“Have Any Holiday Gift Ideas?”

Dear Lovesick Billy,
I never know what to get my wife for Christmas. I always end up running around all day on Christmas Eve, and she knows exactly what I’m doing, which makes it look like I haven’t put any thought into her gifts. And last year, she had to go to Christmas Eve at her parents without me because I was shopping, so I looked like an ass to the whole family. If that’s not bad enough, what I got her is sitting in a box in the garage. What am I doing wrong?
– Carmine, Naples

Dear Carmine,
Well, at least you didn’t send this email on December 24th, so that’s a good start. Here are some ideas for this year and next:

This year:

  • Experiences beat stuff, any day. Pottery classes, concerts, a trip somewhere they’ve always wanted to go. Don’t choose cooking lessons unless she’s into that and mentioned them specifically – same goes for gym memberships or yoga. Put the tickets or itinerary in a big box (weighted with something heavy) to keep ‘em guessing.
  • Go shopping with ‘em as soon as possible, for OTHER people’s gifts. If it’s your love you’re with, turn it into a romantic experience: walk along holding hands. As you move past the shops, pay attention to the stores and items that catch their eye. If you really, really hate to shop, consider this punishment for your bad planning.
  • What do they love to do? Gardening? Do they have the right gardening tools? Painting? How about a nice box for paints, or an easel? Photography? What about framing some of their work as a gift, or compiling it in a photo album? (If you’re a Mac geek, there’s an amazing feature in iPhoto that allows you to assemble a book of photos and upload it to Apple. In a few days the collection returns as a bound book that the whole family will definitely cherish.)
  • Ask friends or family, if you’re close to them. They can be an invaluable resource. And if they’re friends worth having, they’re certainly not going to tip your hand. In fact, it’ll be a great reflection on you that you care enough to ask.

Next year:

  • Go shopping together occasionally. It doesn’t mean guys have to paw through endless racks of dresses, or that girls have to explore all of the nuances of belt sanders (unless that’s your bag) but you’ll get an idea of where you both shop, and what you like. If you’re game try on swimsuits or lingerie for each other. That could make the whole trip well worth it after you’re home. Pay equal attention to the shops you each avoid. You’ll both likely comment about this thing or that, so listen. Again, make it a time for the two of you to learn more about each other. Hold hands. Share an ice cream cone. This is a perfect opportunity to get ideas, without it being a dead giveaway that the things might appear under the tree.
  • What do they look at online? Okay, so you can’t buy George Clooney, but do they research scuba lessons, or Fiji, or zen gardening, or Prada? All valuable information. Take it a step further by making favorites folders for each of you in your browser, bookmarking stuff you like or stuff you’d like to do, all year long. Then come gift-giving times, the guesswork is gone but the mystery isn’t.
  • Make a vision board. This is great practice for life in general. Place a cork board up in a place where both of you can pin notes and images about goals, dreams, and desires. It’ll help you remember what you’re aimed at in general, but some gift-worthy things just might make their way onto the board.
  • Consider clutter. Sometimes knowing the best gift to give is knowing the ones not to give. Is it faddish? Is it something they’ll use or admire daily, or is it something that will be cute for the day and later just be something to dust?

Whatever you choose, the most important thing is not the price of the gift, but the love that’s in it. That’s priceless.

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