Friends and Gift Giving – Advice Column

Dear English Friend,

So I have this really good friend who I’ve been friends with for a long time, but lately I’ve been feeling upset with her. For the past couple years, I’ve noticed a huge difference in the gifts we give each other for birthdays. For example, for her birthday this year I bought her this really nice charm bracelet and a box of expensive chocolates, but for my birthday which comes after she bought me a shirt which I looked up online and saw cost only $10 at X store.

I know that makes me sound petty, but there is a big difference in our incomes and living styles. She has a much bigger house and a much better paying job than I do, yet I am buying her these meaningful gifts and making all the effort. I tried gently talking to her about my concerns, and it kind of spiraled into a fight with her calling me, you guessed it, really petty and weird for “monitoring the price of gifts”.

Am I being petty? Or is SHE, because she’s the one buying me cheap birthday gifts? I guess I could stop buying such nice gifts for her, but I don’t want to come down to her level because I value her and her special day.


Dear Unsure,

Let’s see if we can help you out with your dilemma. You say that this has only begun to happen for the last couple years. Maybe your friend has undergone some event that has made it necessary for her to be more prudent in her gift exchanges. It is important not to judge people, especially our friends, by their possessions. Just because she has a nice house and supposedly better paying job, you can’t really know what her financial situation is. She might not own her house, she could have been demoted at work, who knows? Even though you two are long-time friends, she might be embarrassed to tell you about her situation, and you might have really embarrassed her further when you confronted her about the quality of her gifts. This is turn would explain her defensive attitude during the argument.

Now let’s pretend that your friend actually has a totally great living situation and she is just “being stingy”. The fact of the matter is, you can’t force people to give you the birthday gifts you want. And if you try, you will come off looking petty even if you feel people aren’t reciprocating your goodwill. It’s an awkward situation to be sure, because I do agree that, year after year, it isn’t fair to be the only generous one. But instead of trying to force your friend to change, YOU need to be the one to change. You should stop buying such expensive gifts for your friends, because all it’s doing is causing a lot of built-up resentment and you’re not “getting anything in return” as you would say. This will also lead you to expect less from your friends on birthdays—gift-wise that is—which will allow you to focus on their qualities that made you become friends with them in the first place.

To my readers: this was another really tough question. What advice would you give this person?

Take care,

Your English Friend



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