Some people equate love with gift giving and for different reasons, but being given a present doesn’t necessarily show love. Whether or not a present shows love depends on the reason and the situation. For example, when we love someone, buying or making something to give them can be one of many ways to express that love. When I care about someone and see something which I think they’d like, I often feel compelled to get it for them because I want them to have it. For some people, expressing emotion is difficult, so buying something is an easier way of demonstrating their feelings. There are various other ways, many of them subtle, that people use to show their love. Things like providing financially for a spouse or child(ren), doing things like laundry and dishes, and cooking meals are ways to show your love by taking care of someone. Telling someone that you appreciate those things is a good way to acknowledge their efforts, as well as their feelings about you.
I think there are several reasons that cause some people to get upset when others link emotions with presents. One: it seems to suggest that if you don’t give someone gifts, then you “must not” love them as much. Two: most people don’t want presents to replace hugs and other non-gift expressions of love. Three: some people ‘use’ gift giving as a way to try to ‘prove’ feelings that aren’t really there, to try to “make up for” hurting someone, as a way to control people.
I think there are many different factors involved in gift giving. For example, when a person makes the sacrifice to buy a present for someone when it is difficult to afford, it means even more than when someone buys something easily affordable just to fulfill an obligation. Think The Gift of the Magi or of a single or low income parent who struggles to buy a much-needed pair of shoes, food, or medication for a child. Compare either of those to someone who, for example, just grabs something within the guidelines for an office Pollyanna without even considering the recipient.
I think it’s difficult when people make comparisons, or consider presents as a measure of someone’s love. Not everyone can afford the same things, and how much is spent isn’t always an exact indicator of the depth of someone’s feelings. My most cherished gifts involve more thought than cash. For example, a long time ago my brother bought me one of those orange outdoor extension cords. I really appreciated it, because I wanted and needed one. I knew he didn’t have much money, and it’s a gift I still use more than 20 years later! Another year, he bought me a nice, simple Bible. Again, I could tell he spent time thinking about what he could get me that would be meaningful, but something that he could afford. I still have that Bible, and it’s on display in my dining room with other things that I treasure. A more recent gift is a hat that my husband bought for me so that I wouldn’t get burned when I took my daily walks during the summer time. On the other hand, someone once spent much more money than necessary to buy me something that really didn’t suit me. It seemed obvious to me that it was one of those times that someone just threw money into getting a gift instead of putting any thought into it. I’m not the type of person who usually likes expensive things. I prefer handpicked wild flowers (dandelions, daisies, Queen Anne’s lace, etc) over expensive red roses from a florist, for example. Anyone who takes the time to get to know me at all knows that. I also don’t like when someone tries to use money to cover up for a lack of thought and/or preplanning. Then again, I also am not a fan of obligatory gift giving.
Using money as a way to control is the worst reason to give gifts. People who are insecure or in an unstable relationship will sometimes try to use gifts in an attempt to fix or preserve their relationships. Abusive people sometimes try to use presents as a way to instill a sense of obligation or dependence in someone else. They also can use presents as a way to ‘apologize’ and try to ‘compensate’ for their bad behavior, and will actually try to claim that the fact that they spent so much money ‘shows’ how much they care.
Love and Presents – Generosity or Materialism?
Thank you for writing this article. The best gifts I’ve ever received are the letters that my kids have written to me (from when they were very young on up to the present time). I also like to write letters to my kids (and I know that they value them, because they’ve kept them in their “special box.” There are many inexpensive gifts that we’ve exchanged that are very meaningful. These are the best gifts of all. I do like to surprise my kids with one fairly big gift at Christmas and one fairly big gift for their birthdays. I’ve never been one to buy my kids presents at a Target run, etc. Of course, there are exceptions here and there, but for the most part, I’ve stuck to this rule of mine. This has made Christmas and their birthdays that much more special for them.