Dear Fuck-Up: My Husband's Family Won't Get Off My Back About Gift Ideas

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Dear Fuck-Up,

The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year ™️ is upon us... that’s right, the time of year when my husband’s family members relentlessly text us asking for holiday present ideas. I fucking hate it. He fucking hates it. It’s enough work trying to come up with your own reasonably priced, meaningful gift for your significant other... now I have to give someone else my great idea, but they get all the credit? Fuck off. Honestly if you don’t know enough about me to think of a suitable present, I would truly rather not get anything at all.

The last two years we have both responded with some variation of “Gosh we just don’t need anything specific this year, but a gift card always works!”

They have not yet gotten the hint, and continue to hound us with requests. We are not particularly close with his side of the family and rarely gather in person, so it is understandable that they are out of touch with us. But it feels very hollow to have them want to give “special” presents at the holidays when they haven’t given a shit the rest of the year.

All of this is to say, how do we get them to stop asking us, and just send us some goddamn gift cards if they can’t think of anything better but still insist on giving us something?

Sincerely,

An Ungrateful Daughter-In-Law


Dear Ungrateful,

I can’t begin to tell you how sick I am of the ever more popular notion that unless people care for you in a way that comports exactly with your particular preferences, their care is actually a burden. This is a poisonous idea, even, or perhaps especially, when wrapped up in the kind of winking, caustic-but-cutesy exhaustion of your letter. It’s not simply ungrateful to sigh dramatically because someone has the audacity to want to give you a physical item you could have and enjoy, perhaps something to remind you of them when you used it, when you would rather have a gift card, it’s also uncharitable. You are denying these people an opportunity to feel connected to you, to learn that you got really into Indian cooking this year or discovered a series of mystery novels or have a new favorite perfume. In short, you are denying them an opportunity to love you. That you feel they don’t exercise this opportunity enough the rest of the year is hardly a good reason to reject it entirely.

“Well they can love us with an Amazon gift card,” you might be tempted to say here, huffily, but it’s not at all the same thing. I know it’s not because I took a similar stance to yours many years ago and I have come to regret it very much.

Let me tell you a story about dishtowels. My nana used to knit this little square dishtowels every year that she would include as part of our Christmas present. She would also give us socks and little bottles of shampoo and conditioner that she would steal from hotels, which isn’t really part of this story just a delightful detail I think of fondly. Anyways, my sisters and I would get about five of these homemade dishtowels each, and in my early twenties I didn’t have much use for them, due to spending very little time in the kitchen, so I had a whole drawer stuffed full of these things. Eventually, I suggested to my nana that perhaps instead of socks and shampoo and dishtowels I would prefer a gift card for the mall. I presented it as a consideration, at the time, since I knew she was developing arthritis and knitting these little presents was surely becoming more difficult. Wouldn’t a gift card just be easier for both of us.

By the time I realized how much I should treasure those little towels she really couldn’t knit them anymore. Her hands started to fail her first—those hands that were always in motion, fussing and fretting over people she loved, wiping her red lipstick off your cheek, or off her teeth—and then everything else did too. In the end, she couldn’t remember that I asked her to stop making me dishtowels, she couldn’t remember ever making them in the first place, but I will never, ever forget.

Perhaps it’s unfair of me to use this story to make a point about your family members, who don’t use their hands to knit for you or fuss. You just wrote in with a question about telling people you want gift cards and I hit you with my dead nana. Isn’t it awful when people get so fucking dramatic when faced with a simple request?

Love,

A Fuck-Up

Brandy Jensen lives in New Orleans with her two dogs.

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DISCUSSION

anneelliott1993
anneelliott1993

This response pushed my buttons, so I rewrote it.

Dear Ungrateful,

We have a similar issue in my family. People go months without talking to each other and couldn’t pick out a meaningful gift if their lives depended on it, but the holidays have to be Super Special! It sucks. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.

Brandy’s dead nana story doesn’t relate to your dilemma because your in-laws don’t give you charming little presents, one of which is handmade. They ask you what you or your husband (their son and brother, ffs) want, then they give you what you suggested, which feels obligatory and fake and consumeristic and and sneaky and not like a gift at all. Asking you to provide a list of things that would make good gifts for you and your husband is asking you to do the emotional labor of caring and being interested that your in-laws could, and don’t, do. It really, truly sucks, because it takes what could be a nice, bonding moment and turns it into a cheat, and a fake, and it damages relationships.

It sounds like maybe the holidays spur some guilt in your in-laws for this lack of connection. If - and only if - you feel like being kind, start making lists in like October (or earlier!) of financially appropriate gifts. Give yourself lots of time to do this, and give them the meh to good ones, keeping the best for yourself. When you’re out of ideas, text “That’s all I’ve got! Sorry!” with a sad emoji. But don’t punish yourself for feeling irritated by this. It means you can recognize when someone else is asking you to carry their emotional water.

Sincerely,

Anne, the person you didn’t ask

PS - I hereby change your signature to “The Emotionally Healthy Member of the Family”