Of course, my reaction was fake. I forced a smile and said "Wow! Thanks for the nice warm sweater, honey; it's just what I've always wanted." But I was screaming on the inside, "What on earth were you thinking? Do you have plans to take me into forest to act out scenes from The Deer Hunter? WHERE IS MY REAL GIFT?"
The sweater was my real gift so I sought revenge. I accidentally washed the wool sweater in hot water and threw it into the dryer - on the hot and high cycle. It shrunk so much that Army Barbie couldn't even wear it.
After several years of more "thoughtful" gifts (including a tin plate for our 10th wedding anniversary) I found a solution, written by Madeleine Begun Kane and reprinted here with permission: a contract. Just in case your relationship is taxed by camouflage sweaters and tin plates you might try substituting this agreement instead of giving subtle hints.
Holiday Gift Giving Agreement
AGREEMENT entered into this ____________ (Date) by Husband and Wife, hereafter called "Couple."
WHEREAS, Couple often argues over ill-chosen gifts; and
WHEREAS, a gift giving agreement may save Couple's marriage and/or reduce return trips to the mall.
NOW, THEREFORE, Couple hereby agrees to these provisions:
GIFTS FOR WIFE:
1. Self-serving gifts shall be avoided. For example, Husband shall not buy Wife the following:
a. Chocolate when Wife is on a diet.
b. Tight clothing meant to encourage Wife to diet.
c. Anything transparent.
2. Husband shall not give Wife practical gifts such as an iron, a dish washer or a vacuum cleaner ... unless husband plans to use them.
3. Husband shall keep track of Wife's clothing sizes, except those Wife refuses to divulge.
4. Husband shall not give Wife anything that can be bought at an airport.
5. Husband shall not buy Wife earrings that weigh more than her head.
6. Husband shall remember that gifts should be personal. Gift certificates, checks, and wads of cash are not personal ... unless large enough to buy a diamond watch.
7. Husband shall avoid all of the following:
a. His former girlfriend's favorite fragrance.
b. His mother's favorite fragrance.
c. Anything Wife admires on someone else, unless Husband confirms candor of compliment.
8. Husband is encouraged to buy Wife gifts in the following categories:
a. Anything Wife specifically requests.
b. Catalogue items discreetly circled by Wife.
c. Any object containing silver, platinum and/or gold.
GIFTS FOR HUSBAND:
1. Wife shall not give Husband anything that smells like perfume ... no matter how macho its name.
2. Wife shall not buy Husband home repair manuals.
3. Wife shall not give Husband anything "cute."
4. Wife shall not buy Husband silk boxers, unless she agrees to wear a matching pair.
5. Wife shall not give Husband anything that's for Husband's own good.
6. Wife is encouraged to buy husband items in the following categories:
a. Anything Couple's 12-year-old son would like.
b. Sporting equipment, provided Husband can exchange it for something with a better feel.
c. Electronic and computer equipment, provided Husband can exchange it for something with more oomph.
1. If, despite all precautions, one spouse buys the other something he/she hates, Couple shall behave in a diplomatic fashion. Saying the following shall not be deemed diplomatic:
a. "Are you insane? How could you get me something so ugly, stupid, and out of style?"
b. "Give me the receipt you cheapskate. And while you're at it, give me your gift back."
c. "But you said you wanted this. I have you on tape."
2. Couple shall cherish the loving thought behind every single gift ... even the ones they exchange.
This treaty really works. Next to my new cordless drill was a tiny box, wrapped to perfection. The contents included a beautiful locket to place miniature photos of my children. It looked exactly like the photo of the necklace I circled with a yellow neon highlighter.
JoEllen Barnhart is assistant to the director for Frostburg State University's Hagerstown Center. She has three sons. The Web-site for Madeleine Begun Kane is www.MadKane.com.