At any point in a relationship, finding a meaningful gift for your significant other can be stressful. With all of the pressure around the holidays to give the latest, shiniest gifts, it’s easy to lose sight of why we give them in the first place: to show appreciation for another person. When searching for the right gift for your partner this year, think about the stage and level of commitment in your relationship. That alone can provide some of the greatest insight into the kind of gifts you should consider.
While it can be incredibly satisfying to express yourself through giving, it’s also important to know when to hold out. Speaking from personal experience, there is nothing worse than giving a gift to someone who doesn't appreciate your effort. To avoid this painful mistake, think about whether this person would be willing to spend the same amount of time and energy on finding a gift for you. If you’re not sure, it’s safer to go with a smaller expression of affection, like a holiday card or a night at the movies. If you are still in the gray dawn of a relationship, any thoughtful gesture should be enough to put stars in their eyes.
Once you’ve gotten to know your partner better and have spent a good amount of time together (I’d say that’s about 4-6 months), you can begin to think about what’s on their wish list. I like to start small, with items that reflect their personal aesthetic and will actually be useful. Does your guy collect vinyl, or have a favorite author? Is his old wallet frayed around the edges? When he comes to stay at your place, does he bring his toothbrush and contact solution in a Ziploc bag? Look for a small but impactful way to improve your partner's daily routine. Monogrammed leather accessories, like this travel case from Mon Purse, are always a safe and tasteful bet.
After a year of dating, it's appropriate to give your significant other something a bit more intimate. I’m talking about fragrance. Fragrance is deeply personal, sometimes even ritualistic, and has the ability to leave an impression on others. Around our first Christmas together, I took my boyfriend to Sephora (he’s a keeper), and had him try about a dozen colognes until we came across Tom Ford Noir Extreme. It’s since become his signature scent; sometimes I even steal a spritz. When selecting a fragrance for your partner, make sure that it’s not too great a departure from what they already wear. It never hurts to bring them along, as choosing a scent together can be a fun and revealing experience.
When you’re going steady, the best gifts are those that will help your partner invest in their hobbies or interests. Think about how they spend their free time. Are they into intramural sports? What about music or filmmaking? At the two-year mark, I bought my boyfriend a vintage Les Paul guitar because music is his dream. Unfortunately I can’t make him practice it, but it looks gorgeous on our wall. Open your partner’s closet. Is there anything missing? Sometimes a new statement piece, like an All Saints leather jacket, or a sleek pair of KOIO sneakers, is just the thing to elevate their look.
Jewelry is another personal gift that requires comprehensive knowledge of your partner’s taste. I once had an uncomfortable conversation with a now ex-boyfriend because he gave me a necklace that was nowhere near something I would wear. It was big and silver, and I have never been a big, silver kind of girl. It hurt him to see my hesitation in accepting it (I’ve never been great at deception), and I wondered how he’d failed to noticed my taste over four years. The moral of the story is this: when buying jewelry for someone you love, make sure it’s similar to the things they wear every day. And if you’re in doubt about whether they would wear it, it’s best to just ask.
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In a long-term committed relationship, the absolute best gift you can give one another is your time and attention. Building experiences together, whether that be on a trip to a foreign country, learning a new language, starting a gym membership together, or taking a cooking class will strengthen your bond and deepen your appreciation for one another.
Listening, rather than projecting your own ideas onto your partner, is so important. When he or she needs a special tool in the kitchen, wishes they had warm winter boots, or pines over a beautiful outfit in a store window, take note. I keep a running list of my boyfriend’s most desired items on my phone, and add to it whenever he mentions something new. When it comes time for the holidays, I am more than informed about what he needs, and what will make him happy.
Remember that it’s not the size or price of a gift that makes it special. The perfect present is one that honors your partner’s wishes, and will help you grow together as a couple.