I Started a Vicious Cycle by Accident (and will stop asap)

It’s one of those jokes that are funny because they’re true that many men are just as surprised about the gifts on Christmas as the kids. “Gifts” are so firmly in the “female” category that almost every girlfriend to a boyfriend for more than two weeks gets drafted into “shopping for gifts”. While my love is very much not a stereotypical cis het guy in many aspects, this is sadly none of them, and while I will fully admit that I’m whining from a position of privilege here, it still sucks.

We’re financially comfortable, so we don’t need to disguise necessary but expensive purchases like a new phone or new tires as “birthday gifts”. We’re also not in the habit of making expensive surprise gifts, as we’re both sensible people who think that buying something expensive for somebody without that person telling you what they actually like is nonsense. But still, occasionally I’d like to get a gift that shows the person thought about me and cares. Neither do I want to send him a link to a specific product and know exactly what I’ll get, where it was bought and how much it cost, nor do I want any more shower gel or scented candles. And it’s not like I don’t have hobbies.

To get to the heart of the story, I decided to give my struggling spouse some hints.

Me: Love, it’s your wife’s birthday soon, have you noticed how much she’s into Japanese cooking lately?

Him, laughing: Very subtle, very subtle.

Him, 5 minutes later: Do you know any Japanese restaurants where I could take you for your birthday?

Me, sighing: We already agreed on going to an Indian restaurant, do you remember? Also, I was more thinking about cooking boxes, tableware, tools. Obviously I was too subtle.

Him: Where do I get such things?

Me, slightly annoyed: You have a working internet connection and a credit card, figure it out!

About 30 minutes later, him, now definitely venturing into learned helplessness poor hapless husband territory: I really don’t know what to do!

Me, exasperated, pointing at kid #2 who was giggling next to him: ask your daughter, she can show you!


See what I did there? Yep, I passed the “taking care of gifts” bucket down the line to another female family member, teaching her that men are just too incompetent to do it themselves and women have to do that job, and I’m sorry. I swear I’ll never do it again. I’ll rather send him links for the rest of our days than teach my daughters to simply accept that bullshit.


  1. says

    On the flip side…

    Me: We really need to replace that beat-up dishwasher, but they’re expensive.
    Her: I agree.
    Me: What if we get one & agree that that will be our Xmas present to each other?
    Her: That’s a good idea, and it simplifies all the Xmas shopping nonsense.
    Day before Xmas: New dishwasher arrives. Yay!
    Xmas day, her: here are a couple of presents I got for you.
    Me, empty-handed: What?

    Also note that I keep an Amazon ‘wishlist’ to make it easy to find something I’d like, while she has always refused to make any kind of list and always says she doesn’t want anything.

  2. says

    I’m very, specific in wanting something. We got us a couch for Christmas and then we got each other a bottle of whisky (I have himthe better one, but that’s irrelevant, we drink it together anyway)

  3. Tethys says

    While I sympathize with the clueless part of your frustration, I am also unsure what a Japanese cooking box might be? Google gives me a range of results from a box of Japanese foods and seasonings, a hibachi, a rice cooker, and gorgeous sets of bento boxes both modern and antique.

    Perhaps he is paralyzed by so many options?
    Tableware and tools are similarly broad categories, so maybe a list of specific items you would like? He can surprise you with his choice from your list of appropriate tools and supplies.

  4. moarscienceplz says

    My personal take on gift giving:
    1) I have many, many, interests and hobbies, and you may believe me that any additions I wish to my tools or my stash of supplies have been very carefully considered over many a pore over many a catalog and website. The chances that your gift may be precisely one of the things I have drooled over for weeks and months are slim and none.
    2) I think a gift that has been acquired with a simple tap of a credit card is a gift cheaply bought, no matter how many digits are in the price. LABOR over a gift for me, even if it’s a batch of cookies baked from a tube of store-bought dough, and I will appreciate it much more than a Rolex watch.
    3) I do not consider still breathing after one more orbit of my home planet to be an accomplishment that deserves a prize, so no birthday presents for me, please, and don’t expect one from me, unless you are younger than 12.

  5. says

    After the Christmas when Paul bought gifts for everyone but me (I got to sit at my parents’ feeling humiliated) because, he said, he couldn’t find anything he liked, he’s slightly more likely to listen when I tell him what I want. I usually ask him if he’d like whatever it is I’m thinking of getting for him.

    He leaves me in charge of buying gifts for my sister and her husband. But after this year he may want to do it himself; I got BiL (who is also one of Paul’s oldest friends) a lovely rubber chicken wearing a sweater vest. Heh.

    We do have a system when we’re all shopping together -- someone sees a thing they’d like, they point and say the secret word* to the nearest family member.

    *Swordfish, of course

  6. sonofrojblake says

    1) I have many, many, interests and hobbies, and you may believe me that any additions I wish to my tools or my stash of supplies have been very carefully considered over many a pore over many a catalog and website. The chances that your gift may be precisely one of the things I have drooled over for weeks and months are slim and none.

    So much this. It does make you hard to buy for though, but that’s a price I’m happy to pay.

    My wife has a frustration that her friends tell her to ignore, which is that while I am legitimately really good at buying her thoughtful gifts she really loves, I completely fail to link these gifts to the calendar. If I see or think of something she’ll like, I’ll get it, wrap it* and give it to her. Equally, we’ve more than once arrived on the morning of her birthday to find me more or less empty-handed. Since the aforementioned “she’s going to like that” things happen more than twice a year (more than twice a month some months), and since I am capable of keeping my powder dry until Christmas, she doesn’t complain about it too hard.

    Blokes who don’t buy gifts properly are just being thoughtless and using this “oh, men, what are they like?” kind of stereotyping as an excuse and being allowed to get away with it. It absolutely is not a gender based thing though, any more than, say, cooking is (I do 90% of the cooking in our household). I note that when I had Japanese colleagues they were culturally quite particular about gift giving and wrapping. Don’t tolerate it -- eventually (generations…) it will go away.

    *Ditto wrapping. My wife observed just this solstice past that her gift from me was beautifully wrapped (they usually are) and seemed to realise, after four and a half years, that that means she shouldn’t make wrapping the boys’ presents her solo task. So that’s me wrapping gifts next year, which is fine.

  7. Oggie: Mathom says

    Wife and I gave each other new living room lamps for Solstice. Which we agreed was our big presents. I then, being retired and financially quite stable, got her a couple of things I new she would like (a calendar with baby goats, a pair of slippers made with goat fabric) and she got me one thing that she knew I would like and use (a gift certificate to a moderately local used book store). Hints are rather pointless at this point as the calendar is a thirty-year traditional gift and if I buy her anything that she wears, I check with her on the size and, at the same time, vet the gift. And I am easy.

    We did have fun with finding presents for the grandchildren. Who are now three and a half years old and, when they climb in Grumpy’s lap, it feels like I am being snuggled by an 80-pound octopus.

    teaching her that men are just too incompetent to do it themselves

    I know that I am usually not good at finding gifts (I chalk it up to being on the spectrum (a good all-purpose excuse) which may or may not be accurate). But, about once a year, with one family member, I truly do find the absolute perfect gift (so (I guess) on average, I’m about average?).

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