Why Men Are So Difficult to Buy Gifts For?18 December 2021
Avrum Weiss, PhD :
Around the country, people are making their lists and checking them twice, trying to make sure they have gifts for all the people in their lives who matter most to them. Most people have a few names that keep getting pushed to the bottom of their lists, not because those people don't matter to them, but because they can't think of anything to get them. Whether they be fathers, husbands, brothers, or friends, the people who are most difficult to choose presents for are often men.
Why is it so difficult to buy gifts for men? The simplest reason is that men are given more social permission to buy what they want for themselves, so if there is something they want they have probably already bought it for themselves. Below the surface, however, is the fact that men are socialized to find their self-worth in taking care of women and children, to not want anything for themselves, and certainly not need anything from anyone else. This is why men, if asked what they would like, often insist that they "don't want anything for myself." Men are often unaware of what they might want, and even if they are aware, they often have difficulty receiving from the people who care about them.
It is easier for men to accept gifts that are meant to help them be more productive in their role of taking care of the family, which can they rationalize as "not really being for me." For example, men may be gifted lawn equipment or tools to help them take care of the home or ties or coffee mugs in recognition of their role as a provider outside the home. On the other hand, men are rarely given gifts that are designed just to give them pleasure or help them play but have no productive value. Mom may get a day at the spa for the holidays, but it's unlikely that dad will.
One man, Steve, has been working at home since the pandemic started, using the dining room table despite having to deal with most of the interruptions from the kids. Gradually, Steve realized he would like a more private space and proposed to his wife that he set up shop in a large closet in one of the children's rooms (there was actually a larger space available, but Steve could not even imagine asking for that more desirable space). Steve's wife told him that she did not like that plan, but that she understood how important it was to him to have a space of his own and that she was absolutely fine with proceeding. Steve was frozen. His wife repeated several times that she was fine with the plan, but as long as she didn't say she liked it, he couldn't get himself to feel OK about taking the space. Steve said, "I need her to want it, too... I'm getting something I want, and I don't know if that's okay. It's not a right or wrong, which would be easier. It is harder to stand up for what I want just because I want it."
Men, in general, are significantly impaired in their capacity to be playful or allow themselves to experience pleasure. Men can be comfortable with pleasure as long as it is productive in some way, like playing golf with a client, or if it benefits other people like a vacation for the kids. However, play or pleasure for its own sake is often a real challenge for men. I have observed in my own life that I am capable of turning any pleasure into an obligation. I got interested in golf and then played obsessively in order to get good enough not to be embarrassed when playing with other men.
Young boys certainly know how to play and experience pleasure, but somewhere along the way, they forget how. In the delightful Steven Spielberg movie Hook (1991), Robin Williams plays Peter Pan after he grows up into a stodgy workaholic lawyer who has completely forgotten how to be a little boy and have fun. Captain Hook comes from Neverland and captures his children, and the only way that Peter can rescue them is to reconnect with his capacity to be a little boy.
As you get to that name of a man at the end of your gift list, try to resist the temptation to get him a gift he's comfortable receiving. This year, consider gifting him the opportunity to expand his capacity for pleasure and play, and enlarge his capacity to take in the caring represented in your gift. Consider getting him a massage, or an online meditation course or a yoga class, or something silly that's just pure fun, like tickets with his friends to a comedy club or an Escape Room. He'll be uncomfortable at first, and perhaps you will, too, but maybe you can both stretch into it.
(Avrum Weiss, PhD is a psychotherapist and speaker who writes about the internal lives of men and their intimate relationships).