It’s the holiday season, which means it’s time for the traditional “oh Christ, what the hell am I supposed to get my girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse this year” anxiety.
Fortunately, I am here to help you out. One of the under-appreciated skills that comes with relationship maintenance is knowing how to give the perfect gift. Whether it’s for Christmas, Hanukah, Diwali, Valentine’s Day1 , birthdays or anniversaries, this guide will help you select the sort of gifts that will make a relationship legend that your partner will brag about for years to come. It’s all about knowing the secret.
Know Your Partner
As far as gift-giving advice goes, this is something of a “Duh, George”. Except you’d be absolutely astounded just how many people get this part wrong. Whether it’s through carelessness, laziness or just sheer ignorance, I can’t tell you at how many people put no thought into what their partner actually wants, needs or actually has already.
Despite what generations of gift-giving guides will tell you, knowing your partner trumps all other rules. Many people will tell you that the holiday or occasion sets the tone for the gift; practical gifts, for example, are verboten on Valentine’s Day. This is the sort of advice that seems universal but falls apart when you’re dealing with a person instead of a stereotype. If your partner is the sort of person who reads the Willliams-Sonoma catalog like it’s porn, then buying a stand mixer could well be the most romantic thing they could ever imagine.
Cute knick-knacks are lovely… unless your partner is of the opinion that that they don’t need one more thing to sit around collecting dust in their life. Plants or flowers can be great, right up until you’ve given something that requires constant, painstaking attention to keep alive to a person who’s already stressed out about their insane schedule and doesn’t need one more damned thing to try to squeeze into their day.
Similarly, knowing your partner’s personality and temperament helps make sure that you get a present that will be appreciated beyond the moment they receive it. You may have put your heart and soul into finding – or making – the perfect gift and they very well may love it… but they may never get around to actually doing anything with it. How’re you going to feel when that symbol of your love and affection is sitting in the back of a closet, to be forgotten until the day that you go looking for that left-over wrapping paper from 2010?
Heartfelt and Personal Beats Expensive
Now, having told you that most rules don’t count, I’m going to go ahead and lay down some rules. And the first is that nine times out of ten, a heartfelt, personal gift tends to mean more than an expensive one. That remaining one time is generally a sign that you may want to consider dating someone else.
Of course, how you define heartfelt and personal can vary. For example, it’s a holiday cliche that someone with a passion for crafting or DIY projects gives horrible, ugly presents. You are, for all intents and purposes, wearing their practice work and are expected to love it.
Don’t let this pop-culture cliche scare you away from making the attempt. While it’s entirely true that there’re plenty of times when ambition may outstrip ability, most of the time, our partners are going to appreciate the time and and thought that went into making something personal for them. That being said, if your skills aren’t necessarily up to where you’d like them to be, you can still provide creative or unique gifts full of meaning without necessarily having to hand-craft them from scratch; you just have to do your research. There may be places in your area, for example, that let you make your own wine blend, complete with a custom label. If your partner loves to cook, making them a custom spice blend. If they like beer or want some interesting and unique glassware, you could make some drinking glasses from beer bottles.
Another possibility is to work on things that are meaningful or commemorate the relationship. At a time when most of our memories exist exclusively on Instagram and Facebook, printing and framing a favorite photo of the two of you can be a more meaningful gift than something stire bought and expensive. In fact, a number of sites can take a favorite photo and print them on wood or metal, making it more unique and special than a simple print-out.
Then of course, there’re moments like this that can’t get by buying your partner another sweater or pair of earrings:
Now with that in mind, being “creative” isn’t an excuse to be lazy. You want to show that you care, not hand over something slapped together more out of a sense of desperation than out of thoughtfulness. By that same token though, time it takes to put it together isn’t an indication of quality or care. Hell, in one of my more memorable relationships, I dated a woman who measured the value of a gift by how much it inconvenienced me. If I gave her something that I enjoyed making – say, a custom painting – then it wasn’t as “good” a gift because it was something I liked doing anyway.
Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last.
Go Outside the Usual Stores
One of the benefits of gift-giving in this day and age? We have more options than ever before. The world is quite literally at our fingertips and we have access to markets and products than ever before. This gives you the opportunity to get unique and beloved gifts that you might never find if you’re doing all of your Christmas shopping at the mall.
At the same time however, you should seriously resist the temptation to do all of your shopping in one fell swoop on Amazon and set your sights (and sites) slightly farther afield. You can find some impressive gift ideas, but doing a little more research can help you find some gems that are a bit further afield. This is one of those times when knowing your partner’s tastes can let you find an incredible gift that nobody else would’ve thought of. If you’re looking for something vintage from their childhood, eBay should be your first stop. If you want to find that perfectly nerdy gift, a site like BigBadToyStore can help you find an import from Japan that nobody else has. Sites like Musterbrand or Volante Design can provide cool and stealthily geeky clothes for gamers. If they’re a movie aficionado for example, scoring a Nakatomi Plaza or Mondo poster of their favorite flick or the soundtrack on vinyl will be a gift they’d never forget.
If you want to go the more creative route but don’t think your own skills are up to snuff, you can outsource the actual creativity to the web as well. Esty’s a great starting place to find crafters, jewelers and other creative types who often take on commissions while DeviantArt can be a place to find an artist to create a custom illustration of her personal Kingdom Hearts/Doctor Who crossover fantasies. If you want to take the DIY route yourself but aren’t sure where to start, Instructables can help you find the project that’s about your speed.
Plus, you can find any number of incredibly talent artisans selling original creations that would make amazing gifts for the right person.
All that being said…
Experiences Are The Best Gift
One of the eternal struggles when it comes to giving gifts is what to get for the person who’s notoriously hard to shop for. The answer is that you don’t want to give something material. Possessions are all well and good but if you have the chance, then you should consider buying your partner an experience instead.
As much as we may like whatever presents we get, the fact of the matter is that they’re impermanent and the happiness they provide fades over time. Experiences, on the other hand, tend to make us happier over time – in the build up and anticipation beforehand, in the actual payoff and even afterwards when we look back on them. Buying someone a CD of their favorite band is a nice gift. Getting them tickets to see their favorite band in concert, on the other hand, is amazing.
What’s great about experiences rather than physical goods is that they ultimately last longer. A concert or a trip is more than just the event itself, it’s also the stories that come from them and the way that even little things can bring back those memories at the most unexpected times and what they may inspire next. A material object on the other hand, loses it’s emotional value over time; hedonic adaptation means that even things that are important to us become part of the background noise of our lives.
Just as with other gifts, picking an experience that matches your partner is important. Concerts are obvious choices, but another great gift might be seeing her favorite author speak. A cuisine specific cooking class, a wine-tasting class or other event makes a great gift for a foodie. A mini adventure like going on a caving tour can be an incredible experience that they might never do otherwise. If she’s a gamer, then it could be fun to do an Escape Room together and see how those skills translate into real life. Indoor skydiving could be a way of enjoying the experience of free-fall without having to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Even something as simple as getting tickets to a meet-and-greet so they can meet their favorite celebrities can be an incredible experience for them.
When In Doubt, Cheat
So now that we’ve gone through these guidelines, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. In my various relationships, I developed a reputation for somehow always knowing what my girlfriends wanted even if they’d only mentioned it in passing months ago; when they’d unwrap their gift they’d be amazed to see that I’d remembered.
Except I didn’t. I cheated.
Most of the time, our partners will leave any number of clues about what they want – intentionally or otherwise. You just need to know where to find them. Amazon wish lists are the first and most obvious place to look; you can search by your partner’s email address and see what they may have put aside for “someday”. Pinterest and Facebook also can be valuable places to find the gifts they really want.
But the easiest and most devilish trick of all is to pay attention and take careful notes. Whenever someone I dated mentioned something they were interested in, I’d find a reason to excuse myself – to take a call, make a run to the bathroom, get kleenex or a coffee or something – and write it down. With smartphones and cloud-synched note apps, it’s easier than ever to keep an easily accessible running list of potential gift ideas, complete with links for reference and Google alerts to let you know of sales or price drops. Pair that with your cheat sheet of their vital statistics and you have the key to making sure you can give your sweetie the perfect gift every time.
If you do your holiday shopping on Amazon, please consider doing so via this link. Whether or not you buy any of my books, anything you do purchase via my affiliate link costs you nothing but helps support the site. And have a happy holiday season!
- feh [↩]