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Gift Giving Guide - What Is Your Gift Saying?

Gift Giving Guide - What Is Your Gift Saying?

Gift Giving Guide - What Is Your Gift Saying?

Advice Seeker :
Dear April Masini,

I've been dating my girlfriend for five months and I'm stumped about what to give her (and how much I should spend) for special occasions and holidays. Do you have any advice on gifts that are appropriate for different stages of a relationship?

Gift Giving Confusion


April Masini's Advice :

Dear Gift Giving Confusion,

At five months you may or may not know how serious you are about this woman, but you can be sure that your gift is going to telegraph a crucial message to her. It's going to tell her a little more about how you feel about her. That's why holiday gift giving can take on stress you didn't even know you had. The reason is that holidays are traditionally times when gifts are exchanged between loved ones and business colleagues. And messages are conveyed by the kind of gift given. A $50 box of chocolates will send a completely different message than a $50 pair of fine panties. And a $100 gold bracelet will send a very different message than a $100 toaster. So while it's definitely better to give than to receive, giving thought-lessly, can throw the recipient of your gift into a tailspin. And if you're having a relationship with that recipient, you're going to be in that tailspin as well.

Expectations In New Relationships:

Giving a gift can be a daunting proposition if your relationship is new and you haven't exchanged gifts -- or many gifts -- already. For couples who have exchanged gifts already, a pattern becomes established. You get used to what each of you gives the other -- whether it's an expected Hallmark card or a lavish surprise every time -- there is an ease in gift giving if you both want to keep things status quo and you know what that status quo is. But if you haven't exchanged gifts before, and the holidays are upon you, the pressure can get to you!

For instance at Christmas, a gift of a music CD may be interpreted as thoughtful because it's an artist he knows you love, or it's the music that played on your first date (even though you've only had four dates so far). However, it can also be interpreted as a dud gift—he didn't think about what I really like, it's impersonal, I bet he gives everyone CDs including his doorman, it didn't cost enough, I was hoping for jewelry or something more feminine and meaningful, etc. See how this can become a dilemma? And yes, the wrong gift can end a relationship—especially when you've been dating a year or more, and she expects a ring  but you only come up with the Hammacher-Schlemmer massage chair instead. Yes, it's expensive, yes it's thoughtful, yes you even wrote her a card to go with it, but no—it didn't fit the bill.

Where Are You In The Relationship?:

Here are some guidelines I like to give to people who want to know how much to spend. While it may seem crass to put dollar amounts on relationship time, the elegance is that knowing the proper amount to spend makes it easier to relax and enjoy the shopping and the gift giving if you know what you should be spending. Mind you -- these are just guidelines. But they are guidelines that work. Being in any long term relationship involves shopping! And it's an important part of a relationship to explore. So try these guidelines on for size.

  • $50 and under for less than 3 months.
  • $100 and under for 6 months and under.
  • $250 and under for up to 9 months.
  • Up to $500 for up to a year

Money Isn't Everything:

In fact, if you think that now that you've got the knowledge about the amount of money you should spend, down, that you're off the hook, you're wrong! Knowing how much to spend is crucial. But so is conveying the right message. Your relationship is personal, and there are unique things that you can give your girlfriend that won't make sense to anyone else. For instance, if she's an orchid collector, the gift of a rare, exotic and expensive orchid may be as romantic to her as jewelry may be to another woman. However, if you show up with a dozen roses and she was expecting a marriage proposal and some serious jewelry, you're going to have a bumpy Christmas holiday.

Getting Out Of A Gift Rut:

If you want to convey the message of status quo, and you've been dating six to twelve months, jewelry is great -- but a ring will send the wrong message. Stick to a beautiful bracelet, necklace or earrings. If you want to downgrade the relationship because you're having doubts, and it's been six months to a year of dating, give her a cashmere sweater or a beautiful datebook that shows you care, but you're not ready to consider getting really serious just yet. If you want to upgrade the relationship from casual dating to show that you are seriously interested in this woman, then give her a gift that will have special meaning to her, like a weekend away, a serious piece of jewelry, or something that she needs for her home, like a stereo.

And If You Don't Have Much:

There are ways to upgrade the relationship without maxing out your credit card limits. For instance, you can give her a key to your apartment and a necklace with a lock and key on it, to show her that symbolically, she has the key to your heart -- and the key to your home because you want her in both places. You can write her a letter -- the kind you never write because it's too hard to be that intimate, telling her your deepest feelings and hopes for the two of you. And then put the letter in a box of engraved stationery with her name on it, and stamp and address the first envelope with your name on it, hoping she'll write to you with her feelings, too.

If You Get It Wrong:

Fix it! The best laid plans can often go awry, and if you do give her something and you know it wasn't what she wanted -- and you realize you goofed -- exchange it! Or give her another gift! Keep it light, and remember that great relationships are based on expressing feelings, expressing affection (through gifts and otherwise), and making adjustments when you both see a discrepancy. Getting the wrong gift can be a great way to get to know her better -- and if you have a sense of humor, next Christmas, you can start off the gift giving with the wrong present -- and then give her the one you know she really wants. This way, you aren't just giving her a gift, you're cementing a history between yourselves, and you're showing each other that you both make mistakes, and you know how to correct them. What better gift to a relationship is there than that!