Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My man is rubbish at giving presents!

Dear ESB,

My man is rubbish at giving presents!
We just had an anniversary where I made two presents, surprises, mystery unwrapping with clues, a romantic date at the cinema, a gig out with friends and much other loveliness. And he got me nothing. I will add that he behaved very lovingly and romantically towards me and said lovely things - held my hand etc, but at the moment, present buying, organising or card making are too traumatic for him(!). This is making me feel very low. I have explained how I feel. Of course it's not the first time and last year there were epic disasters at my birthday. What I want are some creative solutions that work.

His birthday is in a few weeks and I already have a brilliant present for him (it's brilliant). And then it's my birthday and I can't stand any more heartache about this. I realise that my fantasy about being 'cherished like a princess' is perhaps unrealistic, but actually when we do celebrate he has a lot of fun too, and I love the innocence and joy of surprises - they are important to me.

Ok - any success stories/How to's out there?


Some men are good at picking out presents and some of them aren't. Your man isn't.

If you demand a brilliant birthday full of lovely gifts and joyful surprises you're basically setting him up for failure.


(Photo by Kristiina Wilson; Wig by Kate Cusack. Via ecouterre via NOTCOUTURE.)


  1. How true! My hubby sometimes kills me with rockin' surprises, then some times sucks in a HUGE way.

    The best solution is what ESB advuses and I pick out the gift myself. Sure it sucks not being surprised, but it is what it is.

  2. mine too! i was a little butthurt about it until i realized it's just not his thing. i, on the otherhand, love love love picking out/making cool things for him. it makes me happy. so despite his "i dont want a present" protests, i've continued on giving. he thoughtfully picked out the most perfect engagement ring. and, 2 days ago i came home to the biggest bunch of flowers and a pretty cool necklace, just because. be patient, you can't force someone to put more effort towards gifts, might as well just pick em out yourself if thats the case!

  3. UGGGG. i HATE when women complain about stuff like this !! HHHHHHAAAAATTTTTTEEEE !!

    men aren't fucking psychic. cut the guy some slack and just be up front -- 'i'd like a gold charm for my necklace this year' or 'for my birthday, i was hoping you could take me to that nice restaurant that just opened up'. etc.

    THAT SAID, when my boyfriend gave me a tee-shirt reading, 'IT'S MOTHERFUCKING BOOZE TIME' for my birthday several years back, i threw a fucking SHIT FIT. we still joke about it.

  4. Two things:

    1. We don't have to get everything we want out of life from the same person. It sounds like your man is, apart from gift-giving, a loving and sweet guy. So can you start a fun, complicated, fulfilling annual gift exchange with a girlfriend? If you both enjoy it, it might fill your surprise-present needs.

    2. I agree. Tell him what you want. Figure out a way to do this that works for him--in writing, for instance, with the details spelled out. Or an email with links (which is what we do at my house).

  5. My boy commented the other day that I am REALLY EASY to by presents for, unlike any of his past women who he's really struggled with. This could be because a) we are so wonderfully matched, or b) I hadn't even noticed that I do it, but apparently I do tend to point out things that I like A LOT, which means he's always got a constant idea of the type of things I like, and specific things that I REALLY like. In no way am I angling for presents when I do this (particularly as I wasn't even aware I was doing it), but maybe this would help him?

    I actually get a little bit nervous giving people presents unless I know it is EXACTLY what they want - it's the whole rejection/wanting to please thing. Maybe he's worried you won't like whatever he gets you, so doesn't get anything. Try giving him good solid pointers and it might just work.

  6. wishlists on amazon.com...it works well for my husband and i. neither of us ever knows what to get for the other. i am usually stumped but enjoy working to find the perfect thing. my husband does his (adorable) best, and manages to get me wonderful and sweet but practical and unromantic gifts (which i do love). he also can't surprise me for the life of him.

    we do our best to keep accurate, realistic, and up-to-date items in our wishlists on amazon.com, so that we can buy each other gifts that we know the other wants without having to ask them outright.

  7. I second the Amazon wishlists!! That way he can still choose something for you out of a list of things that he knows you will like. Guys just generally aren't into gifting the way we are, and that's okay. They can rock awesome in other, more important, areas of your (collective) life.

    Or you can lower your expectations so that you aren't disappointed (this actually is the secret to life!!). All I want for my birthday? A date at a fancier restaurant then we usually frequent. Time alone with my hunny, delicious food, and a nice bottle of wine? Perfection.

  8. @17 beats, I kinda LOVE that T-shirt. And I kinda want it. REAL BAD.

    @sarah, I like the wishlist idea!

    I am awesome at giving my guy gifts. But, yeah, he's only so-so. One year, for my birthday, he gave me a crockpot. Not kidding. But, it turns out, in the wintertime, we LOVE our crockpot, so it's all good.

    Since then, I've learned to tell him what I want OR tell him where to buy nice things for me. For instance, "Babe, guess what?! My favorite boutique is having a huge sale! Gah, I wish I could afford to get those rockin' boots I tried on last week, now that they're half-price!"

    (Yep, I got those boots as a "surprise!")

    A little nudge goes a long way, no? Good luck. xoxo.

  9. @17 the first thing H-town ever gave me was a t-shirt that said COWGIRLS RIDE EM HARDER.

    I've never never worn it, but I can't seem to give the damn thing away.

  10. Aw, all you guys are letting this dude off the hook so easy. I actually think his sub-par-gift-giving skills show a real lack of effort and consideration...especially since he's with a woman who clearly really enjoys gift-giving and values that part of a relationship. This goes for anything...I don't particularly love to go fishing, but my man does, so I go with him and we enjoy ourselves and it makes us both happy. For his sake, I have become a pretty good fisherwoman, if I do say so myself!

    This guy might not have grown up in a home where gift-giving was a big deal, but his woman obviously did, so he should kick it into high gear and put a little effort into her birthday for crying out loud! The "it's just not my thing" excuse is so lame. 'Cause, hello, YOU DO STUFF YOU DONT NECESSARILY WANT TO DO FOR THE PERSON YOU LOVE BECAUSE YOU LOVE THEM AND IT MAKES THEM HAPPY! My advice is the same as everyone else's...tell him what you want/drop major hints, and hopefully over time he will get better about planning ahead and making your birthday special for you. And if he doesn't, kick him in the shins! ;)

  11. I know we think that if we spend long enough with a man, he'll know us well enough to guess our secret heart's desires and surprise us with that gorgeous brooch that was just like your grandma's that you saw in the window of that one store at the mall when you were on vacation.

    But seriously?!

    I had a great PHD Marriage and Relationships professor in Undergrad and she said: The key is to tell them what you want. It may not be romantic, but the romance comes when they REMEMBER What you asked for and they GET IT for you. PS-You actually get what you wanted!

    So yeah, just ask. :-)

  12. I'm a gift-giving kind of girl. I LOVE giving presents, and since I pour a lot of energy into it, i'm really good at it, too. I'm also a generally outgoing, extroverted person, and I put a lot of truck into creating Big Moments.

    My husband isn't incredibly extroverted, and isn't a Big Moments kind of guy. He will never make me a mixtape. He will never co-ordinate a huge surprise party for me. I get lovely gifts, but they're not holy-shit-that's-amazing-how-did-you-know kind of gifts. For a while, this really, really, really bothered me because i was thinking in terms of my own Big Moments and assumed he didn't care about me the way I did about him.


    When we were just starting to date, i had to go away for a week in the dead of winter, and left my keys with him at the airport. When i got back, he had gone into my flat, cleaned it up, did all the dishes, and put the heating on so I would be cozy and comfortable when I got home. He still does this for me - if i'm away on business for a few days, I always come back to a lovely tidy house, because he knows how nice it is. He also patiently plugs my phone in every night for me, and puts it in my handbag every morning, because i am too scatterbrained to remember.

    He's a Little Moments kind of guy. He might not go for the amazing outrageous presents, but the totality of all the little things he does for me every day far outweighs a few big moments anyway. And once I realised that, I realised how lucky I was to have a Little Moments guy.

    1. i'm in a relationship with a similar dynamic, and this was so great to read! thanks! a great thing to appreciate...

  13. This reminds me of my love of greeting cards. I collect them. I pay very careful attention to give the right card to the right person. Something that will totally tickle their fancy. And I love getting cards when I know the person has poured just as much thought into picking the right one.

    Unfortunately, my partner is at a loss when it comes to greeting cards. He never buys them for me, because I think it makes him too nervous whether it will meet my expectations. Anyways, he'd rather tell me how he feels than pick a card that says it for him. For that, I've gotten over my disappointments.

    I get giddy over cards, so I continue to give them to him. He in turn has saved every single one I've given. To me, that's more meaningful than him bumbling around the greeting card aisle.

  14. And p.s. i ask for my presents.

  15. ditto to telling him what you want. you can't make him change (this is called being controlling) and you can't punish him for being the way he is. some people just don't see presents as that big of a deal.

    you could try asking him how he feels when you do all of that stuff for him and how he'd feel if you didn't. maybe he'd try harder, maybe he wouldn't. the only behavior you can change is your own.

  16. Help him, help him, help him!!!!!

    1. Give him a list. (I use Amazon's wishlists and I think my guy and my family find it very helpful.)
    2. Tell him your favorite stores and your sizes (best to put this in an email or something so he can find it later).
    3. If you see something you like, tell him you like it. If hes somewhat oblivious (my husband can be), then email it to him.
    4. Tell him if he is unsure about what to get you to ask your best friend/sister/mother (whomever is close to you that would be good at guiding him towards things you would like).
    5. If you want "surprises" - tell him what kind of surprises you like. Don't hint around at it. Be blunt: "Oh I would love if you would do something like X, Y, Z as a surprise for my birthday!" (I realize this seems like the opposite of what you want, that it wouldn't be a surprise, but he's got to have somewhere to start. Over time you shouldn't have to be SO obvious, as you will have given him lots of information about the kind of gifts and surprises you like.)

    These are the most important:
    6. Give him LOTS of praise for any attempts he makes to improve his gift giving. Thank him for listening to you and trying. Tell him you know its silly you get so upset over this, but that its important to you and you're glad hes trying. And DON'T make him feel bad if he isn't up to par with your expectations yet.
    7. Understand that some of us are just not as creative as you obviously are. Good gift giving is difficult for a lot of people. If you help him out and don't expect too much of him too soon, he should get better at this with time.

  17. For YEARS I refused to tell my other half what to buy me. I wanted him to put thought into it - to really think hard about what I would like and then, frankly, go to the ends of the earth to source it for me.

    Then I woke up and realised that if I didn't want badly fitting underwear for Christmas and birthdays for evermore, I would have to give him some help.

    Now I give a girlfriend some ideas and she makes helpful suggestions to him.

    He gets to think that he's a gift buying genius, and I get something that I like and won't have to spend the rest of the year pulling dental floss out of my .....

    You get the picture.

  18. @Abernacky the dude's not a puppy! i think the whole "goood booooy, you did real goooood. you made mommy so happy," approach is pretty demeaning.

    Guys can't read our minds, but they're also not total thick headed idiots (most of the time). Just straight up tell your man how much a good gift means to you, and ask him to put more thought into your birthdays. He should be able to muster the effort, even if it's not his cup of tea, because he knows it makes you happy.

  19. I love Danae's story!

    Imho for a relationship to work out, any sort of relationship, both parties must put *effort* in. If you're doing all the housework too, making the conversation, giving everything with little else back but an appreciative smile it's time to have a serious talk. Actually I think it's time to have a serious talk and really analyse your feelings with him anyway. It doesn't seem like he understands why you give such elaborate presents, and why it feels like a kick in the teeth or a rejection when he doesn't reciprocate. On one level it reads as petty "you didn't buy me stuff but I bought stuff for you", but on another level I can understand how you feel like you have said "I Love You" in gift form and he's just said "that's nice" and turned away. Ouch. It seems to me like you just want effort put in, to be made to feel special in the way that you're putting effort in for him rather then money spent as such. If he's not a Big Moments guy or a Little Moments guy then maybe he doesn't have the generosity of spirit you need in a partner at all.

  20. Does anyone else thing that present-buying and washing the dishes are two totally different relationship tasks? A lot of times our disappointment in gifts, birthday surprises, etc. is born of the same cultural expectations that are tied to WIC craziness. Ask yourself, do you want meaningful (read: big! and important!) gifts because you actually want these things, or because this is what we're told a good boyfriend does? Mind you, I come from a place of similar expectations and let-downs, but over time I've come to appreciate that my husband's generosity does not come in the form of surprises and thoughtful gift giving, but in kind gestures such as driving my family to the airport at 4am on Christmas morning. It's taken me a long time to suss out what I really want and what chick flicks and rom coms have told me I OUGHT TO want.

  21. @danae @Maddie yeah, I'll take the guy who put the New Oxford American Dictionary widget on my doc in the middle of the night because just yesterday I was ranting about the fact that they aren't PRINTING the next edition.

  22. I agree with whoever said people are letting this guy off a bit too easily. Here's the thing: there's no way for any of us to know whether this guy just needs hints and is a wonderful guy who is perfect for the writer in every other way or if he's just not that into her. Sounds like to me it's not just the physical gift that she's concerned about, but the fact that there is no effort at all put into celebrating special occasions. Sure, he appreciates her gifts, but who doesn't? Even the most clueless of a guy when it comes to what to buy her would know that surprising her by taking her out to a nice dinner would be a step in the right direction. And even the most clueless of guys have seen enough commercials to know that jewelry is always a hit....whether or not it's her style is the question. But the thing that would be worrisome to me is that he isn't even trying anything.

    When my husband and I first started dating we were totally out of synch in terms of how and when to celebrate holidays and what kinds of gifts the other person enjoyed getting. But we were always trying in little and big ways. Sometimes he missed the mark, but the longer we were together the more he figured it out. And there were multiple holidays (birthdays, anniversaries etc) in a row that I didn't get any gift, but then I'd get a pair of Louboutins for Christmas that were a complete surprise. So...my point is....if he's not showing any effort or that he even is trying to surprise her with even the basics that could a red flag for me.

  23. I agree with the Amazon.com wishlist, here's another idea along those lines.

    Start a Word document on your desktop, title Wishlist, or something else obvious. Start a list of gifts you'd like. Could be actually presents or maybe an idea for a trip or a restaurant you want to go to. Include links and pictures to make it easy. Keep it a running list and update it frequently with ideas you have over the course of time.

    Let him know that this is where he can go if he needs help thinking of what you want. And this way every holiday he doesn't need you to spell it out for him. And you'll still be surprised by what he picks out.

    Make sure he knows that this is important to you because it shows to you how much thought he put into getting you something you'd love. You don't want to come off as materialistic or bratty, make sure he realizes it's not about the $$$ amount, it's about knowing he cares and wants to make you happy.

  24. My husband is an amazing, compassionate, thoughtful, caring man... who gives horrible presents. Even when I tell him exactly what I want, he goes off book because he has a "better idea".

    I can live with it, and I get myself something if I really want it, knowing that I'm not ruining his big surprise.

    It's all about managing your expectations. His bad gift giving is nothing compared to his amazing everything else.

  25. @Maddie - thank you. Kind gestures bury awesome gifts in the snow. And then pee on them a little.

  26. I tend to develop high expectations and then get disappointed when no one reads my mind and gets it exactly right. I finally realized that if I know exactly what I want, I can get it myself, enjoy it and then other people's gifts are just icing on the cake. On my birthday, I want a massive slice of confetti cake and usually a massage or something fun. I take the day off work and celebrate by myself and it is awesome.

    Some years D buys a perfect gift or plans a nice dinner. Some years are less perfect but my expectations aren't all riding on him, which is a relief for both of us.

  27. This might sound weird, but have you had a conversation about your gift-giving philosophies, where you talk about how you feel about gifts and what they mean to you? It sounds abstract, but it might help a lot.

    I could have written a similar letter about a slightly different issue: eating out in nice restaurants. I love going out to a fancy dinner, but whenever I'd suggest that for our anniversary, my husband would say "let's just stay home and cook something nice." Which I interpreted as "our anniversary is not important enough to merit a nice dinner out." So I'd get upset that he didn't want to do anything special, and he'd say we could go out if I really wanted to, and then I'd get even more upset and say it didn't *count* if I had to *drag* him out to celebrate our anniversary.

    What finally solved this recurring problem was having a non-anniversary-related conversation about eating out in high-end restaurants. It turns out that four-star dining is not something my husband particularly values. He finds it more enjoyable and more special to cook a gourmet meal at home together than to put on a tie, find city parking, and pay twice as much for wine. I explained to him that I really enjoy a change of scenery and the chance to try something we can't make at home, and that even a very nice meal at home is not as special to me as going out. Now that we understand each others' attitudes better, planning special occasions has gotten *much* easier, and he'll occasionally even surprise me by proposing a night out "just because," which he's never done before!

    Having a more general conversation about your attitudes towards gifts might help you to understand your guy's gift-giving habits better, and might help him understand why gifts and surprises are so important to you. And, as a person who's not so great with presents, I agree with everyone who have said some direct hints about what you want for your birthday would probably help him out. Because you're so great at giving gifts and planning surprises, he may be suffering a bit of performance anxiety and worrying that nothing he comes up with will be good enough to measure up.

  28. you should make a list and write him a letter. then sit on his lap and ask very kindly. tell him why you deserve such gifts and how you've been a good girl, etc.


  29. Agree with ESB - just tell the guy!

    Last Christmas I was annoyed because I guessed (correctly) that hubby was going to buy me a hairdryer. Which was fine (and I did need a new one) but it was a bit boring/administrative.

    I told him I didn't want the hairdryer and that if he couldn't think of anything else, I wanted a particular bracelet. He didn't tell me he got it so I was still surprised when I opened up the gift, plus there were lots of slight variations on the bracelet so he chose a particular one that he thought I would like. I love it and when people ask where I got it I can say he bought it for me. Win win!

  30. yeah. and. sometimes they just get better at it as they get to know you and understand when a hint is a HINT.

  31. Suggestions:

    Leave notes in his sock drawer leading up to an event TELLING him what you want as a gift.

    2. Make it a competition. Men love to compete. Whoever comes up with the BEST birthday suprise is the winner. Spell this out to him along with the rules and prizes (head jobs are very motivcating...)
    Start small - you obviously will be a lot better at this them him, and as the years go by gradually get more and more grandiose and he will naturally get better every year.


  32. Two of my fav T-shirts are shirts I bought for my boy, which, so it turns out, he didn't like, and they came back to me. But when I wear them, I think of him; I only think of him.
    Also my friend Darcie had your same problem, and yes, sometimes (as unromantic as it is) you gotta tell the boy what you want and maybe also what he needs to do. Maybe he just needs that.
    For example, every year, my boy bakes me a bday cake. I usually hate it, even though I say I love it. So every year, on his bday, I buy him the beautiful, bakery-made cake I'd love for myself.

  33. Aaah - read this book!!


    Such a revelation about how we communicate with each other on that kind of level - you might pick out great presents and love finding cards because that's your love language and what you crave - but your partner may be on a different wavelength and perhaps is more touching and cuddly - because that's what makes them tick.

    Definitely worth a read!

  34. Thank you everyone for all your thoughts. many useful ideas.

    I thought I'd elaborate a bit so you can understand - I HAVE told him things that I want, but he gets upset if it wasn't his idea - it takes the cleverness out of it somehow. If I tell him, that thing becomes unbuyable. So lists do not work with him. However, after writing to you ESB I did have a long talk which went really well and I now feel better.

    Also - I even agree with the people saying 'I hate women who talk like this'. But I can't deny my feelings either.

    I think that heavy expectations and schedules are probably counterproductive though. Have taken everyone's ideas in - thank you!

    @wool and misc: Yes - rubbish is a good word! UK usage probs

    I like the idea of a competition... and hiding things in socks.

    And everyone is so right about the little moments. Hopefully a little moment will coincide with my birthday this year :)

  35. I had a similar situation with my guy. A few years ago I asked him to please just get me a card for my b-day. He came through and got me a great card, and I've been cured of the longing ever since. That's all it took for me. :)

  36. Sweets, just tell him/make a wishlist. Turn it into a fun thing. It could even become your thing, like a lovely ritual just the two of you share where you go shopping for your gift, then go to the pub/play arcade games/catch a silly movie.

  37. @Anonymous who said "@Abernacky the dude's not a puppy! i think the whole 'goood booooy, you did real goooood. you made mommy so happy,' approach is pretty demeaning."
    I'm not talking about treating him like a puppy. I'm talking about positive reinforcement. It sounded like this poor guy only gets negative feedback for his gift giving. No one responds well to only negative feedback. I was saying she should be grateful if he tries to do better and make sure that she tells him this.

    @east side bride : awww, <3 the dictionary widget. such a small little thing but its adorable.

    @She who wrote it: I'm glad you guys had a talk about all of this!
    However, if hes gonna take a stand on not wanting to give gifts that aren't solely his idea, then he needs to step up his gift-giving! For real. Its cute and all that he feels that way, but if he won't take suggestions and hes getting things wrong, he needs to reevaluate his whole strategy here. It may be an ego blow, but if he puts his pride (of his gift-giving skills) over what actually makes you happy, thats an issue.

  38. send an email to him, way before the occasion (a couple of weeks at least). "if you're looking for an idea for my __occasion here___", i love these things:

    put in some links, so he gets to choose what he gets you. i always find it a surprise what he picks. everyone's happy.