The paradox of gifts

My Love Language results will tell you. Any astrology description of my sign, Leo, “the prideful lion,” will corroborate it too. I love gifts. I love everything about gifts. I enjoy the art of finding the perfect gift just as much as I love writing the thank you notes for the ones I’ve received. The sight of a wrapped package meant for me elicits a warm and fuzzy feeling, like the first sip of a good glass of champagne.

As a child, I was famous for immediately donning every article of new clothing I received at birthdays or Christmas. Eager to express my gratitude, I would wear my clothes for the duration of the gift opening, putting on each new item over the one before it. A child wearing layers upon layers of new clothes, I was the anti-emperor, insistent on making my gifts visible to those around me. With each new item, I would spin a little twirl and exclaim gleefully, “I love it! This fits me perfectly, THANK YOU!”

… Even when it didn’t. Oh, the horror of being given something in the wrong size. The giver would shyly mention the gift receipt taped to the bottom of the box while I insisted it fit me just fine, my mom tapping my arm in gentle encouragement to remove the ill-fitting item and return it to its box. My cheeks would burn with shame as I explained that I loved the gift anyway because it was my favorite color, and I was sure I would grow into it soon.

When it comes to gifts for those I love, I am even more enthusiastic. I keep a running list of ideas, and often, if I just sit down and think about it, I can usually come up with just the right thing. Cuff links made from Greek coins for my then-boyfriend (now-husband) intended to trigger the sweet nostalgia of his time spent living in Greece. A coffee mug embossed with an amateurishly photoshopped Beyoncé with her arm slung over the shoulders of my friend, her #1 fan.

In the times I must settle for giving the generic gift, I dread the moment it will be opened, my cheeks flushing in humiliation as the receiver sets my candle next to the other three she has already opened. Or, heaven forbid I give something that I believe is truly special, something I think the person will love… and they don’t. The shame! To this day, I want to crawl into a hole over the chunky, brightly-colored, charmingly tacky necklace I gave my new roommate for her birthday 10 years ago. She became one of my dearest friends, and I soon learned she is more of the delicate, understated, Anthropologie jewelry types. We never spoke of it, and I never saw that necklace again.

So, with this backdrop, I confess that few things make me more uncomfortable than the ceremonious gift openings of wedding or baby showers. Before you peg me as a self-absorbed hypocrite who only cares about gifts for herself, let me also say that the only thing more awkward than participating in the collective of ooo’ing and ahh’ing over kitchen utensils, monogrammed towels, and Pyrex dishes, is being the one to receive and publicly open these items myself.

After much reflection, I believe the root cause of my extreme discomfort is the inability of the receiver to express sufficient gratitude to each person for their gift. As soon as one gift is unwrapped, the next unopened gift takes its place. There is hardly any time for a genuine, heartfelt thank you.

During my own wedding season, I successfully avoided most traditional, public gift openings, opting instead for the almost-daily return home from work to packages waiting on the front stoop. I opened them in my own time and savored the thank-you writing, my pre-wedding insomnia granting me a few quiet hours of reflection in the middle of the night to pen handwritten notes of gratitude.

When my bachelorette party rolled around, however, my bridesmaids insisted I would open my mountain of gifts in front of everyone. They claimed my friends wanted to indulge in the fun of watching me open all of that lingerie. Yes, that’s right: lingerie.

So, warm and fuzzy from the copious amount of champagne, I opened the boxes one after another, revealing gorgeously delicate gifts of lace, bows, and frills. As I carefully pulled each new item over my clothes, I spun a little twirl and gushed: “I love it! This fits me perfectly, THANK YOU!”

Nicole Schowalter regularly enjoys champagne and has dedicated an entire drawer to her bachelorette gifts. She, ironically, loves receiving candles.


Feature Image courtesy of Melina Nastazia Photography.  See more of her work on Facebook and Instagram.

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