True story: As a gift one year, my dad gave my mom a new set of tires, which he unveiled in a card with a picture of all four Goodyears glued inside (points for presentation, at the very least, dad). He thought it was the perfect present. Unfortunately, my mother did not share that sentiment. Years later, my dad’s still defensive about it — any time someone brings it up, he moans: “But she needed new tires!”

Now, if a married man who knows his wife inside and out can make that sort of mistake, imagine the damage that can be wrought by novice gifters shopping for someone they’ve only been dating a brief while. Mistakes can be made, as these innocent victims of good intentions can attest. Yes, the thought does count... but an ill-conceived present can make your significant other feel like you just don’t understand or respect him or her — which may be worse than getting your sugar plum nothing at all. Here are 10 gifts to avoid giving this holiday season (or ever).

The five worst gifts for women:

1. Anything practical that she needs instead of wants
Just because she needs new running shoes, hand lotion, or a frying pan, it isn’t an invitation for you to replace it. Quick lesson: Women are good at taking care of details, and when their desire for a whatever-it-is gets dire, they’ll replace it themselves — pronto. It’s sweet to show that you were listening, but that said, women never swoon over practical gifts. “I always complained that I never had enough quarters for the laundromat,” says Kristine Janik of New York City. “Then my boyfriend gave me $40 in quarters, which was really odd. Sweet sentiment? Well, yes, but that might be a better gift for a random weekday, not a major couples’ holiday at the end of the year.”
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2. An arrangement of fake (or bizarrely seasonal) flowers
We applaud men for realizing that most women really do go crazy over flowers, but it’s crucial to realize the difference between choosing good flowers and bad ones. “One Christmas, a guy I was dating pulled flowers for me out of the back seat of his car,” says Julie Vreeland of Atlanta, GA. “It was a table arrangement — round, with holly and glittery branches sticking out of it and a wooden church scene stuck on top.” Cute if she’s decorating her grandmother’s foyer, not so cute if that’s your only present to give her this holiday season. And she’s not alone in suffering through a bouquet gone bad: “I got fake roses one year with a card that read, ‘My love for you is everlasting, just like these flowers!’” recalls Lindsay Wenner of Minneapolis, MN. “I was dumbfounded.” Here’s a tip: When in doubt, ask a female florist to suggest something appropriate. She will not do you wrong.

3. Pro sports paraphernalia
Sure, your girlfriend may love watching the finals with you or root for her alma mater’s basketball team, but that’s no excuse to forget your A-game when it comes to choosing her gift. “I once got an Auburn jersey from my now-husband,” says Amy Buck of Atlanta, GA. Aside from the fact that no one should wear a jersey past their high school graduation (unless your date’s a super-fan and you’re shelling out for season box seats), you’ll find nothing appropriate for her at the pro shop.

4. Fine jewelry
Women definitely love jewelry, but it’s such a big item that it really needs to match her individual style and tastes for this to work. And due to the, well, connotations that come with certain pieces, jewelry shouldn’t be given too soon in the relationship. You can make both you and your special lady happy by staying away from this option unless you’ve been dating for at least a year and she’s pointed out to you a specific item that she likes (you’d be surprised how many women won’t wear, say, 14-karat gold). “A guy I had been seeing for only a few months gave me a diamond cross necklace,” says Amanda Pressner of Tampa, FL. “We hadn’t been dating that long, so it made me think he was getting too serious. Plus, I’m not that religious, so I felt like he didn’t even know me.”

5. A card that you’ve just signed in front of her while she watched
Men, when you’re giving a woman a card to accompany her gift, don’t sign it right in front of her and then hand it to her before the envelope glue completely dries. Find time when you’re not together — even if it’s in the car just a few seconds before you meet her — to write something sweet and seal it closed.

The five worst gifts for men:

1. Clothes intended for a better version of him that doesn’t exist
Getting a man a piece of clothing is sweet, but when it’s not anything like the usual styles that he sports, it’s actually a not-so-subtle hint that you don’t like what he’s wearing every day. “I’m a vintage-shopping type,” says Mark Gantt of Los Angeles. “Getting something from The Gap one holiday came across as an insult.” Conversely, foisting something more formal on a man can send more than a “you need fashion help... bad” message. It can make him feel as if you’re wishing he earned more or led a more elitist lifestyle... not exactly a choice that’s going to put the “ho-ho-ho” in his holiday cheer this year.

2. Overly saccharine tokens of your affection
While women tend to enjoy more lovey-dovey gestures, men are often scared off by such syrupy tokens (not to mention feeling totally awkward about how to say “thanks” gracefully after receiving them), so keep that in mind as you’re shopping. No doubt you will encounter an army of ferociously cute teddy bears, CDs full of love songs that’ll make your heart stir, and flannel pajamas with a really cute heart pattern... but before you buy anything, think of how your guy would feel unwrapping a gift like that in front of his mother. “A girlfriend once gave me a book of love poems — not even Leaves of Grass or any of the classics,” says Kevin Sintumuang of New Brunswick, NJ. “What guy wants to read that?” Answer: almost none.

3. Decorative knick-knacks for his kitchen and/or bathroom
Even if his place is, in your opinion, conspicuously missing a much-needed toaster oven, clothes hamper or spice rack to make it feel complete, unless you find one with 38 electronic widgets to distract him from the domesticity of your gift, you would be better off skipping this idea altogether. It’s more like something his sensible mother would send him in college, and many men might feel territorial about changes you’re indirectly trying to make to their homes. And forget trying to fancy up a bachelor-pad type — he likely won’t appreciate your high-class decoration, no matter how much money you spend. “I received a Hummel Lamplight Caroler figurine for Christmas once from a woman,” says Jim Craemer of West Hartford, CT. “That was rough. I was — and still am — too ashamed to put it out on the mantle.”

4. Anything filed in the “self-improvement” category
Men don’t want you to change them; they want you to love them as they are, now and forever. But sometimes, women can’t resist trying to help nudge a guy within reach of one of his long-term goals. “I got a copy of What Color is Your Parachute? as a gift from a date one year,” says Matt Horton of Silva, NC. “I felt like she was trying to change my job or tell me that I could be a better person if I tried. It just made me feel bad about myself.” The same goes for any self-improvement gifts that he hasn’t explicitly, repeatedly mentioned wanting to get for himself — whether it’s a gym membership, a gift certificate for golf lessons, a nose-hair trimmer or a Rogaine sample to try out. Letting your honey believe that you think he’s perfect is actually the greatest gift you can give him... and best of all, it’s free!

5. Elaborate handmade gifts
While a gift you make can mean much more than anything store-bought could, men often get uncomfortable and feel obligated to reciprocate if you give them something you’ve truly toiled over long-term. Says Bob Brennan of Pittsfield, MA: “A woman I’d been dating for a couple of months gave me a sweater she’d hand-knit for me... it must’ve taken weeks. I felt really awkward that she’d put so much effort into my present and kind of pulled back a bit after that.” You also want to go easy on the handcrafted gifts that specifically celebrate your union. For example: A tray decoupaged with photos of the two of you is a bit much for anyone but a husband to handle gracefully.

Bonus tip: Unlike most women, men might actually enjoy receiving small appliances (or even large ones) as holiday gifts. Anything that involves a plasma, LED or LCD screen is a very thoughtful present for anyone — albeit very, very expensive, too.

Stephanie Davis, a New York City-based freelance writer, is on staff at GQ.