Today's Carolyn Hax chat was without Carolyn, but with her producer. (Washington Post link.) An interesting situation came up:
"My husband has a hobby of making a type of elaborate, handcrafted gift (imagine hand-knitting sweaters perhaps). I have no interest in sweaters but I've encouraged his hobby because he's very good at it and because our friends and family are always pleased to receive a sweater from him. A few months ago when I saw him making a bunch of sweaters for Christmas gifts for family, I said, "I hope you're not planning to make a sweater for me, because you know I don't wear them." Fast-forward to Christmas and the big surprise is...a sweater. That he's been working on for six months. Objectively this is a great gift that anyone would be thrilled to have, but I just have no idea what I'm supposed to do with a sweater that I have no interest in wearing, ever. I can't imagine myself ever saying this out loud--he poured his heart into it for half a year!!--but I'm pretty disappointed. I know gifts aren't the point of Christmas, but I can't get over the part where the one thing I said I *didn't* want is the one thing I got, and the few things I did ask for did not appear. If it was a distant relative or even a family member, it wouldn't be a big deal but this is my husband. How do I proceed? Every time I look at the sweater, which I know I am expected to wear or at least not hide at the bottom of my closet, I feel sad."
Responses that came in:
- "Be honest. It sounds like the first time you told him you didn't like his sweaters was when he had already started making one for you. Up until that point you had been encouraging his hobby, right? So just say, "Honey, I really appreciate all the time and effort you put into this gift for me, but I'm just not a fan of sweaters." Then ask what he might want to do with it. Re-gift it to someone who will appreciate it more? He may be disappointed, but at least it will clear the air, and hopefully he will know not to make you another sweater next year."
- "I hope there aren't any other communication problems in this relationship, because that's the first thing that jumps out at me. You asked him not to, he did anyway. Now, one could argue he had been working on the project long before you asked him, but I presume that you've known him long enough to have expressed your disinterest long ago, and for him to have picked up on it. If this hasn't happened, I have to wonder why, and hope that there isn't a communication disconnect that's clogging up other areas. That seems more important than what to do with this gift. If you can clear up the communication issue, what to do with the gift will become clear."
- "Suck it up and wear the sweater. I feel your frustration -- my longterm BF just gave me a grab-bag of Xmas gifts that were a combination of "don't fit" and "don't need", while managing to ignore the several very-obvious suggestions I dropped his way. But you know what? Who cares! He's awesome, we're in love, and I get to spend my life with him. I'm a fairly astute gift-giver but I give some bombs sometimes and trust me, it feels way worse to be the giver of an unappreciated gift than the receiver. Suck it up and wear the sweater."
- "This has been a constant thorn in my side for most of my marriage because it indicates inattention. I give my husband a Christmas list to choose from, but I am very specific in brands because I don't want to buy junk. For example, I asked for a cutting board and a certain brand of paring knife. He didn't get the board (although they were in the same shop department) and got some cheap knife, which broke within a year. It makes me sad too because he doesn't listen to me. That seems to be the sweater recipient's problem--she feels her husband wasn't/isn't listening. The gift is the least of the problem."
Okay, now here's my opinion as a knitter (though I suspect knitting isn't exactly what he does--he probably makes like, giant woodcrafts instead, which is what occurs to me as a craft that would take six months to make and she didn't see him working on it around the house) and as someone who's specifically been gifted stuff she said she didn't want, albeit not of the handmade variety:
1. You told him you didn't want any.
2. He is apparently bound and determined to give you one anyway, no matter what you said.
I'm not gonna go on about communication problems with this one, but it sounds to me like by god, he wanted to give you a sweater (or "sweater") no matter what you thought about it. I do think it's entirely possible that yes, he was already in the process of making it when you told him you didn't want one. However, if I was in the process of making someone a sweater and I heard halfway through that they didn't want one, I'd fucking stop making one and buy them some crap instead. The fact that your husband didn't do that makes me think that he doesn't so much care what you want, especially if he ignored your actual requests.
Some people suck at gifts. (I certainly do for most people.) It sounds like he's one of them. This question makes me wonder how long you've been married and if he has been doing stuff like this every holiday of your relationship. I suspect the answer to that is "yes," but obviously I can't prove it here. Some people are going to regift, or wrap used shit from around their house, or hand out socks every year, or in his case, a sweater. You can't make them stop.
And yeah, I don't think he's listening to you. I don't know how to solve that problem for you short of seeing a therapist.
The number one thing about every advice situation is this: you can't make someone do what you want. In this case, you requested "no sweaters, get me a knife" and he got you a sweater. The cat is out of the bag now. You can't even return it. You are stuck. I concur that yelling at him after the fact is going to do no good. I'm not even sure trying to say no about it for NEXT year is going to help, though I suppose she could give it a shot. He sounds like he is deliberately oblivious to requests. I think I'd vote for some marital counseling/refereeing in between now and the next holiday season as the most likely thing to possibly dissuade him.