If You Really Love Someone, Don't Get Them a Christmas Present

by Melissa Kirsch
Originally Published: 

With just a handful of shopping days left ’til Christmas, it’s that panicky time of year again! The time when you spend every free moment madly scouring every store in a hundred-mile radius searching for the perfect scarf or sweater or book or gadget for your endless list of nearest and dearests. You’re Amazon-Priming Lego sets and Clarisonics and indoor/outdoor thermometers, impulse-buying every product lining the Sephora checkout line (stocking stuffers!) and lying awake nights agonizing about that one person on your list who’s impossible to shop for: your spouse, boyfriend, sweetheart, partner.

Finding the perfect present for your perfect someone is a fool’s errand, so I am hereby letting you off the hook. If you really and truly love your significant other, I urge you to honor that significance by not getting him or her a present this year. Have a conversation in which you vow, as the deepest expression of your love, to free one another of the burden of buying each other holiday presents. Not only will you feel good about declining to participate in the materialistic, acquisitive bonanza that is the shopping season, but there are five other very good reasons for not giving a gift to the person you love the most.

1. It’s impossible.

You can pick up a pair of Isotoner slippers at Macy’s for your great-aunt on the way home from work, but your partner is more than just a name to check off. You want to get them something that conveys exactly the level of their sweetheartitude, something that will say not just “I got you this” but “I have been thinking and planning and researching and possibly decoupaging this for the past six months as a token of how much you mean to me, how much I appreciate and adore you, how you are so central to my happiness that I would not dare give you a gift any less special or meaningful than you are to me, my love, my kitten, my only one.”

What thing exists that can actually perform this function? What purchasable item are you going to unearth in your midnight Google Shopping searches that will really and truly convey how you feel? Right—nothing. Stop tying yourself up in knots and pour yourself some more eggnog.

2. There are 364 other days a year perfect for giving gifts.

My partner and I spent weeks plaintively wondering aloud to each other, “What am I going to get you?” in hopes that the other might bite the bullet and say “Let’s just not get each other anything, it’s too stressful.” It feels like a romanceless defeat to say “I can’t think of the perfect thing for you, so maybe we should just opt out.”

But it’s not defeat to acknowledge that we give each other presents all the time, whenever we come across things that we know the other would like. The locally-knit stuffed meerkat was not gifted on a holiday but on a rainy day in April when I came across it in a shop by my house. The notebook with an alpaca painted on the cover wasn’t picked painstakingly as the perfect manifestation of my sweetheart’s love for me—I received it on an ordinary Wednesday last summer—but it sits on my desk and reminds me I am adored in a way no cashmere-lined gloves purchased specifically for December 25th ever could. Give each other gifts when the spirit moves you—don’t let holidays dictate when your love has to be demonstrated materially.

3. Things can go dreadfully wrong.

A few years ago, my friend Stacy and her husband almost divorced over a botched Christmas present. She’d spent months dropping hints that she wanted a lambswool vest from Saks. When Christmas arrived, her husband gave her another very generous gift—a Garmin fitness tracker—but it wasn’t what she’d wanted or expected. “I was a brat, I admit it,” says Stacy, “but it wasn’t that I hadn’t gotten what I wanted so much as it felt like he hadn’t been listening to me.” Stacy felt like her husband wasn’t being attentive enough, her husband was hurt that she spurned the fitness tracker, and they didn’t speak for the rest of the day. Oh how much more romantic their holiday could have been if they’d foregone gift exchange altogether!

4. We don’t really want the things we think we want.

Do you remember what your significant other gave you for the holidays five years ago? Chances are you may have a dim memory of a bracelet or a sweater, but you’re far more likely to remember that that was the year you guys had a snowball fight, or you played an epic game of rummy that lasted the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s.

We think we want things, tokens, stuff that we invest with meaning because it came from someone we love. But what we really want are experiences, not material things. We want spontaneous laughter and pillow talk and geeking out over our favorite TV show together. These are things that cannot be bought—they can’t even be engineered. At the risk of sounding corny, the real “gifts” of your relationship can’t be worn or used or displayed. The real gifts are part and parcel of the time you spend together. Instead of giving gifts, make plans.

5. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.

If you really feel the need to get your beloved a present that communicates the affection you feel, wait until February. You will probably only have one person to shop for, and you’ll be able to invest more time and thought in coming up with the perfect gift.

Which, as everyone knows, is a puppy.

Happy holidays!

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