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ASK AMY

Friend’s gifts are really burdens

Q. I have a casual friend who won’t stop giving me excessive gifts, even after I have asked her to stop. We take morning walks together, but we do not share any other social activities.

She found out when my birthday is, and surprised me with a custom-made cake and a large bag full (13 items) of what she called “trinkets,” but some of these items retail for at least $25 to $30 each!

I thanked her, but also protested loudly that it was way too much. I tried to reciprocate on her birthday, but could not keep up.

Christmas was even worse. I felt so inadequate and uncomfortable that I talked to my therapist about it. She suggested picking a time when there are no occasions coming up and having a frank talk with the casual friend about how uncomfortable this makes me. So I did.

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I asked her if we could stop exchanging gifts, and she agreed.

Around Thanksgiving I reminded her again to please NOT get me a Christmas gift, and she responded with an “eyeroll-OK-sure.” She waited until Dec. 26 to leave it on my front porch, and claims it’s not a Christmas gift!

After I saw what was in that gift bag (the total value close to my entire gift budget for my grandkids), I actually sat down and cried.

Is something wrong with me? I know I’m practical and frugal to a fault. Is this a new normal? Am I really that out of step with the times?

I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but how do I get her to stop? What would you do?

RETIRED RECIPIENT

A. You are not out of step. This is NOT the “new normal.” You are not practical and frugal “to a fault.” Your walking partner is a boundary-leaper to a fault.

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Your choice to follow your therapist’s advice was a good one. You have handled this well. You’ve asked the other person to cease this behavior which has made you so uncomfortable, and she agreed.

You’ve asked what I would do. I would react the same way you have — bewildered and doubting myself.

I think you should consider returning these gifts. Tell her: “I was honest about how uncomfortable this makes me. I’m upset that you haven’t respected our agreement. I can’t figure out why you don’t understand my feelings, but for our friendship to continue, I need you to agree to stop doing this. Please — no more gifts of any kind. I just want to enjoy our relationship, without anything else attached. Can you do that?”

If she responds with a wink wink, nod, nod, then you should assume that she will simply never take your needs seriously or respect your wishes.


Q. My friend says that people hardly ever change. He says that we have to just accept or detach from them.

I think people can change. What do you think?

BRIAN

A. Let me put it this way: I’m absolutely convinced that I can change, and yet I know that I’m unlikely to change much. I also have faith that others can change, but I don’t make the mistake of assuming that their changes will be those I’d wish for.

I agree with your friend that dramatic and lasting change is rare, but I take issue with the “accept or detach” idea. Acceptance is a form of detachment in its purest form, but sometimes — when change is necessary for a relationship to continue — if change doesn’t happen, disengagement is called for.

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Q. “Shattered” was a woman who gained significant weight after a bad breakup. Even though she had lost a large portion of it, she still couldn’t stand looking in the mirror or taking photos of herself.

Your advice was sound, but it seems like a good place to also offer advice on practicing body neutrality. We tend to get trapped in a cycle of feeling “ugly,” “gross,” or “unworthy” when our bodies aren’t what we wish they were. It’s so freeing to walk the path of a body being good simply because it is a body.

As someone who struggled with their looks for years, when I began to recognize that my body was good simply because it did the things bodies are made for I found myself freed from negative emotions connected to its form and began to develop positive feelings toward its function.

THE OWNER OF A GOOD BODY

A. I love the way you expressed this. Thank you!

Amy Dickinson can be reached at askamy@amydickinson.com.