my two cents

My Boyfriend Bought Me an Expensive Gift. What Do I Do?

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I’ve been dating my boyfriend for about six months, and he just bought me a really nice present for Christmas — a pair of diamond earrings (!) and a $200 gift certificate to a climbing gym I really like. I don’t know how much the earrings cost, but they were definitely more than the $50 pizza stone I bought him. We exchanged presents before parting ways to spend the holiday with our respective families, and I worry that I undergifted. I’m pretty sure I make more money than him, so it’s not like he had more to spend on me — he just did. I know this isn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things but I still feel awkward. It’s a weird dynamic. Do I buy him an extra gift? What do I do?

Lots of people would tell you to do nothing and be grateful. Maybe he’s just a guy who likes to express his feelings through gifts! Must be nice; enjoy it! But the fact that you feel a little uncomfortable is telling, and I don’t think you should ignore it.

You’re right that this gifting disparity is not a huge deal. But it does present a great opportunity to talk more openly about finances in your relationship and clear the air about expectations for gifts and equitability in the future. This doesn’t need to be a heavy, State of the Union conversation about your values, especially since you haven’t been dating for that long, but it’s a nice entry point for broaching the topic. Half the battle of seeing eye to eye with a partner about money is just learning how to discuss it. So consider this an invitation to start.

A quick aside: You do not need to get your boyfriend anything more to even things out. (Also, I think a pizza stone is a very respectable present!) Yes, it’s understandable to want to be in the same ballpark(ish) when buying stuff for each other, but there are plenty of other factors when it comes to gifting — thoughtfulness, creativity, usefulness — that matter more than the cost. Plus who’s really keeping score? (If you can answer that question, that’s probably another thing to address.)

You can dispel the weirdness of this subject by calling it out: “I don’t mean to be awkward, and I loved your gifts, but I feel bad that I didn’t give to you on the same level. Were you disappointed?” Or something to that effect. Presumably, the lopsided cost of your presents doesn’t reflect a difference in how you feel about each other. But if he’s worried it does, then this is your chance to reassure him.

Since you mentioned that you’re “pretty sure” your boyfriend makes less money than you, I’m guessing you haven’t talked about your respective incomes. Which is completely fine! (Although you eventually should, if things get serious.) However, it is worth trying to get a sense of how he handles money more generally, says Manisha Thakor, the founder of MoneyZen, a financial advisory firm and the author of On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance. “His gift could potentially be a red flag that he’s spending beyond his income,” she cautions.

Thakor also points out that, despite its being the 21st century, some men still get a little insecure about making less money than their partner. “He may have some discomfort around your income differences and be trying to compensate for it,” she says. “If that’s the case, that’s something to keep an eye on, should it become a bigger issue.”

Of course, it may be that none of this is true, and he can afford the things he bought you or saved up specially to do so. That would be very sweet! Some people simply like to give gifts – it’s their “love language” — and if your boyfriend is one of them, that’s helpful to know (and Godspeed to you both).

This would also be your chance to communicate that you are not this type of person yourself, if that happens to be the case. I’ve been in a similar situation — I have a close friend who comes up with adorable, considerate presents all the time (she once sent me a box of hot chocolate and a fleece blanket at the beginning of fall just because), and it used to give me anxiety because there was no way I could keep up. I finally told her this, and it turned out that I had misunderstood her intentions. Her objective, she said, was just for me to appreciate her gifts, not respond in kind — a huge relief. (She also told me that I was “a good friend in other ways,” phew.) Now I just text her a thank-you whenever I’m using something she has given me, and everyone’s happy.

Obviously, a friend is different from someone you’re dating, but I think the sentiments are similar. Gifts are a gesture, not a transaction. Either way, your boyfriend sounds thoughtful and generous — both great qualities in a partner. I hope your conversations go well, and happy holidays.

My Boyfriend Bought Me an Expensive Gift. What Do I Do?