A Friend Who Gives Too Many Gifts

A Friend Who Gives Too Many Gifts

In this month’s HerTake question, Nina answers a question about a friend who gives too many gifts as well as how to end a friendship with someone who is not taking the hint. We love that our community helps each other in the comments section. Please add your two cents!

Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

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Dear Nina,

I would very much welcome advice on a situation that has been happening over the last year or so. I moved areas, and a woman (“Kim”) whom I had met online and talked to a bit said she lived fairly close and suggested we meet up. I thought it was nice she reached out as I was getting settled in a new place.

That first time Kim and I met, she brought me a little present. Then when we got together again, she brought me a tote bag. Another time, I went up to her city, and while we were in a bookshop she bought me three little books. We’ve met up at least six times and on every outing she’s either brought me a gift or bought something for me while we were shopping. I’ve never bought her anything. I don’t feel guilty about this, but I do feel a bit awkward. I feel as though I’m being courted, which is a bit odd. (Just for clarity we are both straight.)

I have at least two other friends who buy me gifts now and then and vice versa. In those friendships it seems to work out, but with Kim, I feel as though there are strings attached. She’s never said, “I buy you things so you have to be my friend,” but that’s how it feels, and it makes me very uncomfortable.

One other issue is that I’m coming to the conclusion that Kim is a very negative person. The first time or two, I assumed she was having a particularly bad time or was tired. But in most of our time together she complains about people and situations. If someone says something or does something that could possibly cause offense, she takes the offense.

As I hear how I sound in this note, I know that I’m not interested in continuing this friendship. The negative talk makes me dread seeing Kim and so does the gift giving. Unfortunately, I’ve already tried to pull away and she doesn’t take hints. No matter how busy I say I am, or how many meet ups I refuse, she carries on suggesting more and sending me long emails. (I am currently only replying to every other one.) I’m really not sure what to do next.

Thanks for the help,

Yours In Bafflement

 

Dear Yours In Bafflement,

Before we address ending this friendship, we need to discuss the gift giving. I admire people who get gift giving exactly right. Kim is clearly an over-giver. There’s no reason to exchange gifts with friends at every lunch, dinner, walk, and so on. On the flip side, I tend to suffer from under-giving. I might show up to a casual, last-minute birthday dinner with a card while a few of the other women found the time to procure the perfect small gift for just such a moment. I’m rarely the one to organize big group gifts for friends. It’s not that I don’t care about my friends, it’s simply one of those areas where the right thing to give and do is less obvious to me. My point is this: we all have different gift-giving styles, but somewhere between Kim’s style and mine is likely the sweet spot.

More important than the “right” way to give gifts, however, is the issue of why you never told Kim that her method was making you uncomfortable. The fact that Kim didn’t take the hint about the gifts when you never reciprocated is unfortunate, but you need to take responsibility for not speaking up about it after the third time. First time, yes accept the gift. Second time, another gift is surprising, but not quite cause for concern. The third gift and certainly the fourth, fifth, and sixth ones were all opportunities to gently say how much you appreciate the gesture in concept, but the idea of being spoiled by a friend was feeling uncomfortable. We can’t assume that our silent messages (like never showing up with a gift for her) are being communicated to the next person. Your silence might have encouraged Kim to continue giving gifts and to seeing you as a closer friend than you are. When we give, we often feel closer to the next person. I’m guessing Kim felt closer to you with each get together.

Likewise, Kim hasn’t picked up other hints. She hasn’t recognized you as an (understandably) unreceptive audience to her complaining and therefore has continued to complain. And she hasn’t noticed your lack of enthusiasm for making plans. Kim obviously does not pick up your hints, which means the onus is on you to communicate more clearly. I’m guessing you don’t like confrontation. (Does anyone?) Nevertheless, you owe more directness to Kim, a woman who welcomed you to town and tried to be your friend.

For the record, I want to say that your attempts to subtly give Kim the message that you’re not terribly interested in a friendship was the right way to go at first. I do think it’s unnecessary to be direct with every person as nobody wants to be told that the next person is too busy to make time. When I say “direct,” I do not mean that you should say, “I don’t want to be friends because you complain too much and the gifts were over the top.” That type of honesty would be unkind. Kim’s style may be perfectly fine for someone else. There are plenty of people who like to engage in the drama of “being offended.” I also find it tiresome when someone manages to find a way to feel offended at every turn, but for some women, bonding over such “battle wounds” is an essential friendship ritual.

As for exactly what to do next with this friendship, I turned to my mom to help you because she has mastered the art of balancing the subtle with the direct. I sent her your question and this is what she said:

“Clearly Yours In Bafflement wants to end the friendship. The question is how. Perhaps she should answer every third email, then every fourth email. There is no point in having a confrontation, if she has no interest in continuing the relationship. If, on the other hand, she does not mind seeing Kim on occasion, then she has to set some ground rules. First, no more gifts. Second, if Kim persists on complaining about other people, then Bafflement might consider asking Kim if she can put herself in the other person’s shoes. Maybe she can offer a different way to look at the “offense.” That would be an interesting conversation. There is no reason for Bafflement (or anyone) to be mute and listen to the complaints without offering some feedback. If, however, all of the above seems like too much work, I would advise fading away a little bit at a time.”

A quick note on my mom and gifts. My mom and my nieces are staying at my house this week. My mom remembered our shortage of towels from the last time she visited so what do think arrived in a big Bloomingdales box days before her trip? New towels! It was the perfect hostess gift for me because my mom knows I like useful gifts most of all.

I hope our advice helped and that you’re able to let this friendship go in the kindest way possible.

Good luck! Nina (and my mom, Kathy)

 

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15 comments

  1. Nina, I also find it draining when some people find (in fact go looking for) any reason to be offended. I never quite understood why, but I think you nailed it.

    “…for some women, bonding over such “battle wounds” is an essential friendship ritual.”

    Thanks for shedding light on this!

  2. Eeek – this is awkward.

    On the matter of gift-giving, I’m a good gift-giver and I really do so very randomly, like if I see something someone will like, I’ll get it for them. I wonder if some friends think I give too much? I do stop if it’s evident that there’s an element of discomfort, or awkwardness 🙂

    Oh, maybe Kim’s love language is gifts?
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    • R. Klempner says:

      Me three! I was thinking that her love language must be gifts, too!

      And maybe she’s really, really lonely, so she feels she’s giving to you in appreciation for your friendship.

      If this were the case, and you don’t really want to take the (very good) advice that Nina and her mom gave, you could buy her a gift. Something small, but something that reflects what you know about her.

      It reminds me of my relatives whose language is words of affection. They will call me like crazy until I call them. If I call them regularly – not even a lot, just regularly – they will stop the incessant ringing me up for random reasons.

      If she’s really negative, you might have to deal with that separately, if you choose to salvage the relationship at all. But that’s what I’m thinking here.

  3. Caryn says:

    Oh gosh, I feel uncomfortable just reading about all those gifts. (For the record, I am a horrible gift-giver which is why I love weddings and showers — REGISTRIES!). But back to the letter, I completely agree with your response Nina. It’s a delicate dance for sure, but life is too short for either participant in a friendship to not be getting what they need out of the relationship. Though I fear the letter writer might not be able to just fade away because as you point out, Kim hasn’t responded to any hints as of yet. I wish I knew the magical way to confront without confronting! Good luck Yours in Bafflement!

  4. The gift giving would make me uncomfortable, too, but I think I might say something in a kind, gentle way even if I didn’t want to continue the friendship (particularly with the negativity…which would bother me much more than the gifts). Having been on the receiving end of a gradual-friendship-decline, I think a straightforward approach may be kinder. Otherwise, in the best case, the new friend may feel confused and hurt, never understanding why. In the worst case, the friend may actually step up the gift giving! I’ve seen this happen to a friend of mine. Also, maybe the new friend is incredibly insecure (and that’s why she gives gifts) so maybe if they have a heart to heart, it would help her make changes in the future…whether or not she wants to remain friends. PS. Your mom is welcome to visit anytime, she is a gem. And I need new towels, too. 😉
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  5. I like your mom’s idea of pointing out the other person’s point of view. If you do that enough times, Kim will eventually grow tired of her Pollyanna outlook and maybe even think she’s no fun! Problem solved!

  6. I am a self-proclaimed terrible gift giver. I love my family and friends dearly, but the desire/ability to find “just the right gift” does not go hand-in-hand with my affections. And yes, it’s awkward at times to be the one who never gets it right.

    As always, however, you’ve given the gift of a great answer, Nina.
    I especially appreciated your insight that Baffled had allowed (not unkindly, simply hopefully) the gift-giving to continue. I truly hope Baffled finds a way to extricate herself from Kim. Negativity is exhausting and taking offense (when giving the benefit of the doubt is an option) is something I can’t abide.

  7. Tamara says:

    I love what your mom said! I am baffled about how to end friendships, although it doesn’t happen often. I have to be pretty overwhelmed by someone to do so. Your mom is genius, though. And you!

  8. Gail Freedman says:

    The gift giving thing would creep me out, especially the 3rd time I’d say something.

    You’re mom sounds amazing, supportive and so loving. What a treasure you have in her.

  9. I thought about one of my sisters immediately when I read this. She is a gift-giver. She doesn’t have a ton of girlfriends, never has. She’s just not a GNO type. But she’s a friend and sister to the ends of the earth, sometimes to a fault. She will often go above and beyond for someone’s birthday and rarely is it reciprocated, at least nowhere near the extent of what she offers, because most people just don’t have the time or interest to do the same in return. And I have painfully seen friends and acquaintances pull away, in not so subtle ways, as a result. And it kills me, because I know she has a heart of gold, and that the abundance she showers upon others stems from a feeling of inferiority or insecurity. And I long for others to see and appreciate her genuine desire to be a friend and that she’d be that kind of friend who’d stand up for you while others run when times gets rough. So, I don’t know. I’m a huge proponent of tolerance and compassion, but we all have to set boundaries that feel right to us, but some sure could learn how to do that more kindly.

  10. Pam says:

    I don’t think I have ever disagreed with your friendship advice! I think you (and your mom) are right on here, as usual. The gift-giving sounds to me like an extension of a more general problem- this woman’s inability to perceive or respect social cues.
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  11. Sarah says:

    Hmm. I love giving little gifts to my (good) friends. If I see something that makes me think of them, I get it. Doesn’t matter if it’s a special occasion or not–if it’s screaming their name, I get it. But, again, these are good friends already. What’s described here would make me very uncomfortable. And, though I originally thought differently, I believe you’re right here: “We can’t assume that our silent messages (like never showing up with a gift for her) are being communicated to the next person.”

    Honestly, the constant negativity and being offended about everyone and everything would have done the friendship in for me before the gifts.
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  12. Desi_des says:

    I think the giftgiver needs to be mature enough to be able to read between the lines and leave you alone. I have been in a similar situation where my gifts clearly made someone I considered a “friend” far too quickly, very uncomfortable. I think they suspected that I wanted something from them in return and I found this quite painful, as that couldn’t have been further from the truth. I began to get angry with myself for allowing my actions to be misinterpreted. I wanted so badly to tell this person that I knew what they were thinking and that I was just a giftgiver, but I decided not to go to that level and to just invest my time and efforts with people who knew me and already appreciated me. Making new friends can be hard work and not everyone is interested in being your friend. Giftgiver really needs to accept that fact pretty quickly and move on with her life.

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