A special message to those of you with girlfriends you have to purchase a gift for: I’m sorry. I really am. Significant other gift giving is a treacherous minefield of emotions and expectations. Dealing with both of those is more than enough. Let alone both – and on the same day, during the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year™.
There is hope. By avoiding the following gifts you will emerge victorious.
Nothing at all
In this materialistic world, the very best gift of all is the gift of nothingness? Absence? Quiet? Zen? If she opens a box and nothing is in it, does your girlfriend make a sound? She does, and it’s not a good one.
Instead: Ask, right this minute if you haven’t already, what you two should spend on each other. Give a range — ”Hey, so what were you thinking? $25? $10? $100?” depending on how much feels reasonable. If you’re flat broke, plan on exchanging sweet, hand-written love letters.
Exceptions: If it is well established that you both think the Christmas-Industrial complex is bullshit and don’t need or want anything. But even when she says, “We shouldn’t do gifts this year,” she really means, “Get me something cheap but thoughtful.”
We can put a man on a moon, and yet we cannot make a body spray that doesn’t make the wearer smell like regrettable hookup with vanilla top-notes.
Instead: If she has a favorite perfume and doesn’t need a new one, see if it comes in a travel/purse size or get her the body lotion version of that perfume (which, bonus, is much cheaper than bottles of perfume).
Exceptions: She is a preeminent thinker in the field of body-spray marketing and constantly doing field research.
An Expensive Wooden Spoon She Has Not Asked for and Yet Comes With Complicated Care Instructions
What? No, Williams-Sonoma wooden spoon, I will not be rubbing you fortnightly with not-included beeswax.
Instead: If she’s dying for kitchen stuff, at least make it a little romantic — maybe two champagne flutes?
Exceptions: None. If she has not asked for an $18 wooden spoon, do not get her an $18 wooden spoon.
Anything Overly Practical
There is only one person in this whole wide world who can get her a sexy, feminine gift (lingerie, perfume, jewelry) without it being weird, and that is you. Leave the socks and towels to her family.
Instead: Something — anything — that feels special. If she desperately needs socks, get her one pair of super soft, super cozy socks. Not a Hanes six-pack.
Exceptions: She has specifically asked for this practical thing and/or she is constantly stealing your socks, in which case this would be justified.
An Expensive Gag Gift
An $80 remote controlled helium shark? That’s hilarious! Wow! Oh my gosh, what a perfect punchline. What’s that? You wish to charge it now?
Instead: Gag gifts should cost no more than $4, and are readily available at any Goodwill or drug store.
Exceptions: Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, a remote controlled helium shark would be pretty useful, especially if you have a cat to terrify. But make sure you are on the same page about this.
A Candle That Costs What You Feel Is a Reasonable Price For a Candle, Like $3.99
Here are some things that are true about candles: Every single female in the world gets, like, 17 candles for Christmas; Of these, 16 smell like cinnamon, 14 will be sheepishly re-gifted and three will be stored in a drawer and forgotten; Until they are discovered six months later, having melted and encased the junk drawer like a tiny La Brea Tar Pit of screws and superglue tubes; The candles that are actually nice cost what seems like an absurd amount of money — like, $80.
Instead: If she has a nice candle of choice (Voluspa ones tend to be amazing), by all means get that.
Exceptions: Some women love all candles without fear or favor. If your lady burns them all the time, then go candle crazy!
Something You Actually Want
When you are in the store or browsing amazon.com’s virtual aisles, and your gaze lingers upon something, take a moment. Just a beat. Say to yourself, “Wow. This is a nice (XBox accessory/REI tchotchke/giant television). I know I would enjoy this — but would girlfriend enjoy this even more than me? If the answer is no, then that is not the right gift.
Instead: Get something she would like. Duh.
Exceptions: If you are both super duper passionate about a hobby, something that furthers that hobby can be a great gift — just as long as it really is for her.
Kelly Williams Brown wrote the book on being a grown-up. Literally, it’s called Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 486 Easy(ish) Steps. She also works at a Portland-area advertising agency.