Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Candace Moody.
Men have been giving gifts to women since the first Neanderthal offered his crush a polished wolf femur. In the millennia that have followed, homo sapiens invented the wheel, the laptop, the foam fan finger, and put a man on the moon. But men have not yet developed a system for buying the women in their lives meaningful gifts for special occasions. As a public service, I offer this gifting system for homo sapiens and homo inermis.
Why to Give
Gifts show love and affection and can also signal appreciation. Coincidentally, gifts have also been used throughout history to demonstrate wealth, success, and power. Trust me, when you become a great gift giver, your status and desirability as a romantic partner increase exponentially. The only thing women love more than getting a meaningful gift is showing it off to their envious friends.
Giving your significant other a gift deepens the warmth, trust, affection, and intimacy in your relationship, and even increases her admiration of you. This kindling effect of gift giving shouldn’t be reserved only for major anniversaries and holidays, but used to keep the flame burning during your “regular” life together as well.
What to Give
Gifts don’t have to cost a fortune (and can even be free, or close to it); most women really do appreciate the gesture more than the price tag. In fact, a gift that costs too much can create more angst than joy, especially if it strains the budget or cuts in to other spending priorities she considers important. It really is the thought that counts, so put some into your choice.
If you are starved for ideas, start a file somewhere with the answers to the following questions. Ask them occasionally and subtly (not all at the same time), and record her answers (including the why) carefully:
- Her sizes. Note her measurements and what style she prefers. (These are never to be shared, mind you.) Also note what celebrity’s features and figure she most resembles; use that as a guide for store clerks to help them assist you in purchasing things that will look good.
- Her favorite color (and why she likes it). Also record her least favorite color and make sure you never purchase something in it. Record the color you love to see her in (you know, the one that makes her glow and never fails to remind you how beautiful she is). This color can be a powerful gifting component; if you tell her you love it on her, she will love it too. Guaranteed.
- Her favorite flower. As backup, here is a guide to the Language of Flowers. Cultures all over the globe have assigned meanings to flowers and used them to send messages to lovers and rivals. Giving a lavender colored rose, for example, symbolizes love at first sight. Powerful stuff.
- Does she wear gold or silver? Ask, and buy her (almost) exclusively what she prefers.
- What is her birthstone? And does she like it? It’s not guaranteed, so ask. Note it and buy jewelry that features the gem.
- Speaking of jewelry, is there a culture or trend she loves? Asian, Southwestern, gothic, Victorian, ultra-modern minimalist. Make note of her likes for both jewelry and clothing purchases.
- Her favorite designer, if she has one. Look for clothing or accessories that feature this designer or ask a store clerk for help in finding something in that style.
- Her favorite food or meal. Cooking for her (or ordering in) is a great way to surprise and delight her.
- Her favorite animal or the animal she (or you) think symbolizes her spirit. Here’s a guide to spirit animals. Give her a gift that she can carry with her or display that inspires her to be her best or most powerful self.
- Her favorite author or book. Buy a first edition for her or frame a quote by her favorite author. Or find a copy of a book she loved as a child.
- Her favorite movie or TV show. Arrange for a binge-watching session, either alone with wine and snacks, or with girlfriends while you and the kids are out of the house. Better yet, together, snuggled on the couch with takeout. Purchase her favorite movie so she can watch any time. Frame a quote from her favorite character or scene.
Keep this guide handy for frequent reference. With it, you can always find an inexpensive way to show her you pay attention and know what she likes. You’ll also have this list in mind as you go about your business. If you see something that fits her, buy it and stash it for the next gift-giving occasion. Buying at the last minute puts a lot of pressure on you; buying when you happen to find something means you’ll never have to panic.
Some other guidelines:
Buy her things that have a story. Tell her about the artist who made the bracelet or glazed the pottery. Tell her about where you found it and why you thought it would be perfect for her. Find pieces that are unique, one of a kind, or that have a long history, and let her know that.
You can also give gifts that make life easier — as long as they’re not too utilitarian. Giving her a book of smoothie recipes is thoughtful; buying her a blender is not. Giving her a set of file folders with a beautiful pattern for her home office is thoughtful; buying the latest edition of Turbo Tax is not.
Don’t forget that acts of service can make her heart sing. Fix something without being asked. Borrow her car for an errand and bring it back washed and vacuumed with the gas tank filled. Do the dishes, clean the junk drawer, wash and fold a load of laundry, or do another task that she dislikes or that normally wouldn’t be your job. (No extra credit for doing what you should as your fair share.)
Make dinner. Or reservations. Hire a sitter for the night and plan a walk in the park or on the beach. Take on the planning or logistics of something she normally has to handle. Tell her why you’re doing it: “You deserve a night off.” “You’ve been working so hard lately.” “I just wanted to steal a few hours of your time.” It will cost you almost nothing and bring you lots of gratitude in return.
Buy her things whose only quality is that they make life more beautiful. Scented soaps, practical items with beautiful designs (think desk accessories or a bud vase for her office). A set of (only) two wine glasses, coffee mugs, or dessert plates for the two of you to share at special moments. Replace something ugly, old, or utilitarian with something beautiful: baking or kitchen utensils, water bottles or teacups, calendars or planners, even something as small as a bookmark can delight her. Think of something she uses often. Let her know that she deserves beautiful things around her every day.
For more ideas on how to speak her specific gifting language (through acts of service and other methods), read Dr. Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages.
When to Give
Timing and presentation matter enormously as to how your gift will be received. Here are some ideas on timing.
Surprise her, but only when she has time to be fully present. Don’t give her a gift:
- When she’s in the middle of a crisis (dog/cat throwing up, baby screaming, kids fighting, appliance or car broken down)
- When she’s rushing out the door on her way to work or something important
- When she walks in the door from a stressful day
- Right after a fight or other emotional breakdown
- Right after she expresses very negative emotions or self-hate
- Right after she asks for something from you (more attention, complete a task, or any version of “you’re not doing enough”)
- When she’s exhausted
- At the very last minute of an important occasion (birthday, anniversary, etc.) — don’t let her assume you’ve done nothing special for the entire day
Here is how to time your gift for optimal joy and appreciation:
- Morning is a great time, assuming she has the time and energy to appreciate it. She’ll think fondly of you all the time you’re apart. If mornings are too hectic, tell her you have something beautiful for her that she’ll get this evening. She’ll glow all day.
- Leave it for her in a place she’ll find it on her own (and in her own time). On her pillow in the morning when she wakes, or before bed. In the master bath when she gets out of the shower. At her place at the dinner or breakfast table (hopefully, a place you’ve set or a dinner you’ve prepared).
- Allow some time to pass after an argument or other emotional conversation. Depending on her temperament or how bad the argument was, let a few hours, a day, a few days pass, but take action before a week has passed. Tell her you’ve been thinking about what she said and remind her how much she means to you. Tell her you bought this because it caught your eye while she was on your mind. If you can, connect the gift to something she said specifically: “You’re right — you deserve to have more time to spend on you; here’s something to pamper yourself with tonight.”
- Plan for a quiet moment. Put a video on for the kids so you won’t be interrupted. Do the dishes or clean up after dinner so she can do something for herself. Turn off the TV and ask her for a few minutes of her attention. Wake her up a few minutes early on a weekend so you can cuddle. Ask her to take a quiet walk after work or after dinner. Make some deliberate space so she can focus on you and your gift.
- Pick a day that would normally be sad for her. The anniversary of a family member’s death, the first day of school, or the day you send your oldest off to college. Let her know that you understand how she feels and that you want to give her something positive to think about on that day.
- Pick a date or day that has little or no expectations. Giving gifts on birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day is obvious and of course recommended. Your stock will really soar, however, if you find other occasions to celebrate that are more unexpected. Surprise her on a Wednesday or the last day of the month. While “just because” is a sufficient reason, these occasions make for particularly good times to present an unexpected gift:
- The anniversary of your first date
- The anniversary of the day you proposed
- The anniversary of the date you first (your favored amorous event or activity here)
- Her first day on a new job
- A big business or professional success
- A personal milestone, like changing a habit or taking on a challenge
If you’re not sure about specific dates, ask — she’ll almost certainly know. (Write them down; once she’s told you, she’ll assume remembering it means as much to you as it does to her.) If you want extra points, celebrate days that only you will know (and, coincidentally, you alone can verify). “Thursday, March 12th was the day I realized I was in love with you.”
How to Give
Presentation matters. You don’t have to have great wrapping skills to make a gift look special, but you do have to put some thought into your presentation:
- Leave price tags on
- Deliver the gift in the plastic bag from the store
- Use wrapping paper from the wrong holiday or season
- Get so tricky with hiding the gift that it gets overlooked, thrown away, or swallowed
- Keep receipts (for substantial purchases) in case she needs to return the item or exchange for a different size/color
- Use gift bags or ask the store to wrap the gift if you aren’t confident doing it yourself
- Place an unwrapped gift carefully where she can see it and appreciate its presentation before picking it up (placed on the pillow or at her place setting with a single rose)
- Add a small card saying simply: “For you” or “For the woman I love”
- Ask your young children to wrap the gift or make a card
- Let your adorable child deliver the present, saying something like “Daddy said to give this to the prettiest mommy in the world”
- Have it delivered to the office (check her schedule or ask about it to make sure she’ll be in when it’s delivered)
- Present it when you’re in public having a great time: out to dinner, in a park, or at some other outing
If you don’t have a separate bank account for purchasing gifts, think about saving up and paying cash for your gift. If she has to pay the bill for your present, it definitely kills the buzz (especially if she will think you over or under-paid for it). If finances are an issue, save up your spare change to spend on her (you can even let her know that’s your plan).
When a Gift Goes Wrong
What if your best effort falls flat? It’s possible the gift of clothing, jewelry, or other item will not be a great fit for her personal style. If this happens, it’s as difficult for her as it is for you. She wants very much to honor your gift without encouraging more purchases like it. You’ll have to read her body language very closely; you should be able to tell the difference between love and not-so-much-love for your effort.
If you can see it doesn’t work for her, it’s okay to acknowledge it out loud. “I can see you love the idea, but maybe not so much the execution. Should we exchange it and find something that you love? I want you to feel as beautiful wearing it as I think you look.” If she exchanges your gift, pay attention to (or ask) what she likes better about her choice. Make notes, learn, and grow. She will definitely give you credit for trying.
If you need the bumper sticker version of this entire guide, here it is: “Simple. Personal. Meaningful.” It’ll work every time.
Candace Moody is a writer based in Jacksonville, Florida. She has been married for many years to the love of her life and a great gift giver. Find her at candacemoody.com.