The Ultimate Valentine's Day Gift Guide Based On Your Relationship Status
In some ways, Valentine's Day might seem like the most low-key holiday of the year — one that's possible to take as seriously or lightly as you choose. But it's not all conversation hearts and homemade, heart-shaped pizzas. The celebration of love can also present pressure you didn't see coming — especially when it comes to Valentine's Day gifting. How do you find the right gift for your situationship versus someone with whom you just DTRed?
Rest assured, this gifting stress is very normal. "In the act of giving gifts, we're exposing our feelings and that can feel scary — in both a new or even an established relationship — because we don't feel confident in how our recipient will respond," acknowledges Stephanie Macadaan, a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Bay Area, California.
And while yes, it's the thought that counts, it's also true that your gift should match your intentions and your relationship status. "If you're very early on in dating, a very grand or expensive gesture might be well received, but could also potentially give the impression that you're very eager to lock things down.
Conversely, in a very long-term relationship, a token gesture could potentially be taken as a sign that you've checked out or lead to conflict if your partner does something far more elaborate," says Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and author of Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life.
Here, relationship experts share their best tips for Valentine's Day gifting at every stage of a relationship — from a casual connection with long-term potential to post-"I do."
Who: You're part-friends, part-hookup buddies who see one another casually but for more than just sex — no labels, no strings, no definition, and often, quite a bit of confusion.
What: "Get them something that shows you really understand who they are," advises Macadaan. Maybe it reflects an experience you shared together — a day pass to a favorite amusement park — or an item that makes you think of them, like a journal or, if they've expressed an interest in learning more about aromatherapy or want to up their self-care game, an essential oil diffuser. "You want something that shows you've been thinking of them and get them," says Macadaan.
Stage: Early Dating
Who: Someone you've been out with a handful of times and have yet to define the relationship with.
What: "In the very early stages of a relationship, a gift that helps you get to know each other better can be a great way to go," suggests Lehmiller, who recommends Lovehoney's Oh! Kinky Confessions Truth or Dare Pack. "It's a fun game that can help to break the ice when it comes to sex and intimacy and help you to better understand what each of you find to be turn-ons," he notes. "If you pair a game like this with a nice dinner out and maybe some wine, you have the basis for a fun evening that can help you to grow closer and move to the next stage of your relationship."
Theresa DiDonato, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Loyola University in Maryland, agrees, noting, "Gifts are a chance to not only show your romantic interest, but to facilitate greater connection. So while chocolates or flowers are also an appropriate way to acknowledge the holiday in a traditional way, an alternative approach would be to focus on developing closeness through tickets to an event that your partner would like (e.g., basketball, a concert) in the near future," DiDonato says.
Macadaan adds that a cooking class or museum membership could also do the trick. "An experience gift indicates, 'I want to share this with you, and I want to get to know you more,'" she notes.
Stage: Newly Official
Who: You've recently DTR'ed and are exclusive.
What: "If you're newly official, don't underestimate the power of a card, first and foremost," advises Lauren Cook, a San Diego-based therapist. "Especially if your partner loves words of affirmation, a card goes a long way. Other great ideas include a blank picture frame (with a note that you can't wait to make a photo memory to put in it), a plant to take care of, or tickets to a fun show that you can see together."
Stage: You've Met Their Friends and Family
Who: You've been together a few months and have met one another's VIPs.
What: "If you've been together a while and you've built up a good degree of trust and intimacy, it might be time to start sharing — and acting on — your sexual fantasies and explore your innermost desires," suggests Lehmiller. "You might take this on a weekend getaway where you do fun outdoorsy activities by day (like hiking or skiing), and go on a new sexual adventure in bed each night."
And if you're at the point that you've met your partner's family, the relationship is clearly feeling more solid, and there's potential for a long-term future, so a keepsake — like a monogrammed leather good or piece of jewelry — is appropriate, notes Macadaan. "It doesn't have to be monetarily expensive — just something that says, 'You're valuable and important to me,'" she explains.
Stage: Long-Term Relationship
Who: You've been together a year or more.
What: "By this point in the relationship, you should have an understanding of what your partner cares deeply about, your shared values and passions, and an understanding at a deeper level how you both like to spend time together," points out Dana McNeil, PsyD, LMFT, a San Diego-based relationships expert and founder of The Relationship Place.
"Anything that supports your commitment to helping your partner be the best version of themselves and your belief in them is always a great choice," notes McNeil. For example, if your partner has been talking about going back to school or finding a new career, maybe you can surprise them with a revised resume or a new laptop to start them on their journey, she says.
This could also be the perfect time for a sentimental gift, points out Cook. "A notebook or scrapbook detailing what you love about your partner can really hit home," she says. "Other partners appreciate acts of service and getting some extra help, like having meals sent through HelloFresh or another platform, can be a great way to give your partner more free time."
And you also can't go wrong with something fresh that is going to add a little pizazz to the relationship, says Macadaan. "We want to keep our relationships fresh and evolving and growing," she explains, suggesting a gift like a pair of roller skates or a spontaneous splurge-y hotel stay or spa day.
The Bottom Line on Valentine's Day Gifting, According to Relationship Stage
Lehmiller encourages people not to stress out too much about finding the "perfect" Valentine's Day gift. "We'd all do well to relax a bit with this," he notes. "The goal isn't perfection — it's simply showing love and appreciation for your partner, and there are a lot of different ways to demonstrate this." The first step, in Lehmiller's opinion? "Matching expectations between partners is key, which is why some communication in advance to get on the same page can go a long way toward relieving stress."
The bottom line to bear in mind no matter what stage you're in, according to Macadaan: "If we're trying to meet the other's expectation or guess what they want, we miss the mark because we're overthinking," she notes. "The best gift will be one that's authentic to how you feel."