My general philosophy when it comes to gifts is to 1) figure out what you want and 2) email out a detailed registry tell the people in your life what that is. Unless all your loved ones are some combination of rich, stylish, and psychic, or you genuinely don’t give a shit (LOL), this is the best way to ensure you don’t end up pouting through Christmas day and getting a lecture about your “attitude.” Also, people will probably thank you for saving them hours of half-hearted Amazon scrolling dedicated research, so it’s a win for everyone.
When it comes to SOs, though, this is a little trickier. You can chant “it’s the thought that counts” to yourself all you want while your boyfriend hands you a gift, but there’s going to be a little part of you that’s disappointed if the gift he chose doesn’t demonstrate that he’s willing to spend a lot of money on you he pays attention to your style/interests/Pinterest board and thoughtfully found something that you genuinely love. And of course, because boyfriends are meant to be life-completing soulmates who know you better than you know yourself (thanks a lot, Disney/patriarchy), he’d ideally have found this gift without your help. Personally, because I’m shallow AF, I still opt for giving clear and direct guidance here—but if you care about your gift being a surprise, I’d give general guidelines (e.g. “stuff” gift vs. “experience” gift, all your relevant sizes) and then set him loose. Here’s what the gift he comes up with says about your relationship.
Disclaimer: These analyses don’t really apply if you’ve been together forever/told him what you wanted and he got it. This is specifically for unrequested gifts from short- to medium-term SOs.
There’s a bit of a range here, depending on what exactly he got you. If it’s an okay-but-not-great sweater, he likely enlisted his mom’s help for this gift and yet isn’t sure he sees a future with you—he just talks to his mom a lot. If it’s a gorgeous cashmere sweater, or a dress you’re actually excited to wear out, he has good taste and knows what you like/look good in. He also actually gives a shit and was probably really excited for you to open this (aka lock it down). If he buys you jeans or athletic wear (like, sports bras, not cool joggers/leggings you’ve ordered in front of him 40 times), he’s either an outdoorsy/CrossFit guy who has a tiny orgasm every time he saves five cents and thinks gifts should be “practical,” or he’s secretly a life coach hired by your mom. If the jeans were under $150 and any kind of boot-cut/flare, I’d dump him immediately or look forward to 20 years of shopping Black Friday sales at Old Navy.
This is a suspect gift, because there are very few straight males who would actually do a good job of picking this out. So, assuming he picked this out himself, he’s either gotten you an eye shadow palette that doubles as clown paint, or the G-string and stilettos he saw on PornHub last night, because that’s his understanding of “girly shit,” and he has no idea who you are as a person. And if he gets you legitimately nice makeup, shoes, or lingerie, you have three troubling options to consider: 1) this is a gift his ex-girlfriend really liked/requested 2) he has a way-too-involved female friend who’s secretly in love with him 3) he’s gay he legitimately knows more about fashion, beauty, and women’s underwear than you do, which is something you’ll have to decide if you’re okay with. Basically, nice makeup or shoes is a sneaky red flag and you should def investigate further.
I know girls aren’t supposed to ask for jewelry and it raises up engagement ring-related issues and blah blah but honestly, I think jewelry is a classic gift that, with some subtle nudging, is hard to mess up. If you’re even semi-serious and he makes enough money to afford better quality than Claire’s, a simple, pretty necklace or bracelet demonstrates that he’s invested (literally) and that he’ll probably get really happy whenever he sees you wear it. He’s also likely a pretty traditional guy who probably waited three dates to get to Bone Town and opens doors for you a lot—so if you’ve spent all week romanticizing the nuptials of someone who pretty recently donned a full Nazi uniform in public swooning over Prince Harry’s engagement to Meghan Markle, this guy is probably a good match.
4. Concert/Event Tickets/Day Trip
In recent years, there’s been a strong trend toward these “experience gifts,” largely consisting of people who voluntarily skydive (by which I mean, unlike Bachelor contestants who are forced into it) looking at you with pity and condescension when you mention the leather jacket you’ve been eyeing for three months. I mean, I guess experience gifts make for better Instas, but please don’t pretend you actually find it “more meaningful because the gift is the memory” or whatever. (Clearly, I am a “stuff gift” person, and I accept that it’s less cool because I have nicer stuff than you. Stop making me feel bad that I haven’t been to a concert in five years.) Ranting aside, these do have the ability to be very cool gifts that relate specifically to your interests (aka he listens when you talk, and doesn’t hate all music you love), and are an excellent sign that the guy in question sees a future with you, since he likely purchased tickets well in advance of the time he’d be attending, with full confidence that you would still be together when that date rolled around. These gifts are less cool if it’s clearly an event that only he will enjoy (one of HIS favorite artists, anything sport- or beer-related that you haven’t specifically mentioned you share an interest in), and he’s using the whole “experience gift” mythology as a way of pretending this is a thoughtful gift anyway.
5. Homemade And/Or “Trinkets”
Again, if you’re the kind of person who does actually think it’s the thought that counts (anyone?), this could be the best kind of gift to receive and has the potential to be very well-thought-out and sweet. On the other hand, if you’re the kind of person who is dead inside can appreciate sentiment but also likes nice things, even a sweet and thoughtful version of this will make you feel doubly like shit: first, for not appreciating the gesture; and second, for being with a guy who probably doesn’t understand why you need to bring more than underwear and a toothbrush for a week-long vacation. If he gets you this kind of gift and you’re disappointed with it, this is probably a sign that you two aren’t very compatible long-term. I’ve found that guys who insist on treating you as though you’re low-maintenance (when you’ve made it abundantly clear that you’re not) often don’t have a ton of respect for your values or priorities, and inherently view their mindset as “objectively correct.” You don’t need to settle for that, and it’s perfectly okay to want more than a handwritten note and a cookie from the Starbucks where you met for Christmas.
The most important test is obviously whether or not you like the gift he gives you: whatever category it falls into, gifts that make you happy are good gifts and no one else’s opinion matters. But if your winter cuff has slid over into just-serious-enough for gifts territory and you want to use this as a Hunger Games-type trial for his worthiness, feel free to rank his choices using the above scale—and if you drop ANY hints about gift-giving in the upcoming weeks, lead with the fact that gift receipts and lax return policies are always a good investment.