Monday, November 30, 2009

Naughty or Nice?

The holidays are right around the corner. As if it isn’t hard enough trying to figure what to give your father who has everything he could possibly want (otherwise, he’d buy it himself…) or what the going rate is for NYC doormen in a recession, now add to that the question “what gift is appropriate for someone you’ve only been dating a few weeks or a couple of months?” No gift? A card? A Starbucks gift card? (I do not recommend that one).

For couples who have just started dating this time of year is particularly difficult to navigate. Everywhere you go, you are reminded that the holidays are right around the corner (I kid you not, I was hearing “Jingle Bells” in Bed Bath & Beyond before Halloween). If only the three wise men were on hand to let you know what gift would put you in good standing and what gifts will result in charcoal in your stocking next year.

Yes, we know it’s not about the gift per se. As cliché as it may sound, whatever you give, it truly is the thought that counts. Especially now when the poor economy has made people take stock of what really matters. Still … there’s no denying that there are inherent expectations this time of year that, if not met, lead to disappointment, resentment and a notable lack of holiday cheer. And these expectations go well beyond the gift giving but also to plan-making (Geez, is New Year’s just 4 and ½ weeks away?) and staying in close phone/email contact when holiday travels take you to different time zones.

But let’s stick with the gift giving for the purposes of this blog which in some ways is the easiest part of the equation (knowing when it’s time to spend the holidays together, meet family, etc. now that can be a doozey). Obviously, if you’ve only had two or three dates, you’re safe with a “have a great holiday” sign off via email or phone and “let’s get together when you get back into town.” Past the token first few dates, though, things can get tricky. Of course, you can never go wrong with a nice card – even if it says a most generic “Happy Holidays – looking forward to spending more time together in the New Year.” Guys, this would do wonders for the new woman in your lives and it only costs $4.99. Even sending an e-card is better than nothing.

But what about the actual gift giving? What should one get? As any jaded dater can figure out, if you pick out a gift that is too lavish too soon you run the risk of scaring off your new paramour. On the other hand, if you refrain from placing anything under the tree (or near the menorah), then you also send a message which you hope is appropriately timed (e.g. “it’s too soon for this gift giving thing” – that’s fine if it’s three weeks, probably not going to fly with the ladies after three months).
[1] Ok, ok, so, yes Guys, for purposes of this blog there has already been some level of intimacy (I know the guys are thinking when contemplating theoretically what would be an appropriate gift: "have I seen her naked? Have we slept together?" Girls are wondering "is he calling every day?" These things do factor into the equation). Continuing with the questions… what gifts show thoughtfulness and appreciation for the other person, what gift might send the wrong message?

If you are in the beginning stages of a relationship, the gift should most likely be relatively small – as we all know, you could very well be broken up next week and here you are having given a pricey Tiffany’s bracelet to someone you may very well never talk to again. In my opinion, books are a perfect small gift (as least for guys) in a new relationship assuming the object of your affection likes to read as they are something someone can potentially have forever. And you never forget the person who gave you a book that really impacted you. In addition, if you give your new romantic interest a book that you really love, it can also be a way for that person to get a better sense of who you are as well as provide a way for you two to connect even more. Other good gift items for guys could be cigars, a good bottle of wine or liquor, boxers, cool cufflinks, a gift certificate for a hard core Swedish massage at his gym, CDs to learn Italian if he’s been talking about wanting to get in touch with his Latin heritage … or any gift that shows you’ve been paying attention and were thinking of him.

For women, you could also try books (Guys, if you’re not sure where her interests lie, casually check out what’s on her bookshelf next time you’re over) though I think some women would find this gift not to be romantic enough (if there are no books in her apartment that might be a good clue not to do your shopping at Barnes and Noble). Maybe consider nice gloves and a matching scarf so she can wear them and tell people you picked them out for her. Even a quality picture frame might also work (it has the hidden message that she might fill it with a picture of the two of you someday) … or you might really impress her if you notice that she is in need of something and fill the void before she gets the opportunity (i.e. noticing that she is running low on her perfume, etc.). Most women I know are always in need of good body lotions (ask a good girlfriend what a desirable brand is – Dove is probably not going to earn you any points). This is a gift that has a dual impact – it’s slightly sensual but also practical. Nice candles could also be a good gift and they can be used to set the right ambiance on a cold winter’s eve.

While artistic, handcrafted jewelry could also be a great gift (a new boyfriend once gave me a relatively inexpensive but very cool pair of earring from a new jewelry designer that I loved for the holidays – it was a perfect gift), I would be very careful about giving any jewelry unless you are pretty confident about your new girlfriend’s taste – you’d hate to have your gift sit in the jewelry box all year or worse regifted in a Secret Santa office swap. And just as I suggested for the men, what woman wouldn’t appreciate a gift certificate for an hour massage at a nice NYC salon or spa (maybe pass on the Swedish massage and opt for hot stone therapy)?

These are all relatively inexpensive gifts that are not charged with too much symbolism but also show you are invested on some level.
[2] Whatever the gift is that’s being shared, I think we can all agree that as long as the other person’s trying, he or she gets the green light (no matter how far from your taste the gift might be, try to keep in mind that old expression regarding looking a gift horse in the mouth – generally not a good idea as they have very bad breath).[3] Hopefully, you’ll have another whole year for your new guy or gal to get to know your taste – and possibly a lifetime together to get this whole gift giving ritual down.

Readers, if you have any good suggestions for thoughtful, inexpensive gifts for members of the opposite sex, please feel free to post them (and stories of interesting/inappropriate holiday gifts are also welcome for a good pre-holiday laugh).

[1] For starters, there should be open communication on this topic. You never know if the other person is also planning to show his or her excitement over your budding romance with some token of his or her affection. I think most people agree that they hate being taken by surprise when someone presents them with a gift and they are caught empty handed. One suggestion is to say to your new love interest, “hey, I picked you up something small. Nothing big at all, just something I think you’ll like.” Now he or she has been duly warned. Similarly, if you don’t “do” gifts during the holiday season (perhaps you don’t agree with the commercialism of the holidays), it’s also important to let your new significant other know. That way there is no misunderstanding or hard feelings.

[2] If you have some special skill where you can make a gift for your sweetie, even better. But if your one skill is making wood plate holders with a ceramic center (a la 7th Grade Home Ec.) you might want to hold off another year or two … or indefinitely.

[3] Ok, I know you’re busy this time of year… I’ll save you the effort of having to click onto the link: “[t]he value of a horse is related to its age - i.e., a younger horse is more valuable than an older horse. You can determine the relative age of a horse by inspecting its teeth. Back in the day, a horse was commonly given as a gift. If a man received a horse as a gift, and then inspected inside its mouth, he was trying to assess the value of the gift he received. So, the saying means that you should not assess the value of any gift that you receive; rather you should be thankful for the thoughtfulness of the gift-giver.”

Curious to know what Sunday at Noon is about and the services Marni offers? Contact Marni at to learn more about becoming a client. Like all good things this time of year, holiday discount available through December 24th. Why not give yourself the gift of love this year? Sunday at Noon: It’s completely confidential, it’s fun and it’s effective.


  1. I know you're thinking that a gift card is way too impersonal at the early stages of a relationship, but it can be "dressed for success." Rather than picking out a book from Barnes and Noble, get his a gift card to B&N, but then also give her a list of your top 5 favorite books. Or handmake a bookmark--something simple that shows your personality. (Duct tape is considered a craft supply you know!) Does she like to cook? How about a gift card to the cooking store, attached to a wire whisk and a note that says, "Whisking you a Merry Christmas." Does she like movies? Get her a gc to the movies, a box of tissues, and tell her you'll sit through a chick flick of her choosing. I could keep going...but let's talk guys and gift cards.

    Is he a sports fan? Get him a gift card to a sporting event and some suitable snacks (e.g. cracker jacks for MLB game). Sending him to a man-game will definitely earn you points in the potentially best girlfriend ever category. Get an iTunes gift card and write the words, "You Rock" or "You are rocking my world." Download a playlist of your favorites or make a mix of songs you think he'll like. Should I keep going?

    You get the picture. With a few finishing touches, you can turn any gift card into a thoughtful gift, and that is especially important at the beginning of a relationship.

  2. Thanks for the post, Shelley. You are right - I would have said that a gift card was a definite no-go (aside from the specific one for a massage) BUT your post most certainly makes a compelling argument for gift cards if done right! And you gave anyone who read the blog some excellent ideas!