As a kid, I remember thinking it was sooooo important to get everyone in my life presents for Christmas. Maybe not because I was so generous and wonderful but more likely because I was terrified of not being loved, accepted, or esteemed. It was like I had to reassure people that it was worth their while to be in my life. I remember being super stressed looking at my gift list. Pretty sure I shoplifted a few presents for people when I didn’t have the money.
At some point, I couldn’t handle it anymore, and I let myself off the hook. I adopted an attitude of getting presents for people if it felt good and right or completely NOT buying anything for people if I didn’t feel jovial about it. Maybe you’ll get a present, a card, a text message, or literally nothing from me. Fuck it. I figure either you love me or you don’t, and there probably isn’t a thoughtful tchotchke that could tip that balance.
The next stage of my evolution occurred when I started noticing stuff that I would really love to have while Christmas shopping for others. And I made a secret pact with myself to always buy the stuff I wanted without guilt or shame. Just bought myself some home gym equipment two days ago as a matter of fact. Wifey seemed none-too-pleased about it, but it put joy in my heart, so I bought the damn thing.
Finding What Works
This all makes sense in light of my childhood tendency to shrink, be invisible, independent, go wantless and needless, don’t rock the boat or be a burden to others. Some kind of trauma or shame-based adaptation, no doubt. As a result, I’ve historically not been very good at wanting things. Whenever anyone asks what I want for a birthday or holiday, I’m usually completely baffled.
Perhaps I learned that wanting is vulnerable, expecting something is dangerous, relying on others is scary, and hope is risky. In any event, I’ve found what works for me, whether anyone else understands or not. I try my best to share my desires with others, but also recognize that I spend very little time thinking about stuff I want. So when I happen across something that tickles my fancy, I give myself permission to just swoop it on site.
That feels like love to me. So that’s what I do.
I had a bit of a relapse trying to buy gifts for my wife in recent years. This woman is a 3rd-degree black belt gift-giver, planner, surpriser, miracle worker. Really a force to reckon with when it comes to doing things for the people she loves. I tried to wow her with gifts a few times and totally bombed it. I’m glad she didn’t pretend to like those things to avoid upsetting me and that she felt ok returning some items. But it was still tough on my ego.
This too I had to recalibrate to something that feels right for me. If I think of the perfect anniversary, birthday, or Christmas present, I’ll totally get it for her. But if I don’t, I might just give her a card or some flowers. It’s important for me to remember that she’s not with me because I buy her stuff. Yeah, I still try. But it’s not good for my mental health to take it all that seriously. So I don’t.
Extending This Philosophy
What other holiday traditions do you do out of obligation that don’t feel right? Dinner with drunken relatives? Coating your entire house in an inch of glitter? Office parties? Traveling vast distances to visit people you don’t even like that much? Listening to music you kinda hate?
Whatever it is, you have my permission to stop doing that shit, effective immediately. In fact, you don’t even have to defend, justify, or explain your choice to anyone. “I’m not gonna make it to Aunt Mable’s 78th annual Christmas sweater knitting fundraiser.” And if anyone asks you why, you can kindly reply that you’d rather not say, but you hope they have a delightful time. Leave it at that.
And if they try to guilt or shame you into attendance, you can kindly tell them to go fuck themselves. Or as they say in the South, “Bless your heart.”
I, for one, will be enjoying my holidays doing the things I love.
I hope you do too.