Aaron W. Voyles reflects on the influence of gifts in relationships despite his awkwardness at getting them.
It’s closing season here on campus, which means that our halls will close for the winter break. This is one of my two favorite times on campus (the other being when we open the halls in August), and it’s not just because the students leaving gives me a little bit of a break.
Winter closing means it is time to reflect on the past semester and look at what has been accomplished and what could be. It also means that it’s the holiday season (and in case you are wondering, we do have a Festivus pole up in our residence hall) and there are opportunities to share those reflections with those whom we love.
In sharing the holidays, we often also share gifts. I am a terrible gift giver, to my partner’s dismay. I am also a terrible gift getter. I don’t even like thank you notes because they make me feel awkward and I don’t know how to respond (though I’m told you can’t send a thank you note for a thank you note anyway).
While reflecting over the semester, I have tried to think about why I dislike gifts and thanks. It’s not that I condemn commercialization or that I feel pressured to spend a certain amount of money. Where does my awkwardness then come from?
I’ve considered the basic male societal symptoms too. Perhaps I was socialized to remain stoic and so never learned the proper way to show thanks. Maybe there’s a hint of worry that in showing too much thanks I would be revealing too much of myself. I really haven’t been able to fully unpack it.
Recently, however, I was given an unexpected gift that has changed my perspective on presents. I was visiting a friend for his wedding vow renewals, and since I gave the toast to the couple, he gave me a gift. What he gave me was a nice decanter for liquor.
The decanter took me back to the countless hours we had spent together, discussing our lives and our struggles. It was how we got to know each other. In the same way that I’ve discussed videogames, lifting, and tattoos, this supposedly manly pastime of scotch and conversation created opportunities for us to become better friends.
While I hesitate to use alcohol as an example, I can attest that our sessions were responsible. My partying days are long behind me, and, truthfully, I don’t think I was ever very good at that part of college anyway.
Gifts are such an interesting component to masculinity because they don’t require an explanation. My friend and I didn’t have to sit around and say why it made sense or what it represented. For men who maybe have trouble verbally expressing themselves, buying someone a gift, covering a check, or grabbing the next round of drinks speaks for them.
If I consider my students and the men who live in my halls, it’s important to think about what a gift can represent. For an isolated student, something from their Resident Assistant may represent community. For a student who has just been caught in a conduct case, it can represent redemption. Gifts come in the form of welcomes, programs, and thank yous.
When I thought about the decanter, I thought back to how gifts impacted me. I thought back to gifts given from student staff member and mentees and the scattering of bric-a-brac in my office that reflects these relationships.
Even though I’m awkward with them, gifts can be powerful in relationships and for us to help connect men to each other and to their communities. I will keep this in mind as I do my last minute Christmas shopping.
Ditching the Dunce Cap is a weekly Friday column from Aaron W. Voyles on the University of Texas-Austin. He welcomes your comments. This column is not affiliated with the university.
—Photo Indi Samarajiva/Flickr
Also in Ditching the Dunce Cap:
Can Tattoos Help Men Talk About Themselves?
Everybody Wants to Fit In. Everybody Wants to Stand Out.
That Time Snuggleupagus Made Me Uncool
The Space Between Lifts
Video Games as a Way to Connect with College Men
Broken Lantern Blues
My “Career” as a Rock Star
Do We Just Complain About College Men?
To Ditch the Dunce Cap
Can You Manage the College Male?
“Have at it, Boys” and College Men
Becoming a Beard Mentor
College Made Me Think I Hated Beer
An Ode to My College Roommate
When Will You Grab Your Saw?
If the Shoe Fits, Cheat