Friday, July 11, 2008

Sometimes It's NOT The Thought That Counts

I'm hosting a giveaway on my reviews blog, a first for me. I'm giving away a cookie bouquet to the person who can tell me the most pathetic gift story ever. I'm not talking about a sweater that was the wrong color, or the time you received a sauté pan when you clearly stated that you wanted a griddle. I'm talking about the most grievous of gift giving crimes, the ones that leave you speechless when you tear off that wrapping and make it impossible to even utter a 'thank you.'

I would totally win this contest.

It happened when I was in my twenties and dating a guy who was totally wrong for me. I was living on my own in the city and running a business. He was living near the beach, sharing a small house with three other guys, one of whom had a pot farm in the closet of his bedroom. If my mom knew who I was dating back then she would have been so proud.

We'd only been going out for a few months, and we were coming up on Christmas which is always awkward in a new relationship. The selecting of a gift for your first holiday as a couple is excruciating, since it will be infused with meaning. Spend too little, and it looks like you don't care enough. Even worse, spend too much and it looks like you care too much and will send the guy running for the hills. I've had friends ruin perfectly good relationships because they chose to give the expensive wallet from Barney's instead of the totally non-committal jacket from Banana Republic.

Thinking back, I can't remember exactly what I got him, but if it was like everything else back then I totally over-thought it. I probably considered no less than twenty different items, photographed them all and sent them out to six thousand of my closest girlfriends. Then they chimed in with their comments which I entered into my special Gift Meaning software that calculated the most appropriate level of meaning for each item. It probably told me to buy the guy a pair of socks.

He came over to my apartment for the big exchange since I told him I didn't want his three roommates hovering over our evening, and those huge, bright pot-growing lights were always so intrusive. When the time came he seemed eager to give me my gift, and he handed me a small square box. I tore off the wrapping and was surprised to see that the logo on the lid was from a very expensive watch company. If he had run this through my special software he would have known that a gift of jewelry means the relationship is serious, and I immediately started planning our wedding in my head. By the time I had opened the lid to that box I had already picked out the flowers in my bouquet and the names of our two children.

So imagine my surprise, or should I say horror, when the inside of the box revealed not a tasteful timepiece but a t-shirt, scrunched into a fist-size square and bearing this logo:

In case you're not familiar with this lovely piece of art, it's a surf wear company that was popular at the time. I'm sure in his mind it was the perfect gift; he was always trying to get me to abandon my city life and become a part of the beach scene, his tank-top-clad, Hooters-chowing, pot-farm-in-your-closet crowd. I knew I would never wear that t-shirt, unless I could wrap it around my wrist and ask it to tell me the time.

I know very well it's the thought that counts, and the idea behind the gift wasn't so bad. But someone should have told this guy that next to calling her 'mom' by accident, giving your girlfriend a t-shirt disguised as expensive jewelry is probably one of the biggest mistakes you can make in a relationship and will cause her to blog about it to the world many years later.

I think I'll go have one of those cookies now.

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  1. It was Christmas and being the girly that I am I agonised over what gift to buy my newish boyfriend. We'd been going out for a few months but fortunately I listen carefully to any hints anyone gives. I can remember a chance remark made in July and have it pencilled in as a gift for that December.
    So that year I went to a gentleman's outfitters and bought a good quality (read: expensive) shirt that he'd remarked (more than once) he liked. At the time I was earning very little (1/3 what he earned as a teacher) but it's christmas and he was a boyfriend I wanted to impress. I wanted him to know he was special and that I paid attention and hung on his every word. Even ones about this type of shirt.

    The gift exchange happened soon after Christmas. He unwrapped the shirt and put it on. I don't know how much he really liked it but he wore it more than once since then, so it couldn't have been too awful. As to his gift, well I wasn't sure how to show my appreciation for the gift he'd given me.

    I unwrapped the highly sellotaped parcel and looked at it:

    a speedway mug which he had bought for £2 on one of our 'dates' some months before. It was a white mug with a logo like this
    on it

    I recognised this mug instantly. About two months earlier, he'd taken me on a date to see speedway (In case you don't know, that's a 'sport' where young men barely out of their acne cream ride on motorbikes that have no brakes go round and round and round a track for no purpose other than to skid, as far as I could tell). Speedway! And not because I like speedway, nor in fact because he liked it (he doesn't) but because an ex-pupil of his was competing. I thought that was sweet and caring of him. Even though I was bored beyond belief.

    Anyway, during the what.. interval? we went for a wander around to look at the stalls where there was all this speedway crap for sale. You know the stuff: speedway pins, speedway T-shirts, speedway mugs, speedway keyrings. Speedwy DVDs.

    For some unknown reason my boyfriend bought a £2 speedway mug and muttered something about it'll do as a Birthday present for his brother (who is also not into speedway). I knew he and his brother didn't get on so I figured it was some rivalry they had between them about crappy gift-giving. Or maybe he needed change for something.

    Little did I know I would be the lucky lucky recipient of that mug mere months later at Christmas.

    we didn't last.

  2. Shortly after we got engaged, my step-MIL announced that they would get us furniture as a wedding gift, as they had done for my husband's two older step-brothers.

    We had typical college furniture - hand me downs from the 70s, brick and board shelves, milk crates... So I was SUPER excited. In spite of the fact that my step-MIL don't see eye to eye on, well, anything, she has good taste in furniture. I was stoked.

    Several months passed, and my husband's brother got engaged, too. They scheduled their wedding one week after ours, in Arizona, so we had to combine our honeymoon trip with the trip to see them get married. Whatever, we probably couldn't have afforded two trips that year, anyway.

    We went to Vegas for our honeymoon for 4 days, then flew down to Arizona. We stayed two nights at a fairly nice (but nothing to write home about) hotel in Flagstaff. BJ's dad offered to pay for our hotel stay.

    On the Sunday after the wedding, we all drove (me, new husband, both of his sets of parents, and his step-grandmother) to the Grand Canyon. As his Dad, step-mom, and step-grandmother were leaving, step-MIL hands me a wedding card that has, written in, "We hope you enjoyed your wedding gift of two nights at the Flagstaff hotel. Love, Dad and 'Linda'."

    If I had known that it was a choice between furniture and a two night stay in a moderately nice hotel, I would have picked furniture. We had planned to pay for our own stay, anyway.

    To top it all off, she was a total snot the entire trip. She did her best to completely ruin our honeymoon and my brother in law's wedding. She complained about everything and refused to participate in any of the other activities (going to the Lowell Observatory, etc.).

    If their financial situation had changed, with two sons getting married in seven days, that would've been one thing. But to get my hopes up about desperately needed new furniture, and then switch on me like that! Argh! They didn't help with any of the wedding expenses, either, although they did throw the rehearsal dinner with my mother in law, in their back yard, even though it was unseasonably cold, they wouldn't let anyone in the house - going so far as to rent a Port-A-Potty for people to use, so they wouldn't track mud 10 feet from the back door to the bathroom over tile.

    I told all the rehearsal dinner guests that the port-a-potty belonged to the farmer next door, and to just use the bathroom in the house.

    I still haven't forgiven her.

    Amy @

  3. Hmm. Much as I'd like the cookie bouquet (and it was just my 40th birthday this week), I'm not sure I can come up with a story to stop yours.

    My dh is ridiculously bad at gift-giving, and I spent many of the first years of our relationship sulking on my birthdays and Christmas. Finally, I decided that I should stop considering it a major character flaw, and just tell him what I wanted for various gift-giving opportunities.

    Sure, it removes the element of surprise. On the other hand, this week I got a gift-certificate for 6 deep tissue massages. I can live without the surprise, if I have to.

  4. Don't count me out yet...okay. I have a story, just not the time. Maybe during the week I can tell you all about opening the inappropriate xmas gift from newish husband at a family gathering. Beyond inapprorpriate, actually.

  5. Dude (and, after hearing about your former life dating the guy with the grow lights, I feel that I can call you Dude), that is the worst gift. "Bad Boy Club"?! I mean, goddamn. And putting it an expensive watch box. Was he trying to piss you off?

    That's worse than my worst. I had a really great boyfriend all through college, except he gave terrible gifts. Our first Christmas, he gave me Bonfire of the Vanities, which is huge and bad (sorry, Tom Wolfe) and which I read only b/c this guy I adored gave it to me. I slogged through the damn thing. Then I find out he had not read it. A friend recommended it to him. What the fucking fuck? You give your girlfriend a novel you've never even read? Bad move. I have like three other bad gift stories from him. Hm... you just gave me a much-needed blog post idea. Thanks! (Now that's a gift!)

  6. Well, not counting the holidays and birthdays when my family gave em nothing, there was the birthday that a close friend of the family showed up and gave me a gift, and then gave my dad a watch from her company that he had been interested in. Realising that it was my birthday he then handed it to me instead. Just what I wanted, a large men's FedEx watch. Fantastic.

  7. A Wedding Gift: "Happy 50th Anniversary" gold plate and plate stand. Never had the opportunity to ask if this was a prophetic gift, or something found in her
    Grandma's closet.

  8. It didn't happen to me, but as long as we're sharing hideous gift stories.....One of my friends once got makeup and body wash from her mother-in-law for Christmas.

    Both were already used.

  9. Oh...FOUL! That happened to me too, someone gave me a present in a Tiffany box. I mean, Tiffany? You're thinking silver fabulousness.

    But the earrings were from Claire's. And he didn't even bother to take the earrings off the black plastic claires holder. I still don't know if he was trying to be deceptive, or was clueless...

  10. I couldn't think of a worse story. But I am left with a question, since there's a picture of it on your blog. Do you still have the shirt???

  11. I don't have a good story. I just wanted to say, Hee! That is so funny about the tee-shirt. Thanks for the chuckle.

  12. OMG - so bad.

    My friend Tonya and I had a weird experience. She was dating one guy, I was sort of the almost interest of his roommate (we never dated, kissed, hugged, but more paired up by default). Christmas rolled around and then the gift exchanges.

    I got a perfume set from Victoria's Secret (after killin gmyself tryin gto pick out what to buy for the guy I wasn't even dating, I decided on a button down shirt from Macy's) and she...the girl sleeping with her guy? A gumball machine.

    She was, in a word, mortified.

  13. As one commenter said, I'm all for dropping hints. My honey is as sweet as they come, but totally clueless when it comes to women. I learned this very early on in our marriage, when he gave me an electric can opener for my birthday! (His comfort zone is electronics so that's the kind of stuff he likes to buy.) Well, that year, about 2 weeks before my birthday, I was trying to open a can of peaches with our ancient, lousy, dull-bladed can opener when I cut my hand. Of course, I complained loudly about the stupid thing and how we really needed to buy a new one which I'm sure is what gave him the brilliantly inspired idea. LOL... We've been married 23 years now and I've learned what to make sounds about. Hints about gold bracelets or perfume just don't work. Sigh... But I've gotten lots of great electronic stuff like my Cuisinart food processor (I love to cook), or my fancy European sewing machine (I also like to sew), and last year, I was "surprised" with a 52-inch Sony flat-screen TV. I may never get those diamond earrings (unless I buy them myself) but I've gotten smart about dropping hints. I'm thinking this coming December, I'm going to start making comments about how nice a complete home theater system would be. I have no objections to buying my own earrings.


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