By Amy Alkon
Q: I love my boyfriend; however, I feel bad that he never buys me presents. He did when we were dating, and he buys himself extravagant stuff. But he got me nothing for my birthday and only some trinkets for Christmas because I made a stink. When I’ve brought up the gifts issue, he’s implied that I’m materialistic. However, what matters to me is not the cost, but that he’s thinking of me. Is my desire for gifts somehow shallow?—Coal Digger
A: Once again, it’s Christmas. Ooh, ooh, what’s that under the tree?! Once again … it’s the floor.
Many men sneer at the importance their ladies place on getting gifts from them, deeming it a sign of female emotional frailty. What these men aren’t taking into account is that the differences that evolved in male and female psychology correspond to differences in male and female physiology. To put this another way, women (disproportionately) are into getting gifts from romantic partners for the same reason men (disproportionately) are into watching strippers.
Because, for a woman, sex can lead to pregnancy (and a hungry kid to drag around), female emotions evolved to act as a sort of alarm system, making a woman feel crappy when there are signs that a man’s commitment may be waning. However, a man’s being willing to give gifts suggests a willingness to “invest” (beyond 2.6 minutes of foreplay and a teaspoon of sperm).
Accordingly, evolutionary behavioral scientist Gad Saad believes that gift-giving evolved as a “distinctly male courtship strategy.” Though women do give gifts to romantic partners, they tend to wait till they’re in a relationship and then do it to “celebrate” being together. Saad’s research finds that men, on the other hand, “are much more likely to be tactical in their reasons for offering a gift to a romantic partner”—like, in the courtship phase, to get a woman into bed. (Of course, if a woman wants to get a man into bed, she doesn’t need to give him a present to unwrap; she just starts unbuttoning her top.)
Explain the science to your boyfriend. You don’t have a character deficiency; you just want him to show his love in the way that works for you. That’s what people who love each other do. Besides, you aren’t demanding, “‘Tiara of the Week!’ or I’m gone!” You’d just like occasional little “thinking of you” prezzies and somewhat bigger ones on Official Girlfriend Holidays (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.). Ultimately, these are not just gifts but messages that making you happy is worth an investment of money and effort—beyond what he’s been putting in to run out and get his wallet wired shut just in time for your birthday.
Q: My fiancé and I were driving my drunk friend home from a party. He was saying rude things to her, but I knew he was just wasted and didn’t mean them, so I didn’t say anything. I thought my fiancé would also shrug it off, but she was mad and hurt that I didn’t stand up for her. Is it that big a deal? Couldn’t she have stood up for herself?—Middleman
A: Yes, there’s actually more to being an ideal partner to a woman than being able to unhook a bra with your teeth.
A woman today may be perfectly capable of defending herself—with her big mouth or her big pink handgun. However, she has an emotional operating system pushing her to go for men who show an ability and a willingness to protect her. This comes out of how, over millions of years of evolution, certain ladies’ children were more likely to survive and pass on their mother’s genes. Which children? Those whose mothers chose men who’d do more in an attack than, well, effectively crawl under the car seat and wish that all of the awfulness would stop.
Your fiancé probably still feels resentful and maybe even thinks less of you for how you basically showed all the testosterone-driven fortitude of a geranium. Consider what grandpas everywhere call “having character:” Doing the right thing. If, in looking back, you would’ve done things differently, tell your fiancé. Then pledge that going forward, you’ll be that kind of guy—and protecting the person who means the most to you won’t involve pushing your girlfriend toward the grizzly bear so you’ll have more time to make a run for it.