The Unwanted Gift

by admin on December 26, 2013

Hi EH! My submission is a question about gift-giving and receiving. I received a gift from a family member that I don’t want: a gift certificate for a service I’m not interested in (short-term gym membership). Although I appreciate the effort of giving me a gift, I don’t know what to do with it. I can’t return it to a store. I’ve asked around among my acquaintance and no one wants it. Do I deep-six it? Bean dip when asked about it? This particular gift also raised some issues with me because I perceived it in a way that the giver probably didn’t think about – as an insult (as did all of my female friends when polled for their opinion). I’m fat and out-of-shape, and I felt that this relative was trying to push me into getting in shape in a way that doesn’t interest me. (She did not sound me out about it before purchasing the gift.) I don’t like gyms, don’t like exercising around other people, don’t like changing clothes in front of strangers. I enjoy other forms of exercise such as swimming, walking and bike riding. So, what would you do with this gift? And what can I say if the relative gives me another one of the same type or some other service I don’t want? She’s given me similar things in the past – like a certificate for a makeover, which I also did not want. I should also point out that this person is not very sensitive to others’ feelings, but gets her own feelings hurt extremely easily, which is why I’m asking for advice. It’s been bothering me for a while. 1217-13

Your obligation as the gift recipient is to express sincere gratitude for the gift…at least the thought that went into the gift.   What you actually do with that gift is none of the giver’s business.   Can you sell it on Craigslist or some other similar online classifieds?   You are quite free to toss into the trash if you want.

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Lo December 26, 2013 at 4:18 am

You don’t have to say anything to the relative. Nor would I take this as an insult, especially if said relative is a gym person. It may not have even occurred to her that someone wouldn’t want free membership.

And keep looking for someone who might like to use it, a coworker maybe?

I know from personal experience that it’s easy to get into a pattern where one person finds the gifts a subtle dig whereas the other person is only trying to find a good fit. I’ve been on both ends of this. From the giving end, I am guilty of buying one too many free pedicures for my mother who is so embarrassed about the state of her toes that she won’t wear sandals. To me this was a win/win, problem solved, she doesn’t have to spend her own money and it would be a special treat. We’re not spa people but I’ve enjoyed having my toes done so I thought she’d be thrilled. To her it was, “Oh great, now a stranger has to look at my feet.” so she let them expire. I was hurt until I realized that from her perspective she took at as being pushed to do something she was uncomfortable with in order to fit in. She has never wanted and will never want a pedicure. And that’s okay.

There’s no reason to take this as a hint from the giver.


Yasuragi December 26, 2013 at 5:55 am

Make-over certificates, temporary gym memberships…sounds like she’s regifting things she gets as free customer gifts.

You’re not under any obligation to use them and what you do with them is your business.

Growing up I was quite the tom boy. The only one in a family of girly girls. Every gift giving occasion I would be showered with make-up, fake nail sets, pink frilly clothing, strappy heels etc. I thanked the giver and the gifts collected dust in the closet or I gave them to friends.

I have a relative that delights in giving gifts that point out the flaws she sees in other people. Clothing three sizes too large (“Oh, it’s too big? Gosh I thought it would be snug….”), shampoo (“Your hair is so dull lately…”), make-up (“A girl your age ought to look nicer or people will start to talk…”), once she even gifted a male relative with army recruitment papers (“Well, it’s not like your job is going anywhere….”).

In short, she’s a boor. And I suspect your relative is a boor too. Best not to give her the reaction she is looking for. Pass the gifts onto someone else, sell them or toss them in the trash. When she asks you can say you never got around to using them before they expired.


tessa December 26, 2013 at 6:52 am

Perhaps you could donate it to a womens group or school? If there is no expiration date to it, it would be a good raffle donation…groups are always looking for those.


La December 26, 2013 at 7:43 am

If there’s a raffle for a good cause that this relative is unlikely to know about, I’d donate it there. I’ve used this to deal with a number of unwanted gifts, and it gets to go to someone who wants it and it helps others.


Abby December 26, 2013 at 7:55 am

Oh dear. I still remember, 20 some years ago, Christmas at my aunt’s house that quickly went awry when some well meaning but clueless relative gave my 15 year old female cousin exercise equipment. Even at 8 or 9 I remember thinking, oh this will not end well. Sure enough, the night devolved into hysterical tears (given that 15 year old girls can be highly sensitive and also melodramatic).

Important lesson learned though- do not give any kind of self improvement related gift to anyone unless they have asked for it. And isn’t it funny how the most sensitive people are always the ones who offend the most others?

OP, Admin is right. You can try to recoup some cash by putting it on Craigslist or just toss it. If the relative asks you how you are liking the gym, I see no problem in being honest and saying you prefer to work out in private. I don’t think you should feel obligated to lie about a gift you never asked for in the first place. If she continues to give you insulting presents, can you just suggest that the two of you skip the gift exchange?


The Elf December 26, 2013 at 8:20 am

Well, you’re obligated to say thanks regardless of your use of it, but there’s where your obligation ends. I agree with admin to give it away or sell it. If you can’t, call up the gym and see if it can be converted to something else such as clothing. If that doesn’t work, deep-six it if you’re unwilling to use it yourself. Wasted money, but what can you do? If the relative asks about it, express your gratitude for the gift again and say that you’re sorry but it just didn’t work out and you’ll stick to walking for exercise.


SherlockSara December 26, 2013 at 8:20 am

Whenever I get giftcards I do not want, I thank them very much, and put them on Ebay. For a 20$ giftcard, you’ll probably sell it for 15 to 17$. I wouldn’t say anything to your friend except thank you for the thought, especially if you’ve noticed they are sensitive.


Ergala December 26, 2013 at 9:14 am

Okay count me as jealous! When I’ve been asked what I want that has been at the top of my list HAHAHAHAHA! I know I’m the weird one of the bunch. But honestly you can always donate it to a charity for a silent auction. Gym memberships and memberships to programs like weight watchers should be left alone unless the person specifically asks for them. Ouchies!


DGS December 26, 2013 at 9:18 am

Express gratitude (even though giving any woman a gym membership, regarldess of said woman’s level of fitness, is guaranteed to be perceived as an insult regardless of the giver’s intentions), and throw it out, or better yet, donate it. You could pin the certificate to a bulletin board in your office breakroom, ask for permission to leave it at a front desk at a business you frequent (a coffeeshop, a dry cleaners, a daycare) to give away to whoever is interested, or post-it on Craigslist.


Wendy B. December 26, 2013 at 9:19 am

After thanking the person, why not take it back to the establishment it was purchased from (or mail it if you prefer) and ask them to find a suitable person who is already a member who would appreciate a free surprise gift. If asked (and they shouldn’t, but you never know) you can say you utilize other options (totally true) and felt someone who was already a member would greatly benefit from it.


Anonymous December 26, 2013 at 9:21 am

I like the Craigslist idea, but I’m just curious; what kind of gym did you get the membership to? If it’s GoodLife, they have changing stalls with curtains for privacy, and if it’s the YMCA or a similar “family” type gym, then there’ll be a lot of other people there who are also self-conscious, and nobody will mind if you change your clothes in a bathroom or shower stall. Since you enjoy swimming, you might also want to find out if the gym you got gifted with has a pool. As for exercising in front of other people, in my experience, everyone just sort of does their own thing, and they don’t pay attention to other people, unless they came to the gym with a friend/partner/family member. There’s minimal interaction in classes, but it’s more like the teacher saying, “High-impact or low for the next song?”; or “Here, let me help you adjust your Gravity machine”; or “Keep your back straight in Chair Pose.” I’m not trying to browbeat you into using your gift, but I think it might be a good idea to go on a tour of the gym, and find out a bit more, before deciding what to do next. If you don’t want to do that, you could at least visit the gym’s website–some of them have “virtual tours” with photos of different rooms/facilities in the gym, and even video clips of the various classes they offer. If you still don’t like what you see, then feel free to toss/donate/sell your gym membership, but if you do, then this might be a turning point in your life. I went from hating all physical activity (from my experiences in elementary school gym classes), to being willing to go to the gym, but only exercising individually (cardio, strength, swimming), to trying yoga, to LOVING yoga, to getting a yoga instructor certification, to working on further certifications in personal training and choreography-based fitness. I had to step out of my comfort zone a bit to do it, but I’m really glad I did. This was all at the YMCA, which worked well for me, because it’s a very low-key, friendly, and accepting kind of place.

As for your friend, who sounds like she’s one of those people who can “dish it out, but can’t take it,” why are you still friends with her? Is it one of those scenarios where she likes you, but you aren’t sure about her? I had a friend like that in university (not the “dish it out but can’t take it” type, but she kind of latched onto me even though we didn’t have a thing in common), and while she could be a lot of fun, she was kind of more trouble than she was worth. Dropping or avoiding her would have been messy, as we had mutual friends. However, it was a pretty amicable fade-out, because I met her in my fourth year, while she was in first or second (I forget which). So, I graduated and went to a different university for my next round, while she stayed where she was, and we both got busy with school and life, and that was that. However, I can see how dropping your hypersensitive, hyper-critical, Pygmalion-gifting friend would be harder if you’re both in the same social circle, in the same city, and neither of you has any plans to go elsewhere. So, if that’s not an option, I’d either talk to her, or just be “busy” every time she wants to get together.


Mary December 26, 2013 at 9:22 am

I would definitely put it on Craigslist, maybe for 50-75% of its value. I’m sure someone would love to snap it up, especially at this time of year.


Cat December 26, 2013 at 9:26 am

I, too, would question the gift-giver’s intent. It is not as if you had said, “Oh, I would love to join a gym, but they are out of my budget!”
I’d go to the gym, tell them I got this and have no use for it, and ask them to give it as a prize or something to people who come in to inquire about membership.
Pay it forward is the only thing I can think of to do with it, because, like you, I’ll run my own life without any “improvements” from someone else.


Merrilee December 26, 2013 at 9:40 am

Can you donate it to a local charity – they can maybe raffle it off?


Goldie December 26, 2013 at 9:41 am

Not a big fan of gyms, either (prefer hiking/jogging outdoors or exercising in my own home). That said, I’ve tried several different gyms in the past, and one thing I learned was that, at most gyms, there’s no such thing as a short-term membership. You see a good deal, sign up for six months or a year or what have you. Then, when your six months or a year are up, you find out that you cannot cancel; or you think you’ve canceled, but your card is still being charged; or you have to pay a fee to cancel, and there’s no grace period when your term expires and you can cancel for free – you have to pay a fee at any time. Out of all gyms I’ve joined, I’ve only had one good experience when my term expired and that was the end of it – I wasn’t auto-renewed, charged extra to cancel, etc. Based on that, my advice to OP would be to thank the giver and discard the gift, since she doesn’t plan to join the gym long-term.

That said, I am not sure if Admin’s response gives a comprehensive answer to OP’s question, which is – what should OP do when asked about the gift, so as not to hurt the giver’s feelings? Personally I’d probably say something like “thank you, I used it as I saw best for me at the time” and bean-dip when pressed for details. The giver doesn’t need to know that the best use I saw for her gift at the time was tossing it in the trash.


EllenS December 26, 2013 at 9:57 am

My first thought is, if the gym in question has a pool, you could swim (which you like). If not, they might have a reciprocal arrangement with a gym that does have a pool.
Otherwise, I think selling or donating it to a fundraiser would be a fine destination for the card.
As Admin has pointed out, as a recipient you have only 2 obligations toward the giver – 1) express thanks; 2) don’t let it be apparent to the giver that you have disposed of the gift. If the giver pursues asking about it after being thanked, you can say “Oh, it was so nice of you to think of me. Beandip?”


Kendra December 26, 2013 at 10:24 am

Have you called the gym and asked if they would be willing to cash out your gift certifiicate? A couple of the gyms in my area will cash out gift certs (minus a “service” fee, of course). The worst they can do is say no. Or, maybe if they have spa services, you might be able to convert it to a service you can use like a massage. I agree with PPs that you could put it up on ebay or amazon. Given the new year is just around the corner, it should go quickly. As far as the relative goes, that is a tough one. She might be trying to tell you something, in which case I would ignore her. Some people think it’s their job to fix you, especially if you are family. They convince themselves that they are only trying to help and you should be grateful that they care. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to tell them to go pound sand. I had a grandmother like that. The way I dealt with it was to smile and nod and then forget what she said immediately. On the other hand, the relative could just be rather clueless and have no idea what you are getting with her gifts. She may just really enjoy going to the gym and getting makeovers. In that case, maybe sharing more of your life with relative might be the answer. Personally, I love getting facials and pedicures. Not because they make me pretty, but because they are heavenly bits of pampering. I would think these would be wonderful gifts for anyone. My pedicures, for example, are me sitting in a wickedly comfortable massaging chair with my feet soaking in warm water while they give me nice wine and chocolate and light candles and play pretty music. After that, who cares what my feet look like and I would love to share this with people I care about. Anyway, hope this helps


hakayama December 26, 2013 at 11:10 am

Before I read all the responses (up to #16), the question in my mind was “what to do about the blankety bland passive-agressive relative and her attacks under the blankety blank guise of generosity.
As I see it, the “etiquette” part of the problem is not what to do with the certificate, but what to do about the repeat offender relative.
Silly me!
There is an important question whether the relative is the OP’s FOO, or a member of the IL clan. The latter, as gathered from specific websites, are quite prone to singling out the “married intos” as targets of unfriendly behavior (including gifts).
So, Dear OP, the problem you have before you is not merely what to do about the two gifts you named, but what to do with the future, potentially escalating, pattern/s/ of (mis)behavior. Of course THAT is beyond the scope of customary advice given by this group of mostly gentle and genteel folks.
I send you my best wishes. Good luck with the blankety-blank Blank. 😉


White Lotus December 26, 2013 at 11:36 am

“Thank you so much. I am sure it will see good use.” “Oh, yes, thank you. I did put it to good use.”

IRL: check the place out. Maybe they do have something you would like, such as a pool, martial arts, yoga, dance, who knows? If so: really check out what this buys you and what it commits you to, and how easy it is to get out of. If you don’t want it, for whatever reason, sell it or donate it, maybe to a women’s shelter.

I got a complimentary membership to a big-box store I do not go to for several reasons. I ended up forgetting about it and letting it lapse. That was wasteful, and I regret it. I could have donated it. Do something with it today.


Tana December 26, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Since you mentioned you like swimming, is it possible that this place has a pool? Or do you already have a membership to one somewhere else?


Library Diva December 26, 2013 at 1:33 pm

You’ve gotten good advice about what to do with the membership, but as for what to do with the relative? I’d try bringing it up in a neutral way several months from now. A summer get-together would be perfect. Try to get her into a group and open a conversation about gifts. Slip in there how you hate getting gift certificates for services or memberships, or if that seems too risky, maybe tell a story about a “friend” who had a holiday degenerate so severely after one person got another a gift that was taken as an insult that the cops showed up, or something like that. Try to plant the seed that these gifts are bad ideas without actually telling her “I found your gift useless at best and insulting at worst and it was all I could do not to say something and ruin everyone’s Christmas.” See if she gets the hint.

Or, enlist a cohort third party (a cousin, perhaps?) who can open the conversation in a week or two and express shock at the gift: “You got OP a GYM MEMBERSHIP? Wow, and she didn’t smack you? She must have more self-control than I would, that’s sort of an insulting gift etc. etc.”

Given the fact that she gave you a makeover one year and followed it up with a gym membership, I’d say that if she’s not trying to “fix” you, she’s simply the type of gift “giver” who’s more like a gift “scavenger.” Perhaps next year, you will get an Estee Lauder tote bag filled with tiny pots of blush, wrinkle cream, lipsticks, eyeshadows and perfume samples. And the year after that, a box of chocolates with a sticker on it that has the logo of one of her vendors at work. And the following year, a flashlight and screwdriver kit that says Key Bank on it!


Anonymous December 26, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Oh, I have another Pygmalion gift story: My parents came home from the bookstore one day with a copy of Dr. Phil’s weight loss book for me. At this point, I’d already committed to exercising and eating healthy, so I really didn’t need it. I told him this, and he called me rude and ungrateful. This was during the summer, so in September, when I went back to university, I took the book with me for some reason; probably just to please my parents. At the end of the school year, when I moved out of residence, I accidentally (really accidentally; not passive-aggressively) left it behind in my nightstand drawer. So, I was freed from the passive-aggressive insult gift, and who knows? Maybe the book found its way to someone else who needed it; either a maintenance person who did the final inspections of the students’ rooms at the end of the year, or maybe the student who moved into my old room the following fall.


SamiHami December 26, 2013 at 2:56 pm

You know, I also think this is an awful gift because the relative would not know if that is the particular gym the recipient might like. I mean, a gym is a sort of personal decision…one person might insist on a gym with a pool, another might want ladies only and another might want one with lots of group classes. So no matter how you look at it, it’s just a lousy gift unless you know for sure the recipient actually wants it and has expressed the specific gym they want to join.

I don’t think it would be rude, if pressed by the relative, to say, “Oh, I appreciate the thought but unfortunately that gym just doesn’t suit my needs so I wasn’t able to use it. But you’ll be glad to know that I was able to _________ with it!”


Marozia December 26, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Sell it. Donate it. Raffle it. What you do is your business.


Kate December 26, 2013 at 5:08 pm

You smile politely at the time, then flog it on eBay, Craigslist, Gumtree etc. Unless the gym has a pool – you mention you like swimming, and a lot of gyms do have pools.

I agree with you (and the friends that you asked) that a gym membership is something you shouldn’t give as a gift unless the recipient says ‘Gee, Aunt Maude, I’ve always wanted a membership to XY Gym’. It can easily be interpreted as “wow, fatty, lose some weight!”. Even if the recipient is a fitness enthusiast, it is a bit of a risky gift – for instance, the membership might be to a general sort of gym whereas the recipient prefers mixed martial arts gyms, or something.


Rosie December 26, 2013 at 5:26 pm

I actually got a gift of gym membership from a boyfriend one year. I hadn’t exactly hinted that I was interested in something like that, but I am a generally active person, so I tried it. I did think about whether I should be insulted or not, but just decided it was easier to use it and enjoy it, since I was somewhat interested. I went for a few months, swam mostly, decided I preferred to exercise outside, and dropped it.

If the OP can see any benefit to trying the gym, go ahead since you have nothing to lose. But if you’re truly not interested, just get rid of it and move on. I wouldn’t waste too much time looking for the hidden motivation behind the gift giver’s action, unless it’s part of a long-established pattern of behavior for this person. And maybe stop exchanging gifts with them, or at least recruit a third party to drop some hints about what does and doesn’t make a good gift.


Pam December 26, 2013 at 6:04 pm

I gave my mom a yoga mat, yoga clothes, yoga DVD and yoga book and it wasn’t something she asked me for….. She has borrowed my workout videos in the past, she has always been into exercise but Yoga is something she’s never tried so I thought – awesome gift idea!! But even this exercising, fit woman looked at me and said “is this a hint?” She was joking, but that thought still came to her mind. I agree with using extreme caution on the self-help angle of gift giving!


cathy December 26, 2013 at 8:43 pm

OP here…thanks to all for the great ideas. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with the gift but you’ve given me a lot to think about. The gift giver is an IL and she has kind of a “fixer”complex. I believe she means well, it just doesn’t come across that way. Unfortunately this type of gift brings up a lot of issues in my past, including a “fixer” mother and grandmother, which is part of why I felt insulted.

For me, gift-giving is supposed to be about giving the recipient pleasure, so I’m with the people here who expressed the opinion that it was a bad gift; anything that might make the giftee feel uncomfortable should be avoided.


NostalgicGal December 26, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Been given gym membership once, whole year. The GYM called me four times over the course of about a month to try to prod me into showing up.

Okay they had a few ads on the radio. To get dressed up, go for close to half an hour through urban traffic including several lights, to just GET to the place, then lug stuff back and forth, dress up, exercise, undress, shower, redress and drive home, that was 2-3 hours plus that driving just to go do an hour of heightened movement to make some sweat? It was easier to stay home and weed the property border rockwork. They were not in a convenient area… I explained this nicely to the caller, that if I was closer it might be decent but for the bother and hassle to get there, I suggested they refund the giver’s money as I was not going to be showing up. I never asked the giver if they did get anything back. Yes I’d said thank you to the person, but.


Stacey Frith-Smith December 27, 2013 at 4:08 am

If your relative is guilty of a pattern of offering lifestyle based insult through her choice of gifts… (makeovers, gym memberships, others…do they form a pattern?), then hand the gift back to the giver with an expression of real regret at your inability to use it. Truly, I wouldn’t recommend this in the case of a mere difference of views. Where there is a clear, strongly objectionable and continuing pattern of insult-by-gift or an egregiously inappropriate gift, however, it may serve.


Cheri December 27, 2013 at 5:17 am

Maybe take it in the spirit in which it was given. By your own admission you are fat and out of shape (your words). Get up, get out and do something about it. You say you like “other” forms of exercise like walking, swimming, etc, but I doubt you spend any real doing any of that exercising either. Make the effort for the new year to get healthier. use this gift to drop the weight and boost your self esteem.


Green123 December 27, 2013 at 10:49 am

I think the OP received a bad gift. My advice is to put it on Craigslist or whatever your local equivalent of that is.

Speaking of bad / thoughtless gifts, a good friend of mine presented me with a very nice bottle of wine for Christmas this year. Problem is I’m on meds after an accident, and cannot drink any alcohol at the moment, nor will I be able to until I’ve had a surgery. In six months’ time. She knows this… The wine has gone to a local charity, as they’ll be able to use it as a raffle prize.


Cat December 27, 2013 at 10:52 am

You actually asked two questions: What do I do with this gift and what do I do about the giver continuing to give me this sort of gift. The first has been well answered, but the second is a bit sticky.

I cannot think of a way to tell someone not to get you something that you don’t want. Unless she asks you specifically what you want, you are going to get what you are going to get. Just thank her and dispose of it as you wish. Someone out there will want it. Maybe your church, if you attend one, can auction off unwanted Christmas gifts post-Christmas.


Angel December 27, 2013 at 11:19 am

I belong to a gym and it was a really tough decision to make, especially in the beginning. When I started going I had about 15 pounds of baby weight that just wasn’t going anywhere. The gym I signed up for had cheap child care, so it just eliminated my last excuse not to work out!

That being said, I CHOSE to join a gym. I think that had I gotten a gift certificate for a gym I would have had the same position as the OP. A gym only works if you go, and if you haven’t made that initial decision yourself, then you probably won’t go! Like my husband always says, a gift card to a place that a person is not likely to go–is not a gift.

So if the relative who gave you the gift asked if you used it, I would be perfectly honest and say, I don’t go to gyms, so I donated it. But I really appreciate the thought. Then they will know. I don’t see how that could possibly be rude. The worst thing that can happen is she gets mad and stops the gift exchange. But that probably wouldn’t even be the worst thing.


hakayama December 27, 2013 at 11:22 am

Dear OP: I’m sorry that some of the responders have the same “fixer” streak as your relative… >:[
It appears that some folks are totally unaware of the fact that, at least in the majority of cases, all and any moves towards “self improvement” have to come from within not outside of the individual.
My then teenaged daughter summed it up very succinctly: “Just because you nag, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be done any sooner, or done at all.”
Those, in my opinion, nasty gifts send a message that you are “not good enough”, and that you need to change/improve. The total lack of subtlety is appalling. Gym, makeover, indeed!
I wonder how many years of this cruel behavior are you willing to put up with, how frequent is your interaction with this person, and how much do you value her (apart from these FUBARs).
OOOOPS! That “fixer’s” status (and vociferousness) within the family circle might need some consideration. How willing you are to step on exalted toes, maybe start WW3, and maybe face banishment from the bosom of the clan? How willing are you to eat excrement for the sake of “peace” and because she’s faaaaaaaaaamily?
Your course of action, or non-action with respect to the relative depends on your response to these questions. And THAT is the issue, NOT what to do with the stupid membership certificate.


hakayama December 27, 2013 at 11:25 am

P.S.: “It’s not the gift but the thought that counts.”
A lot of thought went into the gifts you mentioned. Do you like those thoughts? 😉


MichelleP December 27, 2013 at 11:36 am

@Cheri, what an interesting assumption that the OP “doesn’t spend any real time doing any exercising.” Your comment is rude and has nothing to do with the post.

I have a similar problem with a relative giving gifts that are cheap, unwanted, etc. Accept graciously and give to someone who needs it or wants it.


Vicki December 27, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Anon @11:

A lot of people are uncomfortable with gyms, for various reasons–pushing such a person to “oh, give it a try” is unlikely to help. At best they will shrug you off and bean dip, and not be unhappy later, because there is no way for “you should ignore how you feel and do something that I am comfortable doing” won’t come off as criticism. (If OP had asked you how she could become more comfortable at the gym, your answer might be appropriate–as it is, you’re in her relative’s corner, telling her that she needs to be a somewhat different person.)

That’s the best case. At worst, they’ll be try to change the subject, possibly be visibly upset, and hoping that you will accept their “I don’t want to talk about it,” leave the party early, and go home and cry. Or you’ll push, hear about why they don’t feel safe in gyms, and they’ll never want to talk to you again, because you pushed them to talk about unhappy memories: “nobody cares what you look like” isn’t going to be convincing to someone who spent years being bullied weekly about her looks. Someone who was physically abused in the locker room by classmates, and told by the teacher or coach to suck it up and go back in there, may never feel safe in a gym. If you try to convince them that no, really, they should give it one more try, they won’t see you as a well-meaning friend: you’re saying the same sorts of things as the adults who made them go back to where they were being hurt.


EchoGirl December 27, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Cheri: How do you know what the OP does or doesn’t do? I also hate gyms, and I weigh 130. Some of it’s genetics but I also like to dance (usually in private, so a membership wouldn’t do me any good unless they have private exercise rooms) and to walk on solid ground, not a treadmill (some gyms have tracks, but most don’t, so I usually walk outdoors). Gyms aren’t the only way to get in shape.


cathy December 27, 2013 at 4:07 pm

OP here again.
@Cheri: Wow, could you be any ruder?! I’m really tired of having to explain to people why I don’t exercise more: Balance issues, bad back currently being treated by chiropractor, tiredness due to stress and personal issues (this year alone, we sold a house, renovated a house, moved house after 20+ years in previous one, my mother died, my husband was laid off again, and my son got married). All I can say is, I’m working on it, but I do not want to go to a gym, it’s that simple.

@Hakayama: thank you for your thoughtful response and comments, and yes, I’ve been pondering the “thoughts” that go into these gifts too…LOL It’s probably going to be time to sit down and talk to this person one of these days, but it definitely isn’t going to be pretty. The “fixer” always comes out as the good guy.

@Vicki: I really appreciate what you said and it’s very much the case with me that my dislike of the gym environment stems from really bad school experiences as well as negative experiences later on (my husband and I joined a gym about 30 years ago and neither of us liked it). I like being alone with my iPod when I exercise, without a lot of distraction and other people around, and I can’t do that in that type of place. And what you said about people wanting me to “be a different person” is also true. I’ve spent most of my 57 years apologizing to various people for not being pretty and for being overweight, which I’ve been since I was about 8 years old, off and on. I wish people could accept others as they are, and go fix themselves! Sheesh.


Marian Perera December 27, 2013 at 7:08 pm

For last Christmas, a friend gave me a pashmina and a matching necklace.

Unfortunately I never wear pashminas, and even if I wanted to try, this one was all wrong for me – it had a big gold, purple and blue pattern, and the necklace was also big. I’m physically small, so anything large overwhelms me. I gave both gifts to my landlady, who loved them.

My friend had included the receipt in case I needed to return the gifts, so I thanked her sincerely (I like my landlady and was pleased I’d made her happy) but explained I couldn’t use them. Thankfully we had the kind of friendship where she didn’t get upset about that, and this year she gave me an Amazon gift card. That one is mine, all mine. 🙂

Oh, and my extended family wanted me to be a different person too. Except they hated the fact that I was thin. When I was younger, I couldn’t gain weight if I tried, but each time I visited the extended family, all I heard was how thin I was and why didn’t I eat more? It went on and on until I was 18, at which point I went away to college and wrote to the extended family to let them know that over a decade of criticism had come to an end. If the unsolicited opinions on my weight didn’t stop, I simply wouldn’t visit. They weren’t happy, but my parents backed me up for once and I never again had to hear, “My, you’re so THIN!” like I had never looked in a mirror and the other person was breaking major news to me.


Anonymous December 27, 2013 at 11:01 pm

@Vicki–I never said that the OP should be a different kind of person; I meant that she might want to try a different kind of gym. I faced a LOT of frustration, bullying, bad gym teachers, body image problems, etc., in my youth, so I swear, I understand. I feel safe and happy at the YMCA, but you wouldn’t catch me at a “vanity” type gym like, say, Bally Total Fitness, or a “tough” gym like Gold’s Gym. I also never said that the OP should definitely join the gym/use the gift certificate; I just said she should take a tour of the gym first (in person or online, if the gym has a “virtual tour” function on its website), before getting rid of her membership. However, if the answer is still “no,” then that’s fine…….but I still maintain that the gym membership, and the makeover voucher, aren’t the problem in and of themselves; they’re symptoms of a bigger problem with the friend who repeatedly gives Pygmalion gifts.

@Cathy–I scrolled down a bit further, and I see that you really don’t want to join any gym at all. Thanks for clarifying that; I wasn’t sure if your objection was to all gyms, or the specific type of gym you joined in the past, and disliked/had a bad experience with/whatever. In that case, I agree with the previous posters who suggested calling the gym and seeing if you could exchange the gift certificate for clothing or equipment rather than access to the gym itself.


hakayama December 27, 2013 at 11:28 pm

@OP Cathy: Should you decide to tackle the “fixer” face to face, consider bringing an “equalizer” or two: an electronic one to record the exchange, a human witness to act as a moderator/referee ;-). And do gear up for the inevitable fallout when IT hits the fan.


cathy December 28, 2013 at 2:28 pm

@Marian – sounds like you got exactly what I got in reverse – my mother hounded me about my size almost until the day she died. I wish I had, at a much earlier age, been able to do what you did!

@hakayama – Great idea! She is hard to deal with as she becomes childish when confronted. Seems like there’s always one person in the family you have to tiptoe around.


Kirsten December 29, 2013 at 2:25 pm

My inlaws once bought me a book at Christmas called ‘How to Dress’.

This is not because I don’t know how to dress. It’s because they want me to dress the way *they* like. Think ‘Stepford’.

I opened it, and was about to make a joke when I felt the massive tension in the room. As in ‘will she finally take the hint??’ and I realized that yes, they really want me to change my dress sense THAT much. So I said oh thank you, I love X author, how kind!

Skimmed the book. Never used it. Never changed my dress sense.


kingsrings December 29, 2013 at 7:28 pm

I received a short-term gym membership this Christmas, too. In my case though, my mother knew that I loved this gym, that I used to be a member, and that I missed it. I am also overweight and am at my heaviest right now. She gives me a hard time about my weight so that may be another factor in the gift idea, but I love this gift for the reasons stated previously and will use it until it expires!

I don’t necessarily assume that all gift-givers gifting this idea are trying to send the receivers hints that they need to shape up, though. Maybe they simply figure that a gym is something the recipient might enjoy, not realizing that not everybody does. I remember one time my church gave away a six-month gym membership as part of a raffle prize, and my friend who absolutely hates to exercise won it! I have no idea what she did with it. Probably just returned it to them. I would have loved to have had it, but didn’t want to say anything to my friend.

One Christmas years ago I received a massage gift certificate. Most people would love that, right? Not me! I love massages, but I knew this masseuse personally and didn’t care for her, so of course I didn’t want to be massaged by her! I thanked my friend, then pondered for a while on what to do with the gift certificate. I should have privately given it to another friend in our social group, but I never did. So it just went to waste. That happens sometimes with gifts, and giving them is just a risk you take. The polite thing to do on the part of the recipient is to act thankful for the gift no matter what it is, then secretly get rid of it somehow. I can’t stand lavender, and I can’t begin to tell you how many lavender body lotions, perfumes, and candles I’ve received over the year, because some people assume that everyone loves the wonderful scent of lavender. The same with cat photo coffee table books. People assume that since I love cats and own them, that I must love those kind of books. I’ve never once opened any of the several I’ve received as gifts over the years.


kjr December 30, 2013 at 11:25 am

Once I went to a networking event for work, and usually I know one or two people but at this one I was alone. I am not the best at approaching people, but can easily engage when approached by someone else. I mingled and was about to leave when I was approached by a couple, who owned a gym nearby. They wanted to see if I was interested in joining. I understand that I was at a networking event, but they asked if I specifically wanted to join. I am sensitive about my weight, I have always struggled with it and after I politely let them know I didn’t live near their gym, I get the heck out of there and drove home very depressed. People need to be VERY careful about these good intentioned “suggestions”.


LisaB December 30, 2013 at 12:47 pm

I certainly have my own sensitive issues, so I empathize with the OP’s reaction to this gift. But I think it is also worthwhile to give people the benefit of the doubt and interpret their actions in the best possible light. Perhaps the OP, in trying to dismiss an earlier suggestion about going to the gym, said something about the cost being prohibitive. The OP may not even remember the conversation, but it registered with the gift giver as, “I would go to the gym if I could afford it,” and hence a good gift idea. Rather than focusing on the thought, “This person is judgmental,” perhaps the OP could think of it in terms of “This person cared enough about me and my health to give me this gift,” which in turn could help the OP to reframe her interactions with the giver into opportunities to talk with the giver about what the OP really needs from her friend.

As for what to do with the gift, I think others have come up with excellent solutions: Thank the giver and then transfer it to merchandise/service credit, sell it online, or donate it to a cause.


AuntieEm December 30, 2013 at 5:19 pm

My MIL gives me a subscription to Guidepost every year. It’s a Lutheran magazine, I’m not Lutheran. I’m glad her religion makes her happy, and I very much admire it in my husband (because he does not go because he grew up going, he went back to it as an adult because he needed guidance and I feel like it means that much more to him because it’s not “out of habit” that he goes to church). But it’s not for me, I’ve always been clear about that with them. My husband respects my choices and doesn’t push it.

I can appreciate her gift in the spirit it’s given to a point, but I’ve also been clear (very tactfully) with her that I don’t read it, it does not interest me – but thank you for thinking of me. Still the subscription comes every year. I’ve even suggested that she could donate the money she spends on it to a charity (religious or otherwise, it doesn’t matter to me) at least someone would benefit other than a magazine company. But still it comes in the mail, sigh . . .


Anonymous January 1, 2014 at 3:23 pm

@LisaB–Good point. Sometimes it’s good to be straight up about what you do and don’t want, but frame it more towards what you do want. Instead of saying, “I don’t like the gym,” or “I had a bad experience at Blahblah Gym,” you could say, “I prefer to walk outside.” the first statement makes it sound like you’re “lazy,” and the giver may feel the need to “fix” that (although a gift isn’t the best way to do that), and the second statement implies that you just don’t like Blahblah Gym, but maybe Whatsit Gym, which is more diverse and accepting, would be fine. However, the third statement is perfect, because it lets you know, to a wannabe-Pygmalion-gifter, that you do live an active lifestyle, but you prefer to be active outside the context of ANY gym. One thing I learned in the course of my fitness journey, and various fitness instructor courses, is that the best exercise plan is one that you can stick to. If you enjoy it, and if you can make it a part of your routine, then that’s the important part.


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