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When a friend's gifts are over-the-top

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QUESTION

Dear Irene,

A friend of mine spends a lot of money on gifts even when it's not a special occasion. She is not wealthy and her husband recently confided to my husband that they need to downsize soon in order to pay off debt.

She surprises me with clothing, jewelry, expensive spa services, etc. and insists on paying for everything even when I try to pay my half. Last summer for my 50th birthday, she surprised me by planning an entire weekend, paying for everything including breakfast, lunch, a movie, drinks at happy hour, dinner and topped it off with a night's stay at an expensive hotel for me and my husband!

Everything is always "I have a surprise for you." I never get to know the details until it is time for it to happen. I do not reciprocate these expensive gifts/surprises and feel very uncomfortable accepting things from her that I don't need, I don't want and don't even use! What do I say to her without hurting her feelings? Please help!

Signed,
Marcy

ANSWER

Dear Marcy,

As heartfelt as the expressions of affection may be, they sound inappropriate and over-the-top, particularly given your friend's financial situation. Do you have a sense that your friend is insecure in her relationship with you, and wants to "buy" your friendship by showering you with expensive gifts? Or perhaps, does she seem to be a compulsive spender, who always lives beyond her means and her gifts to friends are symptomatic of a larger problem?

In either case, you need to tell her firmly that the excess makes you feel uncomfortable--because it does, and that it isn't good for your relationship. Reassure her that you value her friendship and tell her that you appreciate her generous nature, but you want to handle gifting in a way that feels comfortable for both of you. You might even establish a reasonable dollar limit together for upcoming birthdays and holiday gifts, and agree that there should be no significant gifts in-between.

If this is a persistent problem over which your friend has no control, she may have a spending addiction. Talking with her might help bring it out in the open so she can seek help.

Hope this is helpful!

Best,
Irene

Have a question about female friendships? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Her new book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, was recently published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and at PsychologyToday.com.

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