This is mostly an attempt to get an outside perspective, as I’m not quite sure if this is An Actual Problem Worth Discussing With Said Person, or if this is just something Jerkbrain is blowing up to be bigger than it is. So, my best friend and I have known each other for about 8 years, are currently living in different places but are still in very regular contact, and for the most part she is an amazing friend with whom I have a tonne in common. The current issue on my part is about exchanging birthday presents.To be clear, I don’t really mind if we give each other presents or if we don’t, the issue I have is that it’s so inconsistent- we never used to do presents, then we did, then one year I gave her a birthday present and she didn’t give me one (our birthdays are about three months apart, mine is after hers), so I figured we weren’t doing presents anymore and didn’t get her a present for her birthday the following year, but then she gave me a fairly pricey gift for my birthday three months later so I had an internal freakout about being a terrible person and got her an equally priced Christmas present (we don’t do Christmas presents, not an issue) and then this year, again, I got her a birthday present because based on last year it appeared to be A Thing We Do, and I got zip for mine. If I’m being perfectly forthright, this happens because, while BFF is a wonderful, smart, kind person, she’s a little…well, inconsiderate isn’t the right word, she’s not that bad, but for her outside of her immediate family and her boyfriend gift-giving seems to be on a more “if it occurs to me and I don’t have anything else going on” basis, whereas if I think gifts are A Reciprocal Thing We Are Doing, I will make sure I get a gift regardless of what else I’m doing.
Again, it’s not that I feel entitled to a gift, I really don’t! This situation bothers me primarily because
(1) the part of my brain that gets really stressed out about social interaction depends on cues from other people when figuring out stuff like gift-giving, and the current situation is profoundly unhelpful.
(2) As the local oddball, I’ve always found it difficult to make friends, and I’ve been in situations in the past where I’ve made waaay too much effort to make friends with people who didn’t give a shit about me, and it’s always made me feel like shit about myself. This means that as a rule I don’t give presents anymore unless I’m absolutely sure it’s a reciprocal thing, because one-sided gift-giving reminds me of those times, and I never want to feel like that again.
(3) Related to (2), I’m not gonna lie, it is a little bit hurtful to spend ages looking for the perfect gift for a person and get nothing in return.
But again, as Frank Underwood would say, I’m entitled to nothing. My natural impulse would be to stop giving gifts to BFF, but for all I know I might get something from her next year and the whole awful cycle will repeat. So then I should say something, right? But what do I say? BFF doesn’t know this is a problem for me, and I doubt it’s a problem for her- I’m worried that if I say something it’ll come off as me guilt-tripping her. Any ideas? Or is this just my problem and I should keep it to myself?
-A Grey Warden
P.S.: She/her pronouns all round
Dear A Grey Warden,
Your script, should you choose to accept it, could be:
“Friend! I really enjoy the ____ you got me for my birthday a while back and use it all the time. I know some years we exchange birthday gifts and some years we don’t get around to it. What do you want to do about that in 2017?”
After 8 years and multiple gifts I think you can just come right out and ask what the preferred deal is between you. Additionally, you could set a budget or talk about skipping gifts this year in lieu of taking a trip together or whatnot. You’re not acting entitled to anything, you’re discussing the creation of a ritual that works for everyone.
If talking about it ruins the whole vibe for your friend then that’s good information for you (and less time shopping/stewing).
❤ and good birthday wishes, whatever you decide.