Lavish Gifts for your Lover?

Greetings from not-so-sunny Dubai!

Once again it’s time to dispense some of my timeless relationship wisdom.a

So, hear ye! Hear ye! One and all!

Today’s lesson on love is about giving and taking in relationships. The giving and taking of lavish gifts that is.

In 1992 Dr. Gary Chapman, a faith-based relationship counsellor, wrote a best-seller titled The 5 Love Languages, wherein he breaks down the the various manners in which attachment and affection are conveyed to individuals by their partners: Words of Affirmation; Quality Time; Receiving Gifts; Acts of Service; and Physical Touch. While everyone enjoys all five “languages” to some extent, Chapman posits that an individual will usually “speak” one primary language.

Whether or not you think there are more ways to show your love, Chapman’s five languages offer a handy lens for analysing an individual’s behaviour in a relationship, and I’ll take it as a point of departure for the remainder of this discussion.

So what if your partner is of the Gift Receivers, or you happen to be a dedicated Gift Giver? Chapman cautions that we “[shouldn’t] mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift…A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous—so would the absence of everyday gestures.” This sounds like exemplary behaviour — assuming the motivations of the gift-giver and recipient are of this sort of benign nature.

The truth of the matter is that we often will present the objects of our affections with lavish gifts in an effort win their hearts or keep their affections. If I buy her this 2.5 Carat tennis bracelet, she will be impressed by my devotion, thoughtfulness, and *ahem* the financial resources at my command. And then she’ll like me more, right? b

Wrong.

Gratuitous trinket-buying will only get you ahead with someone who likes your stuff a great deal more than he or she likes you. J-Lo said it best back in 2001, “my love don’t cost a thiiing.”

But that’s just a simplistic condemnation of “gold-diggers”; if you’re not letting your private parts do the thinking for you, you ought to know better.

So, let’s peel the various layers of the onion that makes up the argument against showering your special someone with expensive gifts — too soon and too often, that is. Don’t get me wrong, if a couple is in an established, committed long-term relationship, they most certainly ought to go ahead and spoil one another silly, if that’s their thing.c

  • A designer handbag or a titanium watch will not win the affections of your intended if you don’t already have them (the affections that is). This will only work with someone who sees you as a meal-ticket, and why in the world would you want to be with someone like that? Even if he/she is ridiculously hot. See J-Lo above.
  • Receiving a very expensive gift, especially early on in a relationship, can cause feelings of indebtedness and guilt in the recipient, who may be haunted by the need to return the favour — quid pro quo. The stomach-churning guilt is especially compounded when the other half is not possessed of the same financial resources as the gift-giver.
  • You could buy a terribly hideous, tacky item, spend a great deal of money on it, and it’s not guaranteed he’ll like it. And then he’ll feel shitty about exchanging it or never wearing it. Cf. Love the Guy but Hate the Ring?
  • In case of break-up, as gifter: if you aren’t at heart that generous, un-begrudgingly giving individual, you’re going to keep a tally of all the money you spent on that failed relationship, then complain about it to your friends. When they’re tired of hearing you moan, you’ll take your case to the internet.
  • In case of break-up, as giftee: your ex gave you an wonderful, expensive present that you really love and used all the time. But every time you see it now, it reminds you of the love that once was and now is no more.d You chuck said item in the back of your closet, hoping to never come across it again. Better to lose use of a mug or a t-shirt than relinquish that gorgeous tennis bracelet to the fate of diligent dust-gathering. Alternatively, give the offending item away — but some things we just can’t bear to part with.
  • In case of break-up, return policy: returning gifts when things go kaput doesn’t always make sense. What will the returnee do with the tennis bracelet, for example? Giving it to the next special someone may feel disingenuous, or foreshadow the fate of the next relationship. The value of the object depreciated the minute he walked out of the store with it, plus wear and tear. Selling it and eating the loss is an option. But this would have never happened if the gesture had comprised of a lovely bouquet of flowers or a nice fluffy jumper.

I dislike pointing out problems without offering solutions — the next time you think about heading to the fine jewellery counter for the woman you’ve been seeing for the past two months,e consider these alternatives first:

  • In instances of an income imbalance:  holy shit, your significant other is always paying for everything and it makes you feel bad. Pick up the tab for less expensive things, such as treating him to dessert or gelato and buying tickets to a movie or a play. Alternatively, do something for him/her based on your talents. If you’re artistic, or you knit, or are a master of the written word, you can draw a sketch, knit a scarf, or write a poem. Even if you suck at making stuff, you can still come up with something to present your loved one to show your appreciation.
  • If you aren’t as generous at heart as you pretend to be: stop buying your significant other objects, and spring for shared experiences instead. Going on vacation together or getting a couples’ massage is something you both can enjoy, and a fond memory you can look back on. The time spent together during these shared moments can strengthen the bond between a couple. And if the relationship collapses, you won’t be fuming about quite as many expenses you can’t recoup.
  • To go back to the Dr. Chapman model of love, small gifts and gestures can also speak volumes to the gift-oriented lover — souvenirs from your travels, a spray of flowers when you drop by, and small gifts that say hey, this made me think of you are all ways to convey your affection and appreciation for your partner without running into the issues I outlined above.

Finally, I think it’s important to keep in mind that even the most seemingly committed partnerships can break down in due time. Then all the material possessions a couple once shared will be distributed — and that cashmere cardigan she bought for him four years ago, when things were good now brings a tear to his eye.

So, what I’m saying is hold off on the custom-designed Berkin till you’re sure this thing is going to stick for a while.

  1. Disclaimer: My relationship track record is abysmal. But I think I still have some wisdom to impart.  (back)
  2. Men seem to fall into this trap more often than women, but it happens to the ladies sometimes too, as well as same-sex couples, of course.  (back)
  3. Also, I am really, really sorry for the terrible metaphor.  (back)
  4. In extreme cases, even a glimpse of a stick of deoderant left behind by an ex can cause these feelings to surface.  (back)
  5. Insert female-male counterpart here please  (back)