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Your Turn: “My Boyfriend Didn’t Get me Anything for my Birthday”

In a feature I call “Your Turn,” in which you, the readers, get to answer the question, I’m presenting the following letter without commentary from me:

“John” and I met almost six months ago, but only decided to be in an exclusive relationship after four months of dating, right before I left for two-week vacation. About two days after we had that “talk,” he took me out to dinner to celebrate my birthday, which would be the following week, when I’d be out of town. He didn’t give me a card or a gift, except an impersonal e-card on my actual birthday saying that I should have a great day and enjoy my trip. I was disappointed, because I definitely would have given him a card and at least a modest, thoughtful gift. It was nice that he took me out to dinner, but it wasn’t really special since we do that all the time, and I had taken him out to dinner a few days prior, so it was his turn to get the bill anyway. My cousin told me I shouldn’t be upset or think anything of it, since the relationship was so new (yes, two days old “officially,” but we had been dating for four months).

I let it go because I didn’t think it was worth getting upset over, but two months later, while I am feeling a bit under-appreciated in other aspects of the relationship, I’m a bit bothered by this. I have given him a few small, very simple gifts, and when I was on my trip, I saw something nice that I would have liked to bring back for him, but didn’t, as I thought it would be excessive since he has never given me anything, and I’m the one who had the birthday. I’m not asking if I should confront him dramatically about this, but I plan to talk to him calmly about other reasons I’ve been feeling under-appreciated, and I was wondering if you think this is fair to mention, or am I out of line for having expected at least a hand-written card, or a modest, but thoughtful gift, for my birthday? — Disappointed Birthday Girl


Comments on this entry are closed.

avatar cdobbs August 10, 2011, 3:05 pm

never expect a gift…from anyone and for anything…however, if he doesn’t show he appreciates you in other ways, doesn’t make you feel special, doesn’t take your feelings into consideration, things like that, then and only then should you confront him.

becboo84 BecBoo84 August 10, 2011, 3:08 pm

I get that this county has become too materialistic, etc., but at the end of the day, we expect our significant others to do something special for us on our birthdays. Whether that is through a gift or through some special activity, it doesn’t really matter, so long as the thought is there.

avatar Quakergirl August 10, 2011, 3:21 pm

But he did do something special– that’s the thing. He sent her an e-card on her birthday because they weren’t physically together and he took her out to dinner.

avatar AnitaBath August 10, 2011, 3:33 pm

Seriously though, an e-card? I sent those to my friends when I was 13 and thought the kitten waving at the screen was cute.

avatar Katie August 10, 2011, 3:41 pm

i know! haha. If I got an ecard thats like a slap in the face lol

avatar Anna August 10, 2011, 3:54 pm

It seems to me that cards are more of a girl thing and guys don’t understand why we like them so much. I love cards! Maybe he didn’t realize that an e-card isn’t perceived as the same thing as a real card.

Budj Budjer August 10, 2011, 4:00 pm

To a guy paper card = e-card. Both don’t require much thought in my opinion. A hand-made card is a totally different story. I like those.

avatar AnitaBath August 10, 2011, 4:11 pm

Or even if he just wrote in a little note on his own on the card. But the LW said it was impersonal, which makes me think he didn’t do anything else but press send.

avatar Mainer August 10, 2011, 4:19 pm

I think she is the one calling it impersonal, he did write something:

“impersonal e-card on my actual birthday saying that I should have a great day and enjoy my trip. “

Budj Budjer August 10, 2011, 4:58 pm

Yea..that’s what I thought too.

avatar anonymous August 10, 2011, 5:00 pm

Can you see a GUY making a card? Are you KIDDING me?

avatar Lydia August 11, 2011, 2:06 am

As a matter of fact, I have seen it.

avatar dtime August 16, 2011, 5:27 am

I’m a guy and I make birthday and anniversary cards for my girlfriend. It’s not just a relationship thing, I make birthday cards for my friends too. They cost less, and are a fun means of creative expression.

Did my anecdotal evidence just disprove the anonymous normative judgement?

avatar Quakergirl August 10, 2011, 3:47 pm

I know, I know, but if he wanted her to get it on her birthday and she wasn’t home, how would he get a real card there? I’m not defending the e-card qua e-card, just the thought behind it of “I want her to get a card on her birthday wherever she is.”

landygirl Landygirl August 10, 2011, 6:44 pm

E-card save our environment.

avatar Betty Boop August 10, 2011, 8:54 pm

Seriously! I work in retail and I can tell you most cards are not recyclable nor made from recycled paper. That bothers me a ton.

bittergaymark bittergaymark August 10, 2011, 9:13 pm

How else was she supposed to get it? Seriously?! Send it via carrier pigeon to her hotel?

avatar Theenemyofmyenemyisagrilledcheesesandwich August 10, 2011, 10:05 pm

You mean, castle, right?

avatar justpeachy August 10, 2011, 3:10 pm

There are two questions you’re asking: 1) Is it wrong to feel slighted by my newly exclusive boyfriend over a birthday present? 2) Should I bring it up in a bigger discussion later?

1) No, it’s not wrong. Some people will probably argue that it’s probably not the healthiest thing to hang onto, but everyone has these little things in relationships that stick in our sides. Part of the reason it bugs you so much is that you feel like it’s the beginning of a trend. It was an unofficial relationship test and he failed it. You didn’t tell him you expected a present, but he should have known.

2) No, don’t bring it up in the discussion. At least at first. I would probably say something along the line of “I feel I do lots of things to show you how I feel and you don’t reciprocate so I’m beginning to feel unappreciated.” He’ll probably ask for some examples and you probably have lots of stuff to bring up, but I’d start with more recent and concrete examples. If you bring up the birthday thing, it will sound like you have been fuming over it for months (which you have been), but it will seem petty.

If you guys can forge ahead and things are good until Christmas and he screws that one up to, then you have some serious reevaluating to do.

avatar SpaceySteph August 10, 2011, 3:30 pm

Kinda agree with your first part. What I take exception with is waiting til Christmas to gauge his gift giving capabilities. Christmas is still 5 months away. You are asking her to invest another 5 months with a guy and then use that as a test. Should she wait to fall in love with him (or at least to say she loves him) until he gets her an appropriate Christmas gift? Should she wait to introduce him to her parents, meet his family, etc? No this has to be handled now for the relationship to continue, if its going to.
If you are feeling undervalued, start there, and try to leave the birthday thing out of it.

avatar justpeachy August 10, 2011, 3:34 pm

Oh come on! It was a joke! If they can’t work through this, they won’t make it until Christmas, but the next real opportunity she’ll have to see he understands her needs of demonstrating his feelings will probably be Christmas (at least through presents).

avatar savannah August 10, 2011, 3:43 pm

If the celebrate Christmas. My family is notoriously bad at picking out gifts for birthdays because we haven’t had the training of most americans. Not saying that’s the case here at all, just lamenting the last gift i got from my parents…table runners. I dont even know what to do with those.

avatar oldie August 10, 2011, 3:15 pm

I think that you are silly to gauge the state of a relationship by whether or what gifts you get. It would be more meaningful if you had given some detail about why you are feeling ‘a bit underappreciated’ in other aspects of your relationship. Not everyone looks at gifts, especially early in relationships when they can be awkward, or cards the same way as you. What’s wrong with an e-card? Have you been watching too many Hallmark commercials. My wife has said that the only way her parents could say ‘I love you’ was via the words in a purchased card. If your bf tells you he loves you and treats you as he does and does not engage in any bad behaviors towards you, then I think that you are being a little superficial here — but that is my taste. It may be your bf’s as well, in which case you may be to different in outlook for your relationship to thrive. You need to discuss how each of you views this sort of thing and see if there is a middle ground on which each of you can comfortably stand. Most of us are not good at buying ‘thoughtful little gifts for others’, because our tastes differ.

avatar MonMon August 10, 2011, 3:16 pm

I second what cdobbs said, about his actions being more important for you to determine whether he appreciates you, rather than basing his affection on store-bought things. I’ve come to find that guys do not think like women do (duh!) especially when it comes to things like this. In your rational woman mind, you should get someone close to you a gift for their birthday no matter how recently you met/start dating/etc them, but a guy does not always think so logically/thoughtfully/concernedly and your boy probably assumed that the “birthday dinner” was just the right thing to do since he wouldn’t be spending the actual day of your birthday with you anyway (things MAY have been different had he actually seen you on your bday). We women tend to think in future tense and prepare things in advance, unlike guys who seem to prefer day-to-day. My personal example is trying to make weekend plans with my boyfriend of 3 years. His response is usually, “Let saturday come and then we’ll see.” Frustrating as hell, and both methods of “planning” have their pros and cons!

In a nutshell, I am going to advise you to forget about the “lack” of birthday gift and give your boy the benefit of the doubt. I would be more concerned if he doesn’t put any effort into your next birthday, and especially if there are other, non-material reasons for your feelings of under-appreciation.

avatar MissDre August 10, 2011, 4:03 pm

Holy crap you hit the nail on the head right here!

avatar Amber August 10, 2011, 3:16 pm

So are you more upset about the other things going on in your relationship or the lack of a gift on your birthday? It seems like you were getting upset about other things and while upset said to yourself not only are x,y, and z wrong AND he also didn’t get me a gift for my birthday. I know you said you felt like he owed you the dinner because you had paid the time before but maybe in his head that was your gift. He took you out to dinner to celebrate. I agree that an e-card is a little impersonal but some people don’t realize how impersonal it is, especially if they’re not used to getting or giving cards or gifts. How did he react when you gave him gifts?

It seems like the real issue here isn’t cards or gifts but rather whatever else is going on between you two. I wouldn’t bring up the birthday when you’re talking but make sure you deal with whatever else is going on between the two of you. Otherwise you’ll start a cycle of resenting him for little ways you feel he is slighting you when really the issue is much bigger than whether or not he got you a birthday gift.

avatar katiebird August 10, 2011, 3:17 pm

No, it is not fair to bring this up to him. First of all, gifts are never mandatory. Second, it’s been two months. The statue of limitation on minor dating infractions has long expired, and it would be petty to bring it up now, especially in the context of a “I don’t feel appreciated by you” conversation. I don’t mean to chastise you though, I understand why you’re upset, I know I would be kinda disappointed too if my S.O. didn’t get me anything for my birthday. But the reality is that he did get you something, he took you out to dinner and sent you an e-card, and while it may not have been the gift you were expecting, it is an acknowledgement and celebration of your birthday. It’s up to you to make sure you two are on the same page about birthdays and gift-giving, he can’t read your mind after all, but I definitely don’t think a conversation about feeling “under-appreciated” in the relationship is an appropriate time to do it.

avatar MonMon August 10, 2011, 3:26 pm

I agree with you, katiebird. I actually think that a guy sending an e-card is actually a pretty personal thing (for a guy!). I think you should pay more attention to his actions; my guy for example makes me breakfast in bed sometimes when he’s up before me. I will never let myself take something like this for granted because men are not naturally thoughtful creatures. You have to keep this in mind! However, if your guy is REALLY lacking in the affection/appreciation/attention categories then you may have some thinking to do about where you want this relationship to go. Because yes, you should cut guys some slack for not usually being as thoughtful as we women are, but you should also never settle for a thoughtless, uncaring guy. You just need to be able to gauge and discern those selfless actions that count.

avatar MonMon August 10, 2011, 3:32 pm

Purple thumbs, DO share.

Or did I offend some majorly thoughtful guys in here? ;)

avatar honeybeenicki August 10, 2011, 3:39 pm

Maybe it was the sentence that said guys are not naturally thoughtful? I dunno, but that’d be my guess

avatar Laurel August 10, 2011, 3:41 pm

“I will never let myself take something like this for granted because men are not naturally thoughtful creatures.”

avatar MonMon August 10, 2011, 3:52 pm

Thank you for clarifying! Now I’ll clarify that I mean this when it comes to thinking of “cute/sweet/romantic” things to do for a S/O. I do not think that men are natural at thinking of romantic things to do the way that women are. I had an absolute revelation when I finally asked my boyfriend what he considers a romantic gesture from me, and was surprised that my little love notes to him did not make the cut. Rather, he got a dreamy look in his eyes and talking about the couple of times that I’ve given him a (rather clumsy, self-conscious) strip-tease. For me, that’s raunchy; in his eyes, it’s one of the ultimate ways to romance him.
Sooo….what I meant by “not thoughtful”, which I definitely should have been clearer on, is that they do not (usually) fully consider elaborate ways of romancing us or completely fulfilling our expectations.

Budj Budjer August 10, 2011, 4:06 pm

Weird….I’ve had girls leave me notes before, I think it’s very cute. Especially stashed somewhere in a drawer that I stumble on weeks later.

avatar MonMon August 10, 2011, 4:11 pm

Well he definitely finds it “cute” or sweet, but it’s not his idea of “romantic”. I think the line is thicker between “romantic” and “straight-up sexual” for women than it is for men. For men, those ideas seem to mesh together a little more.

To be clear: this is solely based on my opinion and experience! ;)

avatar Painted_lady August 10, 2011, 5:54 pm

Nah, I agree with you for the most part – for women “romantic” qualifies more as “things that show me you think of me while you’re away” whereas men think more along the lines of “things you do for me and no one else” or “things you do for me that I need.” That’s grossly oversimplifying it, but kind of the gist of where I think the difference lies. My last boyfriend got me really nice silverware because what I had was cheap and kept breaking. He thought it was romantic, and while I appreciated the intent behind the gesture, I still got silverware – unwrapped, pulled out of a Whole Foods bag, no card – for friggin’ Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, it was REALLY nice, but…yeesh. Whereas when I showed up to his band rehearsal with his favorite beer and a pizza (not crashing his boys’ night, I just dropped by on my way elsewhere) he explained that he already had beer and they had plans to get Vietnamese after rehearsal so could I eat the pizza. At which point I had a recommendation for where he should put that pizza.

avatar SpaceySteph August 11, 2011, 2:22 pm

Hah thats a pretty accurate description in my experience. “Things that show you think of me when I’m away” is exactly what I think is romantic. Like a goodnight text when we’re not together or a little souvenir brought back from a trip.
“Things that I need” is exactly what my boyfriend thinks is romantic. I am still trying to get across that I want him to buy me flowers sometimes, but his response is ‘why would I get you something that’s gonna die in 3 days?’ He would never buy a gift that wasn’t functional. He thinks that recognizing and filling a need is a romantic gesture.
For our anniversary he bought me a roomba. Functional, and my house needed a good vacuuming, but not romantic by my definition (although it means he did listen when I mentioned that I was thinking of buying one, which is cool).

avatar katiebird August 10, 2011, 3:38 pm

I actually kind of disagree with you, I don’t think that men are naturally thoughtless. Unless they’re complete jerks, most guys want to make their girlfriends (and boyfriends) feel loved and happy. But just like any other human being, they are not mind readers. My guy is pretty forgetful and spacey, so I sometimes have to remind him when special days are coming up and what my expectations are (as in a special dinner out, or a phone call in the morning, etc). I like to think of it as setting him up to succeed. It’s a win-win scenario, we both end up feeling happy, satisfied, and loved.

avatar MonMon August 10, 2011, 3:57 pm

Fair enough :) But see, that’s what I mean about not being naturally thoughtful, at least not the way that WE are in our relationships. I used to take it personally if my boyfriend forgot a special event or did not celebrate it the way I expected/would have like him to. Now, just like you, I prod mine along with reminders when something is coming up as well as offer suggestions on what would make me happy.
I was by no means bashing guys in saying they are not thoughtful; I was simply telling the LW to not be too harsh on her man just yet, for not going all out on her first birthday with him.

avatar Swati August 10, 2011, 6:11 pm

Ok I know this sounds completely stupid, but Katie, is this you??

avatar katiebird August 10, 2011, 9:21 pm

Um, yes this is Katie but I have no clue who you are, or if I am the right Katie you’re looking for because there are probably thousands of other girls named Katie….

avatar Swati August 10, 2011, 9:32 pm

haha i know it’s strange. But I have a friend, Katie Bird, and we studied abroad together in France. So I was just wondering if it was you :P Sorry about the randomness.

avatar Quakergirl August 10, 2011, 3:20 pm

Yes, you are way out of line. You two barely know each other and had only been officially dating for two. days. He acknowledged your birthday with a card on the actual day itself with a personalized message. I don’t know if I would get someone a card a week before their birthday, even if that’s when I saw them. He was clearly thinking about you when you were gone on your birthday, and it sounds like his message was relatively appropriate for the amount of time you two have been dating (considering most of it was casual dating). What should he have said in the message? A sonnet? A profession of love? A proposal? Come on, you guys were barely an official couple.

And then there’s this: “I have given him a few small, very simple gifts, and when I was on my trip, I saw something nice that I would have liked to bring back for him, but didn’t, as I thought it would be excessive since he has never given me anything, and I’m the one who had the birthday.”

LW, let me give you a tip– this tit-for-tat attitude isn’t going to get you very far in a relationship. You give someone something because you want to, not because they gave you something or you expect something in return. And seriously, of course he hasn’t gotten you gifts– you have hardly been a couple long enough to figure out what you even like!

You seem to completely lack any sense of generosity, which is a huge part of having a successful relationship. And that goes for everything, not necessarily gifts. Are you going to say “well, I was going to do the dishes, but I did them yesterday so you do them?” or “he only texted me twice yesterday so I’m not going to text him a third time today.” I know this sounds really harsh, but seriously, the faster you get it through your head that sometimes you’re the giver and sometimes your the taker in a relationship, the better off you’ll be.

For the record, Quakerboy and I have been together nearly 6 years and he didn’t get me anything for my birthday this year other than a nice date at a restaurant in our neighborhood. Yes, he “picked up the tab” by putting it on his checkcard, but we’ve had combined finances for the last two years, so it looses a little something. But you know what, it was the best present I could have asked for. I got to get dressed up, have him tell me how nice I looked, and spend time with my favorite person in the world, which is harder and harder to do the longer you’re together and the more stressful your life gets. If this birthday issue is bothering you now, LW, I’d think long and hard about how your future with him is going to go, because it doesn’t get any less complicated or stressful from here.

avatar AnitaBath August 10, 2011, 3:30 pm

Wow, harsh.

I completely understand where she’s coming from, and it doesn’t just apply to boyfriends. I have a few friends who are kind of similar to the boyfriend, in that they’re just kind of thoughtless. I love doing things for my friends. I love getting them little presents, I love treating them to dessert sometimes, and I just love sharing with them. I’m notorious for wanting to let people borrow outfits of mine that they like, or any little object they’re missing. I offer to drive when we go out. However, because of this, sometimes I’m taken advantage of. I don’t ever think of doing these things and want something in return, but it’s when they start expecting them and being ungrateful that it becomes an issue. Luckily I have a small group of solid friends, but lately I’ve had trouble with a girl who always is conveniently short on money when we go out (and then will buy something later that trip). Her boyfriend missed some charter bus and she called me up and said she’d give me gas money if I could drive him, and 150 miles and 4 hours later she only put $10 of gas money in my car. She doesn’t give me stuff back that I let her borrow, and she just overall really takes advantage of my generosity. I’ve just had to stop hanging out with her as much, because she’s kind of a leech.

So, long story short, I don’t think the LW is a tit-for-tat type person. She expresses how she appreciates her boyfriend, and he doesn’t seem to do much to show that he appreciates her. When you realize that you’re the only one doing nice things in the relationship, everything kind of builds up and you start resenting the other person. In fact, she says she needs to have a talk with him about things he’s doing that don’t make her feel appreciated. Sure, the LW may be completely lacking in generosity, but I didn’t get that vibe. To me it seemed that she just feels like she’s being taken advantage of and not being appreciated.

avatar MonMon August 10, 2011, 3:37 pm

Sure, but what type of “doing nice things” are we talking about? The LW made it seem that her way mainly consists of buying little gifts. So maybe her boyfriend’s methods are less material and more based on events (cooking/buying dinner, going out to a movie, etc). So it seems that both people express their affections differently: is this wrong? If the LW feels a lack of “balance” in the relationship and cannot find a compromise or just work with it, then she’ll be unhappy due to feeling like something is missing. In that case, they’re meant to be with other people who express affection/appreciation similarly to them.

avatar AnitaBath August 10, 2011, 3:49 pm

If it’s just them expressing them in different ways, I don’t think that’s wrong and I think she needs to understand that he just shows it in different ways. If his idea of appreciating her is buying her food when it’s her turn and he doesn’t put any more thought or effort into it, I can understand why she’d feel under-appreciated and be upset.

avatar AnitaBath August 10, 2011, 3:50 pm

Buying her food when it’s his turn*

avatar Quakergirl August 10, 2011, 3:42 pm

I totally get that feeling of doing all the work/putting forth all the effort in the relationship or friendship– I have a tendency to be the one who drives or lets people borrow stuff, too. But at the same time, I would never refuse to give a friend (or boyfriend) a ride if I could because they hadn’t offered me one the last time, or not let a friend borrow my outfit because they’d never offered me theirs. It’s that attitude of “even though I know he’d like this thing, I’m not going to get it for him because he didn’t get me a birthday present” that I see as emotionally stingy.

And while she says she feels underappreciated, which she may have totally valid reasons for, the fact that he hasn’t showered her with gifts in the last 2 months that they’ve been exclusively dating is just not one of those valid reasons. But honestly, if the other stuff is anything like the gift scenario, I’m inclined to say that her reasons might not be so valid. I mean, she doesn’t think he did enough for her birthday and that contributed to her feeling underappreciated, but look at what he actually did: he sent her a note so that she’d get it on her actual birthday and he took her to dinner when they actually could see each other. That seems to be a pretty reasonable thing to do for someone you’ve been seeing casually for 4 months and exclusively dating for two days. I’m just wondering what the other things are that are making her feel underappreciated, because if they’re anything like that situation, then either she’s making mountains out of molehills or they just have two completely different communication/affection styles and maybe this isn’t the relationship for either of them.

avatar AnitaBath August 10, 2011, 3:48 pm

I don’t think it was a note, she said it was an impersonal e-card, which takes zero thought. We don’t know the dynamic and what he is doing, but I get the vibe he isn’t doing much to make her feel appreciated. And I didn’t see it as a, “He didn’t get me a b-day present so I’m not getting him this!” thing, but rather that she knew it would just be one more thing that might upset her if she got him that gift and he continued acting like he didn’t appreciate her. Because where you said that you would never not give a ride to someone who needed it, that’s where I’m actually drawing the line. I’ve had to tell my friend that no, I will not drop what I’m doing and take her to CVS. If she calls because her boyfriend missed the bus again, I’m not spending gas and time on her because they didn’t catch it on time. Sure, it may make me look like a selfish bitch, but it does wonders for how good I feel because I don’t feel like I’m getting used and taken advantage of. There’s a place where you have to draw a line.

avatar Quakergirl August 10, 2011, 3:56 pm

Of course if I had to drop everything I wouldn’t offer the ride or what have you, but if it was on my way, sure, I would. And she specifically said “and I’m the one that had the birthday.” I took that to mean “he should be getting me the gift. I get what you’re saying in general as her not wanting to stir up those emotions, but this trip was right after her birthday, so it isn’t as though the feelings of underappreciation had been brewing– she had that thought two months ago, right after he didn’t get her the birthday present.

Maybe she saw the e-card as impersonal, but she said he also did write a note in the card, and maybe his thought was that he wanted her to see it on her birthday. My tune would change somewhat if they had been physically together or had been dating longer, but at that point in their relationship/geographic proximity, I’d say that’s pretty acceptable.

And you may completely be right that he doesn’t do anything else to make her feel appreciated, which is fair, but this is absolutely not one of those situations. She can feel how she feels about it, but her expectations of this guy at that point in there relationship may have been a liiiittle too high without her giving any warning that she was expecting more than a dinner out and the best approximation of a card on her birthday that he could give.

bittergaymark bittergaymark August 10, 2011, 9:53 pm

Um, obviously there WAS a personal note, AnitaBath! How dense are you? Seriously… Do you really think there is an impersonal ecard that says all three of these things: Happy Birthday, enjoy the day, AND have a great trip? Surely you jest?

avatar AnitaBath August 11, 2011, 12:20 am

Such lovely compliments you give out, BGM.

katie katie August 10, 2011, 9:45 pm

i completely agree with you!!

CatsMeow CatsMeow August 11, 2011, 12:28 pm

I agree that her tit-for-tat attitude probably needs to change. When it comes to gifts, I guess there’s a spectrum of how important it is to certain people. My MOM, for instance, will freak the F out if she doesn’t get a gift on certain occasions, or if she gets a gift that doesn’t live up to her standards. If we get her something she doesn’t want/need, if she thinks we spent too much/too little, or god forbid if we FORGET an occasion, we will definitely get yelled at. Especially her poor husband, who seems to be lacking in the gift-giving-skills department. If she doesn’t like something, she doesn’t even say thank you for the gesture – she tells you want she thinks and then returns it. Sorry, that was a tangent. I bring this up because she had a birthday recently where the same thing happened – her husband took her out to dinner, got her a card which she thought was “last-minute” (she said she thought she saw him sneak into the bathroom right after he got home from work to sign it), and no other gift. Apparently dinner wasn’t enough for her. They have been married for 11 years. My mom is an extreme example – but apparently she was in the exact same situation with a man she’s been with for YEARS, who KNOWS her attitude about gifts.

A guy you’ve been with “officially” for 2 days, unofficially for 4 months, probably doesn’t know how important it is to you. I know that I personally feel awkward giving gifts to (or receiving gifts from) someone I don’t know that well. If you could go back in time, I would say to tell him after you got back to your trip that you would have appreciated more – either in thoughtfulness or in material stuff (I’m not sure which you’re after). My boyfriend has told me straight up that if I’m ever mad at him, I have to TELL HIM because he won’t figure it out otherwise.

At this point, though, I’d say leave the birthday thing out of your discussion of feeling under-appreciated. If it was ME, I would also really try to evaluate WHY I’m feeling under-appreciated — did it all start with the birthday? It could be that that one incident has triggered something so now you feel more sensitive about perceived slights than you would otherwise. I dunno.

Oh, AND — if you feel like giving him a gift, do it! If anything, it will show him that this is a way YOU like to express that you care. Maybe he’ll start returning the favor, maybe not – but if that is how you like to show affection, by all means, DO IT. And keep your eyes open for other ways he might be showing you that he cares.

avatar AKchic August 10, 2011, 3:21 pm

Huh. I guess I’m one of those “weird” females.

I don’t want gifts. Ever. We don’t celebrate my birthday. We don’t acknowledge the existence of Valentine’s Day (but jokingly suggest celebrating Lupercalia). Yule/Christmas? Eh – it depends on finances really. Kids come first. And honestly, there is nothing that we NEED.

We have gotten too hung up on wanting useless items as gifts just for the sake of being “showered” with gifts. I don’t want a thoughtless present (bouquet of flowers, box of chocolates, jewelry, etc) all because some commercial told you to do it because you’re too insecure and/or lazy and/or chauvanistic to show your affection for me all year round. Helping out around the house, cuddling, massages, saying how much you appreciate and love me, etc – those are REAL ways to show your affection. Not cheap candy once a year in a pink heart-shaped box with some cartoon character on it.

avatar anonymous August 10, 2011, 5:26 pm

I am SO with you. I get so tired of the “the world should stop because it’s MY BIRTHDAY” whine. Who in our society really NEEDS something? And why does it have to come on a birthday?

If I see something cool I know my husband would like, and it fits within the budget AND we have space AND it’s not just “stuff” that’ll be thrown away in 5 months, I get it.
His birthday? Sometimes a cake. If I’m organized.

My birthday? Nada. Except a “happy birthday and I love you.” It works for us — it clearly doesn’t for everyone, but I really would encourage the birthday gals to think long and hard about WHY the birthday thing is so important. I think much of it stems from a need to feel loved. If you have that every day (most importantly from yourself) you don’t need to have it on that “special” day.

avatar AKchic August 10, 2011, 6:10 pm

The kids get cakes, and they get to pick out what they want for dinner. Poor SO now, he shares his birthday with my 3rd son (both are January 1st). They usually decide on beer-battered halibut and cheesecake. Nothing says “love”, or “Happy Birthday” like me deep-frying 15lbs of beer-battered halibut and making home made mac and cheese (which involves shredding 3-4lbs of cheese).

Once in a while, we take the kids to the state fair for my birthday. We use my birthday as the excuse to go, but hell – it’s for the kids, because I’m certainly not the one eating the cotton candy, corn dogs and riding the rides (not all at the same time, mind you).

katie katie August 10, 2011, 11:38 pm

beer batered halibut and homemade mac and cheese sound absolutely amazing. now im hungry.

avatar sarita_f August 10, 2011, 5:57 pm


I’m sure some will think I’m a miserable person, but past the age of about 21 I think it’s pretty silly for grown adults to expect others to make a fuss over the basic human fact of being born. And I HATE ‘stuff.’ Hate clutter. Hate generic gifty-type items. I’d rather spend money on spending time with people I care about, because I guarantee you I’m more apt to remember events and QT over some crappy gift basket of lotions that I’m likely allergic to.

I will say that I really appreciate things like flowers or gift certificates for things I’d never splurge on when they come out of the blue. For instance, I got a very hard-fought-for promotion a couple of years back and my parents sent flowers to my office. That totally made my day, and I didn’t have to worry about finding a permanent place for anything.

avatar parrt August 10, 2011, 7:45 pm

i hate stuff and clutter too. germophobes like clean surfaces, i like empty surfaces. i don’t like pointless shit on my desk, countertops or any other surface. i basically want to live in a showroom house, don’t like shit lying around for “show”, or out of its proper place

avatar dobby August 11, 2011, 1:52 pm

Agreed. I stopped buying the required gifts for holidays, birthdays, etc. about 15 years ago.

I do still buy gifts, but only if I find something that I believe the person would truly like, or is an expression of who they are, or in some other way is unique and expressive. And I buy them whenever I find them throughout the year and I give gifts whenever – I don’t wait for holiday, birthday or occasion. And when I give a gift, I truly expect nothing in return. I give a gift because I want to give a little something special to another person, not because I’m keeping a score card of the loot I expect in return.

avatar AnitaBath August 10, 2011, 3:23 pm

You’re definitely not out of line to feel this way, and it does seem kind of thoughtless of him, but it seems like the time to bring it up has mostly passed. However, I would urge you to bring up the other stuff that you say has made you feel underappreciated with him. If he acts like it’s not big deal and you’re over reacting, or if he asks for specific examples, then maybe consider bringing up the birthday thing. But bringing it up months later and making it the focus will just make it seem like you’ve held a long grudge.

avatar Katie August 10, 2011, 3:26 pm

everyone has different ways of showing their love. Maybe you are the type who feels love by giving/recieving… and perhaps he expresses his love in actions, words, or some other way.

avatar MJ August 10, 2011, 3:27 pm

People put different value on things like birthday gifts. To me, it’s very significant. To other people (some of my family members), it means almost nothing, and I’ve had to learn to manage my expectations.

You should let this go. Your boyfriend can’t read your mind. If you want a gift, or if you want to feel appreciated in a certain way, TELL HIM. I know that in an ideal world he would get this on his own, but really, it probably hasn’t even occurred to him. You can do this in a positive way: “Hey, I really feel appreciated/cared for when you do X.”

avatar ktfran August 10, 2011, 3:37 pm

I wish I could thumbs up this statement more than once.

Communication is key. It sounds like you need to communicate with your bf. I wouldn’t do so in a way that attacks him, but is more of how you feel. Also, I would let go of the lack of birthday gift. The time has passed to bring it up. The longer you hang on to that, the worse you’ll feel and you’ll take it out on him. He may not respond kindly.

avatar Bethany August 11, 2011, 9:47 am

I totally agree. Tomorrow is my fiance’s 30th birthday, and to him it’s just like any other day. He doesn’t want or expect a gift, and he thinks that celebrating a birthday is silly. Several years ago for my birthday (after we’d been dating like a year and a half) he got me a T-Shirt for my birthday. Yeah, that’s right- a t-shirt. I was pissed. But then I realized that for his entire life he thought of birthdays as no big deal, and for me to expect him to suddenly change because they were a big deal to me was asking a little much. Over the years we’ve kind of met half way and they’re a non-issue now.

avatar TMSC August 10, 2011, 3:27 pm

There was a letter to DW a few months ago that started a discussion about how people show affection. Some people show affection (and in turn, expect others to do the same) by giving small tokens or gifts. Some people don’t. Being so early in the relationship, maybe this is hard to discern, but it could be the reason you didn’t receive a gift. I agree that if there are other reasons you feel under-appreciated, you should have an honest discussion about that, as well as your expectations about using gifts to express appreciation or affection. However, two things stuck out to me when reading this letter.

One, the “he didn’t get me a gift, so I am not going to get him one, even though I saw something he would like”. You are already starting to play games, which is never a good sign. If you see something he would like, and you show your affection by giving small gifts, just do it. And two, you are already feeling under-appreciated in a six-month relationship, in which only two of those months have been exclusive. Take a closer look at this and have an honest discussion about it with him. It may be you don’t have the same expectations of this relationship and of each other.

avatar savannah August 10, 2011, 3:36 pm

We can all take Wendy’s line and say that gifts are never mandatory…and that’s mostly true for most situations but come on. She’s not way out of line at all. Most people who are gift people, which is one of the most common ways we as a culture express our love, appreciation or demonstrate simply that we care and are paying attention, would feel at least a little disappointed by his behavior. And they did know each other for a while (4 moths) before being exclusive so i’m not sure the only 2-days excuse flies. Now should you talk to him about it? Maybe, but only when he’s demonstrated this is his routine behavior at dates like this i.e. birthdays. You at least need to be on the same page about not being on the same page if that is the case so no one is feeling bad (you) or confused (him).

avatar GatorGirl August 10, 2011, 3:40 pm

I was in your same situation, but reversed. A few months into casually “dating” my boyfriend (we were exclusive but not using the BF/GF terms) his birthday rolled around. My solution was a fancy dinner out, and a cupcake and candle later at my apartment. No presents, no pressure. When my birthday rolled around 5 months later, he did the same, a nice dinner and some candles. We didn’t exchange gifts our first Christmas either. Three and a half years later, we’re still going strong. One doesn’t need a gift to celebrate a birthday with a loved one.

If the real issue is he doesn’t appreciate or show that he appreciates you, then move on. There are plenty of fish in the sea.

avatar Colleen August 10, 2011, 3:40 pm

Are you familiar with the idea of Love Languages? Check this out: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/learn-the-languages/the-five-love-languages/

It’s a really simple way to understand why gifts are meaningful for you to give and receive, but might not hold the same significance for him. There are a lot of online quizzes about finding your love language. Try one together as a way to open a conversation about why this issue bothers you and how you can both show your affection.

avatar elisabeth August 11, 2011, 8:51 am

I’ve been scanning replies to see if anyone mentioned this, and now I don’t have to. This, do this! Take the test, see what drives you. It may be, LW, that while you give gifts to your boyfriend and your boyfriend takes you out to dinner, you each are speaking to your own love languages. It is NOT a shameful thing to let him know that you feel built up as an individual when receiving gifts, because that to you communicates how he’s lovingly thinking of you when you’re not there.

Mine is words of affirmation. You can spend all the time with me you want, but if I’m not verbally *told* what I mean to you or what I’ve done that you admire or how cute I look in my top today, I’m not going to feel it. It doesn’t mean I’m incapable of feeling it, or that they’re incapable of showing it, just that there’s been a breakdown in communication and it is *okay* to say to them, “This is what I need from you.” That way, you’re not assuming they’ll just know (no matter how reasonable it seems to you!) and you won’t be in for a letdown.

avatar Third Wave Housewife August 10, 2011, 3:40 pm

Given the newness of the relationship, among other things, I have to say yeah, let it slide. My attitude towards gifts is that when it gets in anyone’s head that giving a gift is a piece of important protocol, gifts are meaningless. It should never be an obligation to give people gifts for any occasion. I really enjoy giving gifts, and I never, never expect them of anyone else. Despite enjoying it, I only give gifts when I think, “X person would really love Y as a gift!” not when I know that X’s birthday is coming up and I drag myself all over town trying to find something they would like. When you’ve only been casually dating for a couple of months, how well do you expect someone to know you?

Now, you say you continue to feel under-appreciated. That is something to address. Not receiving a gift on your birthday, given the newness of the relationship at that point among other factors, is not. Some people don’t like giving gifts, or just don’t think to do it, or whatever. It’s fine for this to bother you- if you tend to be a gift-giver and thoughtful, it can be frustrating to pair off with someone who shows affection and appreciation in other ways…especially if you don’t see those ways at all.

avatar kerrycontrary August 10, 2011, 3:43 pm

LW, I’ve been in a similar situation. My boyfriend and I dated (as in went on dates) for 3 months before we decided to be official. My birthday occured during that time and he didn’t get me anything. We decided to be official about a week before his birthday. I got him gifts because thats how I am. I love to give gifts! I probably would’ve gotten him the gifts even if we had not been “official”. Now on birthdays and holidays since then he has always gotten me gifts and been great at it. But I never held it against him that he didn’t get me anything for that first birthday when I knew him. I was just happy that he took off work for a day and got to see him. I was too busy celebrating my birthday with my close friends at a bar to be concerned about piling up presents. I think the bigger issue here is that you say you don’t feel appreciated. I wish you had given us more details on why you don’t feel appreciated besides the gift giving. All I can tell from your letter though is that you are unhappy and you are only a couple of months in. Maybe this relationship isn’t turning out to have long-term potential?

Budj Budjer August 10, 2011, 3:43 pm

Are you feeling under-appreciated because you have been passive-aggressive about the gift giving thing which resulted in him not wanting to appreciate you as much in the ways he was appreciating you before, but you failed to notice due to being too preoccupied that he didn’t give you a birthday gift?

My brother and his girl friend will spend $300 on a birthday present for the other one when they can barely pay me rent on time…what is with the focus on this stuff? I know that is an extreme, but you’re keeping tabs on who paid dinner last… Did he pay for the next dinner when you got back from vacation? Someone said above that relationships aren’t tat for tat…that is a really good perspective to have.

Kate Kate August 10, 2011, 3:57 pm

Budger, that’s a good point, but when you’re in a relationship with someone who’s stingy in one or more ways, unfortunately you do start to become a scorekeeper, whether you want to or not. BECAUSE you feel hurt, you end up thinking a lot about it and paying attention to their behavior, in terms of what they do for you and when they foot the bill. That’s what dating someone cheap does to you. Of course it’s not a healthy dynamic, but we don’t go into relationships necessarily thinking “tit for tat,” it comes about when things are really unbalanced.

Budj Budjer August 10, 2011, 4:03 pm

you’re right…that happens with my roommates in regards to house chores…”I’ve taken the trash out like 6 times or done dishes 12 times and so and so has only done them 1 time” sort of thing. I just think it’s weird she was keeping track during the dating phase….I mean…if he was stingy enough to warrant coutning while he was courting her what did she think was going to change?

avatar Painted_lady August 10, 2011, 6:04 pm

I think the keeping track thing in relationships may be more a measure of affection than anything. No one wants to be the person who loves their partner disproportionately more than their partner loves them. It looks like stinginess on her part, but it may be closer to what she might do to figure out if she should say “I love you” first or if they’re at the point where discussing exclusivity isn’t completely whackadoodle-level too soon.

Kate Kate August 10, 2011, 3:55 pm

I’d be better able to assess if I knew the other ways in which the LW feels under-appreciated, but I do think a conversation is probably needed. I’m maybe sort of willing to buy what other posters have suggested – that the e-card and dinner were enough of a gesture, IF he’s showing his love in other ways and you feel happy and appreciated, but if it’s part of a pattern, then you need to talk to him about it. Use recent examples first, but somewhere in the conversation you may be able to ask how he feels about gift-giving on birthdays and holidays. Maybe he just isn’t into it and never will be, or maybe he would be willing to change if he knows it’s important to you. But first I think you need to let him know that you are committed to this relationship and want it to work, but have been feeling he may not appreciate you as much as you’d like him to, and give some examples and talk about it. If you don’t, I think what will happen is you’ll eventually blow up from bottling it in, and the result would be unfortunate – I speak from experience!

So talk to him and see if he’s receptive and seems to really care about making you happy. Then watch his actions. If he doesn’t seem to get it, or care, and nothing changes, then it’s time to move on.

avatar joy August 10, 2011, 3:58 pm

First of all you did not say how old you were. Also, has your boyfriend been in relationships before? This may be a case of being inexperienced or maybe in your boyfriend’s family gifts are not exchanged. It’s hard to say. Plus he may feel that even though you’ve known each other for several months that he is still getting to know you. There is no way of knowing what he was thinking, and you shouldn’t assume anything. I say take the lead. If you feel like getting him gifts, then get it for him because you want to. You can also let him know things you like in a subtle way. Perhaps he doesn’t know what you wanted or felt like he didn’t want to get you something just because he had to. In any case, show by doing. Also be observant of the things he does for you. Does he remember how you like your coffee without asking you? Does he know you like to read the Sunday paper first and leaves it for you? It’s the little things that are worth more than a gift picked up just because.