Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Christmas Gift Sucked”

My boyfriend and I have been dating for just over 2 years now. Last year, we exchanged Christmas and birthday gifts without any problems. However, this year something has been bothering me and I’m not sure how to — or even if I should — bring it up. My birthday and Christmas are close together and my gifts for both of those ere less than ideal. He seemed excited about giving them to me, and I was extremely grateful for them and told him so. However, they were very practical items that I actually have no use for, and have never expressed any interest in owning (one was a plant-growing set and the other was a vegetable chopper).The thing that has been bothering me is that I spent a good bit of money on his gifts and got him lots of things that he had mentioned wanting/needing. He, however, spent considerably less on me (probably less than a third of what I spent). I am sure that I sound ungrateful and materialistic, but that is not the case. I am just not sure how to bring it up. It has been bothering me a bit that he spent so little time and effort on these items (my birthday gift was purchased the morning of my birthday). I know I probably should have asked ahead of time what our limit was to spend on each other, but he has been working WAY more than normal (so much that he was often cancelling plans with me) and I just assumed that we would be giving in the same price range as we did last year.

I’d love some input on whether I’m just being a crazy b*tch or if it’s sort of reasonable to be upset that so little time/effort/money was put in to my gifts?

On a related note, I am always the one who pays for things. If we go somewhere far with lots of tolls, I always drive and pay them and he never gives any money. If I offer to pay for anything (because I always feel that a girl should at least offer when she’s out on a date to contribute something), he ALWAYS takes me up on it. I almost feel like the ‘man’ in the relationship. Do you have any advice for how to bring something like that up? We’re still in graduate school and have no plans to get married soon so I feel like his finances aren’t really any of my business, so I’m not sure how to bring up the subject. — Presents of Mind

Before you talk to your boyfriend — and you should definitely talk to him before you blow up — you need to organize your thoughts and decide what it is you want to talk to him about. You have multiple frustrations and disappointments that you’re lumping together. Being cheap isn’t the same thing as being thoughtless. Giving thoughtless gifts isn’t the same thing as canceling plans or being unavailable. If you’re angry about all those things, that’s fine, but be sure you don’t confuse one with the other. Better yet, prioritize what is most important to you or what you feel is the biggest offense and lead with that.

One common theme all of these offenses share is value. You’re focusing on the value of a gift, but what you’re really upset about is that YOU don’t feel valued. And that may be because buying gifts and spending money on someone is your way of showing appreciation. That’s your love language. But it may not be your boyfriend’s. This isn’t about a vegetable-making set or paying all the tolls on a long drive; you’re pissed that your boyfriend doesn’t seem to value or appreciate you. In your mind, if he did, he’d make note of things you like or talk about and buy them as gifts. He’d offer to drive sometimes. He’d treat you like the “woman” in the relationship, whatever that means.

If this were about just gifts, I’d advise you to drop bigger hints in the future — perhaps even send links to online shops you like. I’d tell you to agree on an a monetary amount to spend on each other. But this isn’t about gifts and this isn’t even really about money. You just want to feel valued. So, ask yourself first if your boyfriend shows appreciation for you in other ways. If you aren’t finding that appreciation where you’re looking, look somewhere else. Does your boyfriend do things for you? Is he a good listener? Does he show interest in your passions? Is he kind to your friends and family? If you still can’t find where your boyfriend shows he values you, tell him how you feel. Tell him it seems like he’s taking you for granted and you’re sick of it. Tell him what your needs are and then give him a chance to meet those needs.

In the end, maybe this is a relationship that’s run its course. Maybe it just needs to be revived. Or maybe you need to learn to speak each other’s love language. But you won’t move on from the point where you are if you don’t communicate. And while you’re at it, tell your boyfriend you want help with gas or tolls on a long drive. Sometimes people are a little dense and need things spelled out for them. It doesn’t always have to mean something.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com and be sure to follow me on Twitter.

76 comments… add one
  • avatar

    scattol January 4, 2012, 7:37 am

    How can you be upset that he’s being a cheapskate if you don’t know anything about his finances? If anything he might be skimping because he doesn’t like to live on credit which would be a desirable trait in a husband.

    I suppose it could be that his interest in you is running out of steam or that his wallet is running out of Benjamins. Your response to either cases would be very different.

    To find out I would bring up the subject of money. You have been dating long enough that it shouldn’t be about the guy paying for everything anymore. It’s been 2 years and frankly guys aren’t the wealfare cheques (unless you insist on being a princess in which case I suggest you shop for a mate in the MBA program. Those guys are in training to speed ungodly sums of someone else money. ). I would take the angle of splitting expenses, you pay this restaurant he pays the next etc… You should find out why his spending patterns have changed. If you run across a dried up money tree, explore cheaper dates. He may well be not be good with money or he maybe great with money but doesn’t have a good stipend. Money is something you will eventually have work out. Might has well be now.

    Remember that money is a leading cause of divorces, it’s a lot simpler if it’s a cause of a breakup.

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    • avatar

      Amber January 4, 2012, 11:51 am

      It’s pretty clear from her letter that it’s not the cost of the gifts, but the thoughtlessness of them. ie bought the day of her birthday and totally generic gifts that she has never expressed interest in wanting.

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  • avatar

    Jess January 4, 2012, 7:40 am

    When i read the first part of the letter I was thinking “its fine, let it go”, mainly because my boyfriend and I aren’t really into official gifts. My boyfriend still hasn’t gotten my christmas gift! And I gave him his bday present 2 months too late lol but that doesn’t mean the person doesn’t love you etc etc

    The seocnd part on the other hand, that would bother me a LOT. Follow wendy’s advice, but i think in the end he might just be a cheap guy, and I know personally, after dating someone like that in the past, that it is a deal breaker for me.

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  • avatar

    MissDre January 4, 2012, 8:05 am

    If it’s about the gifts only, I say let it go. Because, most men I know aren’t really into gift giving. My boyfriend, my brother, all the men in my office were rushing off to the mall on Xmas eve with an “ahhh fuck my life” attitude cuz they didn’t know what to get people and they didn’t want to go shopping. Many guys are just that way, and they may not realize the importance us ladies put on gifts (and it’s not even about the dollar value for most of us gals, we just want something that shows he’s listening to us or that he really thought about what would make us happy). I understand your frustration, but do what Wendy said. Drop better hints.

    As for money, this is what my bf and I do: we always split the bill! No matter what it’s for. A joint gift for someone? Dinner out? Groceries for cooking? Hotel fees? We just ask the cashier if we can pay on two debit cards. Or if one of us ends up footing the bill for something over $10, we agree at the time “I’ll pay this now, you send me an email money transfer for your half after”. This way we’re always equal and neither of us feels used or taken advantage of. If always paying makes you feel taken for granted, stop doing it!!!

    As for time and attention, tell him what you need. Tell him straight up; Baby, I don’t feel like a priority in your life right now. I need you to make an effort to text me more often, or call me before bed, and follow through will plans so that I know I’m important in your life!

    Tell him straight up what you want. Don’t drip hints when it comes to actions he needs to take. If he doesn’t make an effort after that? Dump him and find a man who cherishes you.

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    • avatar

      bluesunday January 4, 2012, 10:20 am

      Technically, this is a good solution to avoid getting taken advantage of, but I feel like it kind of takes a bit of the romance out of relationships. I don’t really worry about every dollar I spend on a guy, and we’ll typically just alternate picking up bills. If I’m making dinner, I’ll pay for groceries. If he wants to see a certain movie, he can pay for tickets. As long as we’re within our respective budgets, it’s all good. Your solution is probably really practical for a lot of people, but if the LW is anything like me, she likes the give and take of treating her guy and being treated by him.

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      • avatar

        MissDre January 4, 2012, 10:59 am

        That’s what birthdays and holidays are for 🙂 We give gifts and treat each other on those occasions. And rather than spending money on each other, we’ll just do little things for each other. I’ll randomly bring him a big bag of Sour Patch Kids from the bulk food store, he’ll surprise me by bringing my favourite pie for dessert. But when you’re both struggling to pay bills and recovering from student loans? It’s just more practical to split all expenses in half. At least, it’s working for us and it certainly hasn’t killed the romance 🙂

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      • avatar

        bluesunday January 4, 2012, 11:38 am

        hahaha great reply.

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom January 4, 2012, 11:21 am

      My husband and I went into the mall once on a Christmas eve afternoon and it was mostly empty except for men in jewelery stores and at the perfume counters in department stores buying those last minute gifts. I think alot of men don’t know what to buy and they know the woman will be mad if they don’t get the right thing so they put the whole situation off for as long as possible.

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      • avatar

        Relaxicab January 4, 2012, 7:09 pm

        As a guy, I agree! Buying gifts can be totally stressful. There’s the dreaded trip to the mall, the high expectations (real or imagined) for the gift itself, and worst of all – knowing that if we give a crappy gift we’ll end up in a Dear Wendy letter!

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    • avatar

      iseeshiny January 4, 2012, 6:12 pm

      When my husband (just got married earlier today, what up) and I first moved in together, we tried splitting costs straight down the middle at the point of purchase, and it was such a huge pain in the ass. What worked for us was opening a joint bank account and funding it with a hundred dollars a week each. That covered the rent and utilities for our crappy little apartment as well as groceries, entertainment, gifts from both of us, etc. This only works if you trust each other, obviously, and if you are both good at not overdrawing accounts. (Most banks have a mobile app now that you can put on your phone to help with this stuff.) So much easier than running two debit cards!

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      • avatar

        summerkitten26 January 4, 2012, 7:51 pm

        um, CONGRATULATIONS!!!

        also, I like your response 🙂

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  • avatar

    ReginaRey January 4, 2012, 8:16 am

    Before I read Wendy’s response I was thinking, “This isn’t about the gifts!!!,” so I’m really glad she hit the nail on the head with that! LW – You’re worried that your boyfriend doesn’t care about you enough to put in the effort it takes to buy a thoughtful gift. I’m thinking that this recent underwhelming presentation of gifts was your “breaking point,” so to speak. You’ve likely been noticing a pattern of him not putting in enough effort, not making you feel special, canceling plans on you…and this set you over the edge.

    All of those things – the effort, the seeming lack of caring, the canceling of plans – those aren’t to be ignored. Maybe he’s feeling stressed in other areas of his life, and your relationship is suffering as a result. Or maybe…maybe this relationship is starting to fizzle and this is your first big sign. I think you probably know, if you’re willing to not deny any facts to yourself, whether it’s something that may be fixable, or not. Talk to him about it, then observe what happens. If you’ve communicated with him well and he still isn’t putting in the kind of effort you need or isn’t making you feel valued, then it’s probably time to MOA.

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  • avatar

    artsygirl January 4, 2012, 8:33 am

    LW – It sounds like you want a partner that knows instinctively what you are thinking, how you are feeling, and what your heart desires. That shit only really happens in Disney movies and romance novels. It is not a criticism, rather I think it is time to really evaluate your expectations of your relationship. If there was something you wanted for the holidays it would have been smarter to actually speak to your BF or even write down a list of items (after discussing price limits). If you want him to pay for tolls, gas, etc…maybe you should actually say something to him. I know how you feel, my husband and I do not speak the same love languages and it can be extremely frustrating because in my mind I am sending out aerial messages with colored smoke and yet he still sometimes manages to miss it. I have learned that if there is something I really want to have, need to discuss, or expect from him then I have to open my mouth, otherwise there is no one to blame for his inability to read my mind but myself.

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    • avatar

      Momo January 4, 2012, 11:31 am

      “I have learned that if there is something I really want to have, need to discuss, or expect from him then I have to open my mouth, otherwise there is no one to blame for his inability to read my mind but myself.”

      YES YES YES YES!!! I can’t tell you how many times I could have avoided conflict in my relationship if I had learned this early (and repeated it often). This is an oversimplification – but it’s as if women place value on the ability to be thoughtful and considerate, but then don’t realize they might need to give men something to think about in the first place. He may think you are being thoughtful and considerate by paying the tolls and that it is so generous and wonderful of you to be taking care of it – that he may REALLY never think about doing it or may worry it would be an insult if he tried to;)

      Until all human beings can read minds, it’s best to assume none can and speak up!

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  • avatar

    Allison January 4, 2012, 8:34 am

    Wendy is right. You mention in passing that he’s been canceling plans. That’s one of my pet peeves, mostly because I’ve dated a lot of guys who were really flaky and canceled a lot. Working a lot is no excuse for that because presumably work is planned, and if not, a normal adult can make plans that they aren’t going to repeatedly break.

    I’d say to start splitting the bill or whatever, similar to what others have said. But if he really doesn’t understand the concept of making you feel valued or that he should be pulling his weight, he’s still not going to get it; he’s just going to be forced to pay his share. So, talking to him is probably best.

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  • avatar

    Bossy Italian Wife January 4, 2012, 8:47 am

    So many of my girlfriends have been complaining about gifting this year I can’t even tell you! Maybe it’s symptomatic of our times–so many women are earning so much more lately and men are earning a bit less. I don’t think that it emasculates men in reality, but I think that women feel uncomfortable bringing it up because it’s a new social situation than we aren’t conditioned to deal with.

    My SIL has a similar situation, and she sometimes feels like her boyfriend doesn’t contribute the amount that she does, but what Wendy said is spot on–your relationship shouldn’t be a score card. That being said, if you felt valued then you wouldn’t be keeping score. In the case of my SIL, she gets a huge amount of emotional support and love from her boyfriend, and she feels that it outweighs the unbalanced finances. You have to decide what is important to you and where you draw your line in the sand.

    Maybe you just need to drop bigger hints and ask for specific things. My husband always gives me a list of exact items he wants and sends me links to his favorite products. This comes in SO handy when his sisters, parents, and my parents want to know what he wants!

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  • avatar

    silver_dragon_girl January 4, 2012, 9:10 am

    Concerning the money, I kind of understand where the bf is coming from…my boyfriend has way more money than I do. I’m broke, and he likes nice things. So when we go out, he almost always pays for everything. At first, I felt really bad about this and showered him with constant “thank you”s and “you don’t have to”s and “please let me pay for that”s. Now, however, I catch myself forgetting, a lot. It’s not so much that I take it for granted as it is I’m *used* to it and I don’t always notice anymore (which is bad, I know. New Year’s Resolution #7 there). Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself to be appreciative and show my thanks.

    So I would recommend talking to your bf about it. Maybe start off by saying that while you don’t mind paying for things, you do really appreciate it when he says “thank you,” or makes a gesture of his own, like an inexpensive gift or just planning/arranging a date on his own once in a while. I wouldn’t recommend coming right out with, “I always pay for everything and I feel like the man in this relationship.” That probably won’t go over too well.

    Also, I **highly** recommend you both take the “Love Language” test (you can find a free version online if you don’t want to buy the whole book, but I’d really recommend buying the book). It’s a great way to kick-start the conversation.

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    • avatar

      Fabelle January 4, 2012, 9:57 am

      My bf’s the exact same way as you describe yours– likes nice things, has way more money, always pays. I don’t even feign pulling my wallet out anymore, but I do make it a point (often enough, hopefully?) to insist on paying for our whole dinner or whatever sometimes. But yeah, I can totally see the LW’s boyfriend getting so used to being paid for that it just doesn’t occur to him to be like “Oh no, I got it this time!”

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  • avatar

    cporoski January 4, 2012, 9:21 am

    Have this conversation carefully because he might be saving for an engagement ring.

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    • avatar

      Guy Friday January 4, 2012, 10:05 am

      You know, I was absolutely thinking about this in the back of my mind too. I can’t really point to anything specific in the letter that made me go to this, but I totally did.

      I suppose if I had to pick something, it would be the tolls that made me go “Hmmm,” because while I know a lot of guys who don’t regularly carry change around (and my experience is that toll booths generally don’t take credit cards), I don’t know ANY guy who is so cheap as to avoid paying tolls. I mean, it’s easy to blend everything together, but that’s a level of cheapskating that just is dramatically uncommon . . . unless, of course, he’s saving up for something and is being generally paranoid about every penny spent, which I totally was when I was buying an engagement ring for my now-fiancee.

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      • avatar

        amber January 4, 2012, 10:24 am

        I don’t know I might agree if they were both working, but they are both in graduate school. Most people in graduate school even if they have part time jobs or are covered under an assistantship don’t have a ton of money. it seems more like maybe the LW somehow does have more money than her bf? also a note on tolls, depending on where you are travelling/live tolls can be quite high. i know one way to visit my friends up north (ny/ma/ct) is almost $30, to a poor graduate student $30 is a big chunk of their food money. and also i know at our two year dating mark my (now) husband and i were mostly splitting everything when we went out. there were times when just one of us would pay, but for the most part we did split. really i think the biggest issue here is that the gf seems to be upset (like wendy and others have mentioned) about the lack of effort the bf is putting in to the relationship and her in general. and despite what the LW says i think finances are very important to discuss when dating. if one person has considerably less (or if the two people have very different spending habits) it can become a huge issue.

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      • avatar

        ele4phant January 4, 2012, 11:29 am

        Yes I am in graduate school too, and spending $30 is a huge dent in my weekly budget. I’ll take four city buses to go visit my boyfriend on the weekend rather than spend $40 to take the comfortable, direct train.

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      • bagge72

        Bagge72 January 4, 2012, 11:28 am

        My guess for the tolls would be that they take her card, and she has an EZ-Pass so it automatically gets charged to her account, and he just doens’t offer to pay her back.

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      • bagge72

        Bagge72 January 4, 2012, 11:46 am

        *her car

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  • avatar

    Renee January 4, 2012, 9:28 am

    I guess the concern isn’t gifts or who pays what, but not having any idea how your boyfriend handles money? Who wants to be applying for a mortgage and learn from a banker, that your spouse-to-be has terrible credit and his savings account has the bare minimum 100 dollars in it?

    Is he living at home and using his money to pay down his student loans or leasing a luxury SUV and vacationing well above his means on semester break? Even people who date talk about the bills they have to pay month to month in regular conversation.

    Cut the going out dates and stay in when ever possible, and one of the best things you can do for yourself or a relationship that may lead to marriage is pay off those loans!

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  • Budj

    Budj January 4, 2012, 9:30 am

    You have been dating for 2 years and you have not communicated about finances…. at all? Discussing a limit on gifts (pretty common discussion) should have been pretty easy…. This might not be about the gifts, per say, but how do you know if you have a justifiable leg to stand on in your opinions if you haven’t discussed any of this with him? Talk to him in a non-judgy manner….if his reasoning for being a cheap-o sucks THEN get pissed…

    That said…it doesn’t bode well for this guy given the circumstances…but I have a tendency to focus on the negative when I’m annoyed with someone’s behavior so I will wait for the update before saying this guy is definitely a cheap skate in case you managed to leave out “a bunch of wonderful things he does” until the letter update.

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    • bagge72

      Bagge72 January 4, 2012, 11:30 am

      The only thing that doesn’t make sense though, is that he spent more time and money on her last year for gifts. I guess if he was going to stray away from that plan he should have talked to her about it first.

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  • avatar

    wendyblueeyes January 4, 2012, 9:33 am

    Did anyone else catch this — “We’re still in grad school”. Maybe the guy is broke from being in grad school????? If you are going to have a long-term relationship with this guy, you are going to have to communicate on a much deeper level than you currently are. Perhaps you are afraid of rocking the boat, but, sister, the boat is already sinking. Speak now!

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    • Budj

      Budj January 4, 2012, 9:47 am

      Yea I missed that….grad school = broke ass….it’s pretty embarrassing for a guy to have to tell his gf he can’t afford certain things for her…so if that is happening I’m sure he would love it if the LW brought it up in a neutral manner before cutting into him…

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    • avatar

      oppositeofzen January 4, 2012, 10:17 am

      I missed that part. I wonder if maybe she’s on assistantship and he isn’t.

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        savannah January 4, 2012, 10:28 am

        It also sounds like he works a lot beyond grad school or perhaps his job is related to his studies. It is really hard to know the financial situation of people in grad school, between my group of grad friends we have all really different situations or circumstances. Some of us are fellows, while others are paying full tuition and working full time as well, while others are just borrowing and working part time. Regardless we all go out sometimes and everyone always has some pocket money to spend on starbucks/lunch/road trips. Unless he is saving every single penny, I’d be surprised if he could not ‘target spend’, saving small amounts of money for specific times.

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      • avatar

        oppositeofzen January 4, 2012, 12:54 pm

        That’s the only way I and my other friends in grad school get thru birthdays and Christmas.

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    • avatar

      Kristen January 4, 2012, 10:28 am

      I agree that he’s probably not rolling in money at this point. Despite that, I think it would go a long way for the LW if he used the money that he spent buying her a vegetable chopper on something she was actually interested in. Like, if he only has $15 to spend, he could get her new knitting needles (if she was into that) or use it to buy groceries to make her her favorite birthday dinner. I think the LW was feeling slighted because the presents didn’t show any thoughtfulness or signs that he knows her – not necessarily because they weren’t expensive.

      I totally agree with you that she should speak up and let him know what she needs. If it’s more thoughtfulness in his gifts, then she should give him some great ideas so he doesn’t feel pressured. If it’s reassurance that he appreciates all the things she does for him, then say that. Just don’t say nothing and keep getting disappointed until things explode.

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      • avatar

        Renee January 4, 2012, 10:57 am

        They sound like a mom gift.

        Did his mother purchase these on his behalf?

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      • avatar

        Jess January 4, 2012, 11:00 am

        yea they sound like he regifted something he found around the house

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      • avatar

        Anna January 4, 2012, 11:22 am

        I got that vibe too…it’s not about how much $ he spent but how much thought he put into it. And honesty the gifts she got DO sound like re-gifted crap…maybe he couldn’t afford a gift and was too embarrassed to say so. But if that was the case he still could have done something thoughtful yet cheap. A home cooked dinner and a bottle of cheap wine? If you know how to use coupons, you could do that for less than $15.

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      • avatar

        Kristen January 4, 2012, 11:27 am

        Totally agree.

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    • avatar

      John Rohan January 4, 2012, 10:32 am

      I was just about to post the very same thing. I was actually with the LW (a vegetable chopper, really?) until the very last sentence: “we’re still in graduate school”. Graduate school costs an arm and a leg nowadays, and even if he’s on scholarship, it still leaves little time for paid work.

      Back in my college days, I had several girlfriends accuse me of being “cheap”, but I didn’t come from a wealthy family, and had to pay for a lot of expenses myself. I felt guilty at the time, but in retrospect, I wasn’t doing anything wrong.

      However, having said all that, in fairness to the LW, it sounds like she would be satisfied with a zero expense gift he made himself, as long as it showed that he was putting some thought into it. But if he has been “working WAY more than normal” (she doesn’t make it clear if that is schoolwork or not), I’m not sure where he would find the time.

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      • avatar

        bethany January 4, 2012, 10:52 am

        The first year I was dating my husband he made me a small photo book for Christmas that was full of stuff from our first year together. It couldn’t have cost more than $30, but it is still one of the most special things he’s ever gotten for me. I’d take that any day over a big expensive gift!

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      • avatar

        mcminnem January 4, 2012, 12:29 pm

        My brother did that for his girlfriend for their first anniversary – it was so sweet!

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  • avatar

    sarita_f January 4, 2012, 9:34 am

    Disclaimer – I am NOT a gift person. At all. I’d rather spend time (and $$ if need be) doing something with my SO, friends and family.

    I am also a pretty generous person, and rarely start the tit for tat tallying of who’s spent more (time, money, energy, you-fill-in-the-blank). Based on your one short letter I would bet you’re like me. That being said, one of my “tells” for when a relationship has gone off course is when I start to actually notice and can’t help myself from keeping score. It’s only happened a handful of times in my life, with both friends and boyfriends, including the most recent ex – it was part of him being kind of a general asshat and attempting the slow fade.

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  • Jess

    Jess of CityGirlsWorld.com January 4, 2012, 9:54 am

    The biggest problem I see here is setting expectations without communicating them and then letting disappointment and resentment build up when they are not met.

    You don’t need to know his monthly income and bills in order to establish really basic communication about spending. For example, “hey, how about you take care of tolls and I’ll spring for lunch (at the highway rest top)?” or “If you are really looking to score points on my birthday, I am dying to get a [coveted item].” After 2 years together, statements like those should not be hard.

    The worst thing you can do is let LITTLE things like this fester while he probably has no idea you are feeling unsatisfied. Stop worrying about whether or not your expectations are fair. They are affecting your relationship either way. Give him a chance to meet them (or negotiate them) by TELLING him what they are.

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  • avatar

    savannah January 4, 2012, 10:03 am

    I had a rather unsatisfying gift giving experience with my BF this holiday season too. We’re jewish so there is Hanuka to think about and also our anniversary on NYE. I told him over the phone 2 weeks before he was coming up I was giving him an ambiguous Hanuka/anniversary gift when he came to visit for NYE. When I gave him the gift, he said he didn’t know I was getting him something at first and then right after said he could not think of anything to get me. I was a little disappointed naturally but instead of glaring at him for the rest of the visit and wondering what it meant I just straight up told him right there “Mister, thats pretty lame, but I’m glad you like what I got you’.
    Stranger still is that his sister bought me a Hanuka gift which I loved (new shoes!) and he even bought my sister one, and it was a really fantastic gift that fit her perfectly.

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    • avatar

      Sarah January 4, 2012, 9:19 pm

      Aw, that’s annoying but it totally happens. I love presents and pride myself on giving good-ish ones but sometimes I just don’t get around to finding the perfect thing for my bf before the date rolls around, and I’m just like, “Here’s this thing I ordered from J Crew. I thought you might like it but really I needed to hit the free-shipping dollar amount and all I was ordering was a skirt and a tank top. Want it? If so, happy birthday!” It goes both ways, too. One year for our anniversary, he was like, “Yay, we’re doing a couples massage! I haven’t booked it yet but it’s gonna be awesome!” And then he got stressed out and no place had good enough reviews on the internet and it just never happened. It’s helpful that we’ve both done it, though.

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    rangerchic January 4, 2012, 10:32 am

    This Christmas I circled a pair of really nice expensive house shoes in a catalog that I really wanted….I wanted a really good pair since we have hard wood floors and they are always cold in the winter. This was the only thing I wanted and my girls and husband got them for me. I got a couple of other things but I was really so happy with the shoes! (I have never done that before thinking my husband should really be able to pick up my hints but after 13 years together I finally learned!)
    So I would say in the future if there is something you have an eye on…spell it out.

    But I’m with everyone else – I think you are more worried about everything combined and the gifts put you over the edge. Like Wendy said – some guys are just clueless. So talk to him. I can’t believe you haven’t talked to him about finances in the 2 yrs you’ve been together. He may be really embarrassed about not being able to afford much and doesn’t know how you will take it. I would bring up how you feel – not that you felt the gifts were lame!

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  • landygirl

    Landygirl January 4, 2012, 10:46 am

    My husband and I rarely exchange gifts with each other, it makes life so much easier.

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      Marcie January 4, 2012, 1:20 pm

      I’m with you! Every bday, anniversary, or Christmas, we either get something we want together, or set a budget and we get to pick out what we want. This year, he got a coat he wanted, and I got prescription sunglasses. We usually fill each other’s stockings with cute stuff too. Neither one of us is unsatisfied or stuck with a gift we don’t like.

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  • avatar

    Kerrycontrary January 4, 2012, 11:00 am

    ugh..If you want something, ask for it. If you don’t like something, tell someone. It’s really that simple. Speak up!

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  • avatar

    lemongrass January 4, 2012, 11:33 am

    THIS is why I always come here to read advice. Wendy, you are just so damn good at it.

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  • Tracey

    Tracey January 4, 2012, 11:40 am

    LW, let me tell you a story: My first husband was my high school sweetheart, and I was incredibly in love with him. So much that I didn’t pay attention to little things. Like how, instead of buying me an engagement ring, he bought a dinette table and chairs. Or how, just before we married in 1991, his car was repossessed – but he told me it had been stolen. Or how the cable in our apartment was bootleg. Or how before and after we married, even though both of us were making decent money, we were always barely treading water financially. When I did start paying attention, it was about three years into our marriage. We went for credit counseling, but the money needed to make payments was always short…if he sent the payments. We were saving to buy a car, but he took the money and bought a beater from a guy he barely knew…and paid cash, so there was no chance of a refund. The Christmas before we (finally) separated, I bought him a CD player for our stereo system. He gave me (and I’m not making this up) a men’s sweater, an umbrella, and a bottle of really loud perfume from the drug store. During the divorce, I found out he failed to pay taxes the year before, so we had to work out a deal to pay the arrearage. I fought with him every month to make sure he paid his portion of the debt.

    Now I’m not saying (and I’m sure hoping) that your situation is as dire as this one, but I do hope you take two things away from this.

    First, pay attention to how the two of you handle money. One of your observations is that you always pay for things. Why? Have you two discussed your individual financial situations? How you’ll handle finances collectively? How to pay for nights out? How bills will be paid? What you make? How you save? If you love each other, then you need to have this conversation right away – without bringing your disappointment over your gifts or any other emotions into it. This has to be a clear headed conversation before your relationship moves forward.

    Next, pay attention to what you’re willing to accept and what you’re accepting. One of your observations is that you feel like the “man” in the relationship – how you “always” drive, how you “always” pay, how he seems to put little effort into giving you gifts, and so forth. Why are you tolerating this? Have you discussed with him how his seeming lack of effort towards maintaining your relationship makes you feel – and not as it’s happening when emotions are high, but when you two are simply talking to each other? No one can mistreat you without your permission, or you letting them. And if you are feeling devalued, then you need to fix things.

    Wendy’s advice is spot on. You have to talk to him, and you have to listen to what he has to say, not hear what you want to hear or keep silent and hope things will get better. When I was with my first husband, I didn’t do this. You know why? Because I was afraid of the truth I already knew – that my husband was terrible with money, was not being honest about how he was handling our money, and I was fearful that if I spoke up about this, he’d leave and I’d be alone. You know what else? By not speaking up, by not talking to him or listening to him, I was already very alone because I was allowing his behavior to control how I felt. No one should live like that.

    Take a deep breath, go have that talk, then use that vegetable chopper to make a really nice dinner later on. Which reminds me – do you like to cook? Have plants in your house? Sometimes guys seem clueless, but they are really buying gifts they think you’d like because, well, they think you’d like them. If you don’t, you can always donate the gifts, give them to a friend who is in to that sort of thing, take them to a white elephant party, whatever. If you do regift, do so with love and make sure you talk to your boyfriend about things you do like so you’ll be more likely to get a better gift for your lifestyle in the future.

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    • avatar

      bethany January 4, 2012, 11:46 am

      Something similar happened to a friend of mine. One year for her birthday he MOPPED THE FLOOR. That was her gift!!! And over the years the gifts were somewhat similar. He came from a wealthy family and owned his own business– however that business barely broke even and he owed the IRS a shitload of $$ in back taxes!
      They’re happily divorced now, but not until after he’d ruined her financially.

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      • Tracey

        Tracey January 4, 2012, 12:22 pm

        Mopped the floor? Wow…that’s just…wow…I don’t understand people sometimes. Sounds like the best gift he ever gave her was the divorce.

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        bethany January 4, 2012, 2:56 pm

        The year before that he got her a frying pan.

        I agree with you- their divorce is probably the best thing that’s ever happened to her (aside from her kids). I’ve never seen her happier!

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      • Tracey

        Tracey January 4, 2012, 4:40 pm

        A frying pan? Oh. My. Goodness….

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      • avatar

        Flanagan.er January 7, 2012, 12:33 pm

        See, and I’d actually love the shit out of a nice frying pan as a gift (my sister got me a cast iron skillet for Christmas). But I’m a cook and a baker. The key, as always, is to actually know your loved ones.

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      • landygirl

        Landygirl January 4, 2012, 6:32 pm

        Wow, I’d be totally happy if my husband mopped the floor…especially on a regular basis.

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  • avatar

    crazyayeaye January 4, 2012, 12:03 pm

    Anyone else think this guy might be up to something fishy? Working much more than usual and often cancelling plans, yet spending less just seems like a strange combination to me. Even if they are in graduate school, if they’ve been in graduate school the entirety of their relationship (which is just my assumption), why would he suddenly be spending less than previously if he is working more? (unless, of course, he previously had an assistantship/external funding which he no longer has) Still though, often canceling plans just sends up a red flag for me….he may be picking up last minute shifts but even so, I don’t understand why he hasn’t communicated his reasons for this behavior more clearly (i.e. I’m in desperate need of extra cash..) To me, there is no excuse for often canceling plans, that is just disrespectful of the LW’s time. I agree completely with Wendy that the LW is feeling undervalued here….I would be too if I were in that situation.

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      Rachel January 4, 2012, 1:04 pm

      “unless, of course, he previously had an assistantship/external funding which he no longer has”

      I think this would actually explain things quite well. If he had some sort of fellowship his first year and was more comfortable financially he could afford to buy her a nice present that year. She assumes that because he’s working a lot he must have money, but maybe he’s working more because he has to. Either way, I think it’s weird she doesn’t know anything about his financial situation after dating for 2 years.

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    • bagge72

      Bagge72 January 4, 2012, 2:06 pm

      Well I would agree if she actually made a big deal about it, but it doesn’t seem like he is just working, and canceling plans without telling her, it seems like she put that in her letter to let us know that he was very busy at the time, and knows it was hard for him to find the time for a gift, but she still thinks he could have spent more time, and effort than he had.

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    cdobbs January 4, 2012, 12:20 pm

    Classic example of the times…to me it seems that people and more specifically men don’t put any effort into anything, monetary, emotionally or otherwise….we are a generation of “instant gratification” people who don’t want to put effort into anyting, relationships, jobs, friendships….i personally now take the approach that i will only put the effort into a relationship that the man i am with extends to me…no more no less…if they can’t make any effort, than why should i bend over backwards for them…

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    • bagge72

      Bagge72 January 4, 2012, 2:11 pm

      I don’t think it is an example of times, because I know plenty of guys that put a lot of thought, and effort into gifts, most often more than there girlfriends. I personally had my shopping done two weeks before Christmas, because I had been thinking for a while what to get everyone, and it was very easy to shop once I had the money in hand to do so. I just think this is something that has always happened, and always will. Some people are just bad gift givers, and need to be walked through the process.

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    • katie

      katie January 4, 2012, 8:07 pm

      i will have to disagree because my boyfriend is the best gift giver ever- like he puts every other person ive ever known to shame. i dont know how he does it!! lol

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    callmehobo January 4, 2012, 12:23 pm

    As a happy girlfriend of a cheap boyfriend, I’m gonna chime in here.

    What helped me was sitting down and thinking about what I value in a relationship. I like the material things, but the emotional support that my boyfriend gives me is ultimately what makes me happy. It’s a small sacrifice that I am willing to make to be together.

    However, this doesn’t mean that he gets out of doing things for me. We mostly split the bill, but to combat the “I-don’t-feel-like-a-girlfriend” feeling that comes with that, I asked him to budget me in (He’s going to be an accountant, so budgeting is the way he works). I asked him to set aside 30 dollars a month for “girlfriend” money- whether it be him pick up the tab at one nicer dinner, separate it into a few less nice eating places, or for him taking me to an activity somewhere.

    But the big thing is that I COMMUNICATED that my needs weren’t being met. We talked about how to reach a compromise. If this is a relationship that you want to continue in- TALK TO YOUR BOYFRIEND. You will be amazed how much smoother things go if you communicate your feelings more openly to one another.

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    • katie

      katie January 4, 2012, 8:11 pm

      budgeting girlfriend money is so genius!! i love it

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  • fast eddie

    fast eddie January 4, 2012, 12:26 pm

    As I’ve said may times, success isn’t having possessions, power or prestige but the relationships you have with the people in your life that you care about and admire. In other words, count your blessings because they are hard to come by.

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  • avatar

    Alecia January 4, 2012, 12:30 pm

    This is about being forthright and open in communicating instead of just letting things happen. LW, you should really just focus on talking about what’s important like splitting expenses when it’s necessary and you’re both on a budget. Beating around the bush only leads to harboring feelings and frustrations that come out in a jet-stream of passion/emotion. Just say, “I need help” and hopefully you can go from there.
    About gifts, I agree they reflect what we really think of a person and how much they mean to us. So I can understand where you’re coming from about not liking the gifts because it seems he isn’t listening to you. And as a December baby with a two week before Christmas birthday, it’s quite easy to feel lost in the shuffle. But again, you have to be direct and say, “Hey this is what I want” or at least throw better hints. Good luck and I hope everything works out for you.

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    LTC039 January 4, 2012, 1:21 pm

    I agree with the advice. Communcation, communication, communication! Relationships do not function well without that one trait! I’ve learned this the hard way, & my boyfriend, even worse. He likes to repress things & avoid them, but after much much work, time, & fighting, he has gotten a whole lot better! I don’t think you’re materialistic or a crazy bitch… I would feel the same way in all those scenarios. It is most certainly clear that it was not the cost of the gift, but the thought, or lack thereof, behind it.
    Best advice: Talk these things out with him, calmly, (prioritize & organize them) as stated above, & give your boyfriend time. Also, listen to what he has to say. You may just be surprised…
    Best of luck to you & remember ****COMMUNICATION****

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  • avatar

    GatorGirl January 4, 2012, 1:38 pm

    You’ve been dating for 2 years and have never spoke about finances? Ever? This seems hard to beleive. If it really is true you need to have that conversation like yesterday. While money isn’t everything- knowing that the person you’re dating has the same definition of “financial responsibility” is incredibly important. People have very widely different idea’s on money/savings/credit/etc/etc and you’ve got to get at least an idea of his opinions…even if you don’t discuss the actual pennies in his bank account. Man up and talk to your guy.

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  • avatar

    meaghan January 4, 2012, 1:41 pm

    Does she know for sure he’s going to work? If a friend told me her boyfriend was working late, cancelling plans, and not investing as much in the relationship (gifts that obviously have no thought in them) I would assume infidelity. Maybe he is just waiting to break UT off. I’m sure plenty of you knew a Guy who didn’t know how to break off a long term relationship l.

    That being said, if he isn’t cheating then talk to him. Things wont get better on their own. As for it possibly being an engagement ring, id say she’d have a clue if it was one. My husband and I talked about getting married before he proposed, so when he was a little tighter with money I assumed that’s what it was and do had no problem picking up the slack. I’d say he losing interest, and she needs to find out why.

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    jaybro January 4, 2012, 2:14 pm

    Maybe, and just maybe, he could have been in the same boat that I frequently manage to get myself in in regards to gift-giving… He wanted to find the perfect present for you so badly, and kept looking and thinking and clearly couldn’t find ANYTHING, that he was left present-less the night before/morning of. And feeling like crap that he was in such a terrible position, he ran out and just got the first things that he thought there was an inkling of a chance that you might like. And then forced himself to get excited about it.

    I once bought a friend a sheep rug because I couldn’t think of anything that he would actually like. He’s hard to buy for, despite being friends for nearly 20 years (you’d think I’d know exactly what he wants each year, but NOPE). And at the time, I was all OMG SHEEP RUG THIS IS SO GREAT HIS FEET WILL BE SO HAPPY IN THEIR SHEEPY BLISS and now I’m all WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKIN’?!

    Just something to think about.

    Regardless, you should just tell him how you feel and give him a chance to explain himself. I think the explanation will give more indication as to what’s going on with him than just trying to guess what’s going on with him.

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      honeybeenicki January 4, 2012, 2:30 pm

      I’m the same as you. I rack my brain to get someone the perfect gift that will really surprise them and that they’ll truly love and when I can’t think of anything, I’m usually out of time. Or I’ll have awesome ideas that I’m convinced I saw somewhere when in reality I’m pretty sure I made them up in my head.

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      • avatar

        jaybro January 4, 2012, 3:09 pm

        Or even worse, when you think of the perfect thing for Christmas in the middle of April and then forget to write the idea down.

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  • theattack

    theattack January 4, 2012, 2:36 pm

    You guys definitely need to talk about finances, but I’m not sure a big conversation about finances will be the best method for solving the issue of you always paying for stuff. It will help, but you need to take some other steps first. For example, plan who is going to pay for what before you step out the door. Planning ahead will keep anyone from forking over money they don’t have, and it will keep you from being forced to pay for everything. Start the conversation by saying something like “I can get the gas if you can pay for the food.” This way you are not allowing his contribution to be optional. You are also stating what you are ABLE to do, because he needs to realize you’re not made of money. Do this every single time.

    Another good way to open up a conversation about how you will share finances is to start talking about your own. For example, start the conversation by saying that you are really going to have to start spending less. Let it be known that money is not easy for you either by openly couponing, looking for deals, etc. If he’s been the one suggesting that you guys take these trips that you’re paying for, be blunt with him next time. Tell him that it sounds fun, but that you don’t have any money to spend on it right now. This gives him the option of stepping up to the plate and paying, and it lets him know that you are a person, not a wallet. These are gentle ways to get your point across before you start a big conversation about money.

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  • avatar

    Beth January 4, 2012, 3:54 pm

    My boyfriend was being a little cheaper than normal and it turned out it was because he had bought me a ring 🙂 But, it might be good to bring up the thought behind the presents that count!

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  • katie

    katie January 4, 2012, 8:16 pm

    after 2 years you should know quite a bit about his finances… and since you mentioned marriage in your letter, that is something you are at least considering/envisioning one day/accepted that it may happen/whatever– you need to find out about his finances NOW.

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  • avatar

    *HmC* January 4, 2012, 9:01 pm

    I’m a firm believer that you should never give a gift because you are expecting one in return, or to state it another way, give one that you will feel resentful about not being reciprocated. My boyfriend isn’t big on Christmas- his religion doesn’t celebrate it, and he grew up not celebrating it, and he doesn’t get anyone Christmas gifts, including me. I still got him a little something, because I knew I wouldn’t feel resentful about it, it was something I wanted him to have, and I grew up gifting Christmas gifts. This works for us because, among other reasons, when my boyfriend sees something I would like at other times of year, he gets it for me. He’s a very generous guy and shows it to me through gifts at random times, and in lots of ways that don’t involve gifts. He asked me about Christmas gifts and whether I wanted one, and I told him that my concern was that I feel that he had thought about me and that I was a priority. Because that’s what matters, not the price tag of a gift, or any gift at all really. Actually I find random gifts much more thoughtful, because they’re things he genuinely thinks I’ll want instead of things he bought because he had to because of the date on the calendar.

    What concerns me about this letter is not just that the LW seems to blow a lot of money on gifts for her boyfriend and then feel resentful about it, but also that she seems to be resentful about the overall money spending issue in the relationship. LW- if you’re both graduate students, why do you pay for everything? Why is that fair? Have you talked about money with your boyfriend at all? If you’re considering a future with him, keep in mind that money can be an extremely contentious issue in many long term relationships. If you can’t have a discussion about it, that doesn’t reflect well on your staying power as a couple.

    So bottom line- gifts are nice, but not everyone expresses their love that way. It’s possible that his lack of gift giving is an indicator of some lack of interest on his part, but from what you said about him that doesn’t seem to be the case. He gave you gifts! Maybe he’s just not as into giving expensive gifts as you are. If that’s a dealbreaker for you, then that’s your prerogative. If I were you I’d do what Wendy suggested and really think about the money issue and how much resentment that is building up in your relationship. If this is really about the gifts, then you’re entitled to bring that up. This is your relationship as much as it is his. If it bothers you, you can’t stifle it. And I’d definitely consider bringing up why you always pay for everything. Think about it… why do you?

    Good luck!

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