"So you want me to give you a list of things that I want, and then you're going to surprise me by giving me one of the things that I told you that I wanted you to surprise me with?"A lot of things have helped form my attitudes about giving gifts, but I think that couples gifts pushed me over the edge.
It's the thought that counts, right? I always took that to mean that thought should go into choosing a gift, because it should be something that the recipient will appreciate. It's a tangible expression of your feelings for that person, whether you want it to be or not. So how do you select a gift for a couple?
No matter how close two people are to each other, they aren't identical. Each of them has different interests and passions. If you get a single gift for two people, and you choose it well, it will probably only relate to those things the two people have in common. Couples gifts tend to be rather generic and bland as a result: holiday-themed items, coffee table books, some hand-stitched dish towels. Very nice things, but when you're shopping for two as one your selection tends to only represent part of your relationship.
Couples gifts started me realizing just how insincere some gift exchanges are. I set a pretty high standard for myself: I really don't want to buy a gift for someone if I don't know what they want by my own observation. I feel like I ought to be able to pick a gift for someone without asking them for suggestions. If I can't, then I probably don't know that person well enough to be getting them a gift in the first place. That can change from year to year, too; changing jobs or homes or hobbies can all change how well I know any particular person.
Not giving a gift can be tough, and sometimes I buy something generic because it seems like the lesser of two evils. If I can't figure out what you want without asking, I reason, then the thought represented in my gift should be that I feel enough fondness to want to give you something, but we aren't close enough for me to have a clue what to get. Presto! I get a spoon for the rack on your wall.
I have a college friend whose family has an informal rule - everyone must have a collection. It makes it easier to buy gifts, you see - I know Katie collect monkeys, so it's off to Make-a-Monkey Workshop. Simplifies the process, but I think it takes the effort and thought right out of the equation. I felt the same way about my mother's practice of buying gifts for herself throughout the year, which my father would sell to us kids so we could wrap and give them. If Mom put in all the effort, then what does that say about my relationship with her?
My parents absolutely taught me to abhor giving money as a gift. I recall them giving me money once, and I got my ear pierced with it (and trust me, shoving a rolled-up twenty through your ear is no fun). Since they never did it, I learned that it's a Bad Thing, and that jibes with my attitude about putting thought into a gift. Of course, I've come to understand that money is energy, so how should that change my attitude about giving it? Well, if I were to give my friend a kilowatt hour of electricity, what does that say about our relationship? Maybe there are times when money is an appropriate gift, but it's not my first choice.
However, there is certainly a place for the office gift collection. If you've worked in an office, you've been asked to put money in for Betty's baby or Dennis' engagement from time to time, and I rather like the idea. My rationale is that this is when money is channeled much like magical energy can be in a Cone of Power. The Collectress is asking all of you to channel a portion of your energy (five bucks or so), and she will focus the energy towards its intended recipient. The person focusing that energy is much more likely to have a good idea for an appropriate gift than I do, so I can relax my threshold of when it's appropriate to give.