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Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017 12:15 am

Watercolor under the bridge

PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON
Amy Alkon
A guy my girlfriend dated seven years ago is now an aspiring artist, and he gave my girlfriend one of his paintings. It’s abstract, splashy and horrible. I find it disrespectful of him to give it to her (because she’s in a relationship). She said he does lots of paintings, sells almost none, and gives them as gifts to all of his friends. I asked her to throw it away, but she said that would be “too mean” and shoved it under the bed. Am I being overly jealous, or is it wrong to accept gifts from exes? – Chafed

Art – especially abstract art – says different things to different people. To you, the painting screams, “Ha-ha, I had sex with your girlfriend!” To everyone else, it’s probably an expression of a moment – the one that came seconds after “Outta the way! I had some bad clams!”

It makes sense that a gift from a guy to your girlfriend would set off your internal alarms. Consider, as evolutionary behavioral scientist Gad Saad points out, that one sex – the male one – woos (as in, tries to get the other into bed) with gifts. When a guy arrives to pick a woman up, she doesn’t open the door with “Surprise, bro! Got you these roses! Take off your pants!”
As I somewhat frequently explain, this difference comes out of how sex can cost women big time in a way it doesn’t cost men – with pregnancy and the 18-year after-party. So, women evolved to go for men who are willing and able to invest in any little, uh, nipple nibblers they give birth to, and gift-giving can be a signal of that.

Your being upset over the painting could be a subconscious reaction to this. But considering that this guy is handing out paintings like they’re “We Buy Gold” leaflets, this gift to your girlfriend is probably a sign of a few things: He paints badly (though prolifically) and lacks storage space.

In general, as for whether it’s okay to accept gifts from exes, context counts. Did the two people break up just yesterday or a decade ago? Are there still feelings bubbling up? Was the ex’s gift, say, a tire jack or a diamond-encrusted thong?

Because this was just an ugly painting given to your girlfriend by a friend (long stripped of benefits), she did the kind thing and accepted it. So maybe just appreciate that her willingness to shove it under the bed relieves you of the need to suggest an even better location: a la “Can I offer you a steak – mesquite-grilled with just a hint of carcinogenic paint fumes?”

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