Now that I am 39+, I think it rather funny that when I was 15 I longed to be 39+ and tremendously rich so that I could become a patron of the arts and advance the career of the 17 year old music student on whom I had a crush. Being 39+ would have rather cancelled out my romantic hopes in that direction, of course, but that wasn't the point. The point was to have a dramatic and life-affirming impact on the life of this particular 17 year old.
Never throw away your high school diaries, girls. They get funnier as you get older.
I think it is natural to want to shower people we admire with luxury goods and introduce them to lions who might further their development or careers. Look at parents, working away and scheming on behalf of their beloved tots. If you are a child, you might wonder what they do it for, but if you are an adult you know that they do it for love, the wonder drug. As an auntie, I am delighted when I give a nephew or a niece The Right Thing, the thing that makes his or her face light up.
However, there is a dark side to the love of giving presents and it is that presents sometimes seem to have a hidden emotional price tag.
Now I have to squint and try to remember what it is like being Single because now that I am married I don't have to worry about this as much. If anybody gave me an expensive box of chocolates, I would not think it was a courtship gift but merely a tribute to my fabulousness as a married member of society. I would tell my husband all about it, and we would stuff ourselves with the contents. And I am relatively sure that I could give an expensive box of chocolates to the sweet-toothed church organist, for example, without him worrying about my motives.
This was not so when I was Single, however. When I was 19 or so, one of the older men of my crowd of friends--he had graduated from university and Had a Good Job--gave me an expensive box of chocolates, and it wasn't even my birthday. My mother placed a lot of importance on this. And if I had bought a crush object an expensive box of chocolates, she would have given me a hard time. Ooo.
Poppets! You know what is coming up. I am gleefully going to point to double standards and say that sometime it is truly better to receive than to give and that it is better to stand still on the shore and see what the tide washes in than to sail after this man or that, tempting him with expensive chocolates.
I have to say this at least once a week, or I feel weird, like when you really can't get to Mass on Sunday for reasons that aren't your fault, but you still feel weird.
You can blame my therapist of auld lang syne because one evening when I was moaning that I phoned my then-boyfriend more often than he phoned me, she pointed out that I never gave him the opportunity to phone me, since I always phoned him first. I thought this was GENIUS. Meanwhile, he was never that into me in the first place, of course, an obvious fact which I eventually made myself face.
So much for Lady Bountiful. Now I'll talk about Ms Independent. As tempting as it is, as a Single women, to try to win looks of happiness and love with little presents, it is also tempting to win admiration by being Ms Independent 24/7.
I had a conversation the other day with a very interesting, accomplished woman, who told me that she sometimes clashed with her boyfriend because of how independent she is. She didn't need a man to rely on, she told me proudly, as if this somehow put her in the top 10% of womanhood. You know, there are a lot of elderly widows around, with no man in sight, and they manage to survive in this state for decades. In the sub-Saharan desert, surviving without a man may be a big feat. In the UK, not so much. We can all survive without men. Unfortunately, more than us do than want to.
This conversation reminded me of another ex-boyfriend, this one who was indeed That Into Me, mournfully telling me that he didn't know what he added to my life. That was a tactical error because I thought about that and realized I didn't know either. However, if he had been adding something essential to my life, that would have been the time to tell him. Better late than never.
Having studied St. Thomas Aquinas, I am a big fan of the model of the Golden Mean of virtue and its opposing vices. In my own definition of Feminine Generosity, there are the opposing vices of Giving The Wrong Thing and Not Giving the Right Thing.
In general I think it is better for Single women not to give Single men material objects at all, although I am not a hardliner on this, and of course when you are in a hostess role, you can and must give male guests food and drink and a paper hat or whatever for the duration of the party.
You could even give a man a flower for his buttonhole, so to see what he does with it later. If he tenderly puts it in his breast pocket, excellent. If he leaves it behind, not so excellent. If he eats it, he's extremely weird. Avoid.
When you are not a hostess, however, think very carefully about what you are doing and what signals you are giving off by giving stuff, not only to the man you give the stuff to, but to anyone who knows about it.
However, it is perfectly just to pay tribute to the caffeine in the cappuccino of life by asking them to help you out and then thanking them profusely for their usefulness. In my Auntie opinion, the average man does not want to be showered with stuff but with the sense that he is actually useful. Just as the world is constantly telling women that we are ugly, it is constantly telling men that they are useless. If you are obsessed with looking like a strong, independent woman, you might be allowing opportunities for generously showing men they matter to pass you by.
I know this may sound crazy, but you are doing something nice when you phone up your brother or your male friend or a male neighbour and squeak, "There's a horrible spider in my bathtub!"
Obviously you should not do this every day. Nor should you put the spider in the bathtub yourself so as to engineer a chivalrous rescue. But it would be kind if, when coming across the various minor difficulties of life, like jars with lids that won't come off, or spiders in the tub, or mice in the basmati bag, or a champagne bottle that needs uncorking, or a sink that doesn't drain, you asked a man to fix them for you.
And then you can bake him cookies as thanks.