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Is it really weird that this woman gave my family gifts?


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Yesterday my sister came home after spending Christmas with her boyfriend and she came home with lots of gifts from her boyfriend and his family. I didn't really think too much of it, but then it turned out that her boyfriend's mother bought gifts for my entire family. This seemed really strange to me. I mean on the one hand, they've been dating for a couple of years, but on the other hand, none of us except my sister has ever met her boyfriend's family, so his mother doesn't actually know me, my mother, and my other sister. And it wasn't like she just got one gift for each of us. She got multiple gifts for each of us, plus a few things for the family to share, so she really went overboard.

My sister says this is normal for her, that she does this with everyone, but it still makes me really uncomfortable. I mean I'll admit that it was a very generous gesture, and I don't want to seem ungrateful, but I've never met this woman, and all these gifts seem indicative of a relationship that doesn't actually exist. I feel like she made a very bad first impression on me in the sense that she's probably going to be the sort of person that would make me very anxious to be around, enthusiastic and overbearing and that sort of thing. I had no feelings one way or the other before yesterday about eventually meeting her, and now the thought of it makes me very apprehensive.

There's also the fact that I don't even really like getting gifts most of the time. There's a few reasons for this, which I won't go into right now, but even on the rare occasions that someone gets me exactly what I wanted, and even if I'm happy about it in the moment, I'll often end up feeling depressed by it later. This year, I actually told my family that I was opting out of gift exchanges for the holidays and birthdays, and I thought I wouldn't have to worry about it, but then someone I've never even met kind of ruined all of that. Obviously, she had no knowledge of this, but I get the feeling she's the sort of person that would have a hard time respecting these wishes even if she knew about them. And yes I realize I shouldn't make assumptions about her, but anyone that's that enthusiastic about gift giving would probably have a hard time being told that someone doesn't want any gifts. I'm really trying not to let it bother me too much, but my anxiety causes me to think about it happening every year if my sister and her boyfriend stay together, and then there having to be an actual uncomfortable discussion about it.


So do you guys think it's really strange/weird for my sister's boyfriend's mother to buy the whole family lots of gifts when she's never even met us?

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I agree with Facet. I would be surprised about the gifts but I wouldn't find it very weird at all. Especially since your sister has been dating this dude for several years, as you said. This woman is obviously a person who loves Christmas and just wanted to spread the love around. Did you get gifts like this from her last year? It could be that maybe her family has more money than they usually do so she wanted everyone to share in their prosperity. Or she realized her son and your sister will probably end up married and wanted to try and reach out to your family in a friendly way through gifts. Also hasn't your family had some troubles this year? Like, your mother was having serious health problems I believe? It could be that she wanted to make this Christmas extra nice for you guys because of that.

1 hour ago, Shayla said:

and then there having to be an actual uncomfortable discussion about it.

See, honestly, why even do this? Why have the discussion at all? There's no good way to tell someone to stop giving you gifts. Like, she's going to feel bad about it no matter how that's worded. Why not just accept the present, say thank you, and then if you don't want it/don't like it/are made uncomfortable by it, gift it to someone else or donate it?

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Thank you for the feedback.


@facet Yeah, I don't think she meant any harm, but I still think it was way over the top given that we've never even met her. I mean we have family friends that have known me since I was two years old that actually feel like family and we don't exchange anything more than cards. I think I'd probably feel just as uncomfortable even if I was still exchanging gifts with my family. But I don't know, it's just been a very long time since I've given or received a gift from anyone outside of my immediate family(plus one uncle).

My other sister thought it was very strange too. I think my mother also thought it was strange, but I often have a hard time understanding her these days due to aphasia. Maybe it just seems strange to us because we're Jewish and any gift exchanges we do are much more low key than what I've typically seen from a lot of Christian families, which I know is stereotyping, but it's just what I've observed in my life.

@murphy dee They haven't been dating several years. I said a couple of years, and I think it's been two and half years at most. My sister got gifts from her last year if I remember correctly, but no, she didn't give them to anyone else in my family. Yes, my mother has had some serious health problems, and honestly she's been through a lot in the past several years, but she had a serious stroke a year ago which left her severely disabled and is now undergoing cancer treatment. I've also had a lot of my own health issues to deal with that have landed me in the ER multiple times.

Really, it's not just a matter of the gifts making me uncomfortable. There are times when it can cause me severe emotional distress, which I really don't need on top of everything else going on. I was feeling fairly depressed and almost wanting to cry last night, and I'd actually consider that to be a fairly mild reaction compared other situations involving gifts. I can't really explain why I'm like this, but it's been an issue for me on and off for as long as I can remember and seems to have gotten worse with age. I don't know when it started, but I do remember throwing a temper tantrum as a child after receiving numerous checks from extended family on my birthday and wanting to give it all to charity which my mother refused to do.

You're right that I don't have to keep any gifts that I don't want, but giving them away isn't going to mitigate the emotional distress that receiving the gift would cause(which is a big part of why I had to put an end to it with my family), not to mention that I'd be lying and then I'd be angry at myself for that. I guess I'm just not willing to put myself through that indefinitely to spare someone else's feelings, especially if I have no emotional attachment to them. I think the best I can do is say that if she wants to get me anything, that I'd prefer her to make contributions to a charity on my behalf because I think that's the only way I won't feel awful about it. I have no intention of contacting her about this for now, but it's something I may have to do in the future depending on the course things take in the interest of self preservation.



Anyway, so far everyone I've asked outside of my own family seems to think that this isn't strange at all, which is surprising to me, but perhaps it just means that our life experience is very far outside of the norm?

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2 hours ago, murphy dee said:

Or she realized her son and your sister will probably end up married and wanted to try and reach out to your family in a friendly way through gifts.

Two and a half years of dating is decently serious and I expect this is somewhat on her mind or at least the notion of reaching out to make a friendly gesture. I don't think it's a particular weird thing for someone to do and frankly, I think it's a very kind and sweet gesture to her son's girlfriend's family. Seems like something my own mom might do if her own son was going to spend the holidays (or even part of them) with his girlfriend's family. 

I agree it would be a confusing and complicated discussion with a complete stranger so I agree with the other posters that you should not bring it up with her/your sister's boyfriend and just grit your teeth and accept the gift (and donate it if it makes you uncomfortable to accept. And perhaps remind your sister of your aversion to gifts so that if this happens again in the future, she can reroute the gift to someone in need). 

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I don't think it's very weird at all. I do think it's a little over the top, but in a friendly, generous way, not in a bad way. I would assume that someone who did something like this is thoughtful and giving and has the means to give people things she thinks they might want or that will be useful. Two and a half years is a pretty serious relationship, and stepping into her shoes, I find it really easy to imagine that she just wants to foster a good relationship with her future in-laws. 

That bit aside, though:

Doesn't it exhaust you to assign ill intent to people on this level all the time? I would find it so disheartening to assume that people are out to get me all the time. There's no way to ascertain whether or not this woman is going to be overbearing in such a way that makes you anxious or etc, or whether she's not going to respect your boundaries. She had no idea that was overstepping a boundary at all, because your boundary about receiving gifts is not a normal social boundary. Based on this single incident, chances are she's just a kind, generous woman who thought she was doing a nice thing, and if she's thoughtful enough to include you and your family on an occasion like this I don't imagine that she would want to intentionally upset anybody by continuing to do something she's aware upsets them. 

I also feel, based on numerous previous situations where you weren't happy about any of the offered solutions, that if next year this woman is told of your hatred of gifts and gets everybody else a gift and leaves you out you will still not be happy. Just based on your interactions with and feelings about most people on earth, there's no way to win for this poor woman, who has no idea that what she did out of the goodness of her heart could possibly have upset someone to this degree. Just some food for thought.

I hope you can dispose of the gifts in a way that makes you happier and that you feel better.

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I agree with what everyone else has said before me -- what she did was uncommon but makes sense given what you know from you sister about her character. I think that with situations like this, it's best to bite the bullet for the sake of someone else's feelings, even if it makes you uncomfortable. As things stand, you don't have much of a relationship with her other than your being on the receiving end of her generosity. I also hope that you're able to come to peace with the gift she gave you and that you start to feel less anxious about situations like these.

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5 hours ago, Shayla said:

I get the feeling she's the sort of person that would have a hard time respecting these wishes even if she knew about them. And yes I realize I shouldn't make assumptions about her, but anyone that's that enthusiastic about gift giving would probably have a hard time being told that someone doesn't want any gifts.

I feel like this is unfairly presumptive of a woman you've never met, at least as much as her extending her well wishes via gift giving. As others have pointed out, that's a societal norm, and there's no reason for her to know otherwise if you haven't spoken (which, after a couple of years of dating, I might expect at some point?). I've definitely given gifts to people who have enjoyed them very much, but asked me not to do it again, and that's fine!

If it's awkward for you, the "in lieu of gifts, donate to X charity" is a very normal reroute. That's what all of my extended family does instead of physical gifts -- pick a charity and donate as financially able. 

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My sister has had two previous relationships that lasted of similar length before ending. She's neither engaged to nor living with her current boyfriend, so I'm not going to make any assumptions either way as to how serious it is just based on the fact that they've been dating two and a half years. I even asked my sister recently how serious it was, and she couldn't even give me a definite answer. The way my family and I feel, is that it doesn't really matter that they've been dating that long. It feels very weird to us to receive gifts, and so many gifts, from someone that we've never met and doesn't really know us at all. It would be a different story if we had met before, and were having semi-regular get-togethers for a good portion of their relationship. This is not a situation that any of us have ever encountered before.

1 hour ago, Junia said:

Doesn't it exhaust you to assign ill intent to people on this level all the time?

I haven't assigned ill intent to anyone in this situation. In fact, I acknowledged in my original post that it was a very generous gesture. I've only explained how both I and other members of my family feel that it's very strange under the circumstances. Beyond that, I've explained that receiving gifts can be very detrimental to my mental health, and that receiving gifts from someone that is a stranger to me has caused me to feel anxiety about potentially meeting them when I hadn't previously felt that way. Is it irrational? Yes, but that's how anxiety often is. Nowhere did I say that I thought she was intentionally trying to make me and my family uncomfortable. I recognize that it's entirely possible for someone to have good intentions and yet their actions may seem strange or even inappropriate to someone else based on individual life experiences.

Despite what you might think of me, I'm not one of those people who says they don't want gifts when they really do want them as some sort of a test. If I say I don't want gifts, then I mean it. I know from past experience that I've been perfectly content to be left out of gift exchanges. In fact, not doing it with my family this year made the holidays less stressful for me up until now. So if in some hypothetical future she got everyone else gifts and not me, I'd be very appreciative of my wishes being respected. I think I could also live with the charitable contribution alternative. In the event that I ever changed my mind and wanted to exchange gifts with her or my family, I'd bring it up well in advance of the holidays.



I'm still very surprised that outside of my own family, people seem to unanimously feel that this wasn't strange at all. I guess I was expecting more a mix of opinions. A few months ago I spoke with my therapist about wanting to stop exchanging gifts with my family and explained to him some of the reasons why. His response was "Welcome to the real world" and told me that his family doesn't do gift exchanges any more. I suppose this led me to believe that gift giving between adults was becoming less common.

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Based on everything you've said, I think the only solution that would suit your needs is to tell your sister to keep all the gifts that are intended for you and not tell you about them at all. She can re-gift, keep or donate them as she sees fit. Since your family already knows about your anxiety regarding receiving gifts, it shouldn't be such a stretch to ask this from your sister. Plus, I have a feeling she'd rather do that than have an awkward conversation with the generous mother of her boyfriend about not sending any gifts for you (which could hurt her feelings or make her feel unnecessarily bad about causing you anxiety).

Adults who don't do gift exchanges anymore are doing it mainly because it's either too costly and they can't afford to buy gifts for everyone in their lives, difficult to find a suitable gift for adults, which can be stressful, or they don't want more clutter in their house (if receiving gifts they don't actually need/enjoy). It doesn't have anything to do with the type of anxiety you are experiencing, and it's not all adults who feel this way. Some people love giving gifts and don't expect anything in return, and the vast majority of people see it as a kind gesture, no matter if they want/like the gift or not. This is why we don't consider it strange; we just assume she is one of those people who love giving gifts to brighten people's day. Is it common? Not really. But it doesn't mean that it's an odd behavior or socially unacceptable.

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@Oolia Thanks for your input. I was thinking something along those lines myself, but that would only work if in the future my sister was used to deliver the gifts. It might not always happen this way, especially if the relationship does become more serious and family gatherings actually do start happening. So yes, I think I will ask my sister to do this, but it's impossible to predict what might happen next year, and I'm not sure it's really a long term solution.

I do realize that the emotional distress I feel over receiving gifts isn't typical, but some of the reasons you mentioned are also reasons why I wanted to stop exchanging gifts with my family, among others. I also realize that this woman had no way of knowing my feelings, but I feel that that's also kind of the point. If she'd actually gotten to know me(and my family) beforehand, then she would have known. So yes, while I acknowledge that what she did was meant well, me and my family felt that it was rather premature given that we have no existing relationship with her(not counting the sister dating her son).

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In a lot of what you're saying, and in a lot of the descriptions of issues with other people that you have had, there is a LOT of "I want", "I need", "I have to explain that this is the way I want things", "because of how I think", "my feelings", "my needs" etc.  I think it would help you an awful lot to shift out of that thinking for a bit and consider that in all of these interactions there is a person on the other end.  A human being who has their own perceptions and has their own way of thinking and their own reasons for doing things.  And most importantly their own feelings and their own free will.   People are gonna do what they're gonna do, and trying to exert control over every person who might interact with you is a recipe for everyone's unhappiness including and especially your own.  Because that's never going to work, they're not players in your personal story, everyone has their own mind and own life and you are never going to get 100% of people around you to do things 100% your way because people are complicated and life is chaos.   And I realise how harsh that sounds but I am trying to make the point that you are setting yourself up for unhappiness right now.  And also because I GET that anxiety is a bitch.  I really do.  But letting it control you to this point is exactly how it gets worse and that's something to really think about.  Because anxiety is never happy.  Every time you feed it by giving in, by stopping something or limiting yourself, it doesn't stop the anxiety, it just finds something new to demand to keep itself alive.

I apologise if any of that sounded like an attack, I really do.

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@SleepingPhlox I hope you don't mind, but I think I'll respond to you in private because I'd really rather not derail the entire thread.

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