How to Get the Valentine's Day Gift You Want

February 8th, 2013

If I had a dime for every friend who’s said to me, “My husband kept buying me the worst gifts, so I finally gave up and told him that from now on I’ll buy my own gifts,” I would have . . . a lot of dimes. Actually, I wish I had a thousand dollars for every time someone told me that. Or a diamond necklace. Why’d I pick a dime?images-1

Anyway, the point is: most men are terrible at picking out gifts. I’m not sure why. We could take pity on them and say that they try, bless their little hearts. Or we could be honest and say they don’t pay close enough attention to the women (or men) in their lives to notice what that person really wants.

A friend of ours once broke gifts down into three categories:

A) The generic gift. You’ve bought a million of these to give to teachers or distant friends: the little soaps, the bath salts, the bottle of wine . . . You can give them to anyone. The whole point of them is that there’s nothing personal about them. They’re safe and uninspired.

B) The thoughtful personal gift. This is the one women want, because it means their loved one has been paying attention. He remembered that when you were staying at that hotel, you loved using the Keurig coffeemaker and so he surprises you with one of your own on your birthday. Like that.

C) The “It’s what I would want” gift. The giver’s too inside his own head to think deeply about what the recipient wants, so when he goes to the store and sees that . . . you know . . . luggage scale or whatever it was he’s been wanting, he buys it and gives it to you, even though you have never wanted to weigh a suitcase in your life.

Guess which kind of gift most men give?


Which explains why women have become adapt at unwrapping gifts, plastering smiles on their faces and saying, “Wow, thanks. This is . . . amazing.” It also explains why so many of my friends have taken to sending their husbands emails that say, “Just ordered myself this [see link below]. It’ll be your gift to me this Valentine’s Day. Thanks!”

But that seems a little sad to me.  The whole point of receiving a gift, as far as I’m concerned, is feeling like someone thought about you. Like attention has been paid.

But what do you do if the guy you love simply sucks at giving gifts? Here are a few tips to get him out of his own head and into yours. (That sounds weird. Okay, moving on . . .)

1. Positive reinforcement. As the mother of four and the owner of many pets, I’m a huge believer in behavioral interventions. You want someone to behave well? You start congratulating that person from day one on the slightest effort in the right direction. Example: “A car deodorizer? How nice. You remembered I like when things smell nice!” Sure, you didn’t want a car deodorizer, but you’ve just made him feel good for remembering something personal about you and he’s going to want more of that good feeling.

2. Rephrasing. You know how a good teacher never tells a student that her answer is wrong, but instead manages to twist what the student said into something helpful to the entire class? “What an interesting point you just made, Cindy! I don’t think Shakespeare was actually a time traveler, but he certainly knew how to find great stories from the past and reuse them.” Like that. Well, you can do the same thing when you open up a gift. “A light for the outdoor grill! Did you get this at Sur La Table because you know how much I love almost everything at that store?” Sure, it still has the Home Depot tag on it, but at least now he knows where he should shop for you.

3. Hinting. Believe it or not, the two of you share the same goal: for you to receive a halfway decent gift. Help him out. Start a while before the holiday. Be obvious. This is a man. He’s not going to notice subtle hints. Call him over to your laptop, point to the screen, and say, “How great is that? I really love that. Don’t you love that? I don’t know why I love it so much, but I really really do.” It wouldn’t hurt to toss in a mention of the upcoming holiday somewhere in the middle of all this. “Isn’t this just so great? Hey, I just remembered it’s almost Valentine’s Day–I keep forgetting about that. Anyway, I just love this so much.”

4. Enlist outside help. When my daughter was in kindergarten, she picked out a necklace for her teacher that Ms. G still wears to this day. So I figured out pretty quickly that she should go gift-shopping with her dad. And he’s been grateful for her advice ever since. But even if you don’t have a live-in gifting genius, you can turn to others. I have a friend who will happily corral anyone’s husband and tell him directly what he should get his wife for a big occasion. He gets the info he needs and his wife gets the gift she wants. You and your friends can do it for each other! That’s what friends are for.

5. Be blunt–at least at first. Okay, I know I said that ideally the gift giver figures out what the recipient wants all on his own, but that’s the dream and sometimes you have to accept reality. If your guy is trying but is truly incapable of figuring this out on his own, give him some guidance. At least at first. Once he gets the hang of it, he’ll be able to keep going. Last year I said to my husband, “Enough with the chocolates. I like donuts better.” So he switched to donuts.

6. Appreciate whatever he gives you. This one may surprise you. After all, the problem is that he’s giving you something you can’t appreciate, right? Wrong. You can always appreciate a gift. So maybe it’s not something you wanted–but at least he tried. I mean, in life, if someone’s standing in front of you looking hopeful and holding out a wrapped present—that’s a good thing. So take the damn gift and be kind about it. Because you know what? Kindness is a good thing in a relationship. In both directions. Which leads to my last bit of advice:

7. Give him wonderful and thoughtful presents when the tables are turned. If you start raising the bar when it comes to gift-giving, he will too. It’s called “modeling” and it works. And even if it doesn’t . . . you’ve done something nice for someone you love. How bad is that?