“You haven’t given me a gift; you’ve given me an obligation.” ~Sheldon Cooper
On December 21st of last year I got a package in the mail from a woman I haven’t spoken to in probably five years. For the first couple of years after we lost contact I sent her a gift for the holiday. I got nothing in return, not even an email with a “Thank You,” so I decided she had moved on. So I moved on. And then out of the blue, a few years later, she sends me a gift. My first thought was, “Damn, now I don’t have time to send her a gift in return.”
Obligations: we have many in this life. We have to pay our bills, to feed ourselves and our children, and to work so that we can afford those first two items. There are so many other obligations inherent in being an adult, but I’ll stop there. Except now I’ve been given one more, out of the blue. Sheldon was right. She hadn’t given me a gift. She had given me an obligation, and it came from completely out of the blue.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I loved her gift. It was very thoughtful, and it reminded me of why we had become friends in the first place. If she had sent it at some random time of year, and if it was just something she liked to do, I would have probably just smiled at it and moved on after sending her a “Thank You” card. But getting it at Christmas-time, and after so long a hiatus, it sat like a lead weight on my soul, begging me to reciprocate even though I didn’t have time left to do so. It gnawed at my brain, though, until I went out and purchased a suitable return gift, tossed in a “belated” card, and sent it off posthaste.
Then I finally exhaled.
And I started wondering if she was planning on making this gift-giving a “thing” between us now, if I would have to add her name and address to the growing list of reciprocants on my phone’s task list. I groaned, and I know I shouldn’t have. I should have just appreciated the gift and left it at that, but social mores get stuck in my mind when I don’t wish them to be there, telling me if she sends me a gift I need to respond in kind.
Appreciation can come in many forms. I started thinking after sending the “belated” gift that perhaps the better response would have been a phone call. She was obviously thinking about me after all that time for some reason, or maybe she just saw something that reminded her of me, so she spontaneously decided to send it. What better way to show her that I appreciated the thought than to call her up, something she knows I hardly ever do (call anyone), to tell her how grateful I was to hear from her in the form of her gift.
Maybe we’ve lost something with all of this reciprocity, all of this eye-for-an-eye thinking. Perhaps we would do better to think about what is really important, and how we can best convey that to others, to the people we care about, and to the people who think about us for whatever reason and do something special for us. Giving the gift might have been special to them, but when sending one in return is just rote for us, where’s the thought and care in that? Thinking about what would make them happiest would make a world of difference. For them, and for us.
P.S. – Kayla, this counts as a phone call, right?