Confessions of the Hard-to-Buy-For

What I learned over the years is that presence is better than presents

I remember unwrapping the gift — that so-important first gift underneath our first Christmas tree together — after my husband and I had been married only six months. He sat quietly next to me and I could hear him breathing.

The pressure to love this gift was overwhelming. I prayed I’d like what was inside the small white box and had barely lifted the cover off, when I saw something gold with etched leaves inside.

"Do you like it?” he asked excitedly. “I thought of you when I saw it."

Time seemed to have stopped while he waited for me to answer. I swallowed my initial reaction and put a smile on my face before exclaiming my undying love for it. It was, after all, from my husband. But, truthfully, my thoughts at that moment were less than saintly. It still pains me to admit this, but the green in the necklace was just the wrong color green (they were a spring green while I prefer a deeper shade).

Be that as it may, I wore the locket every day because it meant so much to both of us. I loved the locket because it was from my husband, but I didn’t like the locket. Every time I caught myself in the mirror, I'd think, “Maybe I could just touch up the green a little.”

And there you have the ugly truth about me. Hello, my name’s Alexandra and I am hard to buy for. There’s nothing in the material world that someone else chooses that could possibly be the perfect color, style, size, make or model for me (or for people like me). While we gratefully accept your offering because we love you, if you could read our minds, you'd vow never again to spend a second of your time in a desperate search for that perfect gift for us.

And I don't blame you.

If you were to ask me why we, the hard to buy for, are this way, I’d have no explanation. I grew up poor so it would follow that any gift received as an adult should be much appreciated. But it just doesn’t work that way. No matter what anyone chooses for me, there’s just something always a little off about it.

When I remember my favorite gifts, two immediately come to mind. One was from my younger sister for my birthday. She wrote pages and pages of her memories of us together — some that I had totally forgotten about — and throughout the years, I’ve reread them at many low times in my life. They’ve literally become the gift that keeps giving.

Another gift was from a college girlfriend — a framed photo of us on a summer day. We were at a baseball game; engraved on the frame is a caption that reads, "One in a million." I still remember how wonderful it felt when I received it.

On that first Christmas together with my husband, 18 years ago, when I thanked him for the locket, I meant it. I said "Thank you," but what I was really saying was, "Thank you for the thought, for the gift, and for your love." Although I may be impossible to please in the material sense, it doesn't mean that I don't treasure the act of giving.

But where does this leave the unfortunate among you that has to deal with your own hard-to-buy-fors? My advice is this — save yourself the trips to the stores and get some sleep instead of late-night Amazon shopping. Your money is no good there anyway.

The only gift we truly cherish is your heartfelt words. Your presence is better than any presents. That’s what makes us happy. So send us a card, spend some quality time with us, tell us you're happy we're part of your lives, and see the smiles light up our faces.

That’s the greatest gift of all.