Do you have a friend who is too generous?
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!
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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)
You can follow Nina on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter. UPDATE (2019): Find Nina and her advice column at HER NEW FRIENDSHIP ADVICE SITE