"Reserve" Gifts: The Prisoner's Dilemma of the Holiday Season

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In case you were wondering how things turned out, gift-wise, for me and Sweet Pants, I'll continue from where I left off yesterday

My neurotic fever regarding the gift stress was running high enough that about a week ago, during a flurry of emails with S.P., I came out with it.

"Speaking of the holidays," I wrote, "should we just take ourselves out for a nice dinner and celebrate that way, rather than exchanging presents?"

S.P. seemed relieved I'd brought up the topic, and was all for my suggestion. He also feels pressure when it comes to girlfriend gifts — he always want to strike the right balance, but thinks it can be tough to be munificent, inventive, and appropriate in one fell (and well-wrapped) swoop.

When he mentioned to a friend of his that we'd agreed on a mutual disarmament gift-giving plan, she said, "Maybe you should get Maura a reserve present, just in case she gets you something anyway?"

We agreed, once again, not to surprise each other and go back on our agreement.

All of this made me wonder, though, if the reserve present is fairly common. Do you have reserve presents on hand, whether for a colleague or a far-flung relative who surprises you with a gift? Or do you keep something extra on hand for your paramour in case he springs one on you?

And whenever you agree with someone close to you that you will not give gifts that year, does it turn into a version of the prisoner's dilemma — a guessing game about whether the other person will stick to the agreement, or get you something anyway, leaving you holding the bag? (A bag which contains the present for you, and nothing else?)

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