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Auntie SparkNotes: My BFF Skimped on My Christmas Present

Dear Auntie,

Just recently a group of my friends did secret Santa, me included. I got one of my best friends, so I spent the £10 budget on her secret Santa present, as well as on a separate present because, well, she’s my best friend. I even told her I was getting her a present as well as whoever I was getting a pressie for the secret Santa. So I ended up spending £20 on her presents. However, she got me for secret Santa as well, so she decided to give me my separate present as the secret Santa, and gave the exact same thing to my other friends. She didn’t even spend the £10 secret Santa budget, she just got me something cheap! I’m upset about this because I got her two presents: one because she’s my friend, and one because she was my secret Santa, but I only got one present in return… I know I should be grateful, but I’m really disappointed because I put a lot of thought into her presents and all my friends got two presents and I only got one. What should I do?

Actually, Sparkler, I think we’d better start by talking about what you shouldn’t do. Because as un-thrilled as you are about having received only one holiday gift instead of two, I suspect you’ll be even less thrilled by other people’s reaction should you actually voice your complaints out loud.

Which I hope you won’t, for that reason.

It’s not that you’re wrong to be disappointed at your friend’s perceived lack of reciprocity (although I’m also not sure that you’re being entirely fair on that front, which we’ll get to in a minute.) It’s just that bean-counting is never a good look—not in a relationship like this, which is supposed to be predicated on something so much deeper than the price tag on a Christmas present, but also as a general rule. I mean, let’s just take a moment to remember how we all felt when Dudley Dursley ran into a room stuffed with presents, all for him, and his first reaction was to be angry that there weren’t more.

Ugh, right? So rude! And let’s be real, you don’t want people to feel about you the way they felt about Dudley Dursley. At least, not the way he was before he was attacked by Dementors and mellowed out a bit.

But with that out of the way, let’s return to the subject of your friend and her presents. More specifically, let’s talk about why she might have decided to go under budget on your secret Santa exchange, and give identical, inexpensive presents to everyone.

Your disappointment says that you’ve already come up with one explanation; namely, that she cares less about you than you do about her, that you weren’t special enough to spend £20 on. But how likely is that, really, as compared to an alternative—say, that she had very little money to spend and couldn’t give gifts the way she would have liked to? Or that she put off shopping until the last minute and ended up scrambling to do this cheaper, easier thing, and assumed you would understand since you’re so close? Or that she really doesn’t care—but her indifference is toward gift exchanges in general, not toward you personally?

That last one, especially, is something I’d like you to think about. You’re clearly a person who attaches a lot of significance to gift-giving; you enjoy putting time and thought into picking out presents because it’s one of the ways you express affection. And that’s wonderful! People like you are the reason why gift-giving was invented, because you do it so well! But you must realize that not everybody is like you. For some people, gift-giving seems like an annoying obligation, or a useless endeavor, or just something they’re not very good at and that never works out like it’s supposed to. (You’ve received presents from these people; they’re the ones you open and immediately put back in the box, wrapping paper and all, to re-gift to somebody you don’t care about.) And for what it’s worth, these people not only tend to be awful at giving gifts, but they don’t grasp at all the thought and effort that went into the gifts they themselves are given, either. The whole process is alien to them.

I couldn’t tell you which of these reasons, if any, are the reason for your friend’s less-than-stellar secret Santa performance. But if you think about it, and think about the reasons why you’re friends with this girl and all the ways she reciprocates your friendship that don’t come in a box, my guess is that you’ll realize that it wasn’t personal.

So when you ask what you should do, the answer is as follows: Say thank you, if you haven’t. (It’s only polite.) Make a mental note not to expect much from this particular friend in future gift exchanges. And keep on giving gifts with all the skill and thoughtfulness that you always have, but do it for the right reasons—not because you want to get something in return, but because you find joy and expression in the act of giving itself.

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