I don’t like being asked what I want for my birthday, though I’ve never really known why. To be frank, I have a habit of being extremely opinionated without actually understanding myself. Such is life. But, some possible reasons actually came to me last night, and I jotted some bullet points on a notecard (which I organize into my recipe box of ideas) so I could recall it for you now.
When I’m asked what I want for my birthday, I can’t ever really come up with something. That feeling of being put on the spot makes me all queasy. My mind retreats inside my skull and reality gets all fuzzy. Being noticed or the center of attention really doesn’t sit well with me. I prefer subtlety in every area of life, it’s all shadows and inferences for me, thank you. This, I realize, is a personal issue, which would be unfair to subject you, my loyal audience, to rants about what my personal preferences…and the irony of that situation given the topic isn’t lost on me.
As much as I like irony, this is a rant about our culture and yet another thing I find to be degrading the quality of it. Why are we even giving gifts in the first place? Personally, I LOVE giving gifts. The best gifts are ones that celebrate a dynamic of the relationship between giftee and giftor. Sometimes, depending on the giftee, the magic of the gift is lost in translation, but it doesn’t matter much at the moment. When that person utilizes that gift, it strengthens our relationship, whether it simply gives them insight into something I appreciate, or more simply, it might jog their memories of me when they use it.
However, when you give a gift that someone has asked for, none of this happens. You are merely applying your finances to something they wouldn’t necessarily buy to enjoy for themselves. At it’s surface, this isn’t really a bad thing. It’s great in fact. If it weren’t for this aspect of gift giving, I wouldn’t own my fancy camera (shout-out to my mother-in-law, Sherry) or the super ugly video game rocking chair (shout-out to Rebbs, who got it for me even though she hates video games…and the chair). But at some point, it’s just mindless consumerism, asking for things we want, yet know aren’t important enough to spend our own money on.
There’s a fine line between materialism and consumerism, and to be honest, I haven’t had enough coffee yet to figure it out. Maybe later, but for now, let the semantics slide and understand the subject I’m attempting to convey. When I’m asked what I want, I feel greedy. I feel like I shouldn’t have an answer or I’m being materialistic. Besides, most of the things I actually want are fricken WAY outside reasonable price ranges (new gun parts, a house with a custom office and fireplace, paratrooper bicycles…) and I don’t really keep the kind of company who could whip out gifts like that. They aren’t my scene.
There are little things that I’d be interested in having of course. Books I would enjoy, clothes I would wear, gadgets I would use, but I don’t feel I should have to mention these things. I didn’t fully realize it until I started processing this post, but just below conscious thought, I feel slightly let down when people ask me what I want. We’ve spent all this time together and have this great relationship, but you don’t know what kinds of little things I would like? Throughout this past year, we have had conversations about material things, you’ve observed me using things I own, participating in activities I like, and expressing interest in a myriad of random anythings, yet now you can’t recall any of that? Have you been paying attention at all or am I just some prop or scenery in the 12-act play of your life? When someone has to ask what I want for my birthday, I get one of two impressions, they are self-centered and don’t really care about me, or they are lazy and don’t really care about me.
Remember, though, that those are just feelings below consciousness. They are easily fended off because I DO know these people. I know their heart and they do care because I know they wouldn’t ask someone they didn’t care about what they wanted for their birthday. This is a normal cultural occurrence, and it’s one that I regularly take part in. Sometimes, you just need to get an idea of where they are at now, in respects to those times you remember they expressed interest in other things. Sometimes you need your memory jogged. Or, like me, they typically buy all those things they want and need and you don’t have any clue what they could possibly be interested in. Some people are simply difficult to buy for.
So here is my solution: take your time.
Take your time to think about the person. Instead of analyzing them to pick what they might want, be self-centered and dream up all the ways this person is important to you. Think of gift idea that might strengthen this relationship. This is especially applicable to the elderly in your life, who can be IMPOSSIBLE, to buy for. In their last 50-90 years, people less important than you have bought them every conceivable item, which either made the cut or eroded away as time passed. The chances of you finding something they want to hold on to for $25-$50 is slim. Start thinking about the one thing they are probably wishing they had more of: time. Of course, you can’t actually do that, and buying them MORE vitamins probably won’t help. Consider the different aspects of how you could enrich the time they have left.
Take your time. You can think of a good gift for someone, you just have to take the time to do it. Of course, you’ll have to stop the endless cycle and to-do list fogging your mind for a bit, but you can do it. It might even be a rewarding little gift for you. Over the course of time, you have enough experience with this person to select something that will be meaningful to them and your relationship. Rarely will you be flying blind and you certainly couldn’t do worse than when President Obama gave Queen Elizabeth II an iPod with all his speeches on it…seriously, she’s a celebrity who is responsible for PR, not a politician…fire the aide who came up with that idea.
So really, take your time. If this person actually means something to you, plan an experience. Something you know they would like, even if they wouldn’t. Memories don’t go away until you get really old. Rebbeca planned a weekend in DC for my birthday one year. At the time, I definitely felt like she had finally found an excuse to do something she wanted to, and that is pretty much what happened (or we would have made it to the epic Smithsonian museum). But I’m having trouble thinking of birthday gifts I received in the past, except that one. It isn’t something I would have planned for myself, but experiences and time together celebrate the relationship and the person. They will remember that.
So take your time for someones birthday.