The Mercy of Gift

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Ashley is a smart woman—a software developer, in fact. She’s attractive, she’s athletic, she’s outgoing, and she’s witty. And now that I’ve opened this story by telling you how smart, attractive, athletic, outgoing, and witty Ashley is, you can probably guess where this abject tale is headed….

You see, Ashley also happens to be hopelessly infatuated with Martin, a man she has been sharing the stuffing with for over a year now, and yet, a man who refuses to commit to her. As reasons for his waffling, he explains that he barely survived the bitter and traumatic breakup with his last girlfriend. He is still recovering from the experience, he reveals, and he just doesn’t know if he is ready to get involved in a serious relationship.

Ashley assures Martin that she understands. She tells him to take as much time as he needs. She will be supportive, and she will be patient. In the meantime, they continue to see each other once or twice each week, and she continues to let him candy her yams with each soiree.

Ashley’s friends express concern. They suggest that Martin might be leading her on, intimating that he’s just not that into her while waving He’s Just Not That Into You in her face. Undaunted, Ashley defends Martin, repeatedly and vehemently. She explains that whenever he travels, he often brings back a gift for her, whether a trinket, jewelry, or a funny souvenir. And whenever he cancels on a date at the last minute, or just fails to show up, he knows how to apologize….

“He is thoughtful,” Ashley maintains. “I know he can be flakey, but he’s really busy. And when he does flake on me, he always knows to bring me flowers the next time.”

Six eyeballs roll in unison.

“He’s totally playing you,” one friend mutters.

“He’s only buying you these mercy gifts to keep you roped in,” points out a second friend.

Between crinkled brows, a third friend wonders rhetorically, “what do you see in him, anyway?”

And so, the melodrama continues. From the perspective of Ashley’s friends, Martin is merely dangling carrots in front of her. They know that his gifts require minuscule thought. The effort he invests in purchasing a dozen roses amounts to the same effort required to stop by the grocery store and buy a pre-packaged pie on the way to a Thanksgiving potluck. Yet, these mercy gifts are enough to keep Ashley at his beck and call whenever he feels the need to get his turkey basted.

By now, Ashley’s friends are left wondering if she will ever realize the futility of her hope, at the same time pondering the growing inaccuracy of the phrase “hopelessly infatuated.” Perhaps “hopefully infatuated” would more accurately describe Ashley’s state of mind, they muse. At a loss, they vent to a male friend, hoping a man’s perspective can help them convince Ashley that she deserves better.

Suddenly, it has arrived. My great opportunity. My opportunity to do what a man is wired to do. My opportunity to execute that manliest of man-tasks:

To fix broken things. And what could be more broken than Ashley’s feelings?

Leaping from my seat with sheer aplomb, I bound over the coffee table and plant my fists onto my hips. In eager anticipation of my insight, the women sit transfixed. I imagine them gawking at my fluttering cape and the glistening “S” stretched across my spandex-enshrouded chest. My mind moving faster than a receding mullet, I instantaneously devise the most profound, the most brilliant, and of course, the most manly, of solutions….

Unfortunately, my suggestion to tell Ashley to “man up and grow a spine and a set of balls” begets only an encore round of eyeball-rolling. Forced to regroup, I must instead offer Ashley these creamy chocolate-coated thoughts:

Perhaps a better measure of how much you mean to your insignificant other lies not in the gifts that he lavishes on you, but in the effort that he devotes to you. If you want to focus on gifts, does he buy you gifts that show thought and consideration? Or are they gifts that he can pick up at any random store whenever the idea springs into his head that he should probably get you something? Consider his actions thusly, and maybe you’ll be able to figure out whether he’s truly giving you his affections or merely giving you the mercy of gift.

In the meantime, Ashley’s friends have thrown up their arms in frustration. Anyone want to offer their own suggestions? This manly man is fresh out.

We’re not at war. Love isn’t a battlefield. Popular culture would have us round up our troops now, ready to engage the opposite sex in a struggle of psychological proportions. Well, I decline. We’re all human beings, and we’re all from the same planet. We just have to be willing to learn from each other. My goal is to bridge the communication gap between men and women and offer a unique perspective that will let you laugh through the tears. Take a walk on my bridge at

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