Unwanted Holiday G(u)ilt


From one weary gift getter to another: Happy Holidays!

What should you do when you get a gift you don’t want? Or worse, a weird one? Something really ugly, like a green and red wool argyle sweater with tassels on the chest?

Psychologists and other experts on these dire relationship matters dole out wildly differing ways to respond:

“Be gracious” is widely cited as the civilized, adult reaction. Okay. Maybe you could try not to sneeze too loudly while the needle-like threads scrape against your skin. Or maybe you could take not one, but two allergy pills a few hours before wearing the “sweater” so that your wool allergy doesn’t act up too severely.

“Thank you. What did you have in mind when you got this for me? is another response frequently advised by the experts. But I worry about this one. What if it leads to the truth? Like the real truth, like that your partner hates you and hopes your throat swells shut and you die from your wool allergy? Then what?

“Say thank you and quietly move on,” on the other hand, is outed as dangerous by therapists and recipients of horrible gifts alike because it leads to repeat performances year after year, after year, after year. I mean, how many horrid, flesh piercing, trachea-constricting sweaters can a girl hide in her closet?

“Pay less attention to the actual gifts and focus instead on the meaning you give the gifts you receive” recommends one social worker. And here we have the old ‘blame the victim’ game. Because if a gift is repulsive, it probably says more about you than it does your partner, doesn’t it? Seriously? I mean, if he’d paid even a teensy bit of attention over the past ten years, your partner would know that you’re allergic to wool. All wool. Not just the wool on the sheep, the wool sheared off the sheep and woven into “sweaters” too. And he’d know that you’re *especially* allergic to green and red wool.

Research fails to turn up a single, expert-recommended mean-spirited response. But there is a story about a woman who left her husband after he bought her a vacuum cleaner again for the second year in a row. And there’s another about a husband who finally moved in with his mistress after his wife refused to try on the trashy lingerie he gave her, instead of his mistress, by mistake.

But here’s one more possibility. It’s a story about a wife who cut the itchy, ugly, unwanted “sweater” her partner bought her into threads and had it re-woven into socks for him. Socks with tassels. On the toes. And she presented the red and green tassel-toed socks to her husband for Christmas that very same year. I think I like that response the best.