The art of good gift giving
Gift-giving these days is a lost art. There is nothing more satisfying than receiving an unexpected gift, but the custom has fallen out of favour in our modern times of ultra-convenience where we can have anything we want in an instant. In ancient times gift-giving was the cornerstone of all social etiquette, from kings and queens (forging diplomatic new alliances with other nations), all the way down to the farmers and peasants (expressing thanks to God).
A good, well-chosen gift is in many ways the ultimate act of appreciation – it shows your friends, partners and family that you pay close attention to the things they say and do, whilst giving you the opportunity to express your own personality. When we wistfully think back to our previous relationships, we often most vividly recall the gifts – that surprise city break to Paris, that necklace he bought that you would never buy yourself, that mix-tape she made when you first met.
But gift-giving is not easy. Some are a lot better at it than others. There’s always one person in every family who outshines the rest every Christmas with their thoughtfully conceived and beautifully wrapped presents. The mere existence of such people may cause the rest of us to suffer from major cases of ‘gift anxiety’ – the crippling fear that what you purchase will be rejected.
With new relationships it’s even harder, as there’s more at stake. A poorly judged personalised shower cap for your almost-bald uncle is never going to change the fact that he’s your blood relative, but for us singles an error on that scale could mean the difference between a bright new relationship and never seeing your date again.
Worry not. Gift giving is less of a technical skill than a personal outlook, and it doesn’t require lots of money to do it well. It’s an extremely useful thing to learn if you’re looking to build a new relationship.. This is especially true of online dating – a carefully chosen gift works beautifully in translating the mutual attraction between two online personas into the mutual attraction between two real human beings. The best gift givers also tend to be excellent listeners and observers of people, making them ideal relationship material.
Luckily, if you want to give good gifts you will, and if you really care, it will show. If you treat gift giving as a necessity, as an obligation, you will give bad gifts and appear disinterested (because you are). Think of it like the secret to a good Facebook status update – the best ones just occur to you, with minimum effort, but if you’re really trying to think of something when you don’t have much to say, you’ll probably embarrass yourself, or just annoy others.
With some patience and love (and a knack for shopping), gift giving will become an enjoyable and useful part of your life, strengthening existing relationships and forging new ones.
So how does one go about becoming a good gift giver?
1. Give them what they want
DON’T superimpose your ideas of what you like onto your date. Gift giving isn’t about you and the life you think your date is missing. If you like bowling, it doesn’t mean your date will necessarily appreciate it, or the top-of-the-range bowling ball you bought them.
Paying close attention is the key to finding appropriate gifts. If your date mentions a book that they’ve been dying to read, make a mental note. If your date makes a comment about their favourite dessert, jot it down in a notebook. Having this information will make gift buying easier and better.
2. Be specific
DON’T waste time and money on something generic, like socks or book tokens. These gifts are bland and overdone and will speak poorly about you as a character. Even if this is a first date, and you barely know what to expect, use your imagination and don’t resort to clichés. Try to think of a gift that is geared specifically toward the particular event, or playfully subvert the norm (e.g., rather than give your date a dozen roses – she would expect that – get her a vintage brooch with a rose on it). A good gift stands out.
3. Never buy anything your date will buy for themselves
DON’T buy something for someone that they could and will probably buy for themselves. Cheap, popular items, such as bestselling books and the latest DVD releases are to be avoided – if your date wants these things they can get them easily any day of the week on the high street or on Amazon.
The best gifts are not always the most obvious, so you have to pay close attention to hunt them down. When searching through magazines, travelling abroad, or wandering through a favourite store, be alert for gift ideas. The best gift givers go out of their way to look at everything as a potential idea for a gift – this is often what makes their gifts so unique and unusual.
4. Keep to a budget
DON’T spend more than the other person would be prepared to spend. Try to roughly match the price with what you’re likely to get in return. Spending too much on a date looks as though you’re trying to buy their affection, and is embarrassing for the other person. On the other hand, spending too little will come across as cold and ungenerous.
Money is one of the top reasons that couples split, primarily due to discomfort when talking about it, so agree on a similar budget. It’s the sentiment that counts, but an imbalance in the cost of your presents will cause problems later if unaddressed.
A great gift idea is to make custom photo books for your loved ones with a collection of your favorite memories together to really show them how much you care.
5. A gift is as good as its wrapping
DON’T skip on the presentation. All gifts – be they from Liberty or a charity shop – can be made more exciting with a personal presentation. Everyone loves the act of unwrapping a present. This may be even to the point where they forget about the present, so immersed as they are in the pleasure of untying ribbon and ripping paper. As a child, my most memorable gift was a couple of inexpensive toys buried inside a never-ending nest of boxes, wrapped in colourful paper, with sweets and hidden messages hidden in between the layers.
Some elaborate presentation is visually striking, affordable and an excellent opportunity for flirting. Turn the act of gift giving into a game with your date. Wrap your gift in a different shaped box, or a nest of boxes as described above, and tease them into guessing what it is. Prolong the excitement all evening and until your partner can’t bear to wait any longer.
6. Keep it simple
DON’T come on too strong. The hard sell has never been attractive. If you’re still in the early stages of dating, then your gifts should reflect that: a bottle of wine, flowers, a journal, chocolates, that sort of thing. Be wary of leaping straight in with the “I love you”s – at this level of a relationship, keep it simple.
7. Giving gifts is optional
DON’T feel obliged to give gifts. Gifts are special because they happen unexpectedly, only every now and again. Nothing particularly has to merit a gift, that’s why they’re special. And if someone gives you a gift, they’re not looking for something in return (if they are, they’re not a real friend). They’re meant to be a pleasant surprise. If you set a precedent for constant gift giving, you crush all the fun out of it.