We know what you’re thinking: Valentine’s Day is a commercial holiday. It’s forced. It’s too much pressure. But if you’re dating this month, you’ll probably wind up roaming the aisles for a gift to give your date on February 14th. And, “like it or not, Valentine’s Day becomes a test in which you have to show you’ve been paying attention to the other person’s taste,” says Christine Silvestri, founder of Urban Shopping Adventures, which gives tours of LA’s shopping districts.
But choosing the right gift can be quite a challenge: Too many frazzled sweethearts reach into the Valentine’s void for gift ideas and come up with something that’s just plain wrong. To help you avoid joining their ranks, we present the 10 worst presents possible — and what to give your sweetie instead.
1. Ye olde bouquet of red roses and baby’s breath What’s wrong with it: Yes, you went out and got something nice and romantic. Unfortunately, certain types of flowers are the equivalent of a shrug because they are so predictable and clichéd... and the rose bouquet falls into this category quite neatly. Says Kristin, 40, of Lake Geneva, WI, “I was dating a guy who said he adored all my quirks and my adventurous spirit. Then he turned around and gave me a big bunch of roses with the lacy white stuff for Valentine’s. It was embarrassing, because I’m so not the kind of woman you give that to! It made me feel as if he didn’t really know me or get what I was all about.”
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Indeed, Frank Leusner, manager of Delphinium Home, a popular gift shop in New York City, says this of the classic red and white bouquet: “There’s absolutely no thought behind it. It’s a copout because it’s just so expected.” Obviously, a gift that says “I’ve never paid attention to your tastes” or “This would also work well on a tombstone” is not a Valentine’s Day message worth sending. Or, consider the way Brittney Cason, relationship advisor for Elevate magazine in Charlotte, NC, puts it: “A gift should never make a woman wonder if you picked it out at the pharmacy while waiting to get a prescription filled on the way over.”
A simple solution: Ask one of your more florally-inclined friends to name a cool-looking bloom (think calla lily, parrot tulip, Gerbera daisy) and then buy three dozen of those. Or order up a monochromatic bouquet of various blooms in your honey’s favorite color — arrangements look especially striking when the flowers are all one shade.
2. A box of assorted chocolates What’s wrong with it: “Taking candy from guys you know on Valentine’s Day is the only thing more risky than taking candy from strangers,” says Amy Borkowsky, author of Statements: True Tales of Life, Love, and Credit Card Bills. Let’s face it — not all chocolates are created equal. And while a variety pack of sweets shows that you’re trying to cover the bases, the dark (or milk or white) secret is that some of these morsels will be, well, icky. Do the math: Out of every box of 15 assorted chocolates, a woman will probably have three or so favorites. And there’s all that crazy, frou-frou wrapping as part of the picture — enough satin and ribbon to fashion a child’s “princess bride” Halloween costume. So what would you rather get? Three chocolates you want and 21 you don’t — along with a lot of excess red metallic cardboard? Or a small box of something you actually like?
A simple solution: This is where a hefty dose of your sweetie’s favorite sweet can come in handy. “Get creative with your packaging or give it as a gift within a gift — who wouldn’t like that?!” says Silvestri. “If you’re dating a Reese’s peanut butter cup gal, she’d rather have a bag of those in a nice hand-painted bowl or wrapped in a soft scarf than a lifetime supply of random chocolates in a heart-shaped box.”
3. Jewelry in a ring-sized box What’s wrong with it: In truth, most women love something glittery. But the biggest jewelry mistake a man can make is anything in a ring-size box — be it earrings, a pendant, or a 1 oz. tube of saffron — that’s not, in fact, an engagement ring. Women know there are five key probable proposal days (namely, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s, and her birthday), so giving her false hope on one of them is cruel. “When a girl sees that box, she’s either going to freak out because she’s not ready or hope that it is the ring and then be disappointed, so it’s lose-lose,” says Cason.
A simple solution: Even if you do get her, say, pink sapphire earrings — which we’re sure she’ll love — wrap them in a shirt box just so she doesn’t get the wrong idea.
4. Something girlie and decorative like a sachet, a candle holder, a silver wishing stone… What’s wrong with it: We’re talking about things like rhinestone-studded soap dishes, elaborate aromatherapy dispensing devices, and other stuff people would never buy for themselves. “Anything red and pink and cutesy often winds up being kind of cheap and useless when you look at it on February 15th — the luster is gone,” says Borkowsky. “And any solid red trinket risks saying, ‘I love you — just enough to get you Christmas stuff at 75 percent off.’” Recalls Adrienne, 35, of Cincinnati, “My boyfriend tends to get me things like little heart-shaped pink velvet pincushions or a wreath of red satin hearts for Valentine’s Day, because he thinks that’s in keeping with the theme of the day. I wish I could tell him to stop wasting his money this way. I never use that stuff!” So before plunking down your dough, ask yourself, “Do I see this gift bringing my date pleasure and enjoyment... or do I see it winding up in his or her guest room?” The answer ought to make your purchase decision very clear.
A simple solution: “Bath products are a great choice,” says Leusner. “You can find scents and formulas that suit your boyfriend or girlfriend’s personality, and most people really enjoy using them.”
5. A cute stuffed animal bearing a message of love What’s wrong with it: We’ve never heard anyone admit to expressing themselves best through plush koalas, yet that medium remains popular for many a romantic utterance. “It’s so cheesy,” says Leusner. “When you buy that gift, it could be for anyone — even a child. What’s an adult going to do with a stuffed animal?” We’ll tell you what: stuffed animals get tucked somewhere out-of-the-way. And when the romance dies, the Stuffed Bear of Love serves no practical purpose, so the recipient feels pathetic keeping it around as a reminder of her ex (that’s you) and donates it to a children’s charity.
A simple solution: Cut to the chase and make a donation in your honey’s name to a charity you think he or she respects. Now that’s a thoughtful gift.
6. Racy sleepwear What’s wrong with it: Look, we all know that when you buy someone underwear, it’s more for you than for her. So don’t use Valentine’s Day as your excuse to present all the secret fantasies you’ve been keeping hidden away for the last 364 days. “A lot of the lingerie you see in stores for Valentine’s Day is opposite of women’s tastes,” warns Silvestri. Something that’s not her style can make her feel uncomfortable (figuratively and literally) — and criticized. The point of V-Day is to make couples feel happy about being together, so the last thing you want to say is “I don’t think you’re sexy enough — put this on.”
A simple solution: Buy a black or lacy version of a type of undergarment she already wears, if you two are intimate enough to know that kind of thing. At least you know you’re somewhere within her comfort zone. Or acknowledge the weather outside with something that will actually caress her skin for more hours than you: long, silk underwear.
7. Anything that could be considered a small appliance What’s wrong with it: A toaster, a humidifier, a yogurt maker... trust us, if she needed it so badly, she’d have gotten it already. “Being too practical is a real romance killer — no one wants anything with an electrical cord for Valentine’s Day,” says Silvestri. (Disclaimer: This rule can be waived if you’re buying an mp3 player or pre-loading a digital camera with shots of yourself holding up signs that say “Will you marry me?”). Here’s how one recipient puts it: “My boyfriend knows I love to cook, especially Asian food. But when I unwrapped a rice cooker last Valentine’s Day,” says Amy, 39, of Portland, ME, “it just felt very roommate-like or haus-frau-ish... as if he didn’t see me as this amazing woman who rocks his world.”
A simple solution: Get her something she absolutely does not need but that you know she’d love, whether it’s a helicopter tour of the city or a pair of microfiber massaging slippers. C’mon, it’s a day for romance, which is supposed to be fun — think about her definition of that and shop accordingly.
8. A nice bottle of cologne or perfume What’s wrong with it: It’s a time-honored gift, and all that fancy packaging might actually make you think you’re buying something your pumpkin will love. But the same spritz that reminds you of a splendid beach holiday in Europe may smell like bath day at the zoo to your beloved. Problem is, “Perfume choice is so specific that it’s a real challenge,” says Leusner. “It’s almost impossible to know what smells good to another person.” And let us not forget that nothing says “You smell weird” better than a bottle of concentrated fragrance. Recalls Danielle, 29, of Oakbrook, IL: “I like really feminine floral perfumes. When my boyfriend gave me this intense, musky stuff one year, I felt like, ‘Do you not know how I like to smell? or are you trying to tell me you wished I smelled like someone else?’ It really did a number on my confidence!”
A simple solution: Buy a soap, aftershave, or other body product in a fragrance that your loved one already has, or go for a high-end unscented body lotion.
9. A tie What’s wrong with it: “Women actually have a harder time than men shopping at Valentine’s Day, because there are fewer gift options for men than for women,” says Silvestri. “Still, a tie is a big yawn.” It’s amazing how many women complain about generic gifts and then hit the tie aisle for their man. At best, the tie is by a great designer — which the guy likely won’t care about. At worst, it’s a novelty accessory featuring pigs, the Blues Brothers, or some other unwearable gimmick. But usually, it’s just “about” the color the guy usually wears, meaning he already owns a dozen of ’em.
A simple solution: Head a little further into the menswear section and pick out a great scarf instead — it’s more casual and therefore more wearable; some fun or extra-soft (cashmere, maybe) socks; or another item that shows a dash more originality.
10. A gift certificate What’s wrong with it: It’s one thing to not know exactly what your cutie might want, but it’s another to throw in the towel entirely. “Gift cards are too impersonal and disappointing,” says Borkowsky. “There’s no actual gift, yet you know how much someone spent. It’s like saying, ‘Happy Valentine’s Day, honey — I got you a price tag!’” Any gift for a service or store your partner doesn’t already frequent could be read as your attempt to change the person to your pleasing.
A simple solution: Take the money, reread our suggestions above, and give gift-giving your best shot. Or, to earn bonus points, call your honey’s best pal and ask what to get — that will make a great impression on many levels.
Freelance writer Laura Gilbert contributes to The Knot, Health, Maxim, and Stuff.