Wednesday, May 12, 2010

stealing from yourself

This is a touchy subject... how do you deal with a gift or an action that is inappropriate, or not 'right', poorly timed, or is otherwise unfortunate?

I don't consider myself to be a horribly picky person... but over the years, it's been pointed out to me that I am rather particular about some things. Like food... I don't care for lettuce and I really dislike melons in a mixed fruit cup/bowl... to me they're cheap and gross and a waste of space... if I'm going to pay for a fruit salad somewhere, I want fruit I enjoy and that's worth paying as much for as you have to pay for a fruit salad. So, I'll ask waiters and waitresses what fruits they have and if I can have no melon, just the other stuff instead, or just a cut up fruit... like a grapefruit half or a banana or something. Or I'll order something else as the side. I have been known to eat melons... but it's really rare.

I'm picky about fabric and color as well. I've relaxed quite a bit on the color issue since becoming a mother... beggars can't be choosers and James doesn't care what I wear. I'm Mommy and therefore beautiful in his eyes. :) I used to, however, never ever ever wear pink or salmon or peachy pink. Being a girl, that was a huge color problem while growing up... it was a cause for tears and screams and secret destruction or hiding of certain items of clothing. I do occasionally wear things in that color range now... but not much and it's still not a mainstay in my closet.

I'm seriously picky about a few things, but for the most part, am flexible. If something isn't right to a point where I feel like I have to say something about it, I'll raise my voice in protest... but then, more often than not, whoever I've complained to takes whatever it is away or just stops doing it entirely. So, I lose any chance of either getting the thing I wanted OR the sort of incorrect/uncomfortable (but sometimes mostly right) version of it. I feel like I'm being punished for being communicative about my needs/ wants, for trying to be understood better.

I know it's something to do with the way I do or say things. The way I say, "Thanks, but next time could you ___ instead?" or, "Thank you so much, but I prefer __ instead," whatever it is I'm doing. I guess I have some tact issues... and I'd like to fix them because the current results are, at best, annoying to everyone (me included). I think it's the "but" part... but how do you manage to thank someone for thinking of you, and at the same time express a preference for something similar but not what you have been given or what has been done to you... or let someone know what you really like or prefer without offending them?

I feel like I'm not unintelligent... it's just that there are different kinds of intelligence and this kind isn't my strong suit. I can read people really well in many ways, but when it comes to how I come off... I'm blind.

Some people's solution is to just say "thanks" and leave it at that, and yeah, I suppose that would work... but what if the other person just keeps giving you the wrong things or doing the wrong things to you or something? Won't it be worse later if you correct them after they've done it more often and believe that you really enjoy it or find it completely acceptable? Isn't it sort of like hiding something about yourself from them if you don't tell them what you actually want? Do people not actually want to know you better or give you things you like/ need/ want?

I just... I don't know. This is one of those areas in life where I feel like a Martian anthropologist.

Anyone have any ideas?


  1. From my experience, "thanks, but ..." is the best way to go. Both as a gift-giver and a recipient, I prefer the honest but polite approach. If things do not improve after that, more bluntness may be needed, but hopefully it will not get to that point.

  2. @Tiggerbone but what if it's taken wrong and the person gets offended and just stops giving gifts or doing whatever mostly right thing they've been doing? (This is the problem... I don't want the behavior extinguished, I just want it redirected to things I actually like or want.)


  3. I think the key is understanding that gift-giving is pretty much always a 2-way street. The receiving part is just as important as the giving part.

    When you give, your intent is hopefully to make the recipient happy. When someone says "thanks, but..." it may feel like a failure. The interpretation in that case is that you're only saying "thanks" to be polite, with the underlying agreement that the "but" part is your true message.

    Let's examine what really happens on your end when you say "thanks, but..." you are, in essence, asking the giver to be a better giver. However, you are not doing a good job of being a good recipient (I'm not passing judgment here; just presenting the opposing perspective).

    For the giver, this feels doubly crappy:
    - I gave her something and she's not happy.
    - She has the gall to ask for more!
    => If I hadn't done this nise gesture to begin with, I wouldn't have been insulted.

    What it's perceived as is you taking something and giving nothing back. Since you've already taken something (in spite of it being something you didn't want) you have to give back before asking for something more.

    I know this may sound really backward, but I really believe we always expect something in return when we give (even if we won't admit it). Hopefully, in most cases it's simply appreciation, in the form of happiness. So the giver needs to get that before doing/giving more.

    With that being said, one thing to try, I think, is heavily emphasizing your appreciation. Then, one thing that I've found works quite well is actually "asking them for permission" to suggest something different. Of course you don't want to end up groveling :) so adjust based on the person's sensibilities. Different people will need varying degrees of reassurance. But just think of any unsolicited advice you might have received through the years. Doesn't it tend to annoy you overall? I think the same applies to gift-giving. And most sensible people should respond positively to something like "If you don't mind, though, could you try [xyz] next time?" You might want to wait after the "thank you" part before saying that; that often works and helps let the appreciation sink in.

    Again, some people (due to personality or closeness to you, etc.) may only need very little reassuring at all, while others are really sensitive and might not accept anything other than "thanks, you're the most awesomest person ever". That's life, I guess. The idea is not to overdo it or it starts feeling really crappy for you. But you're smart and you'll figure it out on a case by case basis :)

    Most people don't care much for the hassle of tiptoeing around people's sensibilities just to accept a gift, so they'll simply say "thanks" and then trash the gift. I have a feeling, though, that you care enough to give it a shot :)

    Anyway, that's my expert opinion on the matter. Feel free to disagree, etc. but I hope this is at least somewhat helpful.

  4. Again, honesty is good. Just tell the person that you really appreciate the effort and the thought. Tell them what specifically you do not like and it should all be cool.

    For example, I once dated a girl who told me that she loved the fact that I would do my best to surprise her once a week with something small, but she did like it if the surprise happened at her work. This was after a few weeks in a row of me doing things like having a flower show up on her desk while she was at lunch, or a small poem or a mini box of candy. She loved the thoughts and the gifts, but she wanted them to be separate from work.

    When she told me that, I understood and changed my tactics accordingly.

    Similarly, I have had a girl be nowhere near as communicative, and it led to many misunderstandings.

  5. I meant to say that she did *not* like it when the surprise happened at work. Obviously, my proofreading skills have left the building.

    Also, Phong Le has a point. Depending on temperment, maybe emphasizing the "thanks" and then waiting to give the suggestion could be helpful.