go wrong. I strongly encourage you to get in touch to discuss this. Getting in touch does not mean you need therapy, we don’t give therapy, if you need therapy, I will tell you that I can’t help you. I am only interested in helping those that are compatible and happy but are practicing bad habits. I want to see couples who are great together keep it that way.
I hope the above raised some questions or comments. If so, get in touch via our free online chat, email or social media.