Monday, 18 July 2011

Sending Stuff to Servicemen

In general, I think it is a mistake for single women to give attractive single men gifts. However, I have concluded that it okay to send stuff to servicemen--and servicewomen, for that matter. It is traditional and patriotic. During the World Wars, young ladies sent care packages to servicemen they didn't even know. My American grandmother kept up a correspondence with a young soldier after the Americans entered the First World War, when she was 13 or so. (The poor doughboy was under the impression that Grandma was much older and wrote her telling that when he came home they'd paint the town red. But I digress.)

Gift-giving is a big deal. One of the problems of our age is saying stuff is "no big deal" when it fact it is and always has been. Hostess presents aside, if a man offers a single, unrelated woman a gift, it is often a sign that he finds her attractive. It's a nice clue to watch out for. Of course, women should turn down overly expensive or personal gifts from men-not-our-husbands unless we want to end up the subject of some misogynist rap song. A good line is, "Oh, no! Thank you--that's so kind of you!--but my parents would be distressed if I accepted such a personal/expensive gift." (Inevitable reply.) "I don't keep secrets from my parents."*

But it strikes me that a more pressing problem is the issue of the female desire to give. I wrote about this on Friday, when I was musing about what Germaine Greer gets right. Germaine Greer writes in The Whole Woman about women constantly giving giving GIVING to somehow relieve their brimming hearts of their burden of love. She describes elderly ladies knitting unwanted woollens for young male relations; I think of women thinking in June about what to give their crush objects for Christmas.

Various advice-givers I respect warn that men resent overly personal or expensive gifts, for they make them feel a woman is trying to buy them. (This makes me draw conclusions about what men think they are doing when THEY give women overly personal or expensive gifts.) One could throw a hissy fit at such uncharitable ingratitude, or one could ponder if that is in fact what the besotted women are trying to do.

Too many young girls have conversations with themselves that begin "He'll love me if I..." It comes as a big shock to discover that boys and men either love you or they don't, and it has very little to do with anything that you do. If you are a good person, who doesn't embarrass them, and are respected and thought well of by people they respect and think well of, then that's good. But whether or not they fall for you is completely up to their mysterious psyches.

Looking like the first girl/movie star/teacher they ever had a crush on is a good bet, but this is not exactly something you can control. You can't buy love with homemade cookies or--God forbid--a free housecleaning service or woolly jumpers or stuffed toys or silver cigarette cases or your body or anything else, really.

Thus, it is best to proceed with caution before buying a gift for a man who is not a family member unless he is a serviceman abroad. I was going to type "--or a priest" but I think you should be cautious there, too.

Eventually some nice woman is going to get mad at my constant devaluation of the female love of giving. And I would counter by saying that I have no problem with women giving, I have a problem with women giving TOO MUCH and to the WRONG PEOPLE.

It's funny how slang works. When I was 14 I went to a teenage party that featured boys I didn't know. It was very thrilling to be invited to a party in a far away neighbourhood given by a schoolmate who knew boys I didn't. (I spent my adolescence enamored of the concept "Cute New Boys", which strikes me now as very silly and pointless, but I don't suppose I, at 14, would have listened to me, aged 40.) Although new, these boys weren't cute. They seemed rather rough, and they used bad language, for which they were censured by the young hostess.

Apart from a vague feeling of disappointment and alarm, I remember only one more thing about this dreary party. One of the boys, in tones of mingled excitement and contempt, said of an absent girl whose reputation had been presented for dissection, "I hear she gives, man. She gives."

*Men look for cues from other men as to how to treat women. If decent men think you are valued by your father and brothers, then they will subconsciously value you, too. Also, giving the impression that you come from a good (by which I mean a caring) family, makes you more marriage than mistress material, if you see what I mean.


The Crescat said...

How I wish I read this years ago. I once made the mistake of giving a man cuff links for Christmas. We'd been dating maybe only 2 months. Oy! I know! I just love giving gifts and I get extra generous at Christmas.

It really meant nothing more to me than giving cuff links to my boss; but he declared 2 days later that he thought I was into him more than he was into me. The funny thing is the gift was prompted because he asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I never would have bought anything for some one I barely knew if I hadn't thought he was getting me something.

Oh well. Lesson learned.

I am curious; your last comment

"If decent men think you are valued by your father and brothers, then they will subconsciously value you, too. Also, giving the impression that you come from a good (by which I mean a caring) family, makes you more marriage than mistress material, if you see what I mean."

How do decent find this out about you, say if, you have no brothers and was raised without a father? Or for women who have no family for at all?

The Crescat said...

ps... I'm tired. Please forgive my ghastly grammatical errors. I hope you can make sense of the above gibberish.

Julie said...

My old roommate bought her boyfriend an iPod for Christmas and he got her a diamond tennis bracelet. This, they thought, was totally normal. Birthday presents were similarly Big, and when she got a new job he would take her shopping, when he got accepted for firefighter training she promised to buy his helmet &c &c. I always felt in my gut that all this was Bad, Bad, Bad. All these pricey entanglements! And she used to go into sulks every now and then if he seemed to balk at getting engaged... when I moved out I think they were at some sort of agreement... but no ring...

As I sit here remembering this, I wonder why I could see the wrongness of that so clearly and yet still want so badly to go giving expensive gifts. (I have only been saved by the fact that no man has ever been even slightly interested in me in December, alas.) I think because, unconsciously or consciously, I wanted to create those entanglements, hoping on some irrational level that I could create nonmaterial bonds through material debts. Perhaps this cold light of Reality will help me now in the future.

Seraphic said...

I blame the Fall. Men are often tempted to take too much, and women are often tempted to give too much. It's like a craving for something yummy when you're trying to diet: "!" But this must be resisted unless you're related or married to the man, end of story.

Seraphic said...

Crescat, I will have to think about the fatherless & brotherless situation. That's a tricky one. In a pinch (and it's late so I'm in a pinch), I'd casually emphasize my value to some other male guardian-type figure. Must think more when brain rested.

mary said...

Following Crescat's question... I have a less-than-ideal relationship with my dad. I have read in dating books that it's important to observe a person's relationships with family members to learn how they will treat their future spouse. This makes sense. In my case, aside from my dad, I get along great with my immediate and extended family, but things with him have always been difficult, and sadly I'm not sure they'll get a whole lot better. I've accepted that I probably won't have the kind of close relationship I would have wanted with him, though I still pray about it. But I don't know how/if/when to share this with a guy I'm dating (I realize it wouldn't be necessary until things are somewhat serious) and I don't want to be judged for it. There isn't any other male relative that I am close to (my extended family is fairly matriarchal, due to a simple prevalence of X chromosomes and a divorce). Any thoughts on how to handle this?

mary said...

ps. Also, I once baked brownies for a male friend who was coming over to visit, and when he saw them he said - in all seriousness - "I thought I asked you to bake cookies."
though now it seems very funny, and I am thankful we never dated. The end.

Seraphic said...

Mary, if you have a less than stellar relationship with your father, there is no reason to mention that until you are in a relationship that looks like it might blossom into marriage.

Meanwhile, you can still use the "My parents would object" line to discouraging overly expensive and personal presents and invitations.

If the subject of your father comes up, it would be good to mention only his virtues. You might (and should) think twice about a guy who bad-mouths his mother, and a guy will think twice about a girl who bad-mouths her dad.

For better and for worse, men take their cues from other men, so if you TELL young men who barely know you yet that your father neglects you... A man in love wouldn't care less (except to think your dad must be a jerk), but a man who isn't at that stage yet may very well take his cue from that.

I know this goes totally against American Confessional Culture (which has slopped into Britain and Canada via reality and talk shows), but you do not have to (and should not) tell potential suitors all about your private family dramas.

mary said...

Thank you for the advice. I've only really told a few female friends and one ex-boyfriend (and, crucially, a therapist) about this issue, and I think that was the right course of action.