She buys him a black Lamborghini; he gets her a white sapphire-encrusted gold skull statue. She jets off with him to Paris in a private plane for a shopping trip; he’s taking apart his dead mother’s jewels to custom-make an engagement ring for her.
American socialite Kim Kardashian and musician Kanye West have been playing out their courtship to the delight of luxury addicts everywhere.
But the undertone to this hyper gifting spree is disturbingly competitive. When you can’t soak up affection without thinking of how to top your lover’s actions, there seems little point indulging in the game.
The problem is not of celebrityhood. A social media professional and his girlfriend, who works in the hospitality industry, shared a similar relationship. For a landmark birthday, he got 25 of their friends to send her small, inexpensive, but thoughtful gifts throughout the day.
She was overwhelmed for a few minutes, but the next impulse was to plot an even more personal surprise for his big day. So, he got a minutely planned surprise party — something he had never experienced before.
When is it a problem?
Being touched by a gift that’s thoughtful or expensive enough to crave to return the gesture, is normal and not a problem if the exchange is limited to birthdays and anniversaries, says clinical psychologist Salma Prabhu of ACE Academy.
During the first flush of any relationship, it is normal to find ways to vent your infatuation through material and non-material gestures. But if your first reaction on receiving a gift is, how do I repay this and add a little extra, you might have a problem.
The problem arises, according to Prabhu, from a shaky sense of self-worth. “A person with a good sense of self is able to enjoy a gift, bask in the moment and then think of something equally nice when the time comes,” she says.
“Those with low self-worth assume they do not deserve the attention or literal cost of the item, and have a problem accepting it. They immediately start worrying about how to ‘repay’ the gesture.”
The pattern also sets in with partners, who are strong charactered individuals and cannot accept failure. You see this in athletes or those who participate for the thrill of winning, not for enjoying the activity.
Sometimes, competitiveness is the soundtrack to the entire relationship and not just the exchange of love tokens.
The aforesaid couple also feared disappointment in experiences. “If we had a great time hanging out at a particular joint on one date, we would consciously not revisit it so that we wouldn’t compare the two days. We were always looking for incomparable experiences,” says the boyfriend.
Let’s regress a bit
Pinning down the culprit in this sort of an exchange demands a trip back to childhood. We can’t sit Kardashian and West down on a couch and charge them by the hour, but we can hazard a guess as to what lead to a fervent courtship that has cost a cumulative USD 2.5 million in four months.
Prabhu points to the reward system parents use to motivate children, such as when treats are followed by, ‘Now that I’ve given you this, you must help me with errands/ do your homework’. “Usually,” explains Prabhu, “they also add the clause ‘immediately’.
Thus a child is saddled with a sense of obligation together with the gift.” This continues into adulthood, so sometimes the partner wants to ‘repay’ a gift immediately so as to ward off ‘having to do something’ that (s)he may or may not want to do.
For those with a competitive bent of mind, their partner doing something thoughtful for them is a ‘win’, and they desire to score one too. Those who measure success through price-tags shower expensive gifts to show potential as partners.
The message is — this is what I am able to offer if you are with me. Though this is mostly seen in men. Upwardly mobile women also display similar behaviour.
Kardashian has just announced that she sees herself with West till she turns 80. Realistically speaking, a relationship rarely survives the pressure of such competition.
“Eventually, it could lead to a blame game of ‘I did this for you, why didn’t you do that for me?’” says Prabhu. For non-celebrity couples, financial pressure would enter when EMIs and loans mount up.
The only hope then is to space out the gifts and relegate them to special occasions, or learn to enjoy and accept them without the urgency of repayment.
► Kim and Kanye have spent USD 2.5 million on each other in the first four months of their dating
► Those with low self-worth assume they do not deserve the attention (…) They immediately start worrying about how to ‘repay’ the gesture
- Salma Prabhu, Clinical Psychologist