March 07, 2007
I was a little startled to see the email from my friend's husband labeled "Help!" In an all-out panic, he'd spent the last two days racking his brains trying to find a gift for her 40th birthday, and came up with zip. Somewhere in his frontal lobe he remembered a small bit of wisdom she had imparted, "If you don't know what to get me you can always ask Heather." I knew that what she really wanted was a car, as hers was not only about 12 years-old, the front passenger seat was practically slammed against the glove compartment to make enough room for the baby seat for her newborn in the back. Having mentioned in his email, however, that he wasn't looking to break the bank on a gift, I didn't mention it.
Over the years my compassion for men held back to remedial gift-giving 101 has increased. Instead of looking at this disability as a character flaw or worse, a direct reflection of their lack of love, I have come to understand that the oil change or flannel pajamas were purchased with great gusto.
In the case of my friend's husband I tried to present an array of gift options in different price ranges from a potted rose for their balcony — a passion of hers which was left behind when she moved into his lawn-less hillside house — to an original piece of jewelry. I gave him a general reminder that babies like to grab at everything so a ring was probably the safest bet and also pointed out her taste was modern and streamlined.
From past experience I also knew that men need to be guided specifically to certain stores and brand names. Think of them as a florist that doesn't know not to use carnations. "A scarf, purse, or body lotion," is not helpful to most men. However, "The counter on the main floor of Barney's in Beverly Hills for silk scarves from China, a Longchamp clutch (a small version of a purse which can be held in the hand), and the Jo Malone Orange Blossom Body Butter which you can order online," is a gold mine.
Websites are always good, saving the man the embarrassment of having to peruse fancy department store counters which seem to make them nervous unless they're interested in picking up the hot salesgirl. I also advise men to try to get to know their wife or girlfriend's size. Procuring something too big or too small both have negative implications. I pop quiz my guy occasionally to make sure it stays fresh in his mind. We'll be in the middle of breakfast when I throw out, "Now, what's my bra size?" and he gets a panicked look on his face until he says, "Um, 34C?" and I reward him with a pat like a well-trained dog.
What the proper gift says to us gals is that our man cares. He has paid attention to our desires, our tastes, and our proportions. He is, in essence, "thoughtful." Or if he has done none of these things, he has at least thought to send a panicked email to a close girlfriend to ask for help. It's actually much harder for us to find a great gift for our guy. "It's tough when all he uses basically is a bar of Dial soap," I said to my friend who was having the birthday. "Forget that," she said, "my husband just washes his face with shampoo."
The final hurdle the man faces, even if he has the perfect gift, is the handwritten card with a loving original sentiment. As one of my male friends put it, "You can give her the Taj Mahal and she'll still say, 'But where's the card?'"
So what did my friend's husband ultimately give her for her 40th birthday, you ask? New car. No card.
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