I love Christmas. Everyone who knows me knows that in my world, Christmas season starts July 5. I like to stretch it out. I break out the Christmas music as soon as possible, and begin planning my decorations around Labor Day. So you can imagine that by the time October arrives I am all geared up to shop. Last weekend I had an afternoon to myself so I settled in for some online Christmas shopping. Little did I know it would be a lesson in self-discovery.
I innocently wandered over to gifts.com, a site I used last year to get gift ideas for tricky recipients. It's great - you can search on a lot of different things like age, gender, interests, and hobbies, and the website will suggest gifts that you never would have thought of on your own. It's the website that recommended the novelty toaster my sister-in-law received, which burns "I'm hot" and "bite me" into your toast, a gift which, for a panicked moment last Christmas morning, I thought had inadvertently been sent to my grandparents, but that is a different story.
This story begins when I stumbled upon a feature I hadn't noticed before - the opportunity to do a full personality profile on your friends and family to receive even better suggestions from this electronic wizard. My brother-in-law was my first victim. After entering his gender and age group, the website flashed a series of photos on the screen and asked me to click on the one that best described his interests. Is he a gadget guy or a minimalist? Would he spend his Saturday fishing with his buddies or visiting the flea market? I answered all of their questions and viola! Gift ideas abound. My curiousity piqued, I quickly saved some gift ideas in my shopping cart and moved on to my brother. My new best friend responded with even better suggestions than the first round. With my Christmas shopping list getting shorter, I spied a bit of temptation..."do it for yourself!" the website called. I let my finger linger on the mouse and slowly moved the cursor to begin a new profile. I was curious to know what this insightful little database had in store for me, so with a bit of self-indulgent entitlement, I clicked.
I entered my gender and my age, breezing through the first few questions since by this point I was a pro. Then the fun began. Would I rather wear jewelry by a local artist or a well-known jeweler? Click. Would I rather vacation in a swanky hotel or a lakeside cottage? Click. Do I wear expensive lipstick or just stick a tube of chapstick in my back pocket? Click. I finished the survey and waited with anticipation at my page of suggested gifts selected especially for me began to load on the screen.
But as I scrolled down the page, my anticipation turned to confusion. And my confusion turned to dismay. And then my dismay turned to insult as I came across one recommendation - a calendar called "Captivating Kittens".
Ice cream bowls. Photo-printed pillows. Little bedazzled chains for me to hang my reading glasses around my neck. Okay, so I made that part up. The point is that this website, which had so recently provided such accurate insight into my gift-giving soul, didn't know me at all. Or maybe....I didn't really know myself.
Later that evening I revealed to my husband that he was married to a middle-aged crafter with a penchant for ice cream and kittens. After retelling my tale of misguided self-exploration, I indignantly went back to the website to show him just how mean and rude it had been to me. But as I brazenly started to click through the pictures, he started questioning my every choice. Local artisan? No, he said. You're a Tiffany's girl all the way. Lakeside cottage? Nope, he replied. He did concede to the choice of chapstick over lipstick, being the recipient of the ever-prevalent chapstick-left-in-the-jeans dryer discovery. But again and again, he confirmed to me that I was not the person I thought I was.
I sat there in front of the computer, feeling shallow. Was I a fraud? Was I living a lie, pretending to be something I wasn't? Or was I simply a victim of drive-though stereotyping, trying to shove myself into a box that didn't quite fit?
I never settled on an answer, and I decided not to care. Either way, I knew one thing was true - I do not want the "Captivating Kittens" calendar for Christmas.