For weeks, I’d been racking my brain for the perfect gift to get my boyfriend for Christmas. I didn’t just want to buy a gift card. I wanted to get him a meaningful gift—something from the heart, specifically chosen for him, something I knew he would love. So I did what your average American would do: I drove to Walmart.
Over the summer my boyfriend had mentioned that he could use a drill. So I went straight to the tool section, pulled a drill off the shelf, and put it into my cart. My boyfriend’s tool collection could use a little help, I thought. And how thoughtful of me to take note of his comment over the summer and remember it six months later! Surely a drill would be the perfect gift.
But as I stared at that shiny power tool, I hesitated. Did he really want this? I put it back on the shelf and went to the toy section instead, where I picked out some Fairy Barbies and My Little Ponies to put under the tree for my daughter. At least she was easy to shop for.
I still wanted to get my boyfriend something nice, so I wandered the aisles of Walmart for almost two hours. The longer I looked, the more overwhelmed I became. Too many options, but not enough options all at the same time. I got to the point where I was too intimidated to even pick anything off of the shelf and put it in the cart. It felt like too much commitment. I really had no idea what to get him. Despite being a woman, I’ve never been good at shopping. I don’t particularly enjoy it, and I’m too indecisive to make it productive. I can find good deals, but I have trouble finding good gifts. I drove home with nothing to show for my time.
When I saw my boyfriend later that day I flat out asked, “What do you want for Christmas?” A surprise may be more romantic, but I couldn’t take the pressure anymore.
“A Game Cube,” he said. (Not a drill.)
When I told him about the drill idea, he looked puzzled, “What would I do with that?”
I was relieved I had put it back on the shelf at Walmart and not in the trunk of my car or under the tree.
The whole experience was an example of how hard it is to pick out a heartfelt gift. It’s hard because there is always the chance that the other person won’t like it. And if he doesn’t like it, you might feel hurt and even betrayed. Betrayed, because you think you know exactly who that person is, what kind of gift they would want, but then you find out that maybe you don’t know him as well as you thought. It makes you ask yourself, “Do I really know this person?” And in his rejection of the gift, it’s easy to take it personally and feel like a person is rejecting you. Plus, there’s the whole thing of not wanting to waste money on something that someone doesn’t like or won’t use.
Giving a thoughtful gift is a risk. It makes you feel vulnerable. It doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money, but it is valuable because it comes from the heart. And because it comes from the heart, it is a risk, because you are putting yourself into the gift, not just your money.
Relationships are like gifts in this way. To make a relationship meaningful, you put time into it. You put effort into it. You put yourself out there, and by doing so you risk rejection, betrayal, and hurt feelings. In the past, that has scared me away from committed relationships.
But it’s worth the risk to be loved. A relationship is only as strong as what you put into it, even if that does make it “riskier,” because you have more to lose. My boyfriend and I have been learning this together, as we’ve been learning to be open and honest and to let each other in instead of building defensive walls of self-protection.
So while I still am in search of the “perfect” gift, I’m also more and more convinced that one of the greatest gifts that my boyfriend and I give to each other is our vulnerability—our willingness to take the risk of loving each other. That’s not something you can buy at Walmart.
Photo: Flickr/ Julian Wylegly