AND SO WE FIND OURSELVES in the gift-giving doldrums: that exact midpoint between summer’s glut of weddings and graduations and the winter holidays. During the wedding and holiday seasons, more than half of the questions asked of Miss Conduct are about giving. How much to spend? On what? For whom? How do I avoid getting caught in an unwanted reciprocity loop?
Gift-giving is a universal of the human species. Psychologists aren’t even sure at what age children start to spontaneously give presents (from dandelions to drawings), because every culture coaches them to give and share almost from birth. Why then is the chore of choosing presents so . . . bloody . . . difficult?