Christmas Gift List Negotiation

Y’all know my preference for Halloween over most things, and that’s just my personality. Contrary to popular belief, I do genuinely enjoy the Christmas season. I do. I love the decorations and the fun, cheesy movies and I love Christmas carols even though I’m not religious. I love spending quality time with friends and family and the giving spirit.

What I do not like is how gift giving has morphed into a really robotic rat race in my family. I don’t entirely know how it got this way and I don’t know how to undo it. It irks me every year and this year it’s irking me even earlier.

What happens is this: in my family and extended family, it’s customary for each person to send out their Christmas list to everyone else. Excellent, nice. Then what happens is that some family members go out and buy up all (or almost all. or a good chunk.) of the items on said list immediately, leaving little else for others to get. What also happens is that there is this flurry of a million emails from various family members calling dibs on items or just informing us that items have already been bought for so-and-so. There is often another flurry of emails from folks asking if such-and-such was already bought for so-and-so? and if not, can I buy it? thaaaanks. This leaves me with an inbox full of emails from family and a whole hell of a lot of anxiety.

Once all of this happens in rapid succession, I have some choices to make. I have to decide if I want to try and open family members’ lists right away in an effort to beat other people to the “good gifts,” whatever that means. I have to decide if I want to send those emails asking if this gift has already been bought or not, and to do that I’d have to wait for responses before being able to just buy the damn thing. I have to decide if I want to then be the sender of the email saying hey I just bought such-and-such for so-and-so FYI ok byeeeee. And once I start getting those emails from others, I have to decide if I am going to go through them all so I can keep track of what has already been bought and what is still available.

Do you see how quickly the innocent sending out of Christmas lists has morphed into something so…yucky? It’s ridiculous and it stresses me the fuck out every. damn. year.

I struggle with it because I don’t see my extended family very often and I want to get them gifts that they want and will genuinely enjoy, and so we tend to rely on lists for those reasons. I, in turn, enjoy getting gifts from my list. Do they all need to be from my list? No. But some I’d really like.

I’ve experimented with opting out of different aspects of this Christmas gift list negotiation over the years. I’ve tried completely ignoring the flurries of emails and just bought from the lists what I wanted. That meant that some people got duplicate gifts and I included return info just in case. Less than ideal, but okay. There’s been a few years now where I’ve gone completely off the reservation and – gasp – got gifts for people that, gulp, weren’t on their lists! Did they enjoy them? I honestly don’t know. Was that Christmas season way less stressful for me? Hell yes. Were those gifts given from the heart with each recipient in mind? You bet they were.

A part of me would like to just do completely away with the gift giving. Just get rid of it. While that would definitely be easier, I do enjoy giving gifts and I’m not gonna lie, I like getting them as well. Just not this way. Not like this. Somehow the Christmas spirit got lost and I have no idea how to find it again. What’s the number for Hallmark?!

Soooooo here I find myself at the dawn of a new fa-la-la-ucking Christmas season and I have those same decisions to make. Maybe, for 2020, we can all agree that the adults get booze (their favorite kind of booze!) and the kids get candy (again, their favorite!). Or maybe we could all just take a fucking peppermint chill pill and settle down with the damn emails.

Day 16


Boats Full of Gravy

I am not dead.

Thank you, Le Clown, for confirming this fact earlier today through email.  Next time, please keep pictures of your painted white butt cheeks to yourself.


The other day, I had a conversation with a coworker about weddings.

She’s pretty freaking liberal, even more so than I am, and we were having a lot of fun trading opinions.

Me (complaining about all the work it takes to plan a wedding): I just want my life back!

Her: You should just go to the courthouse.

Me: …Is that what you did?

Her: Hell yes!

Me: Did you get any complaining from family members?

Her: Actually, my family doesn’t know I’m married.  It’s none of their business, really, and I’m an adult.


Holy frick, what a different take on things.  I have to admit, there is a part of me that really wishes Brian and I had just gone to the courthouse.  I actually turned to Brian the other day and said, “I hope this day (our wedding day) turns out to be worth it.”  And in all honesty, I think we’re both unsure of the answer.

And then she (my coworker) said: Please tell me you haven’t registered for one of those huge gravy boats you’ll never use.

I totally got the question.  What she meant was, I hope you aren’t blindly following a tradition *just* because it’s a tradition.  Because we’re both therapists and are doomed to over analyze everything, this led to a conversation unpacking traditions and customs around modern day weddings.  I’m the kinda person who needs to know why we do things the way we do.  Rarely do I just take things for granted as “the way things are.”

So I am very glad that my coworker reminded me that I am also an adult (at least I pass for one on legal documents), and that at the end of the day, I get to make my own decisions.  I don’t have to register for a gravy boat just because the salesperson at Bed Bath and Beyond tells me to.


It’s easy to notice when our preferences land outside the norm, and for that reason I am pretty good at weighing how important something is to me versus the backlash I may get for not conforming in that way.  But the other question is, what happens when what I want actually coincides with the norm and the dominant culture’s expectations?  Because I do want the white dress, I do want a medium-sized party with nice things.  I enjoy flowers!  But do I enjoy these things just because it’s the dominant culture, or is my enjoyment genuinely personal?  I’m not sure anyone can ever separate out these two things, nor should we be able to, but the answers are still important to me.  So, I’ve also reminded myself that it’s okay to like things because they are “normal.”  Hell, there’s a reason why they became “normal” in the first place and that reason is not always oppressive or malicious, regardless of what I might have been taught in my college sociology class.

I am reminded of a quote from a book written by one of my favorite musicians, Jewel Kilcher: It’s okay to want.

It’s okay to want what everyone else wants – for the very reason that everyone else wants it.  This is big for me.

You know what else I am learning?  With the help of reading things like The Waiting, this process is really forcing me to let go.  It’s okay to want…and it’s okay to go without.  I am increasingly able to let things roll off my back when they aren’t going perfectly, because if I cared about every aspect of wedding planning like I care about making good poop jokes, then I would go stark raving mad.

More so than I already am.

Mamma Mia!

Before Brian and I got engaged and started planning a wedding, we would roll our eyes at all the wedding drama we saw around us, whether it was on TV or going on with people we knew.

We’ll never have to worry about that, we silently thought to each other.  We gave each other a knowing glance and a smug-filled nudge.

I would just like to say that I get it now and I apologize.

I get it and I have only been engaged for 3 months, haven’t picked a venue, haven’t signed a contract, haven’t dropped a dime.

From my perspective, the issues Brian and I have come across with our families are all about expectations and assumptions.

Allow me to back up and explain.

For the most part, traditional, rigid gender-based values don’t jive with me or Brian.   This applies to both weddings and everyday life, but especially weddings.

I also view modern weddings as being about the bride and groom celebrating their relationship the way they want to, nothing more.

I have heard so many stories and anecdotes about how couples getting married were pressured and guilted into arranging aspects of the wedding to suit a parent’s needs- everything from the type of venue to the food served to what guests were invited.  This does not fit in my view of what a wedding should be.

So what about money?  Many people also say that if parents are paying for the wedding, then they should get a say in what decisions are made.  On a larger scale, I despise that money equals speech equals power in this way.  This also does not fit my view of what a wedding should be.

In my own perfect world, I am open to suggestions from friends and family, but not pressure and guilt.  I am so very thankful for gifts of money with no strings attached so that I may be able to make my own choices along with my partner about how we want to celebrate our relationship with those closest to us.

While I didn’t expect my real world experience to be perfect and blissful, I did have the expectation and made the assumption that there wouldn’t be so much conflict.  I did assume (or just didn’t really think about) that parents wouldn’t have their own expectations, or that they at least wouldn’t impose them onto Brian and me.

We’ve run into conflicting values around gender-based traditions, and this is a huge hot button issue for me.  At first, not only was I shocked (because I didn’t anticipate this), but I was also very deeply hurt.  I took it personally, because most traditional gender-based traditions go against the core of how I see myself and how I fit in this world.  They are not fair, they are not equal, they are sexist, they are prejudiced.  They are not Brian and they are not me.

I had these moments of  do you know me at all?!  I was incredulous.  Beside myself.  This is 2012, after all, and I didn’t think I would have to explain values that are a given for me, that are common sense, especially to the people who are closest to me.  It hurt.

And then I got it.  I realize that these traditional values held by family members have nothing to do with me.  In taking a step back, I realize that the traditional way of doing things, the assumption that things will be done the way they always have, is also taken for granted; it’s a given for people who hold those values, same as me for my values.

I also get that those expectations parents have about their kids and how things will turn out to be actually have nothing to do with the kid.

I feel that at the root of these conflicts is the basic value that Brian and I hold in terms of our wedding being exclusively about us and our relationship and not about pleasing anyone else.  Of course we want our guests to be comfortable and of course we want all these people to come and eat and be happy and have a great time, but not at the expense of Brian’s and my values and preferences.

Separating these things out has taken the sting away, but it’s still hard.  I still feel hurt, as much as I try not to be.  I still wish very much that family members would magically agree with me on these values.  More realistically, we have requested that while we can’t expect people to understand or agree with our values, we at least ask that our values be respected.

One thing I worry about is the possibility of these conflicts in values to keep coming up as Brian and I go through the life cycle.  I don’t want to feel this as a burden moving forward in my life.

So far, these conflicts have made Brian and I really focus on what we want for ourselves and how we plan to achieve these things, and that has felt incredibly validating, uniting, and empowering.  It creates this magical us-against-the-world type feeling and really makes me wanna go hunt down some zombies with Brian by my side.

And, by getting married, that’s basically what we’re getting ready to do.

Update: You know what folks, sometimes when I am in a more easygoing mood about life, I read this post back and it sounds a bit too dramatic and overblown.  Please note that this post was mainly about me wanting to express myself and processing feelings, and that process is messy and weird.  The end.