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Gifts and Gift Giving


My boyfriend and I have always had our differences, and though we are both strong-headed, we have learned to appreciate each other.  We've been talking about marriage, but there is one issue I cannot get past.  He is so selfish!

He contributes little to the household duties and financial obligations such as food and cleaning supplies.  He spends large amounts of money on weekends and vacations with the boys, but can only rarely take me out to dinner.  He shops the Wal-Mart clearance racks for holiday gifts.  Christmas was a toothbrush and bath mats.

I strongly dislike the area we live in and would like to relocate.  He says he grew up here and will never live anywhere else.  I was recently laid off, and the only positions in my field are in other cities.  I want to work so I can fulfill my half of the financial obligations, but he says he cannot leave and I should just keep looking.


Prudence, opportunity knocks all the time, but the problem is we usually can't recognize it for what it is.  We expect the Prize Patrol to show up with balloons and a check for a million dollars.  That isn't going to happen.  Usually opportunity shows up as something mundane, like getting laid off from our job and thinking about where our life is headed.

You are thinking about marriage, but you should be thinking about 50 years of bath mats and toothbrushes from a selfish man.  You want to keep up your half, but where is his half? 

You've been given an opportunity to live where you choose.  When you go there, you may find a man who doesn't have differences you can't live with. 

Wayne and Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


In Memory

For over 10 years I diligently cared for my wife, until she died from the complications of multiple sclerosis.  During that period we had the help of a nurse who became very much a friend to both of us.  I paid for her automobile club membership each year so she could get to our home in her various junk cars.

After my wife died, I stayed in contact with the nurse on a platonic basis, talking on the phone monthly and sharing dinner a few times a year.  I also continued to pay the motor club membership in gratitude for all she gave my wife.  I felt it was a good and generous thing to do.  She gave her all to us.

After a long period of grief, I began to search for a new partner and started a new relationship about six months ago.  I mentioned my yearly gift to my girlfriend last week when the bill came, and she became very upset with me for doing this.  She described this as unethical and an infraction serious enough to end our relationship.

She knows I have no romantic or sexual contact with this woman and trusts me in that regard, but is astounded I do not see the moral error in what I have been doing.  I consider myself someone of high morals.  I just don't get it.  What principle am I violating?  I am not getting answers I can comprehend from my girlfriend.  She insists I discuss this with others, who will enlighten me.


Clay, you are a thoughtful, caring man.  You and this nurse share a bond, and in honoring her you also honor the memory of your wife.  There is nothing wrong in what you are doing, any more than there is something wrong with giving money to a cause in memory of someone who has passed on.

Your girlfriend cannot tell you exactly what she doesn't like about your gift without revealing her true motives.  Your girlfriend wants to break you away from the memory of your wife and the reality of any other woman.  Often circumstances arise as a warning sign about other people.  If you give in to your girlfriend, you might as well hand over your wallet, your pants, and your life.

(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


No Thank You

I'm a 26-year-old woman. I live alone and have supported myself since I was 17. My parents, who I love dearly and am close to, live a 22-hour drive away from me, so I don't see them often.

When I was growing up, my parents instilled a strong sense of independence in my brother and I. We were poor for a large part of our childhood and were never spoiled even after my parents came into some money. In fact, when I was old enough to work, my parents made me get a job and pay for everything but basic living expenses.

At 17 I moved out on my own. I've always been thankful that my parents taught me how to be an independent, self-supporting adult, especially when I see many people my age who are not.

Now my parents are well-off. They've made good investments and have money saved up. With my brother and I long gone from the home, they are doing fine, just put a pool in their backyard, and have every "toy" they could possibly want.

However, they still scrimp every penny when it comes to their children. Today is my birthday and for the second year in a row, my parents sent me a gift—actually, the same thing two years in a row—that is defective.

The only thing my dad ever buys for me are deals on eBay. He usually sends hacked software or refurbished electronics. I support myself, but on my salary it is hard to save money, and I rarely can afford to splurge on things I want dearly.

It would make me so happy if my parents sent me a nice gift, since they always buy everything they want for themselves at no expense spared. Part of me wants to call my dad and tell him what he sent, which I found on eBay for $11, is broken and not really something I want.

Another bigger part of me thinks, I should be lucky they send me anything at all, and just tell him thank you when he asks about the gift. When I don't communicate with them, I feel angry about things for a long time. What should I do?


Drew, the gifts are insults, and your parents are misers unto their own happiness. Don't respond to your parents as if you were given a gift chosen with thought or care. Don't act as if they are gifts of value. Don't thank them for making you feel unloved.

When you were growing up, your parents were poor. Now it appears what they suffered from was not a lack of money but a poverty of spirit. If your parents think they have the right to send their daughter broken trash from eBay, their daughter has the right to say sending rubbish isn't right.

Send a simple note telling your parents you don't need broken castoffs from eBay. Don't thank them for items of no value. Remaining silent allows them to deceive themselves that what they are doing is adequate or expresses love.

Wayne and Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


Past Lives

I have the most wonderful boyfriend. We live together and are looking forward to taking the next step in our relationship: marriage.

I know he is looking for rings. I have had problems in the past with insecurity due to how poorly I was treated compared to past girlfriends in another relationship, years ago.

I love my boyfriend more than life itself, and I trust him. However, I know that one of the jewelry stores he is interested in purchasing a ring from is also the same store where he used to buy gifts for his ex. I am afraid if he buys a ring from this store, and I'm pretty sure he will, all I will be able to think of is her, not him and his love.

I don't want that. I am hoping no matter how silly I may sound, you will be able to give me advice on how to deal with this.


Amber, in the movie "Hoffa," Jack Nicholson plays Jimmy Hoffa, the rough-and-tumble president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. At one point Hoffa, talking to an underling, says something like, "A real grievance can be resolved, but an imaginary slight, a person will carry until the day they die."

We could suggest that you talk to your boyfriend, get him to understand your feelings and change his plans about the ring. That sounds reasonable but on a deeper level it's the wrong answer.

You don't have a real grievance here, certainly not a real grievance against your boyfriend. In your imagination you are carrying slights from a man who never married you. That's not right. You don't get to convict your boyfriend for a crime someone else committed.

Your relationship is not about his ex or yours. It should be about loving each other with all your heart. If you tell your boyfriend where he can buy the ring, you are making the ring about his ex, and even more than that, you are preserving your connection to another man.

Bad experiences don't entitle us to exert power over others. That's blackmail. If he gives into you on this, it could easily become a ploy for you to use to get whatever you want. What's next? He can't go to restaurants he went with her, or visit the same old neighborhoods?

In the movie, Jack Nicholson as Jimmy Hoffa says, "Don't ask for something that's a burden for you to carry." Don't think about his ex. Don't think about yours. If you love each other without reservation, that should be easy.

Wayne and Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


Missing Holiday Spirit

This Christmas I went to a lot of trouble to find special gifts for my grandchildren.  I have some health challenges, and it was a stretch physically to shop for these gifts.  Since I was in their neighborhood the week before Christmas, I left my presents under the tree ahead of time.

They expected me Christmas morning, and I called ahead to say I was on my way.  When I arrived carrying two grocery bags with food, my grandson met me at the door saying he really liked the books.  I couldn't believe my ears.  They had opened my gifts without me!

I told my daughter I was disappointed, and she said she was "sorry" I hadn't left "instructions."  Her husband told me they have a rule in their house: no whining.  What should I do?  Skip Christmas for them?  Forgive and forget?  Move?


Clara, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it still make a sound?  If a child receives a gift and you are not there, is he still filled with joy?

Don't skip Christmas with your family.  Next year take the gifts with you on Christmas morning, and be grateful for a son-in-law with such a wise rule for his household.

(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)



A close female friend at work found a new job.  I'm currently deciding what to buy to reflect my friendship toward her, and to say I'll be there for her in the future. I know she likes diamonds and blue topaz, her birth stone, but I don't feel comfortable buying jewelry. 

I don't want to buy her a card and leave it at that because we've been through a lot together, and I feel I would be letting her down.   The problem is she has a boyfriend, and I do not want to act like I'm trying to make a move on her.  How do I show my appreciation and say I'll be there for her if things don't go the way she planned?


Trent, she's chosen her leading man, but you'd like to understudy the role.  That's pretty much it, isn't it?  If the current production gets bad reviews, you might get the part after all.  You want a gift that says I'm not meddling in your relationship, but I'd like to.  Though our suggestion is not to meddle, a restaurant gift card makes a nice present, and who knows who she'll invite.

(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


His Perfect Gift

I am seriously involved with a man I love.  I know he loves me and plans to ask me to marry him.  Neither of us is perfect, but we get along well except for two problems.

First, he refuses to buy me flowers though I have told him repeatedly how much I love them.  The only time I ever got flowers was once on Valentine's Day after I asked for them.  Every time I mention it, he gets frustrated and tells me he just isn't romantic that way.  He wants me to accept him for who he is and appreciate the other things he does.

Which leads to my second problem.  When he gives me gifts for Christmas or my birthday, he is always late and it is clear how much he hates shopping.  I got my Christmas gift a week late, and he took me out for my birthday the day after.  He told me to buy my own gift and give him the bill.  He thinks that way I am sure to get something I like.

I feel stupid when family or friends ask what my boyfriend got me, and I have to say either nothing or the gift is coming late.  This is not a money issue.  He has plenty of that.  He says he is too busy at work to shop, and he thinks I am materialistic because I measure love through flowers and gifts.

When I buy a gift, I take time to pick something out I know he would like and use.  I'm not stingy about it because, within reason, money is no object to me if it makes him happy.  Other than this he is a good-hearted, loyal, caring man who is always there when I need him.  But this has caused me to dread holidays. 


Alana, if you feel being with this man is a compromise, then look elsewhere.  Don't ask him to have a quality, like being an artist, which he does not have.  But if you can recognize each other's talents, you have a future together.

Let him do what he is good at.  You have a knack for finding the right gift.  If you assume the gift selection duties, you always get what you want, and it will always be on time.  On the next holiday, you can proudly show your friends and family the beautiful strand of cultured pearls he gave you. 

(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


Material Girl

I recently went on a date with this guy I met online.  We had been emailing for a few weeks before we decided to go out together. 

We met at a restaurant, and he brought me a huge vase of flowers.  He was sweet, polite and gentlemanly toward me and our conversation was good.  But I felt embarrassed by all the attention given to me by the waitresses and bus staff regarding the flowers.

That's not even the whole story.  You see, at the end of the date, this guy drove me home and got this huge box out of the trunk.  He said he had gotten something else besides the flowers.  We went in the house, I opened the box, and it was a DVD player!

I told him I couldn't accept such an expensive gift, but he refused to take it back.  My family keeps telling me to give it back to him, and that it is morally wrong to keep it.  I told him how I felt about the flowers and DVD player, and he just said he gets carried away sometimes.

I don’t want to date him anymore, but because he and I have a lot in common I thought we could be friends.  He has agreed to be friends, but I still have the DVD player!  Part of me wants to keep it because I've wanted one for so long, but I could never afford it because I am unemployed. 

I want to do the right thing and give it back, but then again, I want so much to be able to keep it.  What do you think?


Ramona, people who give something "over the top," usually expect something in return.  That something is usually a thing you would not have given freely in the beginning.

When you create a chink in what is acceptable, you open yourself to all kinds of consequences, and you create a propensity in yourself to act weakly.  Accepting this gift makes you look bad.  It makes it appear your standards depend on the price being right.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of writing an advice column is this.  We get to see so many patterns of behavior repeated again and again.  The behavior we see in your letter often ends in one of two places.  Either you become vulnerable to men who think they can buy what they want from you, or you end up married to a man you didn't even want to date.  Send it back.

(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


No One Does It Better

I am madly in love with my husband, and our anniversary is coming up.  Give me a new gift idea.


Bridget, how about the 1960's recording of the Missa Luba, the Latin mass sung to African drums?  Oh, no.  That's what I would give Wayne.  Some time ago he mentioned how deeply it touched him, and how much he would like to share it with me.

I know Wayne.  I don't know your husband.  How many people know him as you do?  What have you talked about, what have you shared.  No one knows better than you what would touch his heart.  Walk down the lane of your memory.  There you will find what to give him.

(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

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