General Question

nikipedia's avatar

When you accept a gift from someone, are you tacitly stating anything else?

Asked by nikipedia (27333 points ) September 14th, 2008

…or is it fair to assume the gift is exactly what it looks like?

I think the classic example of this is a man buying a woman a drink in a bar. If she accepts, is she saying-without-saying that she is interested in him? Or is she simply saying that she’d like a drink?

I recently came across a man who spent $100,000 on gifts trying to make his ex-wife love him again. Did she have an obligation to say “stop buying me stuff” or was she morally correct to continue accepting gifts until he decided to stop buying them?

Do you have other stories of gifts that were a little more than they appeared to be on the surface?

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24 Answers

sndfreQ's avatar

Your friend must not be a Beatles fan…

trudacia's avatar

I think it completely depends on the person and the situation.

I’ve accepted many drinks and had no problem walking away from the guy….It’s a small gift and I personally don’t feel obligated to do anything.

On the other hand I was recently in a relationship that I wanted out of. My ex (sensing this) tried to buy me with gifts and offered his credit card so that I could buy my Fall wardrobe… Very tempting but I did NOT accept. I know lot of girls who would have….

marinelife's avatar

There are a whole range of shades of gray to this question (a good one, by the way!). I don’t think one can generalize.

A gift should always just be a gift. That means that technically (etiquette-wise) it does not obligate the recipient in any way.

I thought trudacia gave two very good examples of the different extremes of the spectrum.

If a guy buys a woman a drink in a bar, it is an opening gambit in the courtship dance. The first drink doews not obligate the woman to anything. It says “I find you attractive.” Her accepting it says, “Thank you for your admiration.” To express further interest, the woman makes eye contact and smiles. I would not accept additional drinks from the same man unless I was interested in getting to know him.

As to the other example you gave, I personally would not accept expensive gifts from a man wanting to buy my favor or affection. On the other hand, the man is the one who needs to get a grip here. The woman could be regarded as grasping or playing him, but he needs to use common sense too.

hammer43's avatar

A drink at a bar is just that. You should never try to buy love and if you find someone trying to do that well you should stop them from giving anymore gifts. I remember when I was dating someone, to me not seriously and she went way over board with Christmas gifts, I thought about it for a day and gave her the gifts back and explained to her why I didn’t feel comfortable with the exchange of gifts, it just didn’t feel right with me. To me if your friend had respect for her EX then she would have stopped it long before that large amount.

wundayatta's avatar

I don’t believe gifts are ever just for nothing. Within families and friends, it’s about cementing family ties, and showing that you care. It’s a social obligation. People often protest that they give just for the pleasure of giving, but I believe that if no one ever gave them anything back, they’d find little pleasure in giving.

Between men and women, it is a different game. A gift is never just a gift, but has to do with the dance of showing someone that you are interested, and that they should be interested in you. I think there is a generally accepted price list, too. Since I’ve never actually bought a woman I didn’t know a drink at a bar, I don’t know if I have the price list correct. It is my sense that buying a woman a drink, buys you the chance to talk to her. She is not obligated to listen or let things go on long, but she is giving you a chance to say “hey.”

When pursuing a love fantasy, the man often plies her with gifts. I’m not sure exactly what things cost, because it is always a negotiation. For some women, I believe, one dinner gets you a night together. For others, it might take considerably more dinners. Maybe cooking one yourself.

Personally, I find this exchange-based relating somewhat distasteful. I prefer things to be mutual, and to arise out of mutual interests or mutual respect for each other. I never dated. I met my wife at a dance workshop. By the time we were going to movies together and whatnot, we were already a couple.

I grew up in the time of women’s liberation. I always assumed women wanted to be equal, and we would each pay for ourselves, when together. That is what I always did. I find it highly ironic that my two children are very clear that the boy has to pay for the girl. With any luck, my daughter, age 12, won’t be going out with boys for a while. But I am dismayed that she buys into the exchange idea of relationships. And yes, we have discussed this, but she is her own person, and we have disagreements.

trudacia's avatar

@daloon, I completely disagree with your comment about “finding little pleasure” in giving gifts to family members who don’t reciprocate. Many in my family can’t afford to buy gifts and I am aware of that in advance. I expect nothing from them during the holidays and that doesn’t have any impact on the gift I choose for them. In fact , I enjoy planning and buying their gifts more than the gifts I buy for family members who could afford to buy them themselves!

marinelife's avatar

I don’t give gifts with the expectation of having them reciprocated either. i get a lot out of shopping for the right thing or coming across the thing that makes me think of someone.

sands's avatar

It depends on the gift giver. Some gift givers just give because they want to and others give because they want you to feel obligated to them in some way. The saying “look before you leap” is really appropriate in situations like this.

trudacia's avatar

@daloon, also, sometimes a gift IS just a gift! And “one dinner” does NOT get you a night with me!

sndfreQ's avatar

I’m inspired to give gifts by someone’s relationship to me and my life; if it’s family I give because that family member means something to me; for friends, it’s often given in reciprocation for friendly advice, moral support and just “being there.”. Often I give as a result of having received something that is perhaps intangible (valued advice, support in a trying time), so while it’s not one-for-one gift giving, it’s a measure of consideration and awarenes that I choose to express with no strings attached.

cak's avatar

Wow, that’s a lot of gifts to accept. He was giving the gift for the wrong reason, though. To give a gift to “win” someone back, never a good idea, in fact, it would push me further away. Also, I would return the gifts. Tacky on both sides.

Accepting a dinner invitation means something more than, “let’s go to dinner” no…it means, let’s go to dinner. Accepting a drink…means just that.

The notion that giving gifts are a social obligation as daloon suggests, maybe for some, but not for me. I have been poor before. I have been the person that couldn’t give a gift, but had others give and give knowing that I couldn’t give back. When I got to the other side of the fence and actually had money to buy gifts, I enjoyed giving them and asked that if they wanted to give me a gift, make a donation to charity. Most of them listened to what I said – a few, still gave gifts, but they were fun, silly things.

Sure, I guess there are people that think there are strings attached, but not most of the people I know. Not my family and it wasn’t how I was raised. A gift is simply an expression of love, friendship, sympathy or to cheer someone up…or for no reason at all.

In the case you described…it’s crazy. She’s taking him for a ride and it’s going no where!

Nimis's avatar

I love giving gifts! Finding the perfect gift for the perfect person can be quite triumphant. I don’t really expect anything in return.

However, I don’t really like getting gifts most of the time…for several reasons. One, I’m uncomfortable with people spending money on me. Two, I’m a huge packrat. So while I may like many things, there aren’t a lot of things I want to have. Or rather, there isn’t any space in my apartment for more stuff! Three, I feel a bit of performance anxiety when I open a present. Even if I really do like a present, I’m not a normally gushy person (in that particular situation) and I feel like there is a certain level of excitement that the gift giver expects.

wundayatta's avatar

So, all of you who say you give gifts for the pleasure of giving. If you give gifts and get cold silence, and turned backs in return, do you still keep giving? Is it still a pleasure?

You see, in my mind, exchange is more than material things. It’s about relationships. We do use material things to symbolize feelings, but it’s about the relationship. I have a hard time believing that people will give and give into a black hole when they get nothing, not a peep, back. Isn’t that why we teach our children to write thank you letters? Isn’t that what formal politeness is about?

People want to be acknowledged for who they are, and the role they play in your life. Gifts are one way of doing that. It’s best, of course, when you give someone something that makes their eyes light up. But that’s the exchange you are receiving in return for your gift.

We say, “it’s the thought that counts,” and so we even look excited when we get a gift that we don’t care for, and will take back to the store for an exchange the next day. It’s about the thought. It really is. And the exchange is another thought: appreciation. And I seriously have a hard time believing any of you would keep on giving if you didn’t get appreciation. No one is that saintly. If Mother Theresa had gotten turned backs and approbation for helping the poor get housing and food in India, she wouldn’t have continued. I mean, why? What do you get out giving someone something they don’t want? Do you still feel good about yourself because you gave something useless and unwanted to the other person?

Gifts are symbols, just as words and hugs and everything we do is. A carefully made dinner says how much you care. And Trudacia, I have to wonder, if you were in my kitchen when I was making my autumn soup, I think there’s a good chance we’d become much more interested in each other. But this is not about individual persons. I’m married, and I’m not about to make my soup for someone who misinterprets my words, twists them around, and makes a personal dig at me. Next time, I hope you’ll read all my words, so you’ll see the context of those remarks.

I think we live in a web of social connections. The world is full of strings—metaphorical strings—that connect us, and nothing, not even gifts, comes without strings attached, as CAK suggests. She denigrates her own value when she says that others gave knowing she couldn’t give back. She gave back, and in spades, if I know anything about her. It just wasn’t material things that she gave back.

We live in a web of social connections, and that includes obligations. Maybe some would refer to it as guilt. Others believe they can never do enough. But we all have these ties: to family, to other people in so many contexts, to our pets, to nature in general; the list goes on and on.

When someone gives a gift, maybe to a stranger at a bar, or maybe to someone they know well, but have hurt badly, they are seeking to establish a stronger bond. The bonds are everywhere, but you can’t see them with your normal eyes.

cak's avatar

@daloon – I’m purely referring to the material gift. I have receive more than I will ever be able to give. Cards from people I’ve never met, face-to-face. An email that has made me laugh so hard that I snorted…and I hate when I do that.

Giving to someone that doesn’t appreciate it, is different. That’s something very different. There probably is a little more going on there than applies to what I was saying and probably more than what some others meant, as well. In that case, I’d refrain from giving gifts. I would want to understand what exactly was going on in that relationship. Maybe it means to back off. I don’t know.

I think when you refer to this as an obligation, it sounds like you think of it as a chore. At least that is how it sounds to me. I honestly probably like to give more than to receive. I get throughout my year – hugs, smiles, laughter and thank yous. I’ve never been one that wants things. Even when I didn’t have things, I really never wanted them. I appreciate what is given to me.

I think I understand what you are meaning and from that point of view, it would be hard to see it as something that some people just enjoy.

Remove all the deep stuff, ok, maybe not all, but think of this a little lighter and without all the social requirements – don’t count the thank you notes. Don’t count anything notions that are already in your head. If you give a gift to your wife – do you expect something in return – material wise – another gift? Yes…appreciation is nice, but I’m just asking do you expect anything material wise in return?

wundayatta's avatar

@cak, nothing material. As I say, that’s not at all what it’s about. I do expect continued love, and for her to appreciate that I appreciate her, if that makes any sense. Again, this is my point: gifts (material or otherwise) are just glue in the social network building. They do not require material response, or a physical action, but I think they do require a relationship response—a reinforcement of a notion of esteem.

Yes, I think you are right about the sense of “obligation.” Sometimes it is a chore—and that is mostly when you don’t know the person, or don’t care for the person, but have to give them something anyway. Like when getting a birthday present for a friend of your child’s, but you don’t know the birthday child at all. Or when being asked to chip in for a retirement present for someone you may never have heard of. There are no social ties, so a gift doesn’t do anything here, and you will get no acknowledgement.

I don’t think people do pointless things. Cementing ties with a person you don’t know seems kind of pointless.

Which leads to the idea of gifts to charity, or to beggars—but I won’t go there now.

trudacia's avatar

@daloon, you stated “If you give gifts and get cold silence, and turned backs in return, do you still keep giving? Is it still a pleasure?”.....this doesn’t apply because I was talking about my family, who I love very much and who love me in return. Do I expect some sort of appreciation…I guess but it’s not like I’m thinking “Wow let me buy this gift because xxx will appreciate me sooo much”. I just think you were reading more into this question than I was.

I certainly didn’t mean to “twist your words” or take a “personal dig”. My apologies if I came off that way…just stating my opinion.

I understand why I can’t have soup…but maybe I could have the recipe?

Nimis's avatar

daloon: I give gifts anonymously all the time. I don’t secretly go back to see how they reacted. I like to confuse people with kindness.

Also, my pleasure comes from pleasing the person. Not exactly from giving the gift. If I get a cold shoulder, it just becomes more of a challenge. Either I find a more suited gift or I stop giving presents. But if I stop giving presents, it’s because I’ve figured out that (my choice of) gifts do not give them pleasure (not because I didn’t get the reaction that I wanted).
This is more than occasionally true, as I tend to have a lot of crotchety friends.

wundayatta's avatar

@trudacia, I’d be happy to give you the recipe, but usually I make up soups as I go along. There was a special kind of squash I discovered last year. It was extra sweet. There’s fresh corn, of course, poblanos, home made chicken broth, and cream, if I remember correctly. So sweet and spicy. I think I might have blended the corn a bit just to make it a slightly different texture—more…. oh god, I can’t think how to describe it—but corn kernels are too big, but you don’t want to blend it to mush, just to a kind of crunchiness. So you’ve got the smoothness of the squash, the underlying support of the broth, the slight crunchiness of the corn, and the wonderful lability of the cream pulling it together so it flows across your tongue like a sweet river of fire.

Oh man. Now you’ve done it. Now I gotta go make some. Too many unused containers of broth in the freezer anyway! Not to mention the frozen squash that is aching to give up it’s space in the freezer. And it would make me truly happy to be able to give anyone here a bowlful, should you desire. And we can stand on my back deck, and talk, or watch the leaves turn, whichever suits your fancy.

jlm11f's avatar

I give gifts to make people happy. So I do get something out of it. Them being happy makes me happy. And for me, that works as their “gift” to me. As for receiving gifts, although that is fun, I have to agree with Nimis about performance anxiety. I don’t really gush either and I have a hard time looking over the top excited, but I don’t want to hurt the person who went through all that trouble to think about a good gift for me.

chaosrob's avatar

What kind of a man do you have to be to try to purchase affection? And what kind of woman lets her affection (or the pretense of it) be bought? Honestly, perhaps people like that deserve one another.

nikipedia's avatar

@chaosrob: I don’t think people are that simple. Of course, I have more information about this particular situation so it’s easy for me to say that—I know that this is a good and kind man whose heart was in the right place who was driven to desperation and didn’t know what else to do. The ex-wife, though…can’t speak for her. Obviously, it didn’t work out for either of them.

chaosrob's avatar

@nikipedia You’re obviously in a better position to see the nuances than I am, but it still seems like a huge act of denial and a loss of perspective to assume that you can buy a woman’s heart. I mean, what if he’d simply offered her a check every week to behave as though she loved him? It seems sadder still that he was apparently a good person, but he was able to conclude that this was the right thing to try. Geez, can you imagine what would have become of him if it had actually worked?

nikipedia's avatar

I don’t think it was even a conscious decision; I think that was just how he dealt with his desperation—by trying to throw money at the problem. Anyway, said guy is in counseling for this among other issues and hopefully will not find himself in the same position again…. :)

Offrhode's avatar

My sons principal has done a lot for him as he is a special needs kid. We gave her a $100 gift certificate for her n her family to a local restaurant. without a word to me she had the district office give it back to us. The assistant superintendent gave it to me with an explanation of claiming a gift tax….! It was rude and inconsiderate. Now I don’t ever want to see or talk to her again because I am so embarrassed. I loved giving but now I don’t want to give any presents to anyone!

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