Sometimes No Gift is the Greatest Gift

Another version of this post originally appeared on Quiet Revolution

I had a birthday recently.

I received two thoughtful gifts from two dear friends and I was grateful. They were kind to remember my latest trip around the sun.

But here’s the thing: I am a bad gift opener. Not in a “can’t find where the tape starts on the wrapping paper” sort of way. In a “deer caught in headlights” sort of way. Even when I love the gift (which is almost always) the introvert in me feels like I’m under a spotlight and doesn’t know what to do with her face. Which is to say, all of me doesn’t know what to do with my face. 

I have practiced my gift-opening expressions in the mirror with a type of scrutiny that should be reserved for preparing for an intense interrogation. If I put my eyebrows up too high to show surprise and elation, I look… how can I put this… totally insane. If I focus on crafting a perfectly casual smile, I am convinced I look insincere.

I prefer to open my gifts under cover of darkness, or, at the very least, alone in my living room.

Gift exchange games are my anti-Super Bowl. Is that a thing? You know what I mean.

So, yes, I was the only person to abstain from my company’s White Elephant celebration last year. If you’re not familiar, this is the game where everyone brings a wrapped item and then each person, one at a time, chooses a random box to open.

In front of everyone.

Other party-goers stare in your direction as you unwrap a gag t-shirt or pair of Star Wars socks or a Rob Thomas CD. If another person steals your gift, you get to publicly select and react to a new mystery package all over again.

How does one decline to participate in such an event? If you’re chock full of social grace, you probably approach the party-thrower discretely beforehand and let them know you won’t be joining in. You could give a myriad of reasons. You forgot to buy something, you got a flat tire on the way to the store, your debit card got stolen. Anything, really. If you’re me, you wait until they are selecting the order in which people will open their gifts and then say “I DIDN’T BRING A GIFT, THIS IS TOO MANY PEOPLE” at an octave just north of appropriate.

I would never survive a bridal shower.

Friends, why do we do this to each other? Why don’t we hand off gifts and and then look away? Why do I feel like opening a present is performance art? These are the questions I have that may never get answers.

What I know is this: I love my friends and family for gifting me with everything from Bill Murray candles to Vikings sweat pant, but it I hope they forgive me for looking like someone just handed me a ticking box.

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