Dear Wendy: “My Boyfriend Rejects My Gifts”

I am in a fairly new but happy relationship with a sweet, doting guy. I take issue, however, with his constant preoccupation with money. He doesn’t make much, but we’re both young and he has a better job than most people our age. His parents, who both struggle financially, seem to talk about money all the time, and have passed it on to him. I have already brought it up to him in a gentle way, that talking about money makes me uncomfortable and that unless he has a specific complaint he’d like to discuss or share with me, I don’t want to hear it. Now, since things are getting more serious, gifts are entering the equation. I bought him a thoughtful, not terribly expensive birthday present, and since I’m in a foreign country right now, I’ve picked up and sent a few souvenirs to him and his younger siblings (I know that they don’t get gifts very often). Basically, I haven’t been showering him with treasures, but I relish the fact that my ungrateful brother isn’t the only guy I can satisfy my menswear shopping cravings through. My guy seems pretty uncomfortable, even though I reassure him all the time that the little things he’s gotten me (as well as the pricey plane ticket he bought to come see me) mean a ton. I don’t care how much he has, and I wish he didn’t reject my trinkets. I really love giving gifts and can afford it at the moment, but he just seems a little uneasy and whines about how he can’t get me anything in return. What should I do? — Money Isn’t Everything

You say that unless your boyfriend “has a specific complaint he’d like to discuss or share” with you, you “don’t want to hear it,” but it would seem you don’t really want to hear the specific complaint either. He’s told you that he’s uncomfortable with you buying him “little trinkets.” He comes from a family that, whether for financial, cultural or personal reasons, doesn’t do the whole gift thing, and it’s weird for him to have his “relatively new” girlfriend regularly sending souvenirs not just to him but to his younger siblings, too. That’s his complaint. Is your issue that you don’t understand it or you simply don’t care?

Look, if your menswear shopping cravings are so intense you simply have to satisfy them somehow and all the guys in your life, including your “ungrateful brother,” your boyfriend and his siblings, would prefer you not shop for them, then why not find someone who would appreciate your gestures? I’m not suggesting you find a new boyfriend, but rather, someone for whom “little trinkets” would be uplifting instead of annoying or uncomfortable. Here are some suggestions: you could adopt a soldier; sponsor an orphan; or even sponsor an entire family (with the holidays coming up, there are many families in need of sponsorship).

Finally, I suspect that gift-giving is simply your way of showing love and affection. There are different “languages of love” and that happens to be yours. But if you want to have a happy, successful relationship with someone who isn’t fluent in that particular love language, you’re going to need to learn some other ways to express your affection (I suggest reading The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate to learn more). What you’re doing isn’t “wrong,” but it is insensitive if the people you’re expressing your love to have expressed their discomfort with your method. Try to find some other ways to express your love to those you care about and find other people to satisfy that shopping bug you have.

I am a second-year high school teacher. At the start of this year, another second-year teacher who I knew vaguely last year, “Jane”, transferred from another high school to the one I am at. We are both 24-25 (the average employee age is probably 35), and we both are proud geeks/nerds. I know how to “hide” that at work and act professionally when I am with my coworkers. She doesn’t. She often comes in wearing bizarre clothes, or stands at her door holding a stuffed animal of a vampire cat while greeting her students in a baby voice. Last week was Spirit Week and she came in one day wearing a full maid cafe costume. The last day, when we were supposed to wear school colors, she decided to accentuate her outfit with zombie makeup, complete with missing shoe and fake blood streaks (I should add that our Spirit Week was Halloween-themed, but not that day). At the spirit assembly by the football field, she decided she needed more dirt on her outfit, so she literally rolled around in dirt. Another teacher took pictures. I have more examples, but I think you get the gist. She is acting immature.

All that said, I like her. I usually get where she is coming from as I have similar interests, and we are friendly. My concern is all the gossip I hear about her from my coworkers, and while I try not to participate, I can’t say I disagree with them. Being weird and using that to connect to your students is one thing. Rolling in dirt around your work peers is another. No one dares to say anything to her, mostly because her mom also works at our high school as an assistant principal (she is a bit kooky herself, but highly professional where it counts). Part of me wants to go and have a gentle conversation with “Jane” about professionalism, especially since I think it is hurting her relationship with her students in addition to staff, but I wouldn’t know what to say. I don’t want to hurt her feelings, nor do I think I am the ultimate judge of how people should act, but I feel like something should be said. Am I being rude? Should I just leave the whole situation alone? Or should I step up as a work friend just as I would if I saw another peer walking with toilet paper trailing out of her skirt? — Teaching Class

There are exactly two types of people for whom it would be appropriate to discuss Jane’s professionalism with her: her boss (or even a union head) and a close friend. The former is a definite given, but even the latter is a little risky. You happen to be neither, and as such, any comments about Jane’s behavior would be unprofessional at best and rude — harassment, even — at worst.

I don’t doubt your sincerity. I believe you genuinely like Jane and do want to clue her in on the gossip, but you’re not the person to have that conversation with her, unless you’re far better friends than your letter indicates. From your description of your relationship with Jane, you’re “friendly colleagues,” not friends — not even “work friends.” Do you have lunch together? Do you ever have private conversations? Do your co-workers know you to be close? If so, why would they try to engage you in gossip about her?

If you care about Jane and you like her and you think you’d enjoy being her friend, that’s one thing. Befriend her then. Invite her to grab a drink after work some time. Chat her up more in the teacher’s lounge or stop by her classroom if you have shared preps. Do whatever it is teachers do when they want to become better friends with each other. But until you can genuinely say you and Jane are real friends, or until Jane pointedly asks your opinion, keep your “friendly” advice to yourself and let your boss decide if/when it’s time for a discussion about professionalism. It’s simply not your place to school Jane — even if you do happen to be the same age and have a few things in common — and doing so would not only be socially and professionally inappropriate, it could backfire in ways that might make your job unpleasant (the assistant principal is her mom, after all!).

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