Over the past few weeks readers have had a burning question... what do you do when a friend or loved one returns a seemingly unwanted gift you gave them?
In many cases this is one of those life situations that can cause an emotional roller coaster. As I've mentioned in one of my first posts here the act of giving can be incredibly deep and meaningful to the giver. When this passing of care, love, and intimate feelings are interrupted in some way a great deal of hurt can follow. Hurt that can be greatly squelched if only the question of why was answered. The problem is many people returning gifts are afraid of a confrontation or to hurt you any further and will try to be as vague as possible. The good thing is you can find closure in some of the most common reasons why a gift has been returned below. First, how should you handle the situation when it first happens?
What to do when a person returns a gift?
Etiquette tomes all say the same thing, there is only one thing to do when someone says no thank you and that's to accept its return without confrontation or making any sort of a grand ballyhoo. Your emotions may rise and you might even be slightly shocked or put off. Try to keep all of this in check and accept the item back with grace.
In a calm tone you can also ask why your friend is giving the item back? If the reason is something you feel is a misunderstanding you can gently ask them to please reconsider taking it. If they still refuse that should be the end of it. Keep a stiff upper lip, say OK and move on. I like to think gift giving is, not about you or me, it's about them! They might be setting healthy boundaries which are deeply personal to them.
For more on healthy boundaries, including gifts, watch online this video by one of my favorite YouTuber's holistic psychotherapist Victoria Lorient-Faibish.
“Affirmation: “My gift recipients have the freedom to do whatever they want with my gifts (my attention, help, etc.)—since it is now theirs.” It is OK for them to reject the gifts and you can still feel good because you gave in the spirit of true unconditional, non-demanding love.”
— Tom G. Stevens
While each situation is unique the factors causing a person to return a gift usually are not. The person returning your gift might be trying to send you a message or they might actually be acting in your better interest. The latter of which could be one of the best and most meaningful gifts to receive. That's why it's important not to jump to conclusions or take anything too personal initially. Especially if we're talking about an established relationship of many years.
"Talk not of wasted affection - affection never was wasted."
—Henry Wadsworth LongfellowSo what are the common reasons people decline gifts? Here is what I've found:
- They simply do not like it. Yes, this has to be one of the few reasons that isn't very socially sound or high on the etiquette list. Still it's a valid reason and it can be common among close friends who frequently swap gifts anyway. What can be hurtful is when a person you do not know well returns a gift with a frank, I hate this or This is so ugly why did you give me this? comment to go along with it. This sheds a lot of light on the individual you're dealing with and what their level of gratitude and entitlement is (for more on what should have been done, read this by Emily Post). Accept the gift back graciously and think twice about giving anything else to this particular person in the future.
- The gift didn't fit. This again is very common among close friends and relatives. Things happen! This is also another good reason to read our The Top Gifts Your Shouldn't Give article which helps guide you through avoiding particularly tricky gifts that might not go over very well. If you're gift didn't come with a gift receipt the person might feel it better to give the gift back to you instead of re-gifting it or trying to sell it.
- They already have one. Great minds think alike and someone else might have beat you to the pass. In most cases the person returning the gift will let you know flat out that your gift is a duplicate. Take it back and either use it yourself or try to get your money back. One nice thing about the latter is you can use the refund to purchase another gift and try again.
- They're Just Not That Into You. Quoting the hilarious and often times true book by Greg Behrendt, this is an area where very special attention should be paid. If you're giving a gift to someone because you have obvious romantic feelings you're trying to convey (good for you!) and the person returns the gift it should be clear that they're not interested. Do not take this personally and even better, consider yourself as having very good taste. This person is being honest with their feelings and you not to mention very chivalrous. There are a lot of people out there today who are not and look to use and exploit peoples feelings any chance they get for their own personal gain. Move on and keep trying with others you find interesting!
Another thing to think about when it comes to romantic gifts is that a person might be interested in learning more about you but feel it's too early in the relationship for gifts just yet. They also might feel you're trying to buy their affection (which never works by the way!). If you think this is the case save the gift and give it later, if you can, once the relationship has progressed. Betsy Prioleau in her book Swoon also makes an interesting point on why giving men physical gifts can be particularly tricky (also read further below):
"Women put stock in presents, they take them to heart and regard them more intimately than men."
- It's a guy thing. I've been curious as to why there has been a highly disproportionate number of women telling me their gifts to men were rejected and returned, and in some cases rather rudely to boot. Betsy Prioleau in her book Swoon along with others have shed a lot of light on this recently with the ultimate answer seeming to be machismo. Along with Prioleau's telling quote above she also says physical love tokens from men have been practiced for so long and is so widespread (79% of cultures do it!) that it has become ingrained in courtship. Some men maybe feel bad excepting things when they themselves have not given you anything (yet) &/or they have no desire to really ever start dating or forming a commitment, something gifts can strongly represent to them. Dating coach Matthew Hussey writes, "...men don't value what they didn't earn in the first place." 18th century painter Sir Joshua Reynolds noted the same hundreds of years earlier saying:
"Men are like certain animals who will feed only when there is but little provender, and that got at with difficulty; but refuse to touch it when there is an abundance before them."
This seems a likely answer to the baffling returned birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah, etc., gifts, many of which were probably merely given in friendly gestures of kindness, the way they're also given to girlfriends and family members. Steve Sims of the Bluefish concierge service gives sage advice in Glamour for getting around all this:
"Go for experiences, not [physical] items and focus on the message, not the money. If the gift is financial, it can always be topped. When it evokes a great memory, it can't." They suggest renting a dream car for a long day of scenic driving, a boat for fishing, tickets to a game or concert and so on or being extra nonchalant and extending an invitation to something you're already doing. A charity event or big bash, Salsa lessons, a concert, a lovely restaurant, a picnic in the park, a bistro you're sitting at for hours anyway. If they come, share with them, and if they never do who cares. You're having an amazing experience and the opportunity to invite others still exists.
- They feel like you're trying to buy their time or friendship. As mentioned above some people have had run ins with people who thought the only way to a relationship was through gifts and trying to buy another persons time. In many cases these people trying to buy others can act hurtfully or inappropriately and then, in an attempt, to cover or smooth the situation shower the person with gifts. This becomes a vicious and damaging cycle in the relationship. In most cases, people who have experienced this behavior in their life will now be very leery of excepting any gifts from people they do not know well. They also do not want confrontation and will avoid it at all costs.
"If you haven't come to fully accept yourself with both light and dark facets and feelings, how can you possibly like and respect yourself? This issue sets you up for having to buy another's love with gifts, gestures and behaviors that consistently place another's desires and needs before your own." -Shari Schreiber, M.A.Accept the return gracefully and if you value the relationship, keep it going until the person sees you as a good, trustworthy person who is giving gifts out of generosity and true care. As with many things lasting friendships can take time to materialize and that's OK because it builds perspective and meaning.
Watch holistic psychotherapist Victoria Lorient-Faibish talk about The Pattern of Control Through Generosity:
- The gift can be seen as inappropriate. This is one avenue that can go in many directions. One of the most glaring is giving gifts privately to subordinates at work. If someone, especially women, feel their boss is giving them personal gifts the right thing to do is always to return them. Some companies also have value caps where expensive gifts are simply not allowed. In these hard economic times no one wants to jeopardize their job or position. One also has to think about married individuals accepting gifts from the opposite sex. Especially if the gift giver is single. This can make people feel uncomfortable and their wishes should be respected.
- The relationship fails to warrant such a gift. Lately I've noticed many people coming to this page because they want to return a thank you gift specifically. The reason is possibly explained in this insightful WSJ article by Melinda Beck:
"It's possible, of course, to over-do expressions of gratitude, particularly if you try to show it with a gift. "Thanking someone in such a way that is disproportionate to the relationship—say, a student giving her teacher an iPod—will create resentment, guilt, anger and a sense of obligation," says Dr. Froh.
"Gratitude can also be misused to exert control over the receiver and enforce loyalty. Dr. Froh says you can avoid this by being empathic toward the person you are thanking—and by honestly assessing your motivations." (also see the video above by Victoria Lorient-Faibish as she speaks more about this as well). Read the entire article here.
“Never give anyone more than they are emotionally capable of receiving, or they will have no choice but to hate you for it.”
— Indian Monk via Elizabeth Gilbert
- They feel you're trying to reform them. Some gifts can have the unintended (or intended) effect of trying to tell someone something about themselves. For instance exercise DVD's for someone who the gift giver thinks is out of shape or self help books for someone who is single. Giving such gifts out of the blue and without any evidence that the gift recipient has been wanting such things can sadly turn the person off. When shopping for gifts it's always good to think about what message your present will carry. Will it say I love you or I care about you as you are?
- They want to live a minimalist lifestyle. I've noticed a growing movement to remove what some deem clutter from their lives or they could be someone grappling with hoarding tendencies. This is usually rather obvious by minimalist decor or a general lack of interest in acquiring new things on a regular basis (another example of why getting to know people well prior to giving physical gifts is important).
For many minimalists, people in general and those deemed as already having everything experts are suggesting more and more to give gifts that are experiences. Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani writes, "Everyday I receive a large quantity of bags. I don't use bags. If you stopped to think about it even for one second you could come up with a new idea, a different one." and then mentions, "Choosing a book, dedicating it, is more personal, less expensive and it stays with you forever." along with a pack of movie tickets, a gift membership to a museum, spa treatments, a trip. Read the entire article here, it's eye opening.
- They feel you've put yourself out/over extended yourself. In our current economic climate this is a very common reason to consider. One that might show incredible care in the person who has returned your gift. Even though it might not feel like that at the time, your friend might have a clearer perspective on the situation and wants to save you heartache in the future due to a loss of income or mounting bills.
In some cases people are so enamored with someone else and so interested in filling a perceived need that they will overextend themselves and give a gift they really cannot afford. If a true friend catches on to this they might feel compelled to give the gift back to you. In some cases your gift could have been acquired at a real bargain or is a possession you have long had. It could have even been a past gift. In such cases you can try and explain and re-give the gift but if they're adamant about not taking it, accept it back and move on from there. If you have a true friendship with this person there will be time enough to give other gifts.
One other thing to consider is the power of being positive in both your thinking and speech. People will often feel guilty if they received a gift from a person, especially an expensive one, and then later on hear over and over again how this person has no money or is so bad off. Once this becomes a persons MO few will want to accept gifts from them of any kind. No one who cares wants to feel like the cause of someones unhappiness and/or possible downfall. Once again, when feeling the need to share negative or unhappy news make it to someone who can really help. Broadcasting it to everyone rarely helps to get anything accomplished and can actually drive what a person needs the most to cope with life away... friends!
- They Forgot You Gave It To Them (recycling gifts). Anonymous wrote:
Another possibility is that they have forgotten that you gave them the gift. And it doesn't always mean that they did not enjoy the gift. In one case a former lover gave me a book I'd given him 4 years previously because he thought I would enjoy it! (It was the very same copy as I'd gotten the book signed by the author.) I forgave his forgetfulness and was glad to have a copy of a great book.
- The wedding was called off. Lillian Eichler writes in her etiquette book, "If wedding presents have been received from friends these also must be returned (along with expensive gifts, letters and the engagement ring back to the groom) with a brief note explaining that the wedding is not to take place. It is necessary to thank the donor as warmly as if nothing had happened."
Whatever the reason ultimately is, which may never actually be uncovered, please do not beat yourself up or stop reaching out towards others through giving. I like to ponder the many gifts that can be given that are hard for others to refuse such as: giving a compliment, the time of a fully present listening ear, holding the door for someone, being supportive, kind and compassionate. For more see my post Simple Gifts to Give. Happy giving!
"The gifts of caring, attention, affection, appreciation, and love are some of the most precious gifts you can give, and they don’t cost you anything” —Deepak Chopra
For anyone having a hard time dealing with rejection, depressive feelings, hopelessness call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to speak to a real person.
PS... want to see quite possibly the ultimate returned gift? Click here for one I found in Return To Sender.
Thank you everyone who has shared their personal stories with us all! Do you have a reason or story as to why you felt compelled to decline a gift? Have you had a gift returned to you? Please share by leaving a comment about your experiences.
( This is article part 1 of 2, part 2 looks at how and why to return a gift with care. )
- How To Decline Gifts with Grace - Saying No Thank You
- Can I Ask For My Gift Back?
- Return To Sender
- Simple Gifts to Give
- This Is Your Brain in Love (review)Image: copyright MAM for GaveThat.com.