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Present-presenting is a challenge no matter who the recipient is. But when it's a guy you're gifting, your relationship may hang in the balance -- or at least it may feel that way. "Guys don't like to think they're having a relationship, and they don't ponder its intricacies when you're not around," says Dr. Kate Wachs, author of Relationships for Dummies. "We women, on the other hand, start daydreaming and even picture the future until often there are two relationships -- the one in our heads, and the real one." Buy a gift that reflects the real relationship, she says. And think of the things he wants, not the things you wish he'd want. Here are some further fail-safes to help you along the way.
Guy-Gift Category #1: Your Crush When you've got your eye on someone and you want to give him the green light to ask you out, a gift can be a great way to get his attention. But what kind of attention do you want to get? You want to hit the proper note of mysterious and sexy, without coming off as a one-night stand. Tantalizing, not trampy.
So instead of a red mesh thong, give him a gift that implies sophistication with just a hint of naughtiness, such as a mini bottle of fine Scotch or a Dominican cigar -- the kind of thing that makes it clear you think of him as a man.
Or maybe you want to appeal to the friendship you already have, but bump it up a notch. "You want to send up a flare that will surprise him into thinking about you in a different way from how he already does," says Dr. Wachs. "So figure out how he sees you, and twist it slightly." You could burn a CD of songs you both like, with a couple sexy ones thrown in the mix.
Just stick to the middle ground between friend and Sex and the City's Samantha Jones. You want to start a relationship, not end it before the first date.
Guy Gift Category #2: The Guy You Just Started Dating So you've been on, say, three dates -- the sparks are flying, but you haven't had the "we're-going-steady" talk. And a gift occasion comes up. Danger, Will Robinson! Get this one wrong, and you can knock the whole train off the tracks. You don't want to startle your stud and make him run -- or give him the impression that he's The One when in fact you're still making up your mind! So keep things light and friendly.
A gift that's thoughtful, not stalk-ful, is one that takes up the thread of communication you've established and takes it one stitch further. Give him a book you think he'd like, based on a conversation you've had with him. Bake him some cookies. This gesture says you're nurturing and low-key, and implies that in addition to the lips he's been kissin', you've got some home-and-hearth potential.
The note you want to hit is, "I like where we're at and want to keep it going, but I'm not trying to get my claws into you or anything." Can be tough, but if he's a cool guy, he'll get the message. (If not? Good riddance.)
Guy Gift Category #3: Your Boyfriend The guy you know you'll be with on Saturday night and Sunday morning -- the steady boyfriend who lights up your life -- deserves a special something. "You want to pick something that shows you know him," Dr. Wachs advises. "Think like him, but don't overdo the togetherness thing." The key here is to be the only person who understands a particular part of him -- making him cherish you all the more.
"What's his secret goal?" she asks. "Does he have an old hobby that he wishes he hadn't dropped?" Get a wannabe pilot a beginner's flying lesson, or a guy with an unpublished novel a book about breaking into publishing, or a frustrated guitarist tickets to see B.B. King. You're telling him "I know who you really are, and I support that."
Just don't give him anything that makes him feel trapped by you. A romantic weekend away can backfire. This is supposed to be fun for him.
Guy Gift Category #4: Your Live-In Lovaaah Once you've signed a lease together, it's easy to start taking each other for granted. Swoony evenings give way to knockaround nights, camisoles give way to comfortable jammies, and by now, he's bound to have seen you in those big granny panties from laundry day. Your gift is allowed to be a bit domestic, but not overly so -- you do want some romance involved.
At this point, slight alterations to his style are allowed: groovy sunglasses, a watch upgrade, a sweater in a solid Merino wool. Stay away from pants, even if his pleats drive you up a wall -- that's getting a bit too Mommy about it all. You can also get more lavish, as this may well end up being a gift for the two of you -- a camera, a TV, a Palm Pilot, fancy steak knives.
The idea is to look around and see what'll complete your picture together, still keeping in mind that this must be something he craves, not something that you think he should want. That can be tempting, but save it for a let's-buy-it-together anniversary gift.
Guy Gift Category #5: The Man You Married The ring's on your finger, but that doesn't mean the romance has to go out of gift-giving. Au contraire. Now's the time to drive home the fact that regardless of holy matrimony, you still want to feel like you're living in sin. You want to make him feel that landing a life with you is the best thing that ever happened to him.
Sexy gifts are great -- you can buy yourself those crazy Victoria's Secret panties with the keyhole that shows off butt-cleavage. "If there's something that he always hints about, but that's not your style, do it now so he knows you're doing it for him," Wachs says. It might just be a shorter skirt that you only wear for just-you dates, or wearing your hair down when you usually choose a practical ponytail. "You no longer have to worry about your status as girlfriend, so you can be as naughty as you dare," she says.
For his main present, you should shoot for something he's been dying for, that any "normal" wife (the kind you see on sitcoms) would put the kibosh on. Yes, you need to be practical -- you're saving for a house, the kids' college, whatever -- but you're also still fun. And you know that even though he never gets a chance to work on car engines anymore, that upscale pair of mechanic's gloves would remind him that he really revs your engine. Celebrate his love of sports with a personalized jersey (to make up for the times he misses the game these days).
Let him know how much you appreciate who he is and what he does for your life together. And let him feel like the guy he was before he became the man of the house. Because that's who you fell in love with -- and you want to keep him around, too.
Guy Gift Category #6: The Guy You Wish Would Dump You Sometimes a relationship's been limping along, but just won't give up the ghost. In that case, a gift-giving event can provide the perfect season-ender. No need to be a b-word about it, but a slightly crappy gift can be a good final out.
Potpourri for his bathroom says "you stink." Anything teddy bear related tells him "you need to work out, fatty." A baseball cap shrieks, "Hey, baldy! I can't stand the way you look, and I don't think you're worth more than twelve bucks!"
The sad song you want this gift to sing is, "It was fun while it lasted, but I'm moving on -- and won't be investing in you further." Na na na na... na na na na... hey hey hey... good-bye.