The Present

Whether lovers, enemies, friends or strangers, every relationship requires communication, even if that communication is silent ignorance. Most of these signals are sent through word and touch, though a thoughtful deed won’t go unnoticed.

Lovers may hold hands, lock eyes or whisper sweet nothings; enemies will taunt, mock or strangle one another, and friends might high-five or plant a firm hand on the buttocks as a sign of respect. Even passing motorists will engage in the nod. One effective form of communication often used on holidays and anniversaries is the giving of gifts.

Buying a gift for someone can be a wonderful way to express how we feel, especially when the gift is unwarranted, but there are many rules to follow – important rules – which, when broken, can leave the recipient feeling disappointed and unappreciated. These rules include:

  1. Don’t buy fake diamonds for your lover.
  2. Don’t repackage a gift that you’ve received.
  3. Don’t spend too much.
  4. Don’t spend too little.
  5. Don’t buy someone something because you want it for yourself.
  6. Buy something that shows you care enough about the person to know their interests.
  7. Buy something that appropriately reflects the stage of your relationship.
  8. Don’t give cash.

We could spend a great deal of time dissecting these rules to determine which is the most appropriate gift for each situation, but let’s just sum them up as get the person what they want. Simple, right? But how do we know what they want?

Unfortunately, there is a frustrating rule that restricts how we may go about obtaining this information: we are not permitted to ask the recipient what they want. That’s right, we are supposed to seek out the perfect gift for someone, but instead of simply asking the person what that is, we must waste countless hours scouring malls and department stores, asking friends, family and strangers for help, and then, in utter desperation, turning to the Internet.

The Internet can’t help you.

The whole gift-giving scenario is intentionally crafted to be difficult. This is probably because everything we could ever want or need is affordable and easy to find. Also, most products are mass-produced, so there isn’t anything extraordinary or unique about any gift we might give. So since our gifts aren’t necessary or special, there must be some way to attach meaning to them, and this is what the search is all about.

We must find something that is unusual, specific and often extravagant or peculiar. The phrase “something you wouldn’t buy yourself” perfectly captures the kind strange requirements placed on gift givers. Finding a gift is a game, a cruel game, where the giver is charged with the near-impossible task of finding the appropriate object among an endless array of products. The recipient could just tell the giver what the item is, but instead sends them on a sadistic quest into the Nome King’s treasure room.

The pain and frustration of the giver are key ingredients for the satisfaction of the recipient. This is why cash and gift cards are such pathetic gifts. Giving currency as a gift does not result in the recipient getting something they wanted, completely circumvents the search ritual and removes any excitement from the gift opening ceremony. Also, if both participants give each other cash, then they either end with the same wallet contents as before they exchanged gifts, or the more generous person is now poorer. There is no effort or meaning behind giving money as a gift.

Gift recipients, much like teachers who give tests, want us to search; they want us to waste time looking at the wrong things. They want us to be filled with an aching uncertainty which plagues our mind until finally the gift is opened and we hear those sweet words, “Oh. Thanks, I guess.”

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