Dear Leather and Lace: I’m read your post about the woman who bought her boyfriend a Christmas gift and he didn’t get her one, with interest, since the holidays have come and gone, and I’ve found myself in a similar situation, although not quite the same. My boyfriend is unemployed, so I know he doesn’t have any money, but and he also has three kids with an ex wife who gets whatever little he does have. Christmas for the kids had to take every penny he has, so I didn’t really expect he’d give me anything grand, and we’ve only been seeing each other six months, and we’re not calling ourselves an established couple yet either. But in the back of my mind I did expect he’d come up with a little something, even if it was just something little to show he was thinking of me. I know you should never give someone a gift with the idea that you would get one in return, but I did give my boyfriend something modest that I know he wanted, and he seemed really pleased about that. What is bothering me isn’t the fact that my boyfriend didn’t reciprocate, but that it probably is sending the message that he doesn’t really think I’m a real girlfriend, worthy of his attention, even though of course, his kids, are. I am feeling really bad about this. I really wanted to feel like a girlfriend, and even if he feels it’s too soon for that, I think I deserve better than nothing. We tend to split our dates, and while I do understand the situation with his finances, I’m beginning to think I may have misunderstood the nature of our relationship. I know you don’t know me, but am I being immature because his kids come first and he didn’t have anything left for me? What do the two of you think?
Alison’s Take: This is a question that keeps cropping up in different ways, throughout the year. And, you are right, we don’t know you so we can’t really say whether or not your supposed boyfriend sees you as girlfriend material or not. But what we can say is that anyone who has been dating steadily for six months is in some sort of relationship, and given that, a small token of the season would have been appropriate. On the other hand, if your boyfriend really spent all of his money on his children, the thought of gifting you a $5.00 pair of socks or a box of candy might have seen so cheap that he simply didn’t feel he could offer you something so paltry (and by doing so send the wrong message), so he just didn’t give you anything at all. The problem with that is that this also sends a message, and perhaps not the intended one. And it also might be true that some men just aren’t into gift giving even though in the back of their minds they know that the woman they are dating, would like something. When it comes to his children, this rule might not apply, but he might not feel the same about the adults in his life.
The issue here is that you can’t really confront your boyfriend and tell him you are disappointed that he didn’t give you a gift. But you can at some point ask him “where is this relationship going?” and if you are past six months, that seems to be a reasonable time to have that discussion. It might be that he is clueless about the gift issue, but perfectly happy with the relationship. If that is the case, it will be up to you to let him know that you are the type of person who believes that gifts are important. They needn’t be expensive, but these little tokens of affection mean a lot to you. In the coming months then you might give him hints of things he might give you for your birthday, or whatever holiday might be coming up. You might mention a book you’ve been dying to read, or tell him that you think there’s nothing more romantic than a bouquet of red carnations (or another inexpensive flower), or that you love a particular massage oil. Then, if he doesn’t come up with anything, it’s time to consider whether or not you want to be with him, longer term.
Tony’s Take: As adults we give gifts to honor people who are special in our lives, and to show them that they are appreciated or they are loved or cared for. Gifts allow us to bring a little permanent piece of joy and happiness to a relationship.
With respect to Christmas, adults may choose to stop giving token gifts gifts which are assumed because of familial or social convention, while still preserving gifts to children where it is important to the emotional well being of the child to know that they are loved and appreciated.
Your boyfriend appears to have forgotten the difference between a social gift and that which is due to one’s significant other to make them feel loved. This is not a social convention gift and cannot be ignored. It does not matter that he is on unemployment. It does not matter that he should, as he is doing, spend the majority of his money on his children. But it is inconceivable and inconsiderate that he should not show some appreciation and even some small token form to the woman he is currently seeing.
Gifts are not about how much money you spend. Gifts are about thinking about the person and putting meaning into whatever you get them no matter how small. He could have found a fifteen cent Christmas paper clip and given it to you as a gift just writing with truth and depth of his feelings in his heart about how much he appreciated you and how this paper clip is a symbol of that and his hopes to make it better for you in the future.
He has failed in this. He has let the obligations of having children and their presents overwhelm the whole concept of giving presents in the first place. Yes, it is hard to be unemployed, but the woman he is with s suffering those effects along with him even if she has a job. Life is short and to not be appreciated is a killer in a relationship. If you have hopes that his selfishness can be cured, then by all means invest the time, if he shows you he cares in other ways then invest the time. But his own self involvement will doom any chance of happiness if it goes unchecked.