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TELL ME ABOUT IT

Gift imbalance is lesson learned, or epiphany in progress

By CAROLYN HAX

This article was published October 17, 2013 at 2:57 a.m.

DEAR CAROLYN: My girlfriend and I celebrated our two-year anniversary last weekend. She spent several hundred dollars on a gift for me, which I really appreciate.

I did not give her a gift because, as a new homeowner, I am somewhat strapped for cash. When I realized her disappointment, I apologized for being an idiot and promised to make it up to her when I am more financially stable.

She countered that if I could take two trips for bachelor parties this summer, I had no excuse not to set money aside for her as well.

Though I started out apologetic, now I’m angry that she is (I feel) telling me how to allocate my money. I also feel pressure to keep apologizing, which I’m tired of doing. What do you think?

  • Doghouse Blues

DEAR READER: Then stop apologizing, and tell her the truth: Which is …

That you find her materialistic and demanding, with multi-hundred-dollar expectations of which you want no part?

That you were just thinking of your own fun and failed to project what she’d want? Maybe you’ve said this already; if you have, then that’s a complete sentence (in the punitive sense). It enables you to say, if you’re pressured to apologize again, “I said I was sorry, and meant it. It bothers me that you seem unsatisfied by that.”

That you didn’t equate these one-time-only, bachelor-party trips with buying things, because you value experiences with people over material gifts? If that’s true, then you either offer an example of such experiences with her, ones that pass a laugh test, or you acknowledge that you haven’t made similar efforts for her. Follow the latter by figuring out whether you value her but have taken her for granted, or simply don’t value her as you do your buddies. Then admit this in a way that doesn’t come as a throat punch.

I should say, before I continue with my flow chart - none of these is intended as an accusation. Everyone values some people above others. It’s what you do with this that can create problems. It isn’t OK to stay in a relationship, for example, with someone you value less than you value partying with your buddies.

Back to truth-candidates, including …

That you think anniversaries are manufactured milestones? If that’s the case, then you pledge either to mark them henceforth because they matter to her and she matters to you, maybe while letting her know the kind of attention you like best from her … or, if you balk at that, you float the idea of your showing affection your way as she shows it in hers. Which is something you say only (yes, I’m shouting) if you actually show affection your way. No declaring yourself “too spontaneous” for gifts and then buying gas-station flowers exactly once a decade while refueling the Porsche she gave you.

I could go on (oh, can I), but by now I expect you have a pretty good idea what actually broke down here.

So - was it an oops you learned from, or is it an epiphany in progress? Your understanding yourself will help you communicate accurately, which tends to be the first step toward getting past something - be it past an ill-fitting relationship or past an episode of hard-way learning a deux.

Chat online with Carolyn at 11 a.m. Central time each Friday at washingtonpost.com. Write to Tell Me About It in care of The Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071; or email tellme@washpost.com

Weekend, Pages 33 on 10/17/2013

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