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My New Boyfriend Is a Dud at Buying Gifts. What Can I Do?

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My New Boyfriend Is a Dud at Buying Gifts. What Can I Do?

My boyfriend and I are two weeks away from the first anniversary of our meeting. We both lost longtime spouses within the last five years. I love him, and I believe he loves me, too. We’re talking about moving in together. My disappointment with him involves gift-giving: He doesn’t celebrate special days or want gifts or any acknowledgment. But I love giving and receiving presents! For my birthday, he took me to dinner, but otherwise made little effort. He offered to buy me a gift if I wanted something. (For his birthday, I made a special dinner and some homemade candy.) Also, he’s had some health issues recently that have created extra work for me. I don’t begrudge that, and he seems grateful, but an occasional gift or word of appreciation would be nice. Should I tell him I want a gift for our anniversary?

GIRLFRIEND

Some people say: What’s the point of a gift (or a thank you) if you have to ask for it? I am not one of them. You and your boyfriend are still working out the terms of your relationship. Now seems like a perfect time to explain to him that small gifts and words of gratitude are your “love languages” (as pop psychology puts it). Clearly, they are not his, but that doesn’t exempt him from trying to meet your needs — or you, his.

Set him up to succeed. Tell him, too, about shops you like or friends with whom he can brainstorm about gifts. You don’t have a problem, in my book, until you have expressed your needs and he still makes little effort. We owe it to our partners to help them understand what makes us tick.

Now, burying issues like these can often lead us to weird conclusions. There was not a material difference, in my view, in how you and your boyfriend celebrated each other’s birthdays — though you seem to think there was. (Apologies to your homemade candy.) Worse, without discussing the emotional significance that gifts and kind words hold for you, asking your boyfriend for them after caring for him during an illness may be misinterpreted as mercenary. So, explain your needs to him — and ask about his. Very few of us are mind readers!

I don’t have any tattoos, though many people clearly like this form of self-expression. I don’t want to make assumptions, either. I don’t know if a person has a tattoo so that others will notice it or to promote their own sense of self. What should I do, for example, if I am on an elevator with a stranger who has tattoos on her chest and arms: stare at her to read the tattoos or avert my eyes? Engage or ignore?

CONFUSED

You frame the question nicely: None of us can possibly know why strangers have tattoos (or elaborate hairstyles or smashing new bags). We also can’t know whether those people like to be studied or complimented by strangers. (It makes many people uncomfortable.) So, the safest approach here is to smile benignly and move along — keeping our sparkling observations and curiosity to ourselves.

Now, there are others who believe that society is enriched by engaging with strangers. And I rarely succeed in convincing them that comments about appearance are often unwelcome, and even compliments betray an unappealing entitlement to judge. “It’s just a compliment!” they say. (Sigh.) So, choose your own path. But I would respect the privacy of strangers and engage with your tatted-up friends, instead.

My friend and I are summer interns in state government. We bonded over a mutual crush: We wait by his office and pretend we just ran into him. We invited him out once, but he canceled at the last minute. We also have a crush on his co-worker, who is older but just as cute. We seem to have hit a brick wall, though. How can we tell if they like us back when they are somewhat introverted and we are extroverted?

INTERN

It sounds as if you and your intern pal have uncovered one of the joys of 9-to-5 work: office crushes. Enjoy them in private. It’s not cool (or professional) to sexualize co-workers or to prowl the office halls looking for flirty fun. Focus on your work at work, and then hit the apps (or the gym, or the bars) with your friend after hours. Leave the cute government employees alone!

I am a vegetarian. I don’t judge what others eat, and I never ask people to accommodate my diet. (There is no risk that I will starve!) But when my husband and I go out to dinner with friends, he often encourages me to order dishes with meat in them so that he and our friends can pick at them — salads with bacon, for instance. Should I explain my philosophy better or just smile and go along with him?

SHARON

If you believe your husband is so dim that he doesn’t understand what vegetarianism is or that dishes prepared with meat don’t work for you, remind him. Otherwise, tell him to order a side of bacon for the table if he wants one. Your dinner is not a communal plate, and he should respect your choices.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.



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