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When gift-giving goes wrong

Dear Aunt Dandelion,
Please help me! My boyfriend’s mother is lovely and I appreciate how kind she is to me and I respect her. My boyfriend and I have been together for five years and plan on remaining together for as long as we live, so it’s important to me to get along with his family in the long term. His mother and I are very different people but I always to try to find the similarities between us and be polite all the time.

But there is one thing she does which I don’t know how to respond to. She will buy me a gift and then say “you probably won’t like it.” So I will say “No, I like it a lot, thank you very much.” Then she will say “It’s a horrible colour and you probably want a fancier one.” So I will say “Honestly, it’s just what I was looking for, I really appreciate it!” Then she will say, “You can take it back if you want.” It goes on like that for a very long time; I’m not exaggerating.

She does it to everybody and since she’s in her sixties she is unlikely to change, so I just need to deal with it better. I just want her to be happy and it feels like I’m being argumentative if I contradict her and say it’s great when she says it’s awful. I know it sounds silly, but it’s very exhausting and happens not just at Christmas or Birthdays and but all through the year as she is very generous. Any advice would be appreciated, I’ve come to dread receiving gifts from her!

Sincerely, Miss Frustrated and Distraught

Aunt Dandelion answers:

What we have here is a case of a giver who is so emotionally insecure, her behavior borders on the passive-aggressive. When she gives gifts, she covers up her own general insecurity by denigrating the gift and then essentially challenging you to reject it. The issue is not the gift, it’s the giver.

Aunt Dandelion can well understand your appeal for an approach to handling the awkward, and frequent, gifting occasions. You have shown how sweet and kind you are by continually reassuring this lady that you love her gifts. You are not being impolite by disagreeing with her, in this case.

However, there is a technique you can use that is neither contradictory nor rude, and that is to help take the level of emotion down a notch during the exchange. Whatever the lady says, simply respond with a quiet and sincere, “Thank you.” Nothing more – just “thank you.” In this way, you are not joining the lady in her emotional morass, and your quiet, even response should take the wind out of her sails. After three or four quiet “thank you’s” she will probably stop denigrating the gift. As you are no longer responding to her fear and insecurity, she will find it hard to keep the conversation going in the same direction.

Try this and let me know if it works. Good luck!

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