To Return Or Not: The Etiquette Of Gifts Post Break-Up
The Willing Returner – Rosie Cave, assistant to the publishing director
I have always been a firm believer in returning gifts after a break-up. I remember my first – my high-school sweetheart and I called it quits after two years together. By the end of our relationship I had hoarded an unusual array of things that he’d bought me; a Tiffany bracelet, a Body Shop bath set, a teddy bear, and a T-shirt that had been printed with our faces on it. They all formed a small part of the pile that I created after clearing my room out. I strode over to his house and handed them over. It was the last move I had to make to confirm the relationship was over. By returning the gifts, it allowed me to close our chapter and move on, and that is what I have always done ever since.
With age comes wisdom, and I would like to think that I am less dramatic than I was at 18, but I still feel – particularly after those tougher break ups – that returning the gifts is a process which closes the relationship and allows you to move on from it. My last boyfriend was from Yorkshire, so when our relationship ended it was slightly trickier for me to carry out the returning process. One was a cushion, which his mother had made using the fabric from his favourite jumper and had huge sentimental value to him. I tried everything that I could to give it back, but he wasn’t having it. “It’s yours” he said, “I gave it to you and you should have it as a keepsake, to remember our time together”.
Some would argue that gifts act as a happy reminder of the relationship. I will forever hang on to the memories of the great times we had, but see no reason to keep stuff that I will no longer use or wear. It would all go into a box or bag, in the back of a cupboard, never to be seen again. Like the cushion, which is now in my attic, gathering dust.
The Want-It-Back – Alice Newbold, Vogue Daily editor
It all started with a silver angel. She was no taller than a centimetre and lived between a silver house and anchor on my charm bracelet. My boyfriend at the time (I was 19, and charm bracelets were officially A Thing) happened to be going away on tour with his band. The angel came off the charm bracelet and found a new home in his wallet as a token of safe travel. Fast forward to a few weeks later: the relationship fizzled out, but the trinket stubbornly remained in his wallet.
As someone who will avoid confrontation at all costs, I let the jewellery be. But then my sister, who had bought the angel, queried whether I had lost it when she saw her absence on the bracelet. Suddenly it became imperative to get it back. I asked a friend to query whether he still had the gift, and it transpired that his ex-girlfriend had found the charm and thrown a hissy fit. We were both in big trouble for such a tiny trinket, yet he still refused to give it back!
Eight years have gone by, our paths have crossed many times and yet he still has the angel. It has become a running joke, but for a while it really wasn’t funny and I felt a little pathetic asking for it back. I think that both parties need to consider the bigger picture when making the shared decision of what should be returned or not.
The Keeper – Hayley Maitland, features assistant
A signed first edition of Nabokov’s Ada or Ardor; an emerald ring bought on a trip to Bogotá; a set of glass dishes from the Fifties… Some of my most treasured – and, frankly, valuable – possessions are gifts from old boyfriends. Even when a relationship ends truly and spectacularly badly, returning presents that were given before the emotional warfare broke out feels like a misguided denial of what was – the material equivalent of going through the memory-erasing procedure from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Not that I display gifts from old partners on my mantelpiece. Most of these treasures sit in a box of keepsakes at my family home in America – wrapped carefully in tissue paper, stashed in a box at the back of my closet, and brought out only in moments of nostalgia (usually with a glass of wine in hand).
This no returns policy goes both ways. I have never asked a partner to send back a gift, nor would I. Do I really wish that I had the cashmere sweater that I gave my high-school sweetheart for his 16th birthday? Or that I had kept the antique bar cart that I bought for my first serious boyfriend? What exactly would I do with the pair of skis that I gifted an old flame before a trip to Vale? In the end, these sorts of gifts are romantic souvenirs, worth keeping to remind you not just of who you were when you were together but how far you have travelled since.