Sunday, December 11, 2011

love langauge

I love shopping. But I hate Christmas shopping.

I was talking with someone the other day and we agreed that Christmas shopping is easiest when you're buying for yourself because you know what you want. Buying for others is impossible. I'm taking a quick break in the middle of some shopping to vent/reflect on what the anxiety I'm feeling about plunking down money to buy things for people I don't know well in the hopes that they'll like what I get.

I want to buy good gifts for my loved ones--gifts that they'll like or appreciate that they'll use sometime in the calendar year before the next occasion comes around to buy again. In our house, this is not what defines a good gift. My husband's study is full of "good gifts" that he hasn't touched since opening them, months or even years ago. He swears that there still good gifts, that they show thoughtfulness and care and love. I have a hard time believing him. The shrink wrap is still on some, for crying out loud.If it was a good gift, wouldn't it be doing something in our home other than taking up space and collecting dust? Wouldn't it be read or used or loved in some way?

I realize this morning that I don't want to waste my money in buying gifts for people. I want to give something that they'll use because I want to know that however much time or energy or money I gave up to get the thing that it's getting used. If I buy a hundred-and-fifty-dollar sweater for my sister-in-law (to be? maybe?) I want to know she's going to wear it, not that it'll sit in the back of her closet because it's the wrong color or fabric. If I buy my father a moleskin pocket journal because I see him using an off-brand one and he doesn't use it, it will hurt my feelings. (It did.)

Maybe once I give a thing I have to let go of its gift destiny. I have to allow for the fact that once I give a thing away that it becomes whatever the owner can use it for: a sweater, a pillow, a water balloon slingshot, an item on a shelf, an item to be donated to someone else. Maybe it's about the gesture of the gift, and not the item itself.

But gift-giving has never really been the thing for me, the best way for someone to show me they love and care for me. I'm the person who will feel loved because you've spent the afternoon talking with me, not because you've bought me something expensive, or rare, or even exactly what I asked for. I get that you love me when you pony up, but it's not the best way to show me love.

So there's some kind of academic response in this about Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages, but this morning I've got other things on my mind that I want to deconstruct. Today I just wanted to take a little time and think about why gift giving is so challenging.

This is the place where I talk about giving gifts while growing up--my mother is crazy for gifts, giving and receiving them. She loves it--loves to spend her money on folks, to be generous in her giving, and she loves to receive things that are classy, pretty, feminine and expensive. She gave gifts that were either really great (ie. How to Make Everything Vegetarian) or that completely missed the mark (I won't enumerate them here, but some that are more in the pursuit of me being someone other than I am). So the fact that gifts weren't the thing I really wanted from my parents escaped them--hell, I didn't even know it until recently. But it always made gift giving a loaded activity.

I'm not looking forward to finishing the buying. But I guess I just have to remember to try for a sincere representation of my affection, and to let go of any expectations of how the gifts get used.

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