I was dating my now ex-boyfriend James for exactly three months when he decided to surprise me with a gift. The last time a boy gave me a present was in elementary school, when my obese friend Josh gave me a cassingle of the Aerosmith song “Crazy” for Valentine’s Day. It was an awesome gift but it was a long time ago. I was due for another romantic token.
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At the time, James was traveling through Arizona for an art project about life on a Native American reservation. “I got you a little something,” he told me on the phone. “I’m not sure it’s your style, but I hope you like it.” Over the next few days, he kept making all of these insecure remarks about my present.
“I’ve never seen you wear stuff like this” he said. “I don’t know if you’re gonna like it.”
By the time he came back to New York, I was convinced he got me either a hat with cat ears or a double XXL Insane Clown Posse shirt. Whatever it was, it was not going to be good.
After he got back and we reunited, he finally revealed the gift. “I hope you like it,” he sheepishly muttered one final time. I opened the small white box and there it was...a human kidney! Just kidding; it was so much worse. It was a cheap, wood-and-string bracelet that looked like it was made in a prison arts and crafts class.
It was the fugliest thing I’ve ever seen. It totally reminded of the kind of “jewelry” raver burnouts sell on the street to make enough cash for a bus ride back to San Francisco. If this reminded him of me, I needed to check my style.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“Ummm, yeah, you’re right. It’s not really my style.” I responded.
As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew I screwed up. I could actually feel his skin bristle. I tried to backtrack.
“No, I’m sorry. It was really sweet of you. I didn’t mean to say that, I like it!”
“Forget it, just give it back,” he said.
I tried to touch him, but he turned away and then got up to leave.
“No stay.” I pleaded.
But it was too late. He left.
I felt awful. I had no idea that being honest would hurt his feelings so much. He warned me like 20 times that I wouldn’t like the present, so I thought it was okay to agree. Later that night on the phone, he said something I’ll never forget.
“You always say what’s on your mind which can be really refreshing, but sometimes it’s just mean. It’s the best and worst thing about you. I don’t know if I can deal with it.”
I’ve never felt so terrible. I looked in the mirror and saw the cartoon character Beast from the second best Disney movie of all time, "Beauty and the Beast." I’m a monster! I needed to blame someone or something. But of course, my culture!
The hilarious stand-up comic and Saturday Night Live writer John Mulaney has a great bit about this phenomenon I call “Jewish honesty” which is very similar to its distant cousin “over sharing.”
He says, “I really like dating Jewish women...with my Jewish girlfriend I don’t have to guess what’s wrong, she just comes into the room and she’s like, "My stomach hurts!"
Jews are known for having big mouths, literally and figuratively. Personally, I come from a long line of hilarious, wild, zero-boundaries Ashkenazis. We are a very fun but at times harsh people. Case in point, every Hanukkah when my family gathers around to exchange gifts, the first thing everyone says as they hand you your present is, “If you don’t like it, you can exchange it. The receipt is in the box.”
There is no sentimentality to the gesture. It’s like a business deal. Which is why, when my boyfriend gave me something hideous that he told me I wouldn’t like, I thought it was okay to say, “Yeah, you’re right, I don’t like it.”
It turns out that is not okay. And I know I’m not the only Jew with this problem.
The point is that while it can be hilarious and endearing to be ruthlessly honest, sometimes it’s just mean. If you are like me, and only find yourself attracted to WASPs and recovering Catholics, you need to learn to rein it in. I don’t mean completely change your personality, but a little polite restraint now and then doesn’t hurt.
The next time a guy gives me a present, even if it’s a box of teeth, I’m going to be like, “OMG, it’s just what I wanted!” And then we will have awesome sex.